×

Sundance Film Review: ‘Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist’

Offbeat British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood proves a reluctant but intriguing subject in Lorna Tucker's celebratory docu-portrait.

Director:
Lorna Tucker
With:
Vivienne Westwood, Andreas Kronthaler

1 hour 20 minutes

Official Site: https://dogwoof.com/westwood/

The word “icon” in the title of any biographical documentary is more often than not a promise of unqualified celebration, and so it is in “Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist,” Lorna Tucker’s consistently entertaining, enthralled portrait of aberrant British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. Sharp-lined but entirely flattering, rather like one of Westwood’s showiest catwalk gowns, Tucker’s film initially sets up intriguing friction between camera and subject, as the 76-year-old designer proves an ornery, recalcitrant interviewee: “Do we have to cover every bit of it, you know?” she moans at the outset. “It’s so boring to say all this.” “Westwood” resists meeting her spikiness in kind, approaching with fabulously accessorized cap in hand as it weaves lively archive footage and similarly awed talking heads around her queenly presence.

Westwood is a sufficiently fascinating figure for this straightforward strategy to yield satisfying rewards, and Tucker’s film should be a popular pick on the documentary festival circuit and subsequently on streaming platforms — both areas where fashion-world studies, with their point-and-shoot visual glitz and high celebrity quotient, tend to play well. (It’s given extra appeal in that regard by a light-footed 80-minute runtime; if anything, the film risks feeling a tad rushed in its overview.) For a tribute to the woman who brought the challenging sensibility and aesthetic of punk to popular culture, however, “Westwood” doesn’t break many rules of its own.

That said, the film’s more conventional trappings aptly underline how Westwood, in some ways cannily and in others accidentally, has grown from a counterculture rebel into a revered establishment figure, appointed a dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006. Her 1970s ascent to punk royalty, meanwhile, followed a working-class upbringing and young adulthood that initially promised a far milder future. Having dropped out of art school after doubting the financial viability of her passion, Westwood married, had a son and became a schoolteacher, before shifting social tides in the mid-1960s — and, crucially, an affair with situationist-inspired art student and future Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren — carried her away from sensible domesticity.

Westwood’s life is a rich narrative, rife with such reversals and reinventions: It’s a wonder, really, that it hasn’t prompted a biopic yet. Tucker, a former fashion model whose previous directing work includes promos for the Westwood brand, runs through it in engaging, slightly discursive style — reflecting, it feels, the manner in which her colorful but guarded subject related it to her. Perhaps it’s due to Westwood’s wary interview temperament that some key aspects of her biography are given short shrift: The punk movement, in particular, is discussed only at surface level, and “Westwood” never fully gets to grips with the complications of McLaren, Westwood’s relationship with him and their joint celebrity. (Their son, fellow fashion entrepreneur Joseph Corré, says more than she does on his father, and damningly so.)

Past alternates with present, meanwhile, as “Westwood” surveys the designer at work in her current fashion empire: cycling to headquarters, surveying models and style files, and fussing over her own designs with a critical, sometimes disassociated eye. (“Why did I want a small hem there?” she sneers at one blouse. “It’s crap, I don’t like any of this s—t.”) Her intense working partnership with her Austrian artistic director and second husband Andreas Kronthaler is perceptively scrutinized; a louche, witty interviewee, amazed and exasperated in equal measure by his wife’s brilliance, he fills in many of the gaps that Westwood is too restless or frustrated to explain.

The second half of the film, in particular, develops an interesting tension between success and satisfaction in its depiction of designer as businesswoman. Amid her international dealings and growing side occupation as an ardent environmental activist — the film briefly follows her on a Greenpeace mission to the Arctic — Westwood sometimes candidly voices her concerns that her brand has grown too big for her, and that she’s lost some aesthetic control of it. “I don’t need to sell anything I don’t like,” she says tartly. It’s not a question that anyone else dares to broach: True to its title, “Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist” is chiefly out to gild a remarkable, independent legacy. As the film unrolls its rousing, “Bolero”-scored closing montage of the stunning catwalk visions Westwood has given the fashion world over four decades, you can hardly say it’s undeserved.

