Some iconic personalities are so much larger than life that it’s easy to forget that they’re real people who’ve led real lives — which makes it all the more fascinating to learn those details and really get to know the person behind the personality. Such is the promise, and payoff, of Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, Lorna Tucker’s insightful, fascinating documentary about English fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. Continue reading…
Of course, Westwood is much more than “just” a designer. Her aesthetic and vision — paired with the raw appeal of the Sex Pistols’ music — helped birth the punk movement in the UK, a legacy that has led to her early designs and garments being treated with the kind of loving reverence often given to artworks by the masters (the scenes in which a fashion curator discusses her pieces are captivating). Tucker chronicles Westwood’s heady, passionate, punk-centric ’70s years adeptly, with vintage photos and clips of the Sex Pistols and their ilk intercut with interviews in which Westwood and her friends and family share their memories of the time.
Equally fascinating are tales of Westwood’s early years as a working-class daughter, wife, and mum, as well as glimpses into her later years as an official Dame of the British Empire who’s gotten very involved with environmental activism. We hear from her sons, Ben and Joseph (the founder of Agent Provocateur lingerie), as well as her longtime husband, Andreas Kronthaler. They all express both admiration and exasperation; love and frustration. Westwood isn’t one to let anyone tell her what to do, whether it’s sign off on an unacceptable hem on a sweater in a new collection or move out of the council flat she called home for decades.
What’s also clear is that Westwood doesn’t take any part of her life for granted. She works all the time, and she works hard. She’s had enough ups and downs over the years that she doesn’t assume any luxury is permanent. She doesn’t suffer fools lightly, but she also doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge when others have valuable ideas and insights. She is, in other words, a talented, multidimensional woman with a wealth of experience and the confidence to know she’s usually right. What a Dame! — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Susan Wloszczyna: My conclusion after watching Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist: What Andy Warhol was to pop art, British designer Vivienne Westwood was — and continues to be at age 77– to punk aesthetic. Think of Marie Antoinette crossed with a cheeky pirate queen who would twirl in a full skirt panty-less for photographers on the occasion of becoming a dame. She has far outlived the band, the Sex Pistols, whose spiky hair, bondage-like T-shirts and screw-you attitude were infamously invented in the ‘70s by Westwood and her more music-minded partner in processed rebellion, Malcolm McLaren, who died in 2010. She would go off on her own and eventually create a global empire of clothing shops bearing her name while ever refining her signature elegantly English but also nattily naughty designs. Judging by an opening scene where a grimacing Westwood gripes about having to talk about her past, one presumes that director Lorna Tucker had her hands full trying to coerce her subject to open up. “Let me just talk and just get it over with,” Westwood suggests to the camera, as if someone was about to torture her. There is a definite control freak inside this rabble rouser, whose brand has expressed her disappointment with the documentary mainly because, in her mind, it doesn’t focus enough on the causes she supports. But Tucker, to her credit, gives us a fair chunk of do-gooding in her subject’s later years mostly concerning climate change while zeroing in on Westwood’s stubborn streak, perfectionist tendencies and need to be in charge. But what really is the selling point here for audiences is the gob-smacking way her delightful fashions have evolved over decades while still retaining the power to shock and awe. This is a rare portrait of a self-made older and still sexy woman with a husband who is half her age and a thriving empire. I, for one, would bow down before her.
Anne Brodie: Legendary British designer and shaper of culture Vivienne Westwood appears prickly, defensive and refuses to talk about Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols. At seventy-seven she’s earned the right to do so even though that was a rebellious, heady time in British cultural life and she was its queen. Documentarian Lorna Tucker must glean tidbits about London in the 70s and 80’s from other eye witnesses. Westwood’s other life today, is worlds apart. Now a Dame and an established, award winning designer on an international scale, things are different, but her innate radical spirit shines through. Cycling home from her London store wearing a rainbow of colours, trekking to the Arctic to witness the effects of climate change and enjoying her rebel reputation, she’s an inspiration. Westwood says early in the doc that she has spatial intelligence, that she made her own clothes as a child and says she would have make a pair of shoes at age five. Now with her third husband Andreas Kronthaler taking over some of her duties, Westwood campaigns for the environment, leftist politics and other issues. The colour saturated film is a joy, beautiful to look at, a lovely bit of nostalgia and reminder to all of to keep on rebelling!.
Esther Iverem: The story of British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, told in the documentary Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, is a buoyant lesson in creative possibilities. While this movie does not totally square Westwood’s social activism with the elitism of the fashion world, it it an unwavering and joyous celebration of artistry and an era.
