Mr. Beaton, you've been described at various times as an author, a designer, a dandy... you may not report yourself a dandy, but other people have... a painter, a photographer.
Now, which of these is your main profession?
I wish I knew.
I'm afraid that's been my trouble for a very long time.
♪ The visual, really, guides my life more than anything.
"There is scarcely a flattering self-portrait."
"Yet truth begins with one's self."
"Of all the forms of writing, diaries are the most personal."
"My obsession stems from those same obscure motives that have impelled me to take snapshots all my life."
"I exposed thousands of rolls of films, wrote hundreds of thousands of words, in a futile attempt to preserve the fleeting moment."
"Some people seem to know their vocation instinctively and follow a single path their whole lives.
Others wander in the labyrinth of choice."
"I started out with very little talent, but I was so tormented with ambition."
"Once you've started for the end of the rainbow, you can't very well turn back."
♪ It's interesting looking through his career to break it up into categories, genres.
The fashion work, the portraiture, the film and theater work.
♪ But, in fact, they meld into one.
It's always Beaton's look, Beaton's touch.
♪ He just gave over his life to expressing beauty, however he could do it.
♪ In fact, he was... if he hadn't have done photography, if he had just done My Fair Lady, that would have been enough for me.
♪ He's looking very nostalgically to the period immediately before the First World War, the High Belle Époque, Edwardian England, and it's this wild escapism that is kind of hand in hand with an extraordinary futurism and modernism.
In fact, Cecil, you could even say invented the Edwardian and gave it a different look, 'cause he invented it with My Fair Lady
'cause nobody ever looked like that.
I mean, this... it's like, uh, I mean, ever.
♪ Come on.
Come on, Dover.
Come on, Dover!
Move your bloomin' arse!
Beaton had this wonderful eye that could assimilate and draw magic from the best of everything that happened around him and from the past.
But it's the approach of somebody with this relentless, restless visual hunger and appetite for beauty.
♪ What is beauty to you?
I think that Francis Bacon said it when he considered there should be something curious in it.
♪ I think that beauty is only static for so long and then we move on with our own eyes.
I mean, if you see too much of something too long, then change your attitude to beauty and new wonderful vicissitudes of beauty appear.
♪ He had a relationship with the idea of the person, not actually the person.
♪ There's truth in fantasy, and I think Beaton was one of the pioneers in that concept.
When you started, it wasn't at all the fashionable, trendy thing it is today to be a photographer.
Oh, heavens, no.
No, a photographer had a very ambiguous position in society.
He was very much looked down upon.
Not that I really settled for being a photographer when I started.
I think that that was really a means to an end.
♪ As a boy, I was stage-struck and I used to haunt the outside of theaters looking at the photographs of the leading actresses.
♪ And one morning I saw this photograph postcard of Lily Elsie, and I thought I'd never seen anything so beautiful.
♪ He took such inspiration from the theater, from a world into which you step, you suspend disbelief, you give yourself up to whatever is happening on that stage, and... and you leave in this sort of cloud of delight.
That was the way he determined to live his life.
♪ I used to take photographs of my sisters and I used to dress my sisters up.
They were very gauche, rather ugly little school girls.
♪ I was entirely self-taught and I've always been extremely bad about anything mechanical or technical.
But still I did learn exactly how I wanted to get the effects that I was aiming at.
When the time came for you to go to school, was this a relief or did you find it a burden?
Oh, I found it appalling.
At school I really was a dud.
I was a very bad scholar.
I'm pretty near uneducated.
I didn't read a book until I was 18, really.
I learned a lot in school, but nothing to do with the things that I should have learned.
"In 1922, I arrived at Cambridge.
I set about becoming a rabid aesthete.
I took a passionate interest in the Italian Renaissance, in Diaghilev's Russian Ballet, and, of course, in the theater and in photography."
♪ The new doors were opening to me.
This was something that I had never known before, and I was thrilled by the fact that certain people would give up their life to aestheticism.
I thought it was lots of fun.
Did you go in for the rather more bizarre extremities of this style of dressing in fancy clothes and so on?
I think I dressed in a rather peculiar garb, yes.
♪ I wanted to show my individuality.
In fact, I'm not so sure that I didn't rather like shocking people.
♪ Couldn't help it.
I think he couldn't help getting in drag at college.
He couldn't help himself putting on his mum's nail varnish when he was five years old.
He wasn't being provocative and rebellious.
It was in him and it came out.
"During the three years I spent at the university, I never went to any lectures.
Instead, I formed the theater club, designed scenery, and performed in stage productions."
♪ He also promoted himself hugely.
He would send up a photograph of himself to newspapers, saying, "This is Cecil Beaton, he's currently working on the sets of Pirandello's Henry IV," and in a sense you could say he's almost the first PR man because his line was, "The more people who know about the play, the more money we can spend," and the money would be spent in the absolute priority of sets and costumes by Cecil Beaton, written by the playwright and starring the actors in that order.
♪ Running through Beaton's career principally devoted to photographing others is an obsession with photographing himself, staging himself.
Just one of this world of style and elegance and fantasy that he was creating.
His life was a stage.
"In 1925, I came to the end of my Cambridge years without a degree, having failed, as usual, in all my examinations."
Did you feel totally confident and successful in anything that you had done or were you still insecure?
What were your ambitions at that time?
To be able to demonstrate that I was not just an ordinary anonymous person.
"The truth is, I didn't know what I wanted to do or be.
I should have liked to have been an actor, but somehow I was diffident or even terrified about this.
I wanted to write plays, but I could find nothing to write about.
I longed to design for the theater, but how is one ever to get an offer?
The only thing I could do without being invited was to indulge my photographic hobby."
"My sisters continued to show compassion to me in my mania."
But it was absolute torture
'cause the more I tried to keep still the more I twitched.
