“He’s a total self-creation,” Truman Capote says of Cecil Beaton in an archival clip featured in Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s Love, Cecil. This documentary portrait offers a glamorous, if not terribly probing, overview of the life of a multi-hyphenate style icon. A seemingly omnipresent cultural figure from the 1920s through the ’70s, Beaton photographed Hollywood stars and military men, designed sets and costumes for the stage and screen, wrote witty books, and published fanciful illustrations. The film paints Beaton as a foppish Renaissance man (who dabbled in drag), and ably proves Capote’s point via pithy yet self-reflective excerpts from Beaton’s diaries, tracing his quest to set himself apart from his conservative father. Beaton’s more-is-more approach makes for a feast for the eyes.
As is all too common in the fashion world, Beaton turns out to have been, well, kind of rude and snobbish. Love, Cecil isn’t entirely effective when folding these negative qualities into ostensibly endearing quirks. While it’s not news that you can be a jerk and still produce great art, the approach here to an incident in which Beaton was briefly fired from Vogue for incorporating anti-Semitic slurs in an illustration is unpersuasive. The film treats this misstep as a random occurrence, quickly walking back the controversy. After a while, you might get tired of hearing about just how much Beaton loved beauty and want the exploration to go further. The score, a bit cheesy and repetitive, doesn’t help matters. Still, even though it paints too rosy a picture, Love, Cecil fills out history with sparkling imagery.
Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Opens June 29, Film Society of Lincoln Center
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 28, 2018