Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Lorna Tucker's bio-doc WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST. But not much of a designer

Hot on the heels of last month's fashion documentary, The Gospel According to André, comes yet another who-in-hell-needs-it? movie (in which the aforementioned André even plays a minor part).

WESTWOOD: PUNK, ICON, ACTIVIST, directed by Lorna Tucker (shown below: this is her first full-length endeavor) gives us a near-hour-and-a-half of Vivienne Westwood, a woman who has certainly qualified during her lengthy career as punk and activist, even as icon in the eyes of some, but perhaps not so much as an actual fashion designer -- not, at least, based on much of the oddball stuff that is shown us here.

Ms Westwood is, however, a pretty interesting figure. Now 77 years old, she has, as they say, been around the block. At the beginning of this documentary, she questions why anyone would even care to see and hear all this, and then tells us, "If I could do anything I want, what I would do is learn Chinese."

This pretty much sets the tone of a let-it-all-hang-out documentary that bounces back and forth in time (rarely telling us the year) and giving us snippets and shards of Westwood's (born Vivienne Isabel Swire) family history, marriages and relationships, and careers as housewife and mother, punk icon, and finally -- almost by default, it seems, as fashion designer.

Along the way, we're given some fun archival footage and lot more current-day images, meet quite a few of her employees (what a treat it must be to work for this woman! No, no: I'm being ironic), and view more than we might like of various catwalk collections -- which more than once brings to mind the idea that fashion exists mainly to appear "new" and to push the by-now utterly dessicated envelope.

At one point along the way, I jotted in my notes, What a bunch of poseurs! and indeed that does seem to be the case. Poseur-in-chief would be the fellow named Andreas who appears to be Vivenne's significant other, and also seems to have taken over Westwood's business empire. According to her son, whom we meet and hear from periodically during the documentary, this is a good thing. And since Ms Westwood, as shown here, does seems at times to be perhaps a little bit demented, yes, there needs be someone in charge.

Over the past few years, the woman has embraced the idea of climate change and approaching catastrophe and so has become something of an activist (we see a little of this as Westwood attends various rallies and speaks out). But of course her fashion empire remains important, even if, as she explains to a room full of international buyers a propos her business, "Our plan is not about world domination." Well, that's a relief.

Toward the end of the doc, we get the usual round-up of fulsome praise for Westwood, and yet many of the so-called fashions we view here seem downright ugly, if not actually nutty. Notes one woman post-catwalk debut, "The show was just mind-blowing!" Given what we've just witnessed, there must not have been much of a mind to blow.

Early on in her career, during the punk stage, it occurs to Westwood that, "Although we wanted to undermine the establishment, we weren't attacking the system at all. It was all being marketed, all the time. We were just part of the distraction." Exactly. And she still is.

Finally, the question that remains in my mind is this: In the narrative version of her life, will Dame Vivienne Westwood be played by Dame Judi Dench? (There is indeed a resemblance.) Or maybe Dame Vivienne will instead play Dame Judi in the narrative film about the latter's life! God knows, Westwood is quite the performer. In fact, you may end this 91-minute documentary with the sneaking suspicion that perhaps this whole thing was merely a put-on. Maybe even a put-down.

See for yourself and decide when Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist -- from Greenwich Entertainment and running just 83 minutes -- opens this Friday, June 8, in New York City at the IFC Center, and the following Friday, June 15, in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt -- with a limited nationwide rollout to follow.

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