Eye for detail

Lisa Immordino Vreeland on Rupert Everett, Leslie Caron and George Cukor in Love, Cecil

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Lisa Immordino Vreeland‬ on Rupert Everett as the voice of Cecil Beaton for Love, Cecil: "I always wanted him. That was my first instinct. I love him."
Lisa Immordino Vreeland‬ on Rupert Everett as the voice of Cecil Beaton for Love, Cecil: "I always wanted him. That was my first instinct. I love him." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In the second half of my conversation with the director of Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, Lisa Immordino Vreeland discusses more about her latest documentary Love, Cecil and the connections to Rupert Everett, Robin Muir, and Paul Lyon-Maris.

We also spoke about Cecil Beaton as the production and costume designer for Vincente Minnelli's Gigi with Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan, his stormy relationship with George Cukor on My Fair Lady, a Manolo Blahnik comment quoting Beaton on a Gary Cooper photograph, and an upcoming Truman Capote project.

‪Lisa Immordino Vreeland‬ on Cecil Beaton: "What interested me was that he really wanted to put everything on a stage. His whole life was being put on a stage."
‪Lisa Immordino Vreeland‬ on Cecil Beaton: "What interested me was that he really wanted to put everything on a stage. His whole life was being put on a stage." Photo: Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's

Anne-Katrin Titze: You have Rupert Everett as your narrator and he reads from Cecil Beaton's diaries.

Lisa Immordino Vreeland: I always wanted him. That was my first instinct. I love him. Robin Muir who is in the film, he is a photography historian who works with Condé Nast, Vogue UK, his boyfriend happens to run the most important talent agency. He has all the best actors in the UK and Rupert is a part of them. And I just asked Paul [Lyon-Maris] and he said "I'm sure that Rupert would love to do it."

We had a couple of conversations and we literally did it in three hours. He was perfect. Because he's a professional and he knows what needs to be done. He was doing it with a little bit of a softer voice when he started and I just let him do what he wanted to do. And I said "Use your voice and be a little stronger." At a certain point, you don't even know the difference. You know it's not Beaton but psychologically ...

AKT: You forget, yes. The Gary Cooper picture - who is it that comments? Is it Manolo Blahnik? That beautiful picture of Gary Cooper accompanied by the quote that he is like a "caged eagle"? That's Beaton himself saying that?

LIV: Yes. Beaton, he would have his sittings and then he would eventually get to writing about and commenting on the sitting. Sometimes they were negative comments, sometimes they were positive comments. It's so important to have his insight on all of this.

You can see the 20th century unfold and these characters unfold. He is a human and he has a lot of faults and I think it's the faults that an audience can relate to. Beaton sacrificed his own inner life to be able to achieve what he did. It's all these bumps in the road.

AKT: Contradictions also. On the one hand you show him when he says "Yeah, of course I am wearing these hats because I'm losing my hair." On the other hand to the question: "Are you vain?", he says "I am not vain!"

‪Lisa Immordino Vreeland‬ on Cecil Beaton's belief in transformation: "It's a very inspiring message. It's also an important message for today."
‪Lisa Immordino Vreeland‬ on Cecil Beaton's belief in transformation: "It's a very inspiring message. It's also an important message for today." Photo: Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's

LIV: What interested me was that he really wanted to put everything on a stage. His whole life was being put on a stage. A conceit that he decided he wanted to do very early on in his life. What's interesting is he still is able to bring us into it. We just get kind of sucked right into that world. He counts out there.

AKT: He does. That's what I felt very much. His belief in transformation. You can do it. Everyone can.

LIV: It's a very inspiring message. It's also an important message for today.

AKT: When he talks about making up his sisters, whom he calls "rather gauche, ugly little school girls", and then he transforms them. I did an interview with Tiffany Bartok, the director of the Kevyn Aucoin documentary. Did you see it?

LIV: I did. I actually did.

AKT: It's going in a similar direction. Aucoin also transformed his sisters [and mother]. This is what we're given and this is what we can do with it - which is a message that is super important. You have that in your film with Leslie Caron, whom Beaton calls an "adorable little frog" who turns into a beauty through the camera. [Fischio, Lisa's dog, decides to change position next to me on the sofa]. That reminds me of Cecil Beaton's cat, I wanted to bring him up to you as well.

Cecil Beaton won a Tony Award dressing Katharine Hepburn as Coco Chanel in Alan Jay Lerner and André Previn's Coco
Cecil Beaton won a Tony Award dressing Katharine Hepburn as Coco Chanel in Alan Jay Lerner and André Previn's Coco Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

LIV: Oh, Timothy!

