Celluloid Dreams

Lisa Immordino Vreeland is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Her debut was 2011’s Diana Vreeland – The Eye Has To Travel, a study of her husband’s late grandmother, the Harpers Bazaar editor and fashion icon.  Following it with Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (2015), she now returns with Love, Cecil, a stirring portrait of 20th century photographer Cecil Beaton.

ASFF: Where did your love of Cecil Beaton start?
LIV:  Well, he’d been in my orbit for some time. As a child I watched My Fair Lady [which Beaton designed] and I was always really interested in him and I loved his photography. But really what came up, I was working on my first film, the Diane Vreeland project, and I really saw a different side of his personality. I was just intrigued by this multi-faceted, über-creative person.

ASFF: How difficult was it to select which of Beaton’s myriad images to showcase?
Well, we had to include some of his very well-known photographs. I’m sure that there are some Beaton fanatics out there that will say, “They didn’t put in this image!” But the most iconic we put in. One of my favourite parts was to be able to play with the photographs. We had so many images. Probably 1500. I worked very closely with the Cecil Beaton archive at Sothebys.

ASFF: You use Beaton’s diaries, narrated by Rupert Everett, as the film’s spine. How did you choose his words?
LIV: There’s a disclaimer here. I did not read all 150 diaries! First of all, they’re quite large – with very long sentences. And, frankly, I could not understand his handwriting! I read all of his published diaries and books, and it’s a treasure trove of material. I think we have three sentences [in there] that we had to script – so that’s pretty darn good.

ASFF: One of his most significant relationships is with Greta Garbo. How did that affect him?
I think his love [for her] – this was unattainable, this dream of his. He wanted to photograph royals, he wanted to be at the latest thing going on, and here he is, with the most famous and the most secretive actress in the world. He wrote her hundreds of letters; part of this ambitious quest to have a certain type of life. It didn’t make complete sense, but he played it up a hundred percent. Some people say they did sleep together; it’s hard to believe. It was clear they did have a friendship, that he overstepped boundaries at a certain point.

ASFF: How would you define his importance to photography as an art form?
It’s interesting. He was not a photographer’s photographer. Back then, it wasn’t elevated to the art form it is today. He used photography to enter a creative milieu. He not only photographed the most important creative people of the 20th century, but then he became part of them. He gave us this historical record of the 20th century. He was always there at the right place at the right time. He just felt the need to create.

Love, Cecil opens on 1 December. For more details, visit: www.studiocanal.co.uk

James Mottram

1. Still from Love, Cecil. Courtesy of StudioCanal.