It was so uncomfortable, I remember, 'cause you would say, "Put your head on one side, stick your chin in, your stomach out, cross your leg,"
I mean, I was like a ruddy corkscrew in the end.
♪ He couldn't do much with the father, but he could do quite a lot with the mother and the two sisters and he did.
He would put notices in if his mother gave a party, and that would get printed in the paper and she would be kind of like... she'd know he'd done it but get sort of half-irritated but half probably quite excited.
And he used to dress the two sisters up identically, and because there were two of them and they looked quite similar in many ways, they very often appeared in the society columns.
Cecil was very vain in a certain way and very, very insecure.
I think the insecurity stems from those early years of never really feeling that his family was grand enough or, you know, it's not the kind of family he wanted to be from.
♪ Going right back to your childhood, you come of a prosperous upper middle class family, so it seems to me from reading your diaries.
You've written very fully about your father.
Now what was it that made it difficult for you to get on with your father?
Well, I think it was very difficult for my father to get on with me.
"My father insisted on living in Hampstead, a suburb of London, as he considered the air healthier for children.
I was born in 1904.
There were two boys, my brother, Reggie, being a year younger than me.
Five and seven years later, my two sisters, Nancy and Baba, were born."
♪ Until I reached the age of puberty, shall we say, I had an idyllically happy childhood.
♪ I wasn't conscious until later that perhaps there wasn't as much money as I would like.
My father was a timber merchant, and he wanted, obviously, to have somebody who was going to be like him.
And I found that very difficult.
Intuitively, I went against many of the things that he stood for and liked.
"Reggie was my father's favorite son."
"The two understood one another.
They were kindred spirits."
"My mother's dressing table drawer of powder, rouge, and mascara held an uncanny fascination for me."
"One day, I stole into her bedroom and painted my face."
"My father caught sight of me.
He became so enraged that I was locked in my bedroom."
♪ Now, did your mother know about this feeling of yours at the time?
Did she sympathize with you?
In a vague way, but she was too busy getting on with the job of looking after a family.
She wasn't able to help you in this particular difficulty anyway.
No, no one could help me.
It was up to me to find the sort of world that I wanted.
I think Cecil certainly wanted to scale the social tree.
And he was the first photographer, really, to establish himself in the world of what would be called Fashionable Society with a capital S, it doesn't exist anymore, but he wanted to be up there.
The camera was, in a way, I suppose, his passport into that world, but what you need, eventually, is a patron, and he found that in Stephen Tennant.
I first met this remarkably poetic looking apparition while he rode the papier-mâché horses on the roundabouts at the Olympia Circus.
He wore a black leather coat with a large Elizabethan collar of chinchilla.
As he blew kisses to left and right, he created an unforgettable sight."
♪ Stephen Tennant was rich, good looking, bursts of imagination, very successful, he knew everybody, he was surrounded by a bevy of Guinness girls and Bright Young Things, and that's exactly the world that Cecil Beaton wanted.
"I became a member of the Bright Young Things who did silly things.
Organized treasure hunts, spoof exhibitions, and dressed up for nights on end in fancy dress costumes."
"Our activities were all done with zest and originality.
What a rush life had become."
♪ Cecil Beaton, I should think, probably photographed all of them.
Whenever he photographed one, another one would appear.
I mean, they came in relays, really, to Sussex Gardens to be photographed by Cecil.
♪ All those portraits of Stephen Tennant.
You know, ropes of pearls and looking in a mirror.
I mean, they are terribly narcissistic.
The kind of noir quality to some of those things that goes back to the decadence of the 1890s and Oscar Wilde and all that sort of thing.
He wanted to be one of them.
♪ Forgetting the formality and the hierarchy and the snobbism of the era, I think just the basic Bright Young Things and being with them would have been amazing.
Just that youth and that damn elegance.
Part of Beaton's world of the imagination obviously was the dressing up trunk.
The idea of opening this... this trunk and pulling out costumes and becoming different personalities.
They were traveling back in time and having a glorious time doing it.
♪ Well, I would love to have been on the bridge with Rex Whistler and the Jungman sisters, and, I have to say, I'd like to insert myself into that picture.
♪ Beaton was essentially an outsider striving to get in.
♪ Stephen Tennant, of course, was to the manor born, and Beaton didn't have an inherited income and, you know, he had to work bloody hard for the money and to keep it all going.
"I often wonder how it was that none of the beautiful, eminent, or celebrated personages I photographed raised an objection to being seen upside down embowered in flowers, cellophane clouds, or almost asphyxiating with their heads under a Victorian glass dome."
"But, no, it seemed I could indulge myself to my heart's content."
♪ The idea of taking silver foil and putting it up.
I mean, seeing beauty in something people wrap food in.
♪ It's sort of turning things on their head of what they're not meant to be.
♪ The sitter really became much less important than the background or the whole conception of the design that I had made with the camera.
And yet one very seldom sees unknown faces photographed by Beaton.
Was that a conscious policy to find distinguished sitters?
No, I wouldn't say it was conscious in that way.
I mean, I've photographed a lot of friends who weren't at all well-known.
I think, obviously, that impression comes because it was the distinguished or well-known ones that got into the newspapers.
And I did have an eye to publicity.
That was very astonishing for my father who was quite baffled at the way things suddenly moved.
Because very soon I went to America.
I was confident that I would really just take America by storm.
♪ What a marvelous thing great physical beauty is.
It's nothing less than a living miracle.
It's not the result of achievement, skill, patience, or endeavor.
It's just a divine happening.
"Soon after my arrival in New York, I publicly challenged the standards of beauty between English and American women."
♪ For beautiful necks and heads, England possesses the prize winners.