AKT: Timothy White! Where did you get that garden cat footage?

LIV: That actually, that was just luck. That the cat was in the footage.

AKT: Because suddenly, at this point you see another side of him. You show the cat stretching in his arms, loving him.

LIV: He was down in Reddish. The one thing we didn't really go into depth with was that there was a real moment that he wasn't physically well. He was getting these series of headaches, really serious headaches. Yes, he did have a stroke when he died.

He did have health issues. He did spend time in a hospital before but Reddish was where he felt like himself. In all the archival footage that we found, that just happened to be there. Just like that George Cukor clip also.

AKT: What happened there with Cukor when he was directing My Fair Lady? Do you know any more?

LIV: First of all, he [Beaton] did not want to be there. He had to give up a year of his life to be in Hollywood and it was just not his thing. He just did not like kind of the plastic world that Hollywood was. There are some fantastic quotes about that from different books that I found.

What he [George Cukor] said was, he'd be running down the set after him. There was lots of work to do. Even the hats in the Ascot race! There's like 400 hats. He was working on all of that. He would be running around the set with a camera, always taking pictures. And I think that Cukor found it super intrusive.

AKT: I didn't really know that Beaton did all the visuals for Gigi. I knew he was involved in Gigi but not how and to what extent. From the lining of Louis Jourdan's jacket to the wallpapers - all the different things he did.

Lisa Immordino Vreeland on Cecil Beaton during the filming of Vincente Minnelli's Gigi: "Leslie Caron, in my conversation with her, said he would literally go to the set in the morning and make sure there were fresh flowers on the set."
Lisa Immordino Vreeland on Cecil Beaton during the filming of Vincente Minnelli's Gigi: "Leslie Caron, in my conversation with her, said he would literally go to the set in the morning and make sure there were fresh flowers on the set." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

LIV: Also, Leslie Caron, in my conversation with her, said he would literally go to the set in the morning and make sure there were fresh flowers on the set. It was really him tending to absolutely every aspect of it. Also when they were shooting in Paris it was incredibly hot and she was telling me how he had this eye for detail that most people didn't have.

AKT: Just the sense of color alone.

LIV: It's so much fun to see all of that. One of his frustrations was that he wanted to write a play. He had re-written this Gainsborough play and done it and done it and in the end it got completely trashed. That was the one achievement he wasn't able to have.

AKT: Was there one thing that was hardest to get? Or was everything more or less open doors and available?

LIV: No, you just have to just kind of be persistent. When you see Stephen Tennant and Beaton in the masquerade, that footage from the Twenties, that was from a family member, you know, the Mosleys, and I was able to get that.

AKT: That's beautiful footage.

LIV: Absolutely beautiful. But you know, thankfully I did the Guggenheim film and I did the Vreeland film ahead of time and people know that they can trust me. I'm not out there to completely trash somebody. I love archival footage. That's a huge part of my work. I just enjoy being able to have that texture.

AKT: Is there another icon of the 20th century coming up for you?

LIV: Yes.

‪Lisa Immordino Vreeland‬'s terrific Love, Cecil: A Journey With Cecil Beaton book (Abrams, 2018)
‪Lisa Immordino Vreeland‬'s terrific Love, Cecil: A Journey With Cecil Beaton book (Abrams, 2018) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Who is it?

LIV: Truman Capote. I think the more flawed they are, it's much more fun for us. It's a great story and I don't like the idea of the downfall of Capote. I want to glorify him a bit as well. Because that's not what it's all about. He was an incredible talent as a writer.

AKT: And a lot of people really just know a caricature of him.

LIV: Yes. They know the negative part of it. They know the last third of his life.

AKT: I am looking forward to it. Thank you.

LIV: Thank you for coming over. I hope it wasn't too inconvenient. I hope you didn't get licked to death.

AKT: Not at all, he is wonderful company.

LIV: [to her dog Fischio]: You're not supposed to be part of this!

Read what Lisa Immordino Vreeland had to say on Pavel Tchelitchew, Hamish Bowles, Greta Garbo, David Hockney, David Bailey, and Cecil Beaton in Love, Cecil.

Read what Lisa Immordino Vreeland had to say at Sotheby's on Katharine Hepburn, Coco Chanel and Cecil Beaton?.

Love, Cecil is in cinemas in the US.

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