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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter


by directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui

We are so happy to be presenting McQueen in Landmark Theaters.

In the process of making this film, a handful of mantra kept cropping up—things Lee Alexander McQueen used to say to inspire his team or describe his work. And over time, they became the principles that helped us to shape the film.

“If you want to know me, just look at my work.”

We decided to make Lee’s words the cornerstone of the film, using his groundbreaking and subversive fashion shows as a lens through which to view the story of his life. We selected a half dozen shows which coincided with turning points in his life and hinted at his personal angels and demons. “His garments do tell you about Lee,” says his boyfriend and assistant Andrew Groves in the film. “They’re almost like confessional.”

“If you go to one of my shows and you don’t feel emotion, I’m not doing my job properly.”

McQueen saw himself as much as a storyteller as a fashion designer, and the emphasis he put on the emotional narratives that drove his work inspired us as filmmakers. We decided always to favour emotion over information in this portrait. If you, the audience, don’t feel the exhilarating highs and tragic depths of McQueen’s extraordinary story, well, we’re not doing our jobs properly.

“I respect the traditions, but I break the rules.”

McQueen may have presented himself as a controversial punk iconoclast, but he was also a meticulous craftsman who mastered every aspect of technique. We wanted to evoke this sense of ‘sabotage and tradition’ (as Isabella Blow, McQueen’s champion, described it) in the way we told the story. A classical narrative structure on one hand, combined with an improvisatory, disruptive approach to documentary storytelling on the other. We stitched together all the elements at our disposal—archive from over 200 sources, original interviews, photography, audio tapes, specially-created interstitial imagery, animated graphics and Michael Nyman’s extraordinary music—to construct what we hoped might be the cinematic equivalent of a McQueen collection.

“Fashion is a bubble. Sometimes I want to pop it.”

We never set out to make a ‘fashion film.’ To us, McQueen’s story is about so much more than fashion; it’s a universal tale about family and friendship, about creativity and about being an outsider. For McQueen was a misfit within the fashion world. Blessed with an extraordinary gift and driven by his intense work ethic, he always chafed against the constraints of the world in which he found himself. He challenged fashion, tested it, pushed it—and changed it forever. But ‘fashion’ fought back, in turn testing him, pushing him and, yes, changing him irrevocably.

“They told him it was impossible, and Lee said ‘No, it’s not, you can do it.’ And that’s what Lee did for people. He made them do the impossible.”

Mira Chai Hyde, one of McQueen’s close friends (who also did men’s grooming on some of his greatest shows), shared this memory with us. Reason dictates that when you embark on a project like this, you should have unfettered access to family and friends in place, and a cache of unique archive to play with. We had neither when we started on McQueen! But we did have a passion—McQueen’s story and his creative spirit moved us both profoundly. Gradually, friends like Mira, studio assistants, mentors, lovers as well as Lee’s family warmed to us. And over time, we found our ‘nuggets’ of archive. “You can do it...” Lee’s words were our call to action.

We hope you will be as moved and inspired by this unique man and his story as we were while making the film.

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