There are many whose beauty should be immortal, for their alabaster complexions, their cheeks like pink ice creams, the cherry lips, pansy eyes, the feathery lashes.
♪ I think to begin with in my career, I was terribly limited in my approach, and I only could appreciate certain forms of character or beauty.
♪ But the English fail badly about feet and legs.
And here the New Yorkers win, for their wrists, their ankles, their legs, their movements, they are perfect and essential in 1929.
"I fell in love with the new energy I found in the streets and quickly began recording it with my camera."
♪ I think, with experience, looking around in life, the photographer gets to appreciate beauty in very much wider fields.
♪ There's that old expression, "Beauty is where you see it."
I think beauty is there to be recognized and I think it's terribly important for the photographer to approach the subject with a very definite point of view of his own.
♪ Well, it took some time and it was touch and go when then suddenly things went well.
I got a terribly good contract.
♪ Beaton wasn't the first fashion photographer.
He didn't invent the genre, but he certainly took it places.
♪ He brought romance, he brought a sense of style, he knew how to pose his models, he knew how to create the mood, that ineffable magic he brought to the mix.
He's the best-known homegrown British photographer of that period crossing the Atlantic and photographs being published in both American Vogue and British Vogue and also French Vogue.
♪ He's so full of energy, he finds inspiration everywhere.
You look at the Surrealist photographs from the 1930s, it's very much about shadow and forebodingness or there's something impending.
And I think a lot of that is actually taken from some German Expressionist cinema.
♪ And, of course, he makes friends with painters, Tchelitchew, for example, and Christian Bérard, the sort of French Neo-romantics, he borrows an awful lot from them as well.
♪ I think that what he brought to the world of Vogue was something that no other contributor brought, which was not only was he a great fashion photographer and a witty illustrator...
...but he was also a very, very evocative writer.
"Each winter, I returned to New York to take photographs with a passionate enthusiasm.
But I did not feel I had yet expressed myself completely."
"I still had a gnawing haunting for the stage."
I was making a little money with my photographs, but I didn't deserve to have even a cottage.
And I was staying with Edith Olivier, who was a great friend of mine.
I said to her, "I wonder if you know of any little place that just would be big enough to put a pot of honeysuckle on the windowsill."
And she said, "Well, there's a deserted place that had a grotto in the garden."
Grotto, my heavens, that's just what we wanted.
I mean, a grotto sounded so Baroque, so Sitwellian, so Romantic, so Italian.
So we went over and eventually we saw this place.
And we walked down from the top of the downs, a very deep descent, and we looked under this marvelous archway, which was part of the building that had belonged to the horses and coaches.
"I was almost numbed by my first encounter with the house.
It was as if I had been touched on the head by some magic wand.
It was love at first sight."
"From the moment that I stood under the archway, I knew that this place was destined to be mine."
♪ Ashcombe was really so remote and so romantic and so mysterious, it was magical, really.
♪ I was so proud of this strange wayward place, that I tried to bring down from London as many friends as I possibly could to see it, and they all came under its rather haunted spell.
♪ When you read about Ashcombe and when he was hosting parties there, I mean, I just don't know how the guests had even one minute to breathe.
♪ If you went to Ashcombe as a guest, I can imagine that you'd be crawling out of there on Sunday night, unable to even think because there was so much going on.
"Ashcombe had become a much-painted beauty spot.
Many painters, Tchelitchew, Whistler, Bérard, and Dalí made drawings of the place."
"Tchelitchew at first intimidated me, but soon cast an almost hypnotic influence over me."
"Sometimes, in order to look at the landscape from a fresh point of view, I would employ the simple device I'd learned from him of gazing upside down at my panorama.
It is quite astonishing to discover how much more clearly one can see the picture without preconceived ideas."
"I decided to give a fête champêtre at Ashcombe.
Drawings were made of costumes that my friends must wear."
"Before leaving my house for the first time, my guests were made to trace the outlines of their hands on the walls of one of my bathrooms.
By degrees, an extraordinary connection was achieved."
"For me, the years that followed were the gayest of my life."
"In that time, life took on a sudden color and warmth."
His acute sensibility, subtlety of mind, wry sense of humor, and mysterious qualities of charm made him unlike anyone I had known."
"I wish I had some of his gifts."
♪ I read not long ago about Peter Watson.
Peter Watson was absolutely shocking.
And for Cecil he was like, "Oh!"
He was like a god, a young god.
He wasn't that young or wasn't that god or that beautiful, but for Cecil it seems to me that he was like that.
"I have never been in love with women, and I don't think I ever shall be in the way that I have been in love with men.
I'm really a terrible, terrible homosexualist and try so hard not to be."
♪ The Peter Watson love affair was very, very troubled.
Peter Watson kept him very close to him, but on a sort of like no-touch basis, so Cecil Beaton was kind of like feeling all the frustrations of the rejected lover.
What does Peter Watson do?
He goes off with Oliver Messel, under Cecil's own roof.
"Oliver Messel was my friend and my rival."
"We had shared lovers, though I am bound to admit, I did not do well in the race."
"There are no regrets in my amorous friendship with Peter.
I am sad that it was never a mutual love affair."
"My next stop was the celluloid oasis.
At this time, all the Hollywood studios were a buzzing hive.
Not only was this the center of motion pictures, but the talkies had just been invented.
It was a time when Hollywood was alive."
♪ Then when he went to Hollywood in the '30s, he captures Hollywood and American elegance like no one.
He managed to make it more American and chic at the time.
Come on, that picture of Gary Cooper is beautiful.
"To watch the antics of this lanky lad in Hollywood was like watching and enjoying the obvious discomfort of a caged eagle."
I don't think anybody has really captured the 20th century in many, many decades like he has.
"My Hollywood photographs were widely published and had a great influence in the film capital."
"Meanwhile, the unexpected in all its forms is always lurking."
