Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards

 

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A remarkable septuagenarian looks back on his life.

 
Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards

  

In the course of this lively documentary by Michael Roberts, Manolo Blahnik tells of how on being described by an admirer as an artist he denied it. Manolo was wrong. What emerges from this film is clear evidence that, despite functioning in the world of fashion and despite limiting himself to the design of shoes, he really is an artist. He is also an extraordinary personality and one who is immensely engaging here as he reflects on his life ranging from a childhood in the Canary Islands by way of Paris (1968), London in the '70s and New York in the '80s to his continuing absorption in his work although he is now a septuagenarian. As an idiosyncratic individual in the fashion world whose delivery of words is all his own (just note the tone on the word 'bored' when he declares "I was bored to tears"), he stands alongside the great Diana Vreeland. She, as editor of Vogue, both admired his design drawings and advised him to concentrate on shoes.

 

The tone of this film, from the design of its credit titles onwards, is decidedly camp. It moves up a notch in this respect when Manolo is joined by John Galliano, but at the outset we have been given a quote from Marilyn Monroe and that immediately provides that flavour. However, this tone never prevents us from getting an in-depth portrait of this loner, a man who channels his sensual nature entirely into his designs. Furthermore, ever willing to admit to mistakes and errors of judgment, Manolo emerges as somebody whose genuine passion for his work gives him an underlying outlook that is properly serious yet never solemn. Yet the surface tone is a true part of the man: fittingly an individual who had doubts when first approaching Manolo describes him as being not a poseur but somebody who expresses himself.

 

This documentary for the most part sketches in his career chronologically and offers comments from a range of admirers including Anna Wintour, Rupert Everett, David Bailey and Andre Leon Talley. Appearances by Rihanna ("The new Grace Kelly" as Manolo calls her) and Mary Beard brings us up to date in this exploration of a man who may have become a celebrity  but is so much more than that. He admires things of the past (the photographer Cecil Beaton, the film Blonde Venus and both the novel The Leopard and its film version), but prefers to live in the present, day by day. Roberts as director is well suited to portray the man described by Sofia Coppola as a playful spirit. He uses montage and split screen to good effect (at one point he even provides his own pastiche of the Hot Voodoo sequence from Blonde Venus but errs when for a moment he allows an actress to appear as the literally inimitable Diana Vreeland). At the close Roberts also lingers too long being determined to squeeze in further good bits that should in fact have been sacrificed in the interests of structure.  But the flaws are minor. Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards is in virtually every aspect a far more worthwhile piece than one might have expected.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Manolo Blahnik, Anna Wintour, David Bailey, Mary Beard, Naomi Campbell, Rupert Everett, John Galliano, Penelope Tree, Rihanna, Iman, Andre Leon Talley, Eva Herzigova.

 

Dir Michael Roberts, Pro Bronwyn Cosgrave, Lillian Mosely, Michael Roberts and Neil Zeiger, Ph Nicola Daley, Art Dir Elena Machado Hernández and Oscar Troitiño, Ed Arturo Calvete, Costumes Nikki Connor.

 

Nevision Studios One-Park Circus.
89 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 29 September 2017. Cert. 12A.