The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Alexander McQueen first shocked the fashion world with his provocative designs. He later shocked it by taking his own life. It has long been true that creative excellence and troubled personalities frequently go hand-in-hand. In McQueen's case, though, his personality seemed relatively fine. Only when the demands of creating new collections on a tight timeline became overwhelming did he begin to crack. The documentary McQueen takes us through the rise and fall of this undeniably influential designer. Directed by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui, the film combines home video footage of McQueen and interviews with those who knew him best, including colleagues, friends, and family members.

Lee Alexander McQueen had a love for designing clothes that went back to childhood. Early in his career, he gained notice via a collection that had a “rape” theme, with tattered dresses designed to make it look as though the models had just been subjected to that particular trauma. Such edginess was a recurring motif in his work, which may have looked tasteless at first glance but was actually a serious attempt to wrestle with issues that stirred up his emotions.

Similarly edgy designs followed. Then things started to change. He rapidly moved up in the fashion world, eventually joining the prestigious Givenchy house. Creating for them while still maintaining his own business resulted in intense pressure. The overweight McQueen, who would cheerfully bound onto the catwalk at the end of a show wearing a Nike sweatshirt and sneakers, lost weight and began dressing to fit the stereotypical fashionista image. He had a falling out with his mentor, Isabella Blow. Then came the drugs and the inevitable collection that wasn't highly praised.

The main takeaway from McQueen is that its subject didn't quite fit the mold, which ended up being both a blessing and a curse. His initial success was because he broke rules. As his popularity and acclaim grew, the effort to break rules felt more forced, in part because he was simultaneously trying to play by those same rules.

Using actual footage of the man goes a long way toward helping us understand who he was. Alexander McQueen changes before our eyes as we watch the documentary. The lightness he possesses early on gives way to visible depression and a hint of disillusionment. When paired with the interviews from people who have genuine insight into his frame of mind, McQueen is able to paint a portrait of a troubled genius – a guy who gave the fashion industry a jolt of inventiveness and boldness, only to find himself chewed up by its constant demand for brilliance.

Even if you know nothing about fashion or care little about it, McQueen works simply as a case study of someone with a unique vision who took his field by storm. It's a well-made, enlightening film.

( out of four)

McQueen is rated R for language and nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.

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