Category Archives: Now Showing

McQUEEN

Producer: Ian Bonhote, Andee Ryder, Nick Taussig and Paul Van Carter
Director: Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui
Writer: Peter Ettedgui
Stars: Alexander McQueen
Studio: Bleecker Street

B+

The deluge of high fashion documentaries continues with Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s stylish, intense profile of the British designer whose talent and showmanship unsettled and amazed the world of design until his suicide in 2010. Even if you have never heard of Alexander McQueen and have no great interest in haute couture, you’re likely to find it an incisive, breathless portrait of a fascinating, troubled and troubling man.

McQueen hardly came from the British upper crust: born in 1969, he was a middle-class East London kid who was encouraged by his loving mother Joyce to apply for a job on Savile Row. Getting it, he quickly impressed colleagues with his innate tailoring ability, and after that apprenticeship went to Italy and a stint as an assistant to designer Romeo Gigli. Then he returned to London to study at Central Saint Martins with the encouragement of Bobby Hillson (and tuition aid from his aunt), and his 1992 graduation collection caught the eye of Isabella Blow, the flamboyant fashion writer who became a mentor to him. In the same year he created his own label.

His rise in the field was meteoric, not merely because of Blow’s invaluable support and advice, but by reason of his undisputed brilliance in combining innovative design with a theatrical form of runway drama that often utilized themes that were unsettling, even macabre: his 1992 show was called “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims,” and his 1995 one “Highland Rape.” Though such presentations brought charges of misogyny and cruelty, they certainly also gained him fame (or perhaps notoriety), though not necessarily wealth. That came with his 1996 hiring by Givenchy, an arrangement that lasted until 2001.

Among the most notable achievements of McQueen’s final decade were the celebrated “VOSS” show of 2001, which seemed a provocative affront to the whole world of high fashion, “La Dame Bleue” of 2008, and his 2009 Paris show, “Plato’s Atlantis.” But this period was also marked by McQueen’s increasing volatility and drug use, by his surgery to reduce his weight, and by the deterioration of his relationship with Blow, who committed suicide in 2007. Shortly after his mother died, McQueen hanged himself a bit over a month before his forty-first birthday. A friend, Sebastian Pons, recalls with horror that the designer had earlier mused about ending a show with his own death, and in a way he did precisely that.

Bonhôte and Ettedgui cover all this dexterously, collaborating with editor Cinzia Baldessari to present the collage of found footage (including ample coverage of the major shows, which are employed as windows into their creator’s personality, along with brief excerpts of Joyce McQueen talking about her son) and newly-shot interviews energetically while refusing to indulge in simplistic psychological explanation.

Among the most notable interviewees are Hillson, McQueen’s older sister Janet (who reveals some truly awful circumstances in his childhood) and his nephew Gary, and Blow’s incredibly eccentric widower Detmar, whose recollections of the gay life of the coterie that surrounded McQueen are both hilarious and depressing. Michael Nyman’s typically insistent score adds to the sense of drive and growing darkness inherent in the visuals, which add as transitional devices animated sequences of the skull that was the motif of the McQueen brand.

There are a few significant omissions in “McQueen,” as well as a couple of instances in which the makers seem to downplay explicit details (as about Blow’s death). Overall, however, this is one of the better haute couture documentaries of recent years, both reveling in McQueen’s artistic accomplishment and revealing the tormented soul that lay behind it.

SLENDER MAN

Producer: Brad Fischer, James Vanderbilt, William Sherak, Robyn Meisinger and Sarah Snow
Director: Sylvain White
Writer: David Birke
Stars: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Taylor Richardson, Annalise Basso, Javier Botet, Alex Fitzalan and Kevin Chapman
Studio: Sony Pictures Entertainment/Screen Gems

D-

The Internet bogeyman who actually inspired a couple of impressionable twelve-year old Wisconsin girls to attempt to kill a friend in 2014 comes to your favorite multiplex, but his appearance is more likely to engender hostility in you against the makers of “Slender Man” than toward anybody you know. There were more chills in a single frame of “The Babadook” than in this entire dreary movie.

Slender Man first showed up in 2009 on the website SomethingAwful.com in a post by one Eric Knudsen, aka Victor Surge. The spooky figure—a tall, dark, faceless creature with long, spindly fingers that was inserted into many contexts—became a popular web presence, often depicted as stalking and kidnapping children. From this foundation David Birke has contrived a plot about four high-school girls—Wren (Joey King), Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair) and Katie (Annalise Basso)—who in effect summon up the fearsome fellow by uploading a video from the net—all it takes is Google, apparently—in which he appears. (Why? Because the guys are holding their own Slender Man party, girls not invited.) That apparently constitutes an invitation for him to come after them.

One says “apparently” because the rules about how Slender Man can operate are never made very clear, or to be more accurate, the movie seems to be making them up as it goes along. Not that it matters much, of course; the important thing is that the concept gives this creepy entity an opportunity to pursue the quartet of increasingly frantic girls, one by one. First Katie disappears on a school field trip, and then Chloe goes berserk. That leaves Wren and Hallie to try to get them back from the bogeyman that the former, after a bit of research, comes to believe is some sort of “bioelectrical” entity. But what is implied at the end of the movie is that whatever his makeup, he encases his victims in the trunks of trees, using branchlike tendrils to grab them up.

That, at least, is what seems to be happening, although “Slender Man” is so sloppily directed (by Sylvain White), murkily shot (by Luca Del Puppo) and haltingly edited (by Jake York) that it’s not always possible to discern what’s going on. There are lots of sequences that turn out to be hysterical nightmares, a couple of set pieces (one in a library, another in a hospital) that are creepily but pointlessly bizarre, and plenty of expository filler, much of it derived online from a chat room user named Alleeycat93, which one might not take to be a completely reliable source. There’s also a subplot involving a handsome jock (Alex Fitzalan) that literally goes nowhere, and another focused on Hallie’s younger sister (Taylor Richardson) that, as far as one can tell, makes no sense at all but does allow for the effects team to add a few more jump scares to the picture, accompanied of course but sudden bursts of noise on the soundtrack provided by Brandon Campbell and Ramin Djawadi.

As usual in such fare, the acting is pretty perfunctory. King and Telles have the most to do and go through their paces with grim determination, but in the end the basic function for all the girls is to scream a lot, a task they accomplish at a very high decibel level.

To be fair, the Slender Man figure could lend itself to some evocative images on screen, but here—especially when he turns into a human-like fellow played by Javier Botet, he looks rather silly (though not so ridiculous as the giant wooden spider he morphs into near the close). If you really want to be frightened by the emaciated giant, try to check out the 2017 HBO documentary “Beware the Slenderman,” which dealt with the 2014 Wisconsin case. It shows that the real horror lies not in the Internet-based Freddy Krueger clone Birke has created, but in the murderous impulse the original figure could instill in impressionable children. Now that’s scary in a way this cookie-cutter movie is not.