Jennifer Merin Filmmaker Lorna Tucker’s Westwood: Punk.Icon, Activist chronicles the life and career of Vivienne Westwood, the dynamic British designer whose assertively rebellious sense of style has been a force of culture since 1974, when she opened her first shop at 430 King’s Road in London. Westwood, now 77 and still going strong, is a certifiably colorful character who is surrounded by a steady stream of fascinating and creative people, many of them with famous names. This entertaining chronicle, richly composed of archival footage and on camera interviews, retraces Westwood’s pattern for contemporary culture and politics. It delivers all that its title promises.
Nell Minow: How many couture fashion designers come on stage after a major show doing a cartwheel in construction worker boots and jeans? Just one and that would be Dame Vivienne Westwood, who seems charmingly a bit surprised to find herself going from punk to high fashion to environmental consciousness, and charmingly not really interested in a deep dive into her past. After all, fashion is all about what is next. Leave it to the museum curators to put on their white gloves and carefully handle the ripped t-shirt with a swastika on it, explaining in scholarly fashion the significance of the destruction of the fabric and the long sleeves reminiscent of a straight-jacket. Clothes “make you able to face the world in a kind of spectacular way,” a character says. Dame Vivienne has faced the world in a spectacular way and gives those who wear and those who see her clothes the opportunity to think about who we are and what messages we want to send.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Director Lorna Tucker’s retrospective documentary about the life and legacy of English fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is simply fascinating. A fashion icon who epitomized punk and counterculture life, Westwood means so much to so many generations. The interviews with her reveal how sick she is of talking about certain topics, like her relationship with the Sex Pistols (her former life and business partner Malcolm McLaren famously managed them). Tucker seems equally enthralled and exasperated by Westwood, and audiences will be too – as well as entertained. Supermodel Kate Moss, who shows up toward the end, calls Vivienne the “Queen,” because she was able to elevate herself from working class girl to titled, internationally renowned designer. In classist England, that is quite a feat. Whether all you know about Westwood is that she’s actress Helena Bonham Carter’s favorite designer, or you’re a fan who can tell her different collections apart, this documentary has a lot to offer about one of the fashion world’s most interesting icons.
MaryAnn Johanson It’s hard to believe that there hasn’t been a significant documentary about Vivienne Westwood until now. Or maybe not: as one vintage-80s TV clip in this film shows, women simply do not get respect for their work, no matter how groundbreaking. And yet while *Westwood* is often scattershot — mostly because the irascible Westwood has little interest in contributing to it — it is nevertheless essential viewing: for showcasing the designer’s no-fucks-given personality, for her remarkable work, and for how her life is almost a perfect reflection of the trajectory of 20th-century feminism, from her rejection of the conventional expectations to her rejection of intellectually dull men to her embrace of aggressive activism. She’s a wonderful role model for girls and women. Read full review.
Nikki Baughan: “I will get into it, but it’s so boring,” sighs Vivienne Westwood of the prospect of narrating her own life story. It’s a brave statement with which to open a debut documentary but, as filmmaker Lorna Tucker knows all too well, any study of this British fashion designer will prove anything but dull. Despite the endearing reticence of its subject, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist uses interviews, archive footage and intimate fly-on-the-wall access to get (almost) to the heart of this remarkable woman; although one suspects that Westwood will always keep some secrets firmly up her sleeve. Read full review.
Cate Marquis Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, Lorna Tucker’s documentary of British punk fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, profiles a remarkable woman whose successful career grew out of her roots as a founder of the punk rock movement. Tucker introduces us to a true rebel, whose fashions are infused with both punk style and her own political activism, a woman who is as bold and cutting-edge in her 70s as in her 20s. Read full review.
Pam Grady: A one-time punk icon who is now so embraced by the establishment that Queen Elizabeth II made her a dame, Vivienne Westwood’s career spans decades of changing fashion and social mores. Lorna Tucker’s documentary offers a fascinating glimpse into the life and career of a larger-than-life personality — up to a point. With Westwood’s own voice dominating the documentary and most other contributions coming from family and her collaborators, too often the film edges close to hagiography. In particular, the sections that delve into her environmental activism feel like a missed opportunity as Tucker fails to confront the inconsistency between Westwood’s avowed beliefs and both the planned obsolescence of fashion and the use of environmentally destructive materials in her clothing.
Title: Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
Directors: Lorna Tucker
Release Date: June 15, 2018
Running Time: 83 minutes
Distribution Company: Greenwich Entertainment
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferinand, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf
Edited by Jennifer Merin