The Legend of Leigh Boweryrecommended viewing

Fascinating and disturbing
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2002
Director: 
Charles Atlas
Starring: 
Leigh Bowery, Boy George, Friends and Family of Bowery
The Setup: 
Documentary about fashion designer/performance artist Leigh Bowery.
Discussion: 

My friend who recommended a lot of great movies to me told me I HAD to watch this, so of course I listened. As usual, he was right.

This is a truly fascinating documentary about Leigh Bowery. He was a drag queen, a fashion designer, a performance artist, all of these things and none of them. What I found interesting about him is that I think, after watching this documentary, you have to admit that what he was doing is art, although I would be hard pressed to define exactly WHAT kind of art it is.

Bowery had an upbringing that'll be familiar to a lot of gay men; stern, distant, religious father, meek mother. Interest in fashion from a young age, and feeling that he had to get away from the confines of his hometown and eventually, his country.

He moved to London and sought work in fashion. The movie is unclear on a few points, like HOW did he become who he became-just by walking around London in his outlandish outfits? There is also a lot of footage of Bowery that they don't bother to explain. Were these films made by him? His friends? It just doesn't say.

Nevertheless, soon enough Bowery gains some prominence in fashion, but is held back by his wish that no one should wear his clothes but him! His designs were outrageously sexualized and yet strangely asexual, and more than a bit on the threatening side. I was interested by the aspect where more than one of his friends talk about what a SCARY figure he could be [he was over 6 feet tall and very wide], and I was also interested by Boy George's comment that while most drag queens are ineffectual and easily dismissed, Bowery was clearly a man dressed as a woman, but was FRIGHTENING.

I was also interested by what a few of Bowery's associates [and they can be a fascinating bunch themselves] say about how fascinated he was by the feeling of embarrassment. That is one of the few clues you'll get as to what Bowery was up to, because it helps make a bit of sense of his obvious enjoyment he took at the public's sense of discomfort with his outfits, and also certain things he did to his friends, which would also result in their severe discomfort. In a larger, gay sense, it's interesting that this gay person, who grew up feeling different and apart from everyone, should be so interested in creating feelings of discomfort and embarrassment in others.

And then there's the outfits themselves. They are beautiful, brilliant, and ingenious. Bowery had a show in a London museum in which he basically just sits in a room while patrons looked in, and, seeing it, this is one of the few performance art pieces that actually seem like art. The movie provides, in addition to a fascinating portrait of Bowery as a person, a great portfolio of his most important work.

You know that this is the fellow that Boy George's Broadway musical "Taboo" was based on, don't you? Another friend of mine took me to see that, and believe me, NONE of the splendor of Bowery's creations or how interesting what he was doing came across in that show. The same outfits that were recreated to no effect in the musical can be seen here, and suddenly they're inventive and thrilling, as opposed to just strange.

There's more to the movie, including a story of the arc of Bowery's life, how he went further and further in order to shock, a smattering of psychological depth and insight, and a lot of performance footage. It is a fascinating documentary that delivers a rich portrait, while at the same time bringing up a lot of answered questions. It should be of interest to anyone interested in fashion or art or just gender fucking, and I would think that almost any gay person, especially those interested in drag, would find it fascinating. Watch this shit.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, especially if you're gay, interested in drag or fashion. Or art. Or all of the above.