Wednesday, June 27, 2018

All about an amazing personality and career: Lisa Immordino Vreeland's LOVE, CECIL

Back in 2012, the granddaughter-in-law of the fashion maven Diana VreelandLisa Immordino Vreeland, co-directed a documentary about the more famous Vreeland's life and work. It was a resounding success in many ways (even, to some extent, at the box-office), and in 2015, the younger Vreeland followed this up with another well-received documentary about Peggy Guggenheim. Now, Ms Vreeland has turned her attention to one of the fashion and photography icons of the mid-20th-Century, Cecil Beaton. The result -- LOVE, CECIL -- is yet another documentary home run.

Sure, Cecil Beaton was, as one of the interviewees admits rather far along in the film, a social-climbing snob. But he was also a supremely talented photographer, writer and designer, as so much of the work we see in this rapturously beautiful documentary thoroughly proves. And Ms Vreeland (shown at left), along with her editor, Bernadine Colish, and cinematographer, Shane Sigler, using a wealth of archival photographic treasures and a running narrative taken from Beaton's own witty and delightful diaries (read superbly by Rupert Everett), interspersed with amusing, telling and intelligent interviews with a wide range of prominent people, whips all this into an informative, entertaining and, yes, brittle (just as was Mr. Beaton) froth that allows this 98-minute movie to speed along quite nicely.

Gay and barely closeted (at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offense in Britain), Beaton (shown above and below) managed to avoid any consequences from this (save perhaps his inability to latch on to any even vaguely permanent love relationship).

What got him most in trouble, stalling and nearly ending his career, turns out to be an anti-Semitic slur he buried, hardly able to be noticed, into some published art work for Conde Nast. Why this even happened remains a mystery (it seems to have been so to him, as well), as he was not noticeably anti-Semitic -- though god knows, plenty of his famous friends certainly were: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, for instance, along with other Hitler worshipers in the extended "royal family."

How and why he survived this event and quite literally "worked" his way out of it provides one of the more interesting episodes in a documentary chock full of them. His initial success in the USA and New York City enabled him to return to England with enough fame to build on and garner even more. His photographic work during World War II (for which he seems less known now) helped him regain his stature, as did his photography of the Royal Family and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

As we learn what happens to his brother, father and mother (his two sisters disappear from the narrative early on, never to return) weight and sadness are added to Beaton's tale and life. Yet the man himself remains witty, charming and cleverly self-deprecating throughout.

Thanks to Vreeland's smart pacing and to Beaton's rather incredible life, nearly everything we see and hear proves a kind of "highlight." What a career this man had! By the time we get to the section in which an interviewer asks him to name some of the folk he does not like -- and why -- his bitchy, funny answers scorch the screen. (His take-down of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, in particular, seems absolutely on the nose.)

Among the interviewees, artist David Hockney's reminiscences prove especially fond and thoughtful. As old age approaches we meet Beaton's much-loved white cat and see the man himself struggling against the dying of the light. Once that cat has departed, it is but a matter of a very short time until Beaton does, too.

Vreeland's documentary is like a trip back to a time long gone -- one that perhaps is not so much missed (it's the mid-20th-Century, after all). Compared to our current times, however, and what looks like a world approaching corporate/wealthy Fascism leading a citizenry made up of far too much right-wing, racist scum, those days seem a paradise lost.

From Zeitgeist Films, Love, Cecil opens this Friday, June 29, in New York City at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and in Los Angeles on July 20 at the Landmark NuArt. Overall, the film is scheduled to play some 25 cities across the country, including, here in South Florida, the Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton on July 27 and the Coral Gables Art Cinema in Miami on August 10. Click here (then scroll down) to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters

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