The Legend Of Leigh Bowery

on November 28, 2003 by Jordan Reed
You may not get to New York in time to see the critically panned, Boy George-starring musical "Taboo" before it closes, but "The Legend of Leigh Bowery" is a nonfictional account of the same subject--and it'll cost you a lot less to see. Bowery used himself as a canvas, designing outrageous outfits, painting his face and manipulating his body to put together always colorful, sometimes menacing creations, resulting in stunning, visually arresting "works" that caused quite a commotion in staid 1980s London. Bowery branched out from fashion to open a nightclub, perform modern dance and even start a music group or two before dying of AIDS in the mid-'90s.

Atlas' film serves as a solid introduction to Bowery, but it's fairly listless when compared with its outrageous subject. Plenty of video footage and photography allow viewers to get a first-hand look at Bowery's peacockian style, but there's too little time devoted to the motivations behind the artist's flamboyant compositions. There seems to have been an element of desperation, a nearly maniacal desire for attention and individualism, in Bowery's work and life that Atlas only touches on. Coming from a strict, although seemingly loving, religious background in Australia--interviews with the father reveal a forgiving and caring, if slightly confused, man who wanted what was best for his son--Bowery's transformation from small-town lad to alternative lifestyle icon remains largely unexplained by the talking heads who discuss him.

Atlas includes snippets of audiotaped interviews with Bowery, but the sound quality is inferior, and they're too brief to get much of a sense of the man himself or of his own opinions on his work. And the director neglects to include all but the slightest pieces of various appearances Bowery made on British television--appearances that might have offered more insight into his over-the-top gender-bending style.

But even with these problems, "The Legend of Leigh Bowery" remains an interesting doc, if only because it serves to introduce the work of a gifted, unique artist to those of us who have found little good to say about the 1980s and the excesses they produced. Featuring Leigh Bowery. Directed by Charles Atlas. Produced by Lucy Sexton. A Palm release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 82 min

Tags: Leigh Bowery, Directed by Charles Atlas, Produced by Lucy Sexton, A Palm release, Documentary, inferior, unique, artist, gifted, 1980s, New York, visually stunning

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