'Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist': Film Review

Westwood Still 1 Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment
Disappointingly scattershot.

Lorna Tucker's documentary chronicles the colorful life and career of the famed British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

The grandiosely titled Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist demonstrates the pitfalls of making a film about someone who cooperates while obviously not really wanting to. Lorna Tucker's documentary profiling famed fashion designer Vivienne Westwood displays a genuine tension between the filmmaker and her subject that initially proves intriguing. Unfortunately, that tension soon dissipates, and all that's left is a much too cursory portrait of a figure whose fascinating life and career should have led to a more interesting film.

The designer proves an irascible figure from the start, complaining about the filmmaker's questions and declaring that she has little interest in rehashing her life. Not long afterwards, when asked about her relationship with The Sex Pistols, Westwood is equally dismissive.

"I can't be bothered with them, either," she says, sighing. "I don't know what we're going to do." From the dutiful, uninspired treatment Tucker gives her subject, it would appear that she didn't, either.

The film touches all the biographical bases, beginning with Westwood's more conventional early life as a married schoolteacher with a son. Her romantic and professional relationship with Malcom McLaren proved a turning point, with the pair opening a boutique store on King's Road that showcased their punk fashion designs and became a sensation. "We invented punk," Westwood declares in the film, not inaccurately. She also says that their relationship soured because of McLaren's inability to change. "I got intellectually bored with Malcolm," she says.

Westwood began her career as an iconoclast but eventually became an institution. Her privately owned company now has over 60 retail outlets; she was honored with the title of Dame in 2006; and she received a retrospective exhibition in 2004 by London's Victoria & Albert Museum that was the largest ever devoted to a living British fashion designer. Along the way, she also received more than her share of critical brickbats, her outlandish designs often mocked by the fashion establishment and the press.

While the extensive archival footage fascinates, the documentary is most effective when simply following Westwood around, whether she's puttering around her cluttered apartment or working on her latest designs. It also features a touching love story, between Westwood and her second husband and professional partner Andreas Kronthaler, who clearly adores her and dotes on her obsessively.

The director, a former fashion model, demonstrates a familiarity with the milieu that gives the film an undeniable authenticity. But she doesn't organize her material particularly well, chronicling her subject's life in such scattershot fashion that viewers not already familiar with Westwood's career may become frustrated. Some elements, such as the designer's unflagging work on behalf of environmental causes, fly by so quickly that they barely make an impression; while others, including a predictable series of talking heads (including Andre Leon Talley and Kate Moss) delivering effusive praise of Westwood, go on for too long.

Fortunately, Westwood is such a charismatic, arresting figure that the documentary proves very entertaining at times. Now in her late seventies, she still exudes a youthful zestfulness that makes her seem much younger than her years. The documentary ends with a montage of her taking bows on various catwalks, her gleeful delight, seemingly at getting one over on the system, proving infectious.

Production: Finished Films Productions, Tdog Productions, Passion Pictures
Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment
Director: Lorna Tucker
Producers: Eleanor Emptage, Shirine Best, Nicole Stott, John Battsek
Executive producers: Anna Godas, Leo Haider
Directors of photography: Sam Brown, James Moriarty
Editor: Paul Carlin
Composer: Dan Jones

80 minutes