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This is a rags to riches story (pun intended), about a tortured artist if ever there was one. And you don’t have to be a fashionista to appreciate this biopic, but it certainly helps. I hear the name “McQueen” and I’m thinking of a guy on a motorcycle in The Great Escape, or in a Mustang in Bullitt. I’m not thinking of a pudgy fashion designer that acts like a punk rocker, listening to Sinead O’Connor and having a fashion show in Paris while drinking a bottle of beer in scraggly clothes.

Since I know very little about fashion, I didn’t quite appreciate his “genius.” He had runway shows with themes about Jack the Ripper or people being raped. That meant models walking the runway with ripped clothes, black eyes, and occasionally a breast hanging out. It reminded me a bit of when I see a story on an abstract artist and shake my head wondering what the fuss was about.

It might have helped if there were more talking heads I recognized. The only two I saw that I knew were Tom Ford, and Anna Wintour sitting at a fashion show with her trademark sunglasses and scowl.

Lee Alexander McQueen was the youngest of six children, in the working class East London. His dad was a cab driver, and the family didn’t have much money. He wasn’t very well educated, but he was certainly ambitious. The founder of Saint Martin’s School of Art’s Fashion course was confused by the scruffy, uneducated guy that showed up brashly at her door.

McQueen is shown having a happy life early on. He plays with his dog, and is always quick to cut fabric and make outfits for his sister Joyce. His mom Janet is very supportive of his pursuits and they have a good relationship. Although, her abusive marriage and the sexual abuse he dealt with, probably damaged him in ways from which he never recovered. It certain showed in his collections. In his “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims” there are outfits in black and red, with clothing ripped up and human hair is even used.

Fashion icon Isabella Blow was blown away, purchased that collection, and they ended up having a great relationship. Until a slight by McQueen permanently damaged that friendship, and what happens with Blow later, only adds to McQueen’s pain.

I never realized some fashion shows got so elaborate, or perhaps his were the only ones. There’s a moment when supermodel Shalom Harlow is wearing a white dress that ends up getting sprayed with paint by two robots on each side of her. Another show has a car catch fire, and getting dangerous (OSHA would have a field day with that one). The weirdest one had these glass walls at an asylum-looking facility, with the models not being able to see the crowd. At the end, a few walls blow up, showing a huge, naked woman with a breathing apparatus attached to her face. Yeah, this was one weird dude, and the fashion industry didn’t know what to do with him. So, they threw money at him, worked with him, and…never really saw the pain. Even when he lost a lot of weight (from drug use and liposuction), it seems nobody ever really helped him get out of his funk.

Famous hair stylist Mira Chai Hyde does a lot of talking, and she has interesting things to say. Assistant designer Sebastian Pons talks about McQueen’s depressions and mood swings.  

There’s a beautiful score by Michael Nyman (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover).

Co-directors Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedqul give us a handsomely shot film, and some archival footage, but not enough.

What exactly happened in the relationship with Blow? Why was the drug use glossed over? Sure, some of the dark stuff was shown, but not enough. This is a guy with some serious demons.

If you’re into fashion, or biopics, you should catch this. It’s certainly not for everyone.

2 ½ stars out of 5.


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