Documentary Review: “Westwood” keeps punk alive on the runaways, after a fashion

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Vivienne Westwood is a founding mother of British punk, an artist turned fashion designer who shaped, more than anybody else, the “look” of punk during the Sex Pistols’ heyday.

Her then lover and collaborator was punk impressario Malcolm McClaren, and in the new documentary “Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist,” she recalls how she and McClaren “cast” the band, and she dressed them.

Every time you see a torn t-shirt, a safety pin or swastika misused in “fashion,” thank Vivienne.

Defiantly independent, even as she hits 80, she and McClaren opened such iconic shops as Let It Rock, Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die and World’s End. She set the tone for this DIY look, and maintained it “even after they (the media) moved on to the next new thing.”

Lorna Tucker’s film captures Westwood as she finally absorbs the recognition British fashion long withheld from her and tracks her as she evolved her cluttered, DIY-looking weird-wear into runway-ready showstoppers, her brand spreading worldwide during the course of the film.

We see her hands-on piecing together of “looks” on her models, with her husband, the Austrian Andreas Kronthaler, fussing over every layer, accessory, ungainly shoe or legging.

They’re just “a drunken auntie and the gay uncle” to her “family” of designers and employees coos Andreas, who will never be butch enough for “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” But they make this work, doting over each other and the work (he was a former student and model) as her independent empire reaches the far corners of the globe.

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Naomi Campbell giggles about her famous runway tumble in whatever absurdly impractical heels they whipped up, and Kate Moss jokes about their years of association.

Tucker lets Westwood (her first husband’s name) grouse about old ground she doesn’t want to cover again, about McLaren, chapters she’d just as soon forget.

She was openly mocked on British chat shows, and seeing some of what she puts out there, that’s easy to understand. And yet, she persisted.

And the filmmaker lets Westwood trumpet her environmentalism, which works itself into her “No fracking” etc. designs. Left unchallenged is fashion’s role, in the very vanguard of industries ruining the planet on so many levels that there have been documentaries about it.

Still, she chose not to open a planned shop in Beijing for all the right reasons.

“Westwood” doesn’t rank with the great and revealing fashion docs of the past decade — “The September Issue,” “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” “Iris” or “The Gospel According to Andre.” But Tucker has documented cultural proof that an artist who sticks with it long enough and takes care of herself can live long enough to see everybody else come around to her way of viewing the world of what we wear.

It’s an amusing gloss on a punk icon who never gave up the rebellion and never let go of the safety pins.

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MPAA Rating: Unrated, nudity, profanity

Cast: Vivienne Westwood, Pamela Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Andre Leon Talley, Andreas Kronthaler and Kate Moss

Credits: Directed by Lorna Tucker.  A Greenwich Entertainment/Amazon release.

Running time: 1:23

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