Vivienne Westwood is known as the woman pulling the ropes behind the British Punk movement that was popularized in the mid-1970s. In her first feature documentary, filmmaker Lorna Tucker explores the woman behind the designer’s infamous punk persona, including her shift into activism, supporting many political causes such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, climate change, and civil rights groups. We chatted with Lorna earlier this week about the film, her journey into the industry, and her plans for the future.

By Jane Bradshaw

“I love Skype over a phone call because I love seeing people’s reactions.”

On a sunny Monday afternoon in Toronto, I found myself hidden away in one of the DTK conference rooms, listening through my computer screen to a woman on the other side of the world. passionately talking about her experience creating the latest designer documentary, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist.

It’s true; a Skype call was infinitely more entertaining than the standard email or telephone correspondence. Over video, I was able to see Lorna Tucker in her element: she was sitting her studio, surrounded by books, photographs, and pages of her latest draft of a script for a movie developed by Colin Firth and Ged Doherty’s Raindog Films. She looked comfortable, wearing a striped t-shirt and sporting a bang-and-bob haircut that is synonymous with cool Brits, thanks to models like Sam Rollinson. During our hour conversation, she spoke with such ferocity, such passion, that I had to go back to watch the film again, just to see if I could fall in love with Westwood the same way she did.

“What first inspired me to do a film on Vivienne is actually not what most people would expect. I didn’t have much knowledge on her past, and how much she had changed culture, and how difficult it had been.”

Tucker is speaking about the punk revolution, a time in the mid-1970s where a new wave of rebellion infiltrated British mainstream culture. Westwood made a name for herself when she made clothes for her then-partner Malcolm McLaren’s boutique, which at one point was just called “SEX”, on the iconic King’s Road. Her talent enabled her to synthesize the styles and music of the 1970s punk scene into something tangible. She drew inspiration from the shock value that came hand in hand with punk, spearheaded by McLaren’s band, the Sex Pistols.

As you watch the documentary, you begin to understand the impact Westwood had on the fashion world. Whilst archival moments in the film show her to be the laughing stock of British society, she was able to break through those barriers and be the first person to win British Designer of the Year two years in a row. It was her talented – recognized by everyone in the industry – that set her apart. The personality, the theatrics and the rebellious nature that accompanied her were just gimmicks that made Vivienne the icon she has transformed into today.

It was through learning about Vivienne Westwood the person that Tucker was able to dive into her more delicate side, and really connect with her story. She felt inspired and wanted to give that feeling to her audience with this documentary. “I really wanted to inspire a new generation of women. I wanted to inspire men. I wanted to inspire people.”

But taming the famous punk was no easy feat. “Vivienne is hell-bent on – she’s like a publicity machine. She knows what she wants to say…It took quite a long time to break beneath that veneer of her publicity role. The first few weeks when I was filming her, she would just talk to the camera about these previously thought up monologues, so it was really hard to break beneath that. The reason I started doing the film was because I wanted to break beneath that. I wanted to show this story of defiance, the story of you know a real underdog.”

Tucker didn’t shy away from showing all sides of Westwood and her team, including her current husband and co-designer, Andreas Kronthaler. “I don’t think you can be inspired by someone unless you can relate to them, you know. We’re all flawed.”

This is speculated as the reason that Westwood and her brand have distanced themselves from the film since its debut at Sundance, but Tucker didn’t seem to mind as she upheld her artistic integrity. “We were seeing real artists, personalities of what it takes. We were showing a crisis of confidence.”

These insecure feelings are universal, so much so that Tucker confided that she had a moment earlier that morning where she felt like she was unqualified for her job. But, seeing Westwood experience similar feelings of self-doubt is reassuring. “If Vivienne, at her age, at the top of her game, feels like that still, then it made me feel better about myself. And if it made me feel better about myself, anyone that is pondering if they’re in the right direction, or doing the right thing, or wondering if they’ll ever make it doing what they want to do, that gave me a sense of relief to know that she still feels like that. That is why I wanted, from the very beginning, for people to relate to her.”

These vulnerable moments in the film brought a star back down to earth. “It was meant to humanize what fame is… it was to show how difficult it is if you don’t come from money to make something of yourself and create a business. And how hard it is to stay at that top position, as a woman, as a mother, as an artist, as anything. That was the story, and it had to be as gritty and as rough as she was. I couldn’t lie.”

Tucker candidly spoke a lot about the editing process for the documentary. “I filmed non-stop for four years, I got archive coming out of my eyes, and to get that into one film, I was like ‘What are the things that are going to inspire people? But you’ve got her today, as an old woman owning it and f*cking still being a punk, telling people not to buy her clothes and trying to fix her company. That story is important, and we had to see it through.”

This real look into the life of Westwood and her brand was a point of contention, but Tucker held her ground on the subject. “I could’ve made a very different film: I could’ve made a very glamorous film that was big and about how incredible she is and showing her to be this pitch-perfect person. But to me, that would’ve been a lie.”

That being said, there were a lot of moments that didn’t make the cut, including an in-depth look into the love story of Westwood’s parents interlaced with themes of classism, and anecdotes that painted Westwood as a bad mother (including one story from her son that described being left at home at age four with his two-year-old brother during the famous boat trip with the Sex Pistols where Westwood was arrested).

Overall, Tucker’s goal was to inspire audiences to not give up on their dreams. “It’s really tough to get where you want to, but you just have to keep going.”

Westwood’s life story has many thematic parallels to Tucker. After dropping out of school and running away from home at 14 and having her first child at 17, the suburban London native has not had it easy. However, things turned around after being scouted to model. Over her short career, the filmmaker was able to travel to all the fashion capitals and meet with interesting people that opened up her eyes to the world of creativity. “[It] showed me that there was a world out there other than this little town I grew up in. It showed me that I could maybe write, I could maybe paint, or I could do something.”

After enrolling in a foundation art course at a local college, Tucker was able to find her stride. After all, she says that “the most healing thing for women is to create.”

 

Her big break into the world of filmmaking began after meeting the British band Uncle in the pub that she worked in. After asking the musicians if she could accompany them along as a photographer at a festival, she began her journey as a creative and soon was working with the likes of McQueen, being commissioned to make experimental video art. She, like Westwood, found success because of hard work. “Half of the pint of life is that you can have as many ideas as you want, but unless you’ve got the guts to just jump at something, they’ll never come to life.”

While the Westwood doc has created a massive buzz around Tucker (including six offers for fashion documentaries) she doesn’t believe that she’ll be entering into the industry again any time soon. “I would never say never, but I didn’t choose Vivienne because I liked fashion. I chose her because she blew me away.”

We know this won’t be the last we hear of Lorna Tucker. Along with her script for Raindog, she has another screenplay in the works and is currently in the process of distributing another documentary, this time about the sterilization of indigenous women in North America, which will surely make ripples in society the second it comes out. Like how her designer subject disrupted British mainstream culture, we are sure Tucker will do the same.

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist opens in Toronto and Vancouver on June 29th. Watch the trailer here.

 

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Jane Bradshaw

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