Monday, June 25, 2018

A commendable, eye-and-mind-opening documentary bio-pic, Tiffany Bartok's LARGER THAN LIFE: THE KEVYN AUCOIN STORY

Considering how woeful are so many of the our current "fashion" documentaries from Manolo Blahnik's to Vivienne Westwood's -- who'd have thought that TrustMovies would suddenly be singing the praises of a bio-pic documentary about, of all things, a make-up artist? That's part of why he loves taking a chance on a new movie experience: You just never know.

As directed with finesse and welcome intuition by Tiffany Bartok (shown below), her documentary, LARGER THAN LIFE: THE KEVYN AUCOIN STORY, makes excellent

use of archival footage and interviews with the late Mr. Aucoin's family, friends, lovers, and an array of fashion and celebrity icons about as starry as you are likely to have seen together in any single film.

Even better, these icons actually say some intelligent, thoughtful, sometimes quite moving things about their Kevyn -- a fellow from Louisiana who was adopted very young to a kind and loving family, and who went looking, in his adult years, and was able to actually find his birth parents, only to lose them again because of their Christian fundamentalist attitude against gays and other outsiders. ("Don't judge us and then make Jesus the reason," he tells his birth mother in a letter.)

That Kevyn (above, left) was charismatic is clear, even in the archival photos and the info we get about his youth. "Different" and pretty clearly gay from the outset, he was bullied in school but survived and somehow prospered enough until he finally left Louisiana for points north and the career in fashion and specifically make-up that he had long desired.

Bartok's movie barrels along at a fast clip, full of information and smart interviews that fill in many of the gaps in Kevyn's life, loves and burgeoning career. What is particularly compelling about this bio-doc is how it manages to bring us a full-bodied, warts-and-all view of Aucoin -- without ever resorting to the gossipy, inherently shallow techniques of so many fashion docs. There is also none of that "Let's lavish on the praise" idiocy that ruins so many bio-pics. What we hear about Aucoin seems indeed praiseworthy, but what we see and hear also seems commensurate with his achievements.

It is clear that the interviewees here -- which include Isaac Mizrahi (shown above) and Kate Moss (two photos up) -- clearly loved Kevyn, for all his faults (having to control everything was but one of them) and this love comes through so strongly that the viewer is apt to feel it very nearly as much as those being interviewed.

Aucoin's great talent at and love for what he did best -- making others look their best (that's Naomi Campbell, above)-- also comes through. He set fashion trends in make-up for good, rather than for their junky worst, which would arrive with the "grunge" era and stick around far too long after that.

Other icons we see and hear from here include the likes of Cher (above, who appears to have been responsible for diagnosing a vital health problem of Kevyn's that had remained undetected for far too long), Isabella Rossellini (below), Tori Amos (who reminds us that, although Kevyn never let any of them down, they in the fashion industry definitely let him down in the end), and especially Paulina Porizkova (shown at bottom), who offers a number of most interesting observations about Aucoin's life and work.

Even when he cast off one lover for another, Kevyn did not leave the old one flat. (Often, it seems, his paramour served a second purpose -- business manager, say -- as well as love/sex interest.)

Never for a single one of its 102-minute running time is the documentary flat or uninteresting. Kevyn's personality, along with those of all the interviewees, carry it along with bounce and flair. The movie allows even those of us who don't follow or care about fashion to engage with it via the life and career, troubles, trauma and successes of this unusual and unusually gifted man.

Distributed via The Orchard, Larger than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story opens this Friday, June 29, in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center and then hits the Los Angeles area at various Laemmle theaters on Friday, July 20 and Monday, July 23. It will be available everywhere via digital and VOD beginning Tuesday, July 31.

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