“Do we have to cover every bit of it?” grumbles 76-year-old Vivienne Westwood; “It’s so boring.” No.
She doesn’t want to talk about the Sex Pistols. Her strange friendship with Pamela Anderson is glimpsed only through archive footage. And it falls to her son, Joseph Corré, to do the talking about Malcolm McLaren, who casts a formidable shadow across the film, nonetheless.
You’ve heard of an unreliable narrator: trust the commendably testy Vivienne Westwood to be an unreliable subject. Shot over three years, Lorna Tucker’s documentary portrait of the eccentric British fashion designer was just about to be unveiled at this year’s Sundance Film Festival when Westwood issued a statement.
The statement, to use the punkish parlance of Westwood's youth, translated into a two-finger salute: "The Vivienne Westwood documentary set for release this year, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, has been made and produced by a third party and as it stands isn't endorsed by Vivienne Westwood. Lorna Tucker asked to film Vivienne's activism and followed her around for a couple of years, but there's not even five minutes [of] activism in the film, instead there's lots of old fashion footage which is free and available to view online. It's a shame because the film is mediocre, and Vivienne and Andreas are not."
This last point is indisputable: Vivienne and Andreas Kronthaler, her domestic and design partner for several decades, are anything but mediocre. But she's wrong about Tucker's film, which is at its best when covering Westwood's extraordinary rollercoaster journey from failed housewife to outsider artist to the go-to designer for Carrie's wedding dress in the Sex and the City movie.
The “old fashion footage which is free and available to view online” proves invaluable in reconstructing Westwood’s gradual acceptance (and deification) by the fashion establishment.
Westwood's activism against fracking and climate change may be noble, but it's not as entertaining as watching her ball out an employee over insufficiently large hems. And it can't possibly compete with the greatest hits. Footage from a 1988 appearance on Wogan – later parodied by Alan Patridge – in which her designs inspire hoots of laughter from the audience, remains TV gold.
A Bolero-scored montage of her catwalk creations of the years is delightful. And Vivienne, for all her recalcitrance, is fine company. There really is nothing like a Dame.