"It can strike at any moment."
♪ He was often asked to illustrate articles in Vogue.
Into this particular article, he introduced some very unpleasant anti-Semitic slogans, in particular the word "kike."
But very, very small, and you'd really need a magnifying glass to see what he had written.
Condé Nast, the proprietor of Vogue, has to order the pulping of 130,000 copies of the magazine.
"Condé was very emotionally upset.
It was so serious that I had to resign."
♪ It's very hard to understand what he was thinking, 'cause half his friends in New York were Jewish, and American Vogue was run by Jewish people.
I mean, it was an extraordinary thing to do.
"Why did I do that?
I was baffled.
I can only tell you how deeply sorry I am.
It was done unconsciously.
I am not anti-Jewish and I am violently hostile to Hitler."
Why did he do it?
The incident was caused by thoughtlessness, arrogance, and misunderstanding of the gravity of the situation.
And generally just getting above himself.
And down he went.
And he didn't really work for a year and a half after that.
It was a wake up moment for him.
He worked very hard to overcome it, but it was something that he didn't forget.
He had some amends to make.
"In July 1939, the telephone rang.
'This is the lady in waiting speaking.
The Queen wants to know if you will photograph her tomorrow afternoon.'"
"At first I thought it might be a practical joke, the sort of thing Oliver Messel might do."
"But it was no joke.
My pleasure and excitement were overwhelming.
Another lease of life extended to me in my photographic career."
"I decided that of all painters, the most suitable to express the Queen's personality would have been Renoir."
"But there was no Renoir and I was to face my job that afternoon with a camera."
"When I entered the gates of Buckingham Palace for the first time, on my way to photograph that ravishing and wonderful person, Queen Elizabeth, I thought, 'How did I get here?'"
♪ That very first sitting that Beaton had with Queen Elizabeth as she was then, later the Queen Mother, was in 1939.
And in his diary he writes about the fact that he's expecting the sitting to last 20 minutes or so.
And, in fact, he spent a full three hours at Buckingham Palace in many of the state rooms, out in the garden taking those incredibly romantic, beautiful pictures of the Queen with a parasol.
So it was an immediate rapport that he struck up with the Queen that then led to so many subsequent sittings with her family and her children.
♪ Beaton photographed nearly 30 members of the British royal family, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Beaton's images of the couple together helped to promote that idea of a royal love story and the king who abdicated for the woman who he adored.
"Wallis Simpson, the lady who became the Duchess of Windsor, was one of my most frequent subjects."
"For those who enjoy gossip, she was a particular treat."
♪ I think it's an extraordinary testament to his strength of character that he was able to, on one hand, photograph the marriage of Wallis Simpson to the Duke of Windsor, and also to then take photographs of Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the reigning king.
These are two sides of the family that absolutely despised each other, and Beaton successfully manages to keep in with both factions.
"The afternoon light began to fade, and the Queen, with all the wistful symbolism of a Chekhov character, said, 'You watch, Mr. Beaton, in a little while the sky will be rose-colored.
I sometimes think Piccadilly is on fire every evening.'
Her words, alas, were only too prophetic."
"The Blitz began in 1940.
For months, London was terribly bombed.
Once more, I was faced with my old vocational vertigo.
It was clear that in anything connected with soldiering, I would be a real sad sack.
But I wanted to be useful."
"I went down to the city to photograph the damage done by Sunday night's raid."
♪ The Minister of Information was desperate for international understanding and support, particularly from America.
Cecil Beaton's unique style of photography, it was felt, would catch the eye.
It was different to the normal press photography.
They regularly used five photographers, and Beaton is the most celebrated.
♪ He still felt that sense of shame for what he had done in 1938 with American Vogue.
He genuinely did long for redemption.
And it's really only the war years that sort of save his reputation
'cause he does go out of his way to be an extraordinary documentary photographer from 1939 onwards.
♪ During the war, Cecil Beaton took over 7,000 photographs.
♪ He published eight books.
♪ Writing for innumerable magazine features and articles, as well as drawing for them.
♪ That began to open the door for Beaton to make a return, and it certainly made American Vogue and British Vogue think that maybe they ought to think again about employing him.
I treated it always in a sort of visual way.
I think it was a marvelous opportunity for me to be dug out of my little rut.
"I went to most of the theaters of war.
I went to Burma and China and Egypt."
"I remember a most extraordinary sight when a whole lot of tanks had been blown up and left there, and these strange circular objects were half-buried in the sand.
They just remained looking like a Surrealist picture."
So different from conventional war photography because he's an aesthete and he's looking for beautiful things, even in extremis and despair and hardship.
♪ Which is very, very powerful and enduringly so, I think, it's just this idea that, you know, culture and beauty is going to survive whatever they throw at us.
♪ I think his sexuality is extremely important in those photographs, because the portrayals of, you know, the airmen and the soldiers and the sailors are very, very loving and sometimes eroticized and...
...and I think that's also something that you don't get with conventional war photography.
"In the hangars of an aerodrome, I found more thrilling sets than in the Hollywood studios."
"In the hospitals, there are characters and personalities to be seen, more vivid than in any stage drama."
"With her little head bandaged, four-year-old Eileen Dunne was in bed with wild, staring eyes and a gray face and clutching a gray toy.
Perhaps all that remained of her former life."
♪ Becomes the cover of Life magazine.
You know, and it really does help persuade American opinion in favor of helping out Europe.
♪ Beaton worked extraordinarily hard and often fell ill.
He traveled in great discomfort.
He was in a very serious airplane crash.
Before that he was like a sugared almond, a sort of pretty little sweet, and then the inside of him he was like a hard nut.
And he just got on a plane, the plane crashed, he got out of that plane and got on the next one, kept going, I mean, that's an incredible... for that sort of foppish dandy, that fondant piece of icing, he actually had a very hard interior.
