“Love, Cecil” captures the essence and aesthetics of Cecil Beaton’s life; it opens at the Nuart on Friday, July 20. A Renaissance man of the 20th century, he was a costume designer, writer, photographer and painter.

He shot Hollywood celebrities, the British Royal Family, brought his artist’s eye to war as well as fashion photography, won two Oscars for design (“My Fair Lady;” “Gigi”), and was a chronicler of his own life and times with his numerous published diaries, scrapbooks and illustrated magazine articles.

We follow his life from his earliest days, photographing his sisters whom he dressed up and posed in unusual ways. Escapism and fantasy mark his work; he wanted to transform the world into what he wanted to see. And he always sought out beauty.

He was intent upon climbing the social ladder and to be part of fashionable society. But he lacked confidence that he belonged because he was not from the upper class. He caught a break when he met his first patron, Stephen Tennant, who brought him into his circle of privileged Bright Young Things. Their wealthy, leisurely lives allowed them to spend most of their time playing games, dressing up and being beautiful.

Beaton had affairs with many men (it was illegal to be gay in England; his butler says he was discreet behind closed doors) and one allegedly with none other than Greta Garbo, whom he photographed and even asked to marry. He never found his one lifelong love.

 

VAST AMBITION

Lisa Immordino Vreeland, whose documentaries include “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” and “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,” has found in Beaton someone whose personal insecurities drove him. He writes in his diary, narrated by Rupert Everett, “I had no talent but vast ambition. I exposed thousands of rolls of film, wrote hundreds of thousands of words, all in a futile attempt to seize the fleeting moment.”

By 1929 he came to New York and immediately set off a controversy, comparing American women to English women, not favorably. In New York, he began shooting street photos and launched his fashion photography career with Vogue Magazine, experimenting early on with surrealism and German expressionist styles.

Heading to Hollywood, he captured extraordinary images of the stars of his day; returning to England by 1939 he was photographing the Royals, the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II, even the disgraced abdicated King Edward and his equally scandalous wife, the American Wallis Simpson.

 

THE WAR YEARS

By 1940 his images of post-Blitz London still sought out beauty in the heart of the destruction, and working for the Ministry of Information, he traveled to such fronts as Egypt, Burma and China taking 7,000 photographs and publishing 8 books. His memorable image of a child, injured in the bombing, who stares out at his camera from her hospital bed was published on the cover of Time magazine in 1940, enlisting sympathy from America for the British war effort.

Meanwhile his father died, his brother Reggie committed suicide, and Cecil began caring for his mother. He established two beloved homes in the country; Ashcombe where he lived for 15 years, and Reddish House, where he lived from 1948 until his death.

Beaton was highly influenced both by classical Russian ballet, exemplified by ballerina Anna Pavlova, and by Diaghilev, the great contemporary impresario who brought Stravinsky’s groundbreaking “Rite of Spring” to life. Beaton was, without a doubt, considered a “dandy,” whose love for Edwardian grandeur and bravura marked his personal and professional styles.

In turn he had a major influence on many other artists including fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi and painter/photographer/art experimenter David Hockney. There is so much of his work to be seen in this film and the visuals are outstanding. Among the interviews, Hockney, Mick Jagger, Penelope Tree (one of his former models) and many experts provide cogent and revelatory commentary.

The award-winning “Love, Cecil” opens at The Nuart in West L.A. tomorrow through July 25.

 

THEATRICUM BOTANICUM: SUMMER TRADITION

There’s nothing quite like outdoor summer theatre under the trees and stars in Topanga Canyon at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. This summer, a pair of Santa Monica twins will appear onstage in Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.”

Twelve-year old Severn and Esme Urbaniak, whose father is actor James Urbaniak, perform as Roman citizens; it’s their first professional production. And, they just happen to share a birthday with the Bard!

Onstage they’ve acted in Theatricum’s Youth Drama Camp. Esme played Hecate in “Macbeth,” Grumio in “Taming of the Shrew,” and Marullus in Julius Caesar. Severn appeared as Young Cato and Lucius in “Julius Caesar,” and a Weird Sister and Macduff’s son in “Macbeth.”

The two appeared with their dad in a music video, “Pierce the Morning Rain,” by Dinosaur Jr., and in the indie flick “A Closer Walk with Thee,” with their mom, Julie Anderson.

This fall they’ll enter 7th grade at John Adams Middle School.  Although they’re “on the fence about what they want to be when they grow up,” their experience will surely give them a great head start.

In addition to Coriolanus, Theatricum Botanicum is also staging “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Chalk Garden.” Find out more at (310) 455-3723 or click www.theatricum.com.

 

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.