Film Review: LOVE, CECIL (USA 2017) ***1/2

Love, Cecil Poster
Lisa Immordino Vreeland directs this documentary about Academy Award-winning costume designer Cecil Beaton. A respected photographer, artist and set designer, Beaton was best known for … See full summary »

LOVE, CECIL is a love letter by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland on two-time Academy Award-winning costume/set designer Cecil Beaton.  Cecil Beaton won Oscars for Best Costume and Set Design for MY FAIR LADY (a clip is provided of Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison at the races from the film illustrating the gorgeous costumes included)  and GIGI.  Cecil was also a respected world renowned photographer, artist and set designer.

When asked whether to describe himself as a painter, a photographer, an author or even a dandy, Cecil has no particular one to choose from.  Cecil is in is own words, fascinated by the labyrinth of choice so does not undertake a single path like most people.  Much of the film’s narration comes from his personal diary, as voiced in the first person by Rupert Everett.  “Hundreds of thousands of words and pictures to describe fleeting moments.”

“I started out with so little talent but was tormented by too much ambition…”  The film also contains interviews with photographer David Bailey, artist David Hockney, designer Isaac Mizrahi, and Beaton’s biographer Hugo Vickers.

Like the subject itself, the doc is filled with beautiful narration (with many quotables) and visuals so that the audience is completely immerse in Cecil’s personal world.  The camera is often on Cecil himself, courtesy of archive footage and the audience gets a good glimpse of the man, from his ‘pretty young things’ age to his older years.   It is funny that Cecil was bullied at Health MountSchool by Evelyn Waugh who wrote “Pretty Young Things” that was also made into a film by Stephen Frears.

Cecil’s career is intimately traced by Vreeland.  As expected, it is not entirely a bed of roses.  Cecil has a bad spell when he played a joke by means of a photograph in American Vogue.  He had the word ‘kike’ scribbled obscurely in the photograph.  The word could still be seen by its Jewish owners  This was an act that got Cecil fired and perhaps humbled the man.  It took a while during the war when he finally redeemed himself by taking sympathetic shots of the devastation of War.   Many said that his work influenced America to aid Britain in the War effort.

What is most impressive and invigorating about Vreeland’s film is that she excites the audience to see the beauty that Cecil himself sees, the beauty captured in his photographs and his work.

LOVE, CECIL is an intimate portrait of an artist by Vreeland.  She makes no attempt to convince her audience to like Cecil.  She provides a detailed documentary of the man showing his openly gay life, dandy and all.  She lets Cecil’s work speak for itself, that the audience can see the genius in the man’s work – visually and verbally.  If one is not drawn by art, film, photography and words, which is rare, LOVE, CECIL might a total bore and the document of the life of the man would mean nothing.

Still, LOVE CECIL is a beautiful biography of Cecil Beaton and many who have not known him will at least now be able to appreciate his 60 years of work.


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