Saturday, April 6th, 2024

High and Low : John Galliano : the tale of a talented and tortured genius


The Scottish Academy-Award Winning  filmmaker Kevin Macdonald told Vogue Magazine that he had two main reasons for wanting to make this documentary.  Firstly because John Galliano is regarded as one of the greatest designers of the last hundred years. and “everyone tells me this guy’s a genius“.  The second reason was because of those cause-celebre antisemitic incidents and the subsequent firing of Galliano from Dior, and the ensuing court case in Paris.

On the whole in his 2-hr long documentary  MacDonald gets the balance right.  He showed us so much of the incredible confections of Galliano’s.  They were part of his  passion for  outrageous tributes that reimagined history in. style and scale that had never been seen before  … and will be again. MacDonald and a whole coterie of  famous fashion talking heads such as Kate MossNaomi Campbell and Anna Wintour were more than happy to line up to keep describing his work as masterpieces.

There is a very touching part near the beginning  when the newly graduated star fashion student Galliano  is  absolutely broke and then along came  two shining knights on horses to his rescue …… Anna Wintour herself and the legendary André Leon Talley, who used their  very influential clout to get enough finance for him to make the collection.

I have to confess that I was in total awe of what Galliano sent down his runways, as was Bernard Arnault the founder, chairman and CEO of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company.  He offered Galliano the job of Creative Director of Givenchy, and after a spectacular collection, he upped the offer for the  same role in the much larger Dior company.

Hard for us watching to learn that Galliano was  contracted to produce 32 collections a year (!) so he relied heavily on both drugs and drink to get through his working days (whilst the nights passed in a haze).  He relied even more on his best friend and personal design assistant Steven Robinson who had put his own life on hold, until he ended up dying of a drug overdose.  He was just 38 years old.

The Galliano we see on the screen then is a confusing mix of grief (for Steven) and also starting to believe that his fame  allowed him to act like a caricature of his former self.  Credit to Macdonald who steered a middle course with the part of the story and and allowed us to draw our own conclusions. Mine was of utter disappointment.

By the time a very drunken Galliano was filmed in a bar screaming anti semitic epithets at strangers, he was really in a downward spiral.  Fired by Dior and sent to a rehab unit in Arizona, this second part of the story is trying to discover if  he will  ever be able to recover personally and professionally.  

The bulk of the film is the result of Galliano sitting down with Macdonald and his camera for 4/5 hours at a time for several days.  Allegedly Galliano is there on his own, but there is one point when he asks someone off camera to check a fact.  His testimony is a mix of contriteness, apology, attempts to share the blame, pure forgetfulness and simply appealing to the camera with a hanged dog look.  It may work as a compelling part of a film, but there is still  our apprehension about how much of this is  for show, and how much we are really expected to believe.  

His career was rescued by Maison Margiela where he was offered the role of Creative Director originally held by Martin Margiela.  With another stage to show all his fashion fantasies, he was back.  Creatively at least.  And MacDonald  shows us a sober, happily married Galliano whose only  addiction now is body building at the gym

Only history will tell us how Galliano will eventually be remembered.  Despite all his best efforts right now, the jury is still out .

PS Two points.  The film started with Galliano’s childhood in Gibraltar, but yet it skips an important part of his early adulthood. During his time studying at Central St Martins his boyfriend was fellow designer John Flett whom Galliano described as his ‘soul mate.’  Flett died of a heart attack in 1991.  He was just 27 years old

PPS There is clip in the film showing Anna Wintour cosying up to the man next to her at a Fashion Show.  Its P Diddy.  She may want that cut now!

The film can be streamed from April 26th  https://mubi.com/





ROGER WALKER-DACK Creator, Editor-in-Chief Miami Beach, FL / Provincetown, MA 
of G.A.L.E.C.A. (Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association) and 
NLGJA The Association of LGBT Journalists. and The Online Film Critics Society. Ex Contributung Editor 
The Gay Uk & Contributor Edge Media Former CEO and Menswear Designer of  Roger Dack Ltd in the UK

Posted by queerguru  at  14:02



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