“I can’t be bothered with them,” Vivienne Westwood says when asked about the Sex Pistols early in Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist. While well known for her collaboration with the band and her relationship with their manager Malcolm McLaren, legendary designer Westwood has enjoyed a long career beyond them and still has an iconoclastic personal style and exacting eye for how her designs are rendered. It’s understandable that Westwood wouldn’t want to dwell on punk, given the ever-changing nature of her subversive designs. And her story offers many other fascinating threads to explore, like her environmental activism and questions of the commodification of supposedly “alternative” styles. But barely running eighty minutes, Westwood only touches on such issues, never probing them. The film often suggests a TV special rather than a full documentary, or a sketch for a more detailed and provocative portrait, at least somewhat thanks to the reticence of the subject herself: In a statement released on Westwood’s official Twitter account, she disavowed the film, calling it “mediocre.”
The fact that you can sense Westwood’s disillusionment with the documentary project while watching it creates some interesting tension, but director Lorna Tucker doesn’t fully exploit it or turn it into meta commentary. Tucker wants the subject to speak for herself, and the subject doesn’t really want to. The most compelling moment comes when prim white-gloved conservators handle Westwood’s intentionally tattered punk-era creations. The dissonance here says more than the designer herself does.
Directed by Lorna Tucker
Opens June 8, IFC center
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 6, 2018