Genius wrestles with cliche in 'McQueen'

By Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

The reason cliches become cliches is because they happen so often.

Designer Alexander McQueen appraises his work in “McQueen.”

Yet within each cliched life is a living, breathing, struggling individual. And within some of them lies genius.

Such is the case with fashion designer Alexander McQueen. And before you go "Glack, another genius fashion designer, give me a silk hankie break," understand this: the documentary "McQueen" doesn't even have to try to make the case for McQueen's brilliance. It's all there, right on the screen; this dude was artistically bonkers in all the right ways.

His runway shows were more happenings than fashion indulgences; his models became dancers, actors in bizarre theme projects. At one point he had two robots spray paint a white dress worn by a model as she was twirled around on stage. Try buying that at Macy's.

The clothes aren't really even clothes much of the time. They're statements, visions; commentary and reaction to history, man's primal urges and sins, pervasive myths. A great many of the outfits have no place out in society, they belong in museums (where, indeed, they've found great audiences).

OK, now the cliche part. McQueen was a pudgy little nothing kid from London who started apprenticing at prestige tailors when he was a teenager (yes, he could make marketable clothing when he wanted). He eventually drifted towards a sympathetic group of oh-so-hip people and started putting on shows with clothes made of garbage bags, duct tape, you name it.

His star rose quickly and he became the creative director for major fashion houses. He also underwent liposuction, started doing drugs and turned increasingly paranoid as he became increasingly famous. His mother and a close friend died, so McQueen hung himself at age 40.

The spark ignites, the flame burns bright, then burns out. No novelist would dare write such a story these days. It's too trite. And for some, too true. But at least "McQueen" puts that flame on full display.





Rated R for language and nudity

Running time: 151 minutes



The burn-too-bright life of fashion designer Steve McQueen may seem like a cliche, but the man's genius is irrefutable in this documentary. (151 minutes) By Tom Long/Special to The Detroit News GRADE: B