Documentaries about dead people can often be untrustworthy. Depending on who made it, and who stands to gain from their legacy, facts can be creased into a picture that’s far from the truth.
Happily, McQueen is an affectionate but realistic look at the life, career and untimely death of British designer Alexander McQueen. Separated into chapters or “tapes”, the narrative is a rags to riches tale with a sad twist. We get a vivid picture of McQueen (Lee to most of the interviewees), a mischievous outsider with a passion for telling stories through his creations, and an ability to generate great works with few resources.
The true mark of quality for any documentary is its ability to convey why the subject was so important, and these filmmakers succeed in illustrating McQueen as a fashion antagonist. His wild creativity and penchant for eliciting extreme emotions are clear even to fashion Luddites, flowing elegantly into the subject of his fall into depression.
This side to the story is grimly fascinating, as we see a rebel swallowed up by the establishment he provoked, changing his appearance and losing himself in the process. While his drug use and dramatic weight loss are glossed over, testimonies from relatives, friends and himself pull no punches. There’s also a wonderful contrast between the colourful figures of the fashion world and his family, who are much more straightforward but no less passionate about McQueen and his work.
A celebration tinged with regret, McQueen is a sincere eulogy. We may not be shown exactly what drove him to end his life so abruptly, but we are left in no doubt as to what he meant to those he left behind.