Opening 12 Jul 2018
Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Sir Cecil Beaton was born 1904 in England, one of four children. The film documents his life practically from beginning to end with emphasis on his school days and then rise into a successful career as photographer and artist. He never had any use for “boring” school, failing tests, not reading books, but still gaining acceptance into Cambridge, where he also skipped classes and concentrated on the school theater. His private life was also a kind of theater as he enjoyed dressing up, often flamboyantly, perhaps reflective of both his artistic and homosexual tendencies. “Life was a stage.” In 1929 he made his way to New York City where he became a fashion photographer for VOGUE magazine for which he “created a mood of magic shadow as reflected in German expressionist cinema.” This career ended suddenly and he returned to Great Britain to reside in a countryside villa. In 1939 he got an assignment to photograph Queen Elizabeth II, which set him up photographing the entire royal family, as well as British war sites. He associated with Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, Orson Wells, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Leslie Caron, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, and many more. He won Academy Awards for costume and art design for Gigi and My Fair Lady. He was knighted in 1972 and died in 1980.
This is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in many months. Not only do we follow Sir Cecil’s career, but learn about his family: his sisters Nancy and Baba and his brother Reginald whom he outlived, as well as his relationship to his father. The film succeeds because of the huge source of information, not only from the 150 diaries which he wrote and turned into eight books, but also 7000 photos. Rupert Everett’s continuous commentary in English gives the impression that Beaton is there beside us, reviewing his life firsthand. You can’t get more believable than that. There is much to learn, no matter if you are a knowledgeable Sir Cecil fan or have just become aware of his existence through this film – a film one can easily see more than once. (Becky Tan)