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

Reviewed online, London, Jan. 28, 2018. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema Documentary Competition.)

Production: (Documentary — U.K.) A Dogwoof presentation of a Finished Films production in association with Tdog Prods., Passion Pictures. (International sales: Dogwoof, London.) Producers: Eleanor Emptage, Shirine Best, Nicole Stott, John Battsek. Executive producers: Anna Godas, Leo Haidar, Emma Dutton, Ian Sharp, Rebecca Joerin-Sharp, Andrew Ruhemann. Co-executive producer: Adam Betteridge.

Crew: Director: Lorna Tucker. Camera (color): Sam Brown, James Moriarty. Editor: Paul Carlin. Music: Dan Jones.

With: Vivienne Westwood, Andreas Kronthaler, Ben Westwood, Joe Corré, Carlo D'Amario, Christopher Di Pietro, Bella Freud, Kate Moss.

More Film

  • The Lion King

    'The Lion King' Looks to Roar Life Into Domestic Box Office

    Hollywood just can’t wait for “The Lion King” to hit theaters. That’s because Disney’s highly anticipated remake is expected to draw herds of moviegoers at a time when ticket sales are seriously struggling. Box office watchers predict that the studio’s grand return to the Pride Lands could become one of this year’s biggest hits. “The [...]

  • Sarah Wright Takes Charge of Sky

    Sarah Wright Takes Charge of Sky Cinema After Management Shuffle

    Sarah Wright, Sky’s top acquisitions exec, will take on responsibility for Sky Cinema after a management shuffle at the pay-TV giant. Wright fills a role vacated by Ian Lewis, who recently left Sky after 20 years. He was one of several Sky staffers to leave after its takeover by Comcast. As director of Sky Cinema [...]

  • Jodi Long Running for SAG-AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer

    Jodi Long Running for SAG-AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer on Matthew Modine Slate

    Veteran actress and union activist Jodi Long is running for secretary-treasurer of SAG-AFTRA as a member of Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. She is facing Camryn Manheim, who announced her candidacy on July 9 as part of the Unite for Strength slate for the re-election of union president Gabrielle Carteris. Unite for Strength and United [...]

  • Toni Monty

    Durban FilmMart Head Toni Monty: ‘Africa Has Its Own Story to Tell’

    The Durban Film Festival’s industry program, the Durban FilmMart, celebrates its 10th anniversary as the leading confab for filmmakers from across the continent, with a lively program of panel discussions, seminars and workshops unspooling from July 19-22 in this sunny seaside city. In addition, 10 fiction and 10 documentary works-in-progress have been selected for the DFM’s [...]

  • Maternal-Hogar-Sister-Paola-and-Nina-sleeping

    Locarno: Charades Acquires Competition Contender ‘Maternal’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Having seen large success with Cannes Critics’ Week and Annecy Cristal winner “I Lost My Body,” Paris-based Charades has confirmed its acquisition of international sales rights to “Maternal” (“Hogar”), written and directed by Italy’s Maura Delpero. The awaited fiction feature debut of Delpero, a documentary filmmaker whose won a Donatello Award nomination for dock-feature “Nadja [...]

  • BAFTA Backs BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training for

    BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training Rolls Out to BAFTA Voters, Wider Industry (EXCLUSIVE)

    The British Independent Film Awards is opening up its unconscious-bias training to BAFTA voters and, more widely, to anyone who judges the work of others in the film and TV business in the U.K. With the makeup of award-nominee and -winner lists under close scrutiny, BIFA introduced its unconscious-bias training last year. Its voters, jurors, [...]

  • Instinct

    Carice van Houten's 'Instinct' Picked Up By Films Boutique (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based international sales agent Films Boutique has picked up psychological thriller “Instinct,” starring Carice van Houten, who received an Emmy nomination Tuesday for “Game of Thrones,” and Marwan Kenzari, recently seen in Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin.” “Instinct” has its world premiere on the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival next month. “Instinct,” the directorial debut [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content