♪ Have you ever, at any stage in your life, had to do something which was really too difficult for you?
Oh, I'm always having to do things which are too difficult for me, and I think that that is the thing that keeps me going.
I'm perfectly willing to take on any job that I think may help make me a little better as a human being.
"Pelham Place, my home in London, was no longer habitable.
The street was roped off with an unexploded bomb in the vicinity.
So I was particularly blessed to have Ashcombe as a retreat.
It became, more than ever, a refuge."
♪ When the time came, eventually, for me to go and see my landlord and to hear that he wanted to take over the place, I... I just couldn't believe it.
It was like a death knell.
I couldn't imagine that I would be expelled from this loveliness that I had made my own.
"I've been going through all the old boxes."
"The past comes alive with shocking vividness."
"Some of the letters and documents make me sad.
Some almost stop my heart beating.
The telegram announcing my father's death."
"A piece of paper left on the hall table indicating that my brother, Reggie, was out.
He would never come back to write that he was in."
"The evening that Reggie was killed by an underground train, I felt unmoved."
"His suicide was the crowning blow to my father's life.
I thought, 'Dear Daddy, what a nightmare ordeal for you.'"
"'Reggie was your favorite son.
You'd been such friends.'"
"I'm thinking now of all the days Reggie and I spent together.
We grew up in great intimacy, fighting a lot but really devoted.
I feel full of regret and guilt for having been so selfish."
♪ His mother was very much his responsibility after the father died.
He was very protective of his mother and very devoted to her.
Wherever he lived, she always had her own room and she was part of the scenery.
"Since I was thrown out of Ashcombe, I have found a small house in the country to take its place.
Of course, Reddish House did not possess the wayward romantic remoteness of Ashcombe.
This was the abode of an adult person.
Is it because it is my own that I love it so much?"
♪ He not only grew up and began to value things in life beyond himself, but it was also the point at which his life changed direction, which was less photography and more about stage design.
♪ After the war, when he did that famous production of the Wilde play Lady Windermere ' s Fan, I mean, that gave a glamour after 1945, after the dreadful, dull, gray, bleak, ruined, shitty kind of atmosphere.
Post 1945, suddenly to see this vision of Edwardian grandeur, splendor, I mean, we needed that.
"It was Diaghilev who set me on the track of designing for the theater and the ballet."
"He was neither a dancer, a painter, a choreographer, nor a musician, but he had the vision, the taste, the knowledge to embrace all these things."
♪ Cecil Beaton was inspired by the two great Russian icons of ballet who came from the same generation and were totally opposed to each other...
Anna Pavlova and Serge Diaghilev.
Ballet people talk about the word "perfume," and Anna Pavlova was the ultimate perfume ballerina.
She would leave essences of herself, and had a wonderful quality of upper body acting, so people thought she was like a flame.
♪ The ballet I wish we could see is the original version of Apparitions.
Just see these extraordinary splashes of color where the whole corps de ballet, one section's wearing purple and lilac, one section's wearing scarlet, and that gives us such an idea of pure beauty.
♪ I don't think Cecil Beaton was like anybody else in the world of dance because he was a photographer and he was a designer.
I can't really think of people who did those two things.
But he was, you know, he was a personality and opinion, and he was like all these post-Diaghilev people, he was a dandy.
♪ Everything about him was style.
The way he dressed, the way the table was laid.
The flowers in the house.
All those little details of a kind of dandy.
♪ It goes far beyond clothes.
It's an attitude, and in his case the way he documented the world around him.
Do you think you were, when you were younger, abnormally self-conscious about your appearance?
Oh yes. Are you still so?
I've got rid of the past except for this hat.
♪ This hat I wear because I think it has a certain...
Edwardian bravura, and also it hides the fact that I'm going bald.
And I don't like to exhibit myself quite bald, you know.
♪ Cecil had an aura about him that really drew you in.
♪ He was extremely stylish, but he looked totally unlike anybody else.
♪ He's both very vain and very modest at the same time.
♪ He has a kind of social vanity, which is amusing and unique, and I like it, and it's part of his charm.
Am I vain?
Oh no, anything but vain.
I'm my worst critic.
I've got this strange feeling about vanity.
I think vanity's when you think you're perfect.
And Cecil didn't think he was perfect and tried to improve himself.
But he was hugely critical.
I think he thought some people didn't rise to his standards.
♪ Who is the most beautiful woman you've ever photographed?
Uh, I suppose Garbo.
"I am obsessed by her.
The moment I wake in the morning, I start to think about her, and so it goes on all day, and then in my dreams at night."
♪ Miss Garbo, I always wanted to photograph her, but she was very averse to the idea until suddenly one day, fate played into my lap and she said, "If only you weren't such a grand and elegant photographer."
So I said, "I suppose then you'd ask me to take a passport photograph, wouldn't you?"
She said, "How did you know?"
Well, the pictures I took weren't very suitable for passport.
♪ They were the most beautiful pictures, those pictures of Garbo, and they were loving, you could feel that he just adored her, right, more than other subjects.
♪ These pictures of her kind of sprawled out on a couch wearing a turtleneck and this amazing bracelet.
"She put a penciled line on the back of those of which she approved, and would allow me to publish one of them in Vogue."
"A week before the magazine was to be in all the bookstores, Greta sent me a cable saying that if more than one of the photographs were to appear, I would never be forgiven."
"Frantic calls to my friends at Vogue, 'Stop everything!'
It was too late, the copies were already bound and on their way throughout the country."
"Through a complete misunderstanding, it was now impossible to prevent her from feeling completely betrayed."
"My abject cables, letters, telephone calls, and flowers sent to her were unanswered."
