Cinema Review: Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, October 24th, 2021  

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

Studio: Greenwich Entertainment
Directed by Lorna Tucker

Jun 06, 2018 Web Exclusive
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“I don’t know if I want to show any of this shit,” Vivienne Westwood grumbles bitterly as she inspects her latest collection. Whether she’s looking at her clothes draped on apprehensive models or suspended on hangers, her face has a deep scowl etched into it. But while her moment of self-doubt and disgust is aimed at the clothes that fill her workshop, it could just as easily be lobbed at her own life. After all, one of the first things Dame Westwood says at the start of Lorna Tucker’s documentary is “do we have to cover every bit of it?”

The bits Westwood is talking about is the bits that everyone knows about her: her status as a punk couture high priestess, whose fetish fashions helped usher in the punk era in England. The Sex Pistols, “God Save The Queen,” Malcolm McLaren, Johnny Rotten: Westwood’s clearly bored to tears talking about it. One of her most endearing and admirable qualities is her prickly disdain for nostalgia, the way she dismisses both McLaren and John Lydon by saying “His thinking stayed where it was” & “He should have changed to something else by now” (respectively).

While Westwood does talk about her past and how she became interested in designing clothes, that caginess & reluctance to wax nostalgic about history is a running thread throughout the movie. Tucker paints a portrait of Westwood as a restless visionary, someone who cares so deeply about the quality of the clothes she makes and sells that she’s worried her company has grown too big for her to keep tabs on everything that has her name on it. She’s the rarest of capitalists: one who’d sacrifice growth in a heartbeat to ensure that the craft is still up to snuff.

Westwood also does show her darker side. “Why did I want a small hem?,” she seethes early on in the film, tearing into an employee for how one of her outfits turned out. There are moments where Westwood seems on the verge of turning into a Devil Wears Prada boss from Hell.

Westwood also focuses on her relationship with domestic & work partner Andreas Kronthaler. Tucker doesn’t shy away from exploring the age difference between Westwood and the much young Kronthaler. But the film does cast the pairing in a sympathetic light as two simpatico souls who are flourishing in an unconventional arrangement

Tucker’s film drags in parts because there’s no central conflict or mystery to give the film any momentum. Much of the film concerns Westwood prepping for a showcase, but we get no sense how important this show is. And while Tucker does briefly delve into Westwood’s work as an activist, the political beliefs and attitudes that have shaped Westwood’s work get short shrift; that’s one of the reasons why the designer and her family have vocally denounced Tucker’s film.

Regardless of Westwood’s distaste for her own documentary, one can feel Tucker’s appreciation for her subject throughout the movie. And while the film’s lack of a compelling throughline makes it hard to sit through without your mind wandering off for a bit, it does feature some dynamite visuals and archival footages. There’s plenty of runway imagery that spotlights Westwood’s designs (her pirate line is a particular highlight), along with interviews with models like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell that gives us a good sense of how respected Westwood is in her industry.

And while Westwood doesn’t want to talk about punk rock, some of the film’s best moments come from looking back at that safety-pinned period. In one highlight, we get to watch the disgusting phenomenon of “gobbing” first-hand as concert footage captures spit flying all over the place. And then there’s Westwood showing off some clothes on the Terry Wogan show. Hearing the studio audience roaring with laughter at her models while a frustrated Westwood calmly insists that her clothes are not a joke is a powerful moment. It gives us a revelatory moment, offering us a bit of understanding as to why Westwood has had to steel herself so hard. It’s a long, hard road from talk show laughing stock to award-winning peer of the realm.

Author rating: 6/10

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