(2017) Documentary (The Orchard) Kevyn Aucoin, Isaac Mizrahi, Christy Turlington Burns, Jeremy Antunes, Brooke Shields, Carol Alt, Cindy Crawford, Cher, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Paula Porizkova, Amy Sidaris, Isabella Rossellini, Tori Amos, Carla Aucoin Hoffkins, Eddie Greene, Garren, Scottie, Sandy Lintner, Keith Aucoin, Todd Oldham, Paul Cavaco, Linda Wells. Directed by Tiffany Bartok
Women have worn make-up for largely thousands of years but it is only relatively recently that it has evolved into being an art form. One of the people responsible for that evolution is Kevyn Aucoin (the last name pronounced AH-Kwan).
Kevyn, one of four adopted children, grew up in the less-than-accepting burg of Shreveport, Louisiana. From an early age he had a thing about fashion magazines like Vogue and the musical styling of Barbra Streisand. It was not surprising that he became openly gay which was not exactly looked favorably upon by the citizens and youth of Shreveport. Kevyn was bullied, sometimes brutally, scars which stayed with him all through the rest of his life.
Aucoin went on to New York and through sheer force of will hooked on at Vogue. The rest, as they say, was history. He would grow to be the first celebrity make-up artist, penning books sharing his beauty secrets. He was one of the pioneers of contour make-up – essentially using colors to shape a face – and he revolutionized how women apply make-up in the process.
He was an outspoken activist for LBGTQ+ causes and worked tirelessly for gay rights. Sadly though, he developed a glandular tumor which led to an addiction to opioids and an early grave at the age of 40. Still, while his candle didn’t burn quite as long, it burned much more brightly than perhaps even he had hoped for.
This doc on his life features a plethora of testimonials from family, clients and friends and some of the interviews are absolutely delightful. His sister talks about him using her as a canvas to practice his techniques on when they were in high school, while some of his early models talk about his drive and his absolute fearlessness. He had a vision for what he was going to become and he pursued it as relentlessly as he could.
Aucoin was also an obsessive record keeper; he filled journals with notes and diagrams while he utilized video cameras to document all the fabulous aspects of his life – and let’s face it, he did define fabulous for an entire generation of gay men and women of all persuasions. He was the king of make-up artists during the 1980s, arguably the most make-up heavy era in American history. Because he did so much work on music videos, Aucoin was a heavy influence on how people looked whether they were going out to dance at the clubs or headed out for school.
The perceptions of what beauty was did change over time and Kevyn did change with the times even if he was no longer quite as influential as he was at the height of his career. While the documentary stops just shy of being hagiographic – it does cover his drug addiction and resulting personality change fairly clinically – it does approach fawning territory upon occasion. Perhaps though that makes it more heartbreaking as we see him becoming less easy to work with, less fun to be around. The pain from his cancer and from late growth spurts took its toll and led to his untimely death as the pills he took that basically allowed him to function took over his life.
It bears mentioning that Kevyn was fairly promiscuous but he did find his one true love – Jeremy Antunes whom he married and spent the last years of his life with despite Kevyn’s often difficult behavior. It also bears mentioning – since the film didn’t do it – that after Kevyn passed Jeremy was locked out of the home he shared with his husband by Kevyn’s family. Yeah, it might be water under the bridge and the parties involved might be reluctant to reopen old wounds but it should have been at least mentioned. It was the kind of thing ironically that Kevyn was fighting against.
Still, Aucoin isn’t the household name he perhaps deserves to be. He was a giant in his industry, comparable to Michael Jordan or Meryl Streep. On a strictly human level, this is a story of an outsider who fought his way to the very inside; it’s a story anyone can relate to. This documentary, while unremarkable, does at least a solid job of presenting his life and why he is deserving of a feature film. Bartok could have used a little more editing – it feels like some of the interviews regurgitate the same platitudes – but all in all this is a lot more satisfying a film than I expected it to be.
REASONS TO GO: The film looks at make-up as an art form.
REASONS TO STAY: The run time is way too long and the appeal mainly to a niche audience.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and plenty of drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Among the clients that Aucoin worked with who weren’t interviewed for the film were Oprah Winfrey, Janet Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Halle Berry and Madonna, to name just a few.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/31/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Devil Wears Prada
FINAL RATING: 6/10