Sunday, 12 March 2017

A Good Life: Lessons from Lagerfeld, Valentino and Mapplethorpe

Over the last couple of weeks I saw three films about the lives of three men: MapplethorpeValentino, and Lagerfeld. The films ranged from depressing to inspiring, and it got me thinking about what makes for a happy life when you're gay, creative and mega successful - or not (although this is particularly relevant in regards to the recent article in the Huffington Post, "The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness").

1. "Lagerfeld Confidential" (2007)

To be quite honest, this isn't a great film (although the trailer is fun). The ingratiating director follows Lagerfeld around and asks him questions about his life, ranging from his childhood to his sexuality (although they really do beat around the bush, and the word 'gay' is the greatest pink elephant in the room, especially for someone usually so outspoken).

The designer has some fascinating views on life, and he is filled to the brim with sharp and quotable observations. But although his need for solitude and his inability to share his life with other people seem genuine, it also feels a bit tragic. He admits that he disposes of people fairly easily and that he doesn't want to be real in other people's lives. Why ever not? The result is a man of many talents and - what feels to me - little warmth. Constant control and rigour must be utterly exhausting. Whatever happened to joie de vivre?

2. Valentino: "The Last Emperor" (2008)

Now here's someone who likes to have a good laugh. Valentino is unapologetically flamboyant, fun and capricious, and this documentary proves it. Following the master couturier while he makes his last collection ever, we see him fully at work and under pressure. And you know what? He goes a little crazy. But he clearly loves what he does. What else? He's got a partner. The same one for 45 years. 

Though apparently their physical relationship ended a long time ago, they have each other's backs. They bicker like schoolgirls, but they know they're in it forever. When Valentino receives the Légion d'Honneur from the French Government, he talks mostly about Giancarlo, who helped him shape who he is. Valentino starts to cry, and so did I when watching this. 

3. "Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures" (2016)

This excellent documentary is both sad and fascinating. According to an army of friends, admirers and lovers, Robert Mapplethorpe lived for his own success, and on the way there he used people as best as he could - emotionally, financially and sexually. 

When his younger brother wanted to become a photographer too, Robert became so jealous he forced his brother to change his name. When he found he'd contracted HIV, and not his lover, he was angry. When he knew he would die, he desperately asked his lawyer whether he'd leave behind more money than Andy Warhol (the answer was 'no'). And yet his isolation and need for validation are understandable, deeply rooted in his family's - and society's - rejection of his sexuality. He died in 1989, at the age of 42. His art lives on.

What does this tell us about life? I'll leave the conclusion to each one of you. 

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