I’ve known Cecil Beaton’s name ever since I saw Gigi as a kid and enjoyed his exquisite costume and production design. I later learned that he was a celebrated artist and photographer as well as a social gadfly, but I still didn’t know much about him. That has been fully remedied by Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s absorbing new documentary Love, Cecil. Much of the story is told by Beaton himself, in a series of vintage television interviews, and while there are other notable “talking heads,” he is perhaps his own best chronicler.
A precocious talent with a gift for making influential friends and losing them just as easily, Beaton’s gifts as an illustrator, designer, diarist and photographer earned him success on both sides of the Atlantic, especially in the pages of British and American Vogue. An embarrassing incident cost him his career and he was only able to find redemption by dedicating himself to the war effort, where he worked with great distinction and uncharacteristic unselfishness. This is one of the most interesting and revelatory sections of Vreeland’s film.
He was, above all, a character: self-made, larger-than-life, with a peculiar self-destructive streak. There is a brief but hilarious interview clip with George Cukor, with whom he collaborated on the ravishing My Fair Lady. Like so many other relationships, this one did not end well, to put it mildly.
Cecil Beaton is one of those names that rings out in any history of 20th century art and culture. This entertaining and candid film explains why.
To see where Love, Cecil is playing theatrically and learn more about the film, go to www.zeitgeistfilms.com