♪ There was a self-destructive thing there, not in terms of his career or what he was doing as an artist, much more about the destruction of relationships, you know?
This compulsion to make things all the time is what drives your life, and you sacrifice almost everything on the altar of that.
♪ Beaton is a creative force, and it's about creating this illusory world that the viewer is invited to step into.
The idea of the scrapbook, the collage, is pure Beaton.
"So I have now 150 diaries and 97 scrapbooks, memorials of many violated magazines, repositories of museum picture postcards, theatrical programs, letters, and photographs which I have accumulated since childhood."
"If I could bring one thing to a deserted island, I would choose one of my scrapbooks, because they're full of pictures of people still alive in my memory."
"Finally, after six months, Greta called and left word with my secretary that she would visit me that afternoon."
"My heart started to thump so violently, it was almost alarming."
♪ Yes, I think there was some hanky panky with Greta Garbo.
Something happened, I don't know what.
It might have just been a rather... awkward fumble on the sofa or something, I don't know, but something happened.
He thought he could turn Garbo, and I think Garbo hoped she could turn him.
But I'm told actually Cecil was quite good in bed with girls.
"I had known that we were made for each other."
"I asked, 'Why don't you marry me?'"
"I never asked anyone to marry me, and yet to make this proposal seemed the most natural and easy thing to do."
"But Greta looked completely astounded."
♪ Garbo, to some extent, may well have been a lesbian, but she also had quite a lot of relationships with men.
♪ The problem certainly about him sort of settling down into one of those cozy partnerships was unlikely to work really very well because there was always some incredibly tempting lighted candle somewhere which was more appealing.
♪ He had this vision of what he wanted to be, and he was always in a hurry.
"Anything for the uprise," as he once put it.
He was very, very keen to move in good social circles.
He loved that royalty thing.
I suppose if you looked at it one way, it could be kind of endearing that he was so taken in by all that stuff, and, uh, and I think 'cause of his background, he wanted to be part of that group of people.
If a person had a crown on his head, he liked them much more.
He was a terrible social climber.
"The call saying the Queen wanted me to do her personal coronation photographs comes as an enormous relief."
♪ By the time of the Queen's coronation in 1953, Beaton was already world famous.
♪ He attended Westminster Abbey for the ceremony itself.
He was seated very high up in the abbey, up near the organ pipes, and he had his top hat stuffed full of sandwiches and drawing materials.
And he recorded, in very simple black sketches, the goings on in the abbey as they unfolded before him.
Long live the Queen!
Long live the Queen!
♪ When you look at those pictures of the Queen, particularly the color images, there's a real glow about her, there's a sense that she's almost radiating light.
♪ The image he created of the monarchy was absolutely crucial, and his ability to create this seemingly magnificent, unfolding tale of romance and glamour was so important to inspire the nation.
I don't know if he ever became an insider himself, because I think that he always saw himself as beneath his subjects, especially the royal family.
He just felt so privileged to be near them in the same room, you know?
And I always found that a little sad.
But he's English, so he knows his place.
♪ The British class system is a very, very interesting and strange animal.
If you were born outside that world, that was just it, and you could be, you know, a court jester, and you could be a sort of entertainer and a recorder of it, but you were never going to be inside that world.
Underneath it I think there was always an insecure person.
You know, he was never, ever confident that people were accepting him.
That's also a driving force.
♪ He published about 38 books in his lifetime.
Some of them obviously were very visual, some of them were more like diaries.
♪ I think there are photographers and stylists and certainly designers who have referenced Beaton heavily through the years.
♪ That incredible book, The Glass of Fashion, changed my life.
♪ He's able to do these incredible drawings, and it's great writing.
♪ I was 18 and I got a job as an archivist in the Vogue Beaton archive.
It was my job to look at the negatives, hold them up to a light and try and choreograph them to the Beaton pictures on the page in the magazine.
Of course it rubbed off on me.
♪ I think it was Beaton's romance that attracted me.
Human beings feed off escapism and fantasy in a reaction to the harshness of reality.
I think there's a sort of nobility to fantasy for that reason.
♪ He opened my eyes to photography, and I then realized there are some good portrait photographers.
♪ Beaton used the camera in a very particular way.
Really what mattered to him was always the subject.
Seizing, freezing, holding that beauty, that glamour, that idea.
Creating this Beaton universe.
It's not the world as he found it, it's the world as he transformed it, as he wished it to be.
♪ One of the greatest contributions to the quality of Gigi is the fact that the producer hired Cecil Beaton to do everything visual in the film.
♪ Can you imagine what that was like for Cecil Beaton?
Going to a soundstage where you could just create absolutely anything, carte blanche.
♪ That's like a fantasy, that's like being in the biggest space in the world and someone saying, like, "Just create your own reality."
Gigi, where have you been?
Playing in the park. Armenonville.
A lot of the picture was shot in Paris, and then we went back to Hollywood just for the interiors.
It was the first time that I've ever worked as a designer in a major Hollywood studio.
You can ask the impossible and it suddenly appears.
(WOMAN CLEARS THROAT)
Four yards of material in the skirt.
Cecil didn't miss a minute.
He was there every day from seven o'clock on.
And then while we were shooting, he would take pictures.
"More than anyone else, Leslie Caron poses the question, 'What makes a face photogenic?'
In life and onstage, we see a delightful little frog."
"In the twinkling of a flashbulb, we see a photograph of a beauty."
♪ Beaton entered into my realm subliminally when I was a kid.
I think that, of the films that I love of Beaton's, the one that I love the most is My Fair Lady.
♪ When they came to me with My Fair Lady, I just knew that I'd really got something that I'd always been wishing for.
It was really a question of delving down into the... my youth, into my childhood, into my adolescence.
♪ My mother took me to see My Fair Lady, and I remember the credits coming up.
