New Documentary Chronicles the Fine Life of Photographer and Artist Cecil Beaton



Before there was David Bowie, there was Cecil Beaton.  A restless spirit and early-1930s thin white duke, Beaton seemed to never not be upwardly mobile.  An artist to the core and to the end, he was a trendsetter as photographer and designer; he was deeply influential as an illustrator and as a writer.  Intellectual, erudite, but always outside the lines, the aesthetic Beaton forged has positively, sometimes challengingly, stuck.  

As Love, Cecil, the new documentary about him points out, Beaton wasn’t the world’s first fashion photographer, but he was probably the world’s first major one.  Though publicly labeled “a dandy” and by most accounts, living the queer life before it was branded as such, Beaton’s bohemian eye saw profound and elusive beauty in men, and particularly in women.  Through his multifaceted artistic platforms, from the pages of Vogue in the 1930s (where he was fired for anti-Semitic cartoons, then later rehired once he proved repentant) to crafting the visual design of the films My Fair Lady and Gigi (where his talent shined brightest for all the world to see), he was able to communicate and share this beauty.  Ever innovative, slyly compelling, and British to the core.

Love, Cecil is a breezy yet fully absorbing affair; the illusive easy watch that nonetheless manages secure take a place in the viewer’s memory.  Filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland, having previously made Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011) and Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (2015), is no stranger to telling the stories of high falutin’ society notables.  This, her latest effort, leaves no doubt that she’s the perfect teller for this story.  In such, via newly recorded interviews and his own published journals, viewers learn of the man’s insecurities, regrets, and loves just as they learn of his skills, talents, and achievements.

Beaton enthusiasts will be most thrilled with Kino Lorber’s DVD edition of Love, Cecil, as it contains not just a terrific transfer of the film, but loads and loads of interview outtakes, featuring the likes of David Hockney, Leslie Caron, Manolo Blahnik, and many more.

The life and times of an upper crust taste maker and artisté may not strike one as compelling nor relevant, but Vreeland threads the needle of accessibility and high culture tastes like the visionary its subject was.  Watch this documentary, and love Cecil.