Thursday, September 6, 2018

A portrait of man who took portraits

Socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, is credited with having uttered the now famous line, "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me." Longworth probably would have loved sitting next to photographer Cecil Beaton, the subject of Love, Cecil, a documentary by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland. Beaton, who died in 1980 at the age of 76, led a life that brought him into contact with the successful, the famous and the beautiful; he loved and loathed the people in his life with equal passion. Openly gay and in possession of a stunning gift for portraiture, Beaton eventually went to work for Conde Nast. He was a star at Vogue until an anti-Semitic reference appeared in one of his drawings (yes, he drew, as well). He eventually righted the foundering ship of his career, which included activities as various as becoming a war photographer during World War II and later serving as art director for movies such Gigi and My Fair Lady. Rupert Everett delivers a narration in the form of some of Beaton's writings, taking us inside the mind of a man whose name may not be well-known to many, thus allowing the movie to make an inadvertent comment on the fleeting nature of fame: Beaton, by the way, won four Tonys and three Oscars. Those who enjoy caustic wit will relish Beaton's trashing of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as his withering remarks about Katharine Hepburn. But he loved Greta Garbo and may have had a sexual relationship with her. Juicy gossip aside (and there's plenty in Love, Cecil), Vreeland's documentary introduces us to the work of a man who wrote, took pictures, designed and drew -- and did all of these with skill and a well-honed aesthetic.

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