Ideas On A Conveyor Belt
Having one good idea is not enough
For me one of the most powerful films this year was a documentary. ‘McQueen’ did much more than look at the life of Lee Alexander McQueen CBE, the bad boy of fashion who hailed from Stratford East and tore down the class/taste barrier with his iconic shows. He might have aged backwards as his fortunes rose, from overweight and under-educated to fit, tanned, smart. Mentally, though, his problems compounded as he was forced to move away from his roots.
Sympathetically and intelligently co-directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui and structured in fashion-season chapters, the film shows just how much pressure McQueen was under as he moved from a penniless East End student buying material with his unemployment benefit cheque to the head of a Parisienne haute couture fashion house. The word ‘tortured’ pops too easily into the mind when you consider his story arc; humble beginnings, obsessive dedication, anger, sacrifice, loss of friends and lovers, a family tragedy that leads to suicide. But there’s something else at work here. He had seen horrors in his early life, and was haunted by death.
Like all the most talented creatives, McQueen shunned the spotlight, was self-effacing, pushed his staff to their limits and worked harder than anyone. He remained connected to the ground and true to his personal vision, no matter how shocking it might be. And like talented creatives before him, he was surrounded with some truly dreadful hangers-on, and some who were necessary to the process. One of the latter was Isabella Blow, wealthy benefactor and muse who seemed to occupy the Edith Sitwell position, supporting but also keen to be recognised as a talent, which it appears she was not. Touching the hem of the garment does not transfer its properties, and indeed did not as McQueen failed to put her up for a job.
That’s the other thing about talent; it can’t promote those without it. McQueen eschewed networking and self-promotion to concentrate on creating a definitive body of work. I know authors who put more effort into marketing than writing, but by doing so they are doomed to fail (although they may end up better off financially).
A much darker message emerges from ‘McQueen’, though. It is this; that if you have an original voice and a talent to delight, you will be required to produce consistently and regularly until you are used up to a husk and interest wanes. The level at which McQueen was working made nonsense of the idea that the creator must wait for the muse to strike. He was expected to be innovative, technically perfect, original and ground-breaking, not once but all day every day forever until something broke.
McQueen said, ‘We can all be discarded quite easily – you’re there, you’re gone.’ He was 41 when he killed himself, on the day before his mother’s funeral. The film is euphoric and heartbreaking.