Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is an unremarkable doco saved by its truly remarkable subject – the wild and wonderful Dame Vivienne Westwood. Turns out there’s a lot more to her than an association with Sex Pistols era UK punk.
Vivienne Westwood is best known as the fashion designer wife of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, with whom she ran Sex, London’s go-to punk clothing and accessories boutique store during the Sex Pistols’ reign in the 70s – but if you’re hoping Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist might be some sort of backdoor perspective on the formative days of punk rock in the UK, forget it!
When director Lorna Tucker attempts to prompt Westwood on the era, she tetchily declares herself bored and refuses to cooperate. The only notable comment she makes is that she and McLaren “invented punk”, which is arrant nonsense.
It’s understandable that she should be reluctant to dwell on this early chapter of her foray into fashion. As this fascinating but not terribly well made doco reveals, there’s a lot more to Westwood the person and her career in fashion design than her association with Sex, McLaren and the Pistols.
That said, she is the embodiment of the DIY anti-establishment in-yer-face attitude that is intrinsic to punk, and which finds expression in the trash aesthetic that informs her often outrageous, boundary-pushing designs. Further, throughout the doco, which tracks her personal life and fashion career to the present, she demonstrates a predisposition for telling people to “fuck off”, and is often bolshie, but her bark is shown to be worse than her bite. She frequently backpedals with gentle words after she pays out on someone, which is endearing.
Besides, her irascibility and occasional ferocity is easily forgiven: she’s clearly as eccentric as hell, abundantly talented creatively, and loyal to family and work colleagues, who speak fondly of her.
Tucker tells Westwood’s story using on-the-spot camera candida sequences of her at work on her designs and behind the scenes at fashion shows, archival footage, and multiple interviews, including with her sons, partner in life and design Andreas (who is half her age, as eccentric and gifted as she is, and still besotted with her), colleagues and fashion luminaries such as Kate Moss.
What emerges is a composite portrait of a complex and uncompromising creative who has transcended her Northerner working class background, shrugged herself free of an abusive, controlling and spiteful first husband (McLaren), and braved ridicule from the fashion industry en route to finally being paid her dues in being declared Britain’s Designer of the Year two years running.
I’m not big into fashion, so can’t claim to have informed taste, but I loved a lot of Westwood’s sartorial creations as presented here. The designs reflect the person: full of paradoxes and contradictions, erratic, sometimes so outlandish as to be silly, sometimes elegant, strikingly colourful and beautiful – and always surprising and original.
While Westwood concedes that in achieving success she has become part of the machine she has long fought against, she has maintained her artistic integrity, refusing to yield to profit-driven pressures and insisting on remaining independent while other big, successful designers have embraced a corporate structure.
Further, in her latter years Westwood has “given back” by taking on an activist role as an environmentalist (much to Andreas’s chagrin – he finds her activism “kind of boring”, and is wilting under his increased workload).
While Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist has its flaws as a doco (eg: it’s disjointed at times, flitting back and forward chronologically to no good purpose), its subject carries the show. Viva Dame Viv. She’s a oncer, colourful and subversive, and we need more like her.
Movie Website: https://www.viviennewestwoodfilm.com/
Australian release date: Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist currently screening in Perth at Luna Leederville
For complete list of film reviews published on this site see Movie Review Archives