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Film review: 'McQueen'

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When he committed suicide in 2010 at the age of 40, fashion designer Alexander McQueen left behind a legacy of crafting captivatingly strange, sensual, and frequently morbid attire. Much more than simple commercial product, his work was wearable art, seeking to provoke a reaction from his audience more than anything else. Not for nothing was the massively popular museum retrospective of his work titled "Savage Beauty."

With their deeply affecting documentary "McQueen," directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui take a close look at McQueen's life and work, and in the process create an engrossing film, even for those who don't consider themselves fashion connoisseurs.

Known by his given name of Lee to friends and family, McQueen rose from a working-class London bloke to become a true icon of the fashion world. His taste for the avant-garde made him a favorite of the likes of Lady Gaga, who was something of a muse to the designer.

The designer first gained attention in the early '90s with unabashedly theatrical catwalk shows that blurred the line between performance art and fashion: shows like "Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims" and "Highland Rape," the latter of which inspired no shortage of media controversy. For that show, McQueen sent models down the runway in bruised makeup, dressed in ripped and tattered clothing. The show earned McQueen accusations of misogyny, though he maintained that he was seeking to question the industry's exploitation of women rather than glamorize it.

Bonhôte and Ettedgui have access to a wealth of archival footage, and conduct candid interviews with those who knew and worked with him. The result is a captivating portrait of a brilliant but troubled artist that makes no attempt to gloss over his inner demons; nor do the filmmakers sensationalize them, either.

There's talk of abuse as a child and drug abuse later on as McQueen continued to churn out collections at an unsustainable pace. Through it all, there's a clear sense of McQueen attempting to work through his demons through his work. The darkness in his life was reflected in his stunning, often disturbing and macabre creations he sent down the runway. The movie is equally inspiring and heartbreaking to watch, and as strong a case as any that fashion can take the form of truly great art.

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