The Secret Life of Cecil Beaton, the Royal Family's Favorite Photographer
In her new documentary, Love Cecil, filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland paints a warm portrait of the famous—and occasionally infamous—portrait photographer Cecil Beaton. Born in 1904, Beaton rose to the top of the bohemian, aristocratic London social set, where he remained, as the de-facto record keeper, for the rest of his years.
During his time behind the camera, Beaton photographed Queen Elizabeth II, Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, and Elizabeth Taylor, among others. The definition of a renaissance man, Beaton also painted, designed costumes and sets—most notably for My Fair Lady—and fastidiously kept diaries throughout his entire life.
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Love, Cecil is not Vreeland’s first documentary about a visionary artist. Vreeland has already directed and produced two previous movies, Peggy Guggenheim: Art
Vreeland’s newest documentary, which opens at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on June 29, artfully tells the story of a flawed man determined to create beauty in a flawed world. T&C spoke with Vreeland, who gives valuable insight into what made Beaton a fascinating and exceedingly difficult subject.
What was it about Beaton that initially attracted you to him as a subject?
I’ve always been familiar with him, and when I did the Diana Vreeland documentary there was a very funny scene [with him] in that film, and he piqued my interest as a subject because he was so self-possessed. I always like these characters who can flow seamlessly from decade to decade, and he had the same quality that
How do you begin making a film like this, since the subject isn’t around to give an interview?
I seem to be really been mastering the dead subject. Everything for me really starts with the research and the research plays a huge, huge role in everything. It’s the archives also that are dictating where I’m going with everything.
It sounds like there were some similarities that happened during your process, so how did the process of making this film compare to your other works?
What was nice about
Speaking of the idea of the fantasy, watching the movie I was captivated by a very specific tension that seemed to underscore his life: the tension between his desire to capture “a fleeting moment” as it was coupled with his desire to construct his own world. Can you speak to this tension?
I don’t think you can separate the two. This is somebody who, at a young age, wanted to create a story about who he was and to elevate himself so that he was part of something. Everything he did was to be put on a stage in his own mind.
A 1930s self-portrait by Cecil Beaton.
Beaton has been in the public eye for decades. Did you discover anything about him that you found surprising?
I’ll tell you that he didn’t hide away from it, but there’s just this loneliness. That was very, very surprising
Is there anything about that sense of loneliness that you think appeared in his work?
I don’t really see that in his work at all, but you can see it in his writing; in the published diaries you can really feel the insecurities. I think that you see, toward the end of the film, that he is alone toward the end of his life; he really was never able to have a love life. That shows itself, this is I think where you see this.
If he were alive today, what kind of work do you think he would be creating?
I think he would still be photographing—he was doing selfies already. He wouldn’t be shooting film, he was never a photographer's photographer, so he wouldn't be using the darkroom or anything like that. Honestly, I think that he would really
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.