♪ I also remember thinking that he'd got it all horribly wrong by giving the Ascot ladies that... those kind of early sixties Cleopatra winged eyes.
♪ Pulses ♪
♪ Rushing ♪
♪ Faces ♪
♪ Flushing ♪ And I could already see that that was entirely un-1912.
♪ I have never been so keyed up ♪ So I was a little bit tut tutty about the whole thing.
But I... which is a little bit scary considering I was seven or eight, I think.
Um, but of course I later came to realize that as an ensemble, it was quite remarkable.
♪ The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain ♪
♪ I think she's got it ♪
♪ I think she's got it ♪
♪ The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain ♪ You could argue that after Eliza Doolittle learns how to speak properly, Cecil carries the rest of the film completely.
And it's all visual, really, after that.
On top of being a photographer, on top of being a writer, he was a painter.
And that color sense that Beaton had was marvelous.
♪ For me, if you get the color right, you have it.
♪ The one production that one tends to associate with you above all others is My Fair Lady, both the play and the film, which won you, I think, two Oscars.
I got the impression that when it came to doing the film, you were less happy in Hollywood.
I loved the preparation.
I thought that was the most exciting thing because I was rethinking the whole production.
But unfortunately, once we started shooting, I felt disappointed with certain personal aspects of the whole set up.
He was quite wound up over in Los Angeles, 'cause he hated it.
"Oh, that terrible George Cukor.
Such a nightmare."
I gather that you really didn't get on very well with Cecil Beaton.
No, I didn't.
Would you like to expand on that?
No, no, it's a boring subject.
I'm sure he's bored with it, and so am I.
But... Except he did pick my pockets.
And he attempted to strangle me, and he's a forger and everything.
No, no, it just... we just didn't get on very well.
And I was right.
"I really suffocated in Hollywood."
"It is ugly beyond belief, and there were very few people with whom I could speak the same language."
"It is two years since that night when at that strange locale, among the black leather toughs, one very beautiful fawnlike creature in olive green smiled the sweetest, most tender of smiles at me."
♪ I think Cecil was very much in love with Kin Hoitsma.
He was like a schoolgirl with Kin.
He was all... I remember in the pool, and Kin would sort of pick up Cecil in his arms, and Cecil, "Yeah," like that.
I mean, he was so sort of girly with Kin.
"He was a continuous delight to the eye, full of laughter, unspoiled, enchantingly young and coltish, and ceaselessly beautiful.
He was my most prized possession."
♪ I don't think that Kin brought out the best in Cecil Beaton.
At that point, Cecil was experimenting with a whole new generation, a whole new life.
He must have felt that this gave him a sort of a great youthful boost, but that's not a very good basis for a long-term relationship.
"Kin's exit was as if to an execution."
"I like to think it was as bad a moment for him as it was for me."
"I went back to bed, not to sleep but to moan at my loss and to feel desperately sad."
♪ I think he always wanted to have a longstanding romance, and it never really worked.
I mean, the... he really was in love with Peter Watson all his life, I think.
Kin was not unlike Peter Watson in a funny way.
Same sort of look.
♪ Cecil Beaton seems to have had a knack of being a pretty bad chooser, and maybe we see a little thread going through all this that perhaps, you know, subconsciously he didn't really want to settle down with any of them.
♪ Cecil Beaton, I suppose, was basically homosexual without a doubt, but he always realized that he was on the outside of society.
Cecil was definitely gay in a time when it was against the law.
♪ He did have a physical life, but it was very behind closed doors.
He had one regular black gentleman that he used to visit quite frequently.
♪ But he was very discreet about it.
♪ I think he was genuinely curious about other people, and felt inspired by great artists.
He saw himself in that sort of constellation of great creative people.
You didn't have to be madly beautiful to appeal to Cecil Beaton.
What he liked was people who expressed themselves.
But he was a very good friend to his friends, and his friends were very, very loyal to him.
From the beginning, I've known him all my life, he's a friend of a lifetime, he always wanted a very good life, and he realized there's only one very good life, and that's the life that you know you want and you make it yourself.
That's what he's done.
Don't you think?
Yes, well, he's a total self-creation.
Mm, total. There are very few people in the world that are total self-creations, and he certainly is one.
You see, what I like about Cecil, he's got a great deal of the outrageous in him.
He likes all the limits, doesn't he?
Well, he certainly goes to extremes.
Yes. He can be extremely kind or extremely rude.
He can be the rudest person I've ever known.
Yes, and he picks his enemies beautifully, doesn't he?
Mm? He knows what he's doing when he's doing those things.
I wonder, though, really, I mean, he certainly gathers enemies like other people gather roses.
That's right. I'm not so sure that he picks them well.
But he's very positive, he's not a negative person.
He loves, it's very easy for him to love.
Well, he positively loves you or he positively hates you.
Are there any close friends from either school or Cambridge that you've carried right the way through with you and are still close friends today?
No names, I suppose, no (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
Uh, I don't mind giving a few names if you want. Tell me a few names of friends and enemies who've been with you all the time.
Evelyn Waugh, uh, is my enemy.
We dislike one another intensely.
He thinks that I'm a nasty piece of goods, and, oh, brother, I feel the same way about him.
"As for Noël Coward, I admire everything about his work.
Why then have I hated him?"
"Perhaps I was envious of the success of his career."
"I've always despised the Burtons for their vulgarity, commonness, and crass bad taste.
Richard Burton is as butch and coarse as only a Welshman can be."
"Elizabeth Taylor is everything I dislike, combining the worst of American and English taste."
"Katharine Hepburn's appearance is appalling.
A freckled, burned, mottled, bleached, and wizened piece of decaying matter.
She has no generosity, no heart, no grace.
She's a dried up boot."
♪ Oh, yes, I can hate.
I can hate unreasonably.
I mean, I'm very conscious of that.
And then a lot of the time I feel, well, I'm only doing it just for a gag, that I really don't hate this person, that it's just a sort of game I'm playing with myself about them, but clearly they're not too bad.
But I take a line about certain people and stick to it.
♪ I think he could be very disapproving.
You'd suddenly see a little flash of... bitchiness.
There's a way the English have of being rude in a nice way where you actually quite like them being rude to you.
And Cecil didn't have that rudeness, he just had rudeness.
♪ I actually really loved Cecil.
I had a huge soft spot for him.
I think that was something to do with his melancholy side.
He never gave the impression of being a happy person, although he had a lot of humor and he was... he engaged with people very, very easily.
I think that probably love, or the lack of love, was an enormous part of his life.
Maybe he didn't open his heart very much.
He was very hard to read, and I think like probably most interesting people in the world, he was just this sort of mass of contradictions.
Let's face it, he was two faced.
I remember one weekend I was staying with Cecil Beaton and he spotted this woman outside the door and he said, "Oh, it's that fucking woman!"
Opening the door, "Mary, darling, it's so wonderful to see you."
That got him in one.
♪ Supposing you had to judge yourself from your diaries, what sort of man do you think you'd find there?
Were you a bit shocked when you looked back on the early ones?
Um, I really looked upon them from a technical point of view.
I came across this hoard and I started reading them, and I was appalled by the person that was revealed there.
But suddenly, there would be a little patch that I thought had great vitality, that still seemed to... be valid, and so I collected them together.
And even if I came out of them in a pretty unbecoming light, and I thought they were interesting, then I let them go in.
Of course the most notorious example of that was when he published his diaries about the affair with Greta Garbo, because he thought it was a very important part of his life and it couldn't be ignored.
Well, she was a very, very private person, and that did not go down well either with her or with a great number of other people who considered that he had not behaved like a gentleman.
I do find that my opinion changes very much as time goes by, and I'm always sort of reconsidering, and I think perhaps I've been much too outspoken on rather trivial subjects.
♪ That's marvelous, Penelope, just like that.
Good, your fingers straighter.
And head a bit higher.
That's right, now then will you follow me?
♪ I want you to look ecstatic, you must be inspired.
Don't smile, no, very serious.
♪ Jolly good, jolly well done.
I think you're absolutely super.
I was with David Bailey when he decided to do a documentary on Cecil Beaton.
♪ You know, I didn't like him, Cecil.
He was such a snob.
But I thought he was a great photographer and a great designer.
That's absolutely marvelous.
Cecil was very patient with Bailey, but I think that Beaton absolutely loathed Bailey.
All right? No.
In a way, you have to sort of get the person in the film when you're making a film about them.
Thank you. Good, and walk towards me.
Walk towards you? Yeah.
Drag them in, in a way, even if you have to annoy them.
Good. That's right.
"Bailey, your film is entertaining and is of good value.
But it is not a good film.
It is inconclusive and superficial."
Well, I got him then, didn't I?
Right on the head, maybe it's too close to home, Cecil, if you're listening up there with God, decorating His front room.
♪ A lot of people just dismissed, you know, younger successful people as being flash in the pans or pop culture, but Cecil, you know, he knew what talent was, and he... you know, he followed that.
He was photographing the great modern artists of the post-war years.
Bacon and Freud and Gilbert & George.
Well, he loved anything, anything new.
Good, uh, just lean forward like that awful advertisement, "Your cigarette, sir."
♪ He came in the Royal College of Art when I was a student.
♪ I knew he was an old queen.
I knew a few things about him.
♪ Then he told me he wanted to buy this painting.
He offered me 40 pounds for it, which I'd never had 40 pounds for a painting before.
And so I used that money to come to America the first time, yeah.
Look out of the false window.
"It staggers me how this young man can be so at home in the world.
He has the golden quality of being able to enjoy life."
"He is never blasé, never takes anything for granted.
Life is a delightful wonderland for him."
And then just look at me. That's right.
I mean, I did get to know him quite well.
I had to sketch him for Vogue, and he photographed me.
So the drawings took a long time.
I remember if he liked the drawing, I didn't.
If I liked the drawing, he didn't.
♪ He never really rested.
I don't see how he did everything and went out every night.
It's extraordinary how much he got done.
"I have always complimented myself on my stamina, and can wear out even my younger friends when it comes to work or play."
"I can still think of myself as a rather appealing bright young thing."
Look at Hockney, you see he's giggling away.
I love his green shirt.
I went to Cecil's parties.
Get him out of here.
I mean, I met all kinds of people there.
I met Vivien Leigh there, Laurence Olivier, loads of film people.
That's where I met Mick Jagger, at Cecil Beaton's.
♪ I first met Cecil Beaton in part of Morocco which was little known then.
I was walking in the medina one day and I saw this beautiful figure clad all in a white suit and a beautiful fedora hat.
It was very nice.
Take some nice pictures.
"Mick Jagger is sexy, yet completely sexless.
He is beautiful and ugly, feminine and masculine.
A rare phenomenon."
Cecil Beaton had a knack of always being in the right place at the right time.
You know, he wasn't having a siesta in the hotel when the Rolling Stones came by, he was out there and he saw them and he took their pictures by the pool.
Terribly good of Andy Warhol.
I like that one the most.
He continually embraced what was exciting and new and modern and happening and of the moment and up to the minute and with it and swinging and hip.
The mind boggles to think what he could have made of today's internet, Instagram, selfie world.
I'd love to see a Beaton portrait of Kim Kardashian, and I'd particularly like to read the diary entry.
"I come down to the country by the earliest train possible."
"The landscape is everything I love, with dry grasses in the hedges and all the cottage gardens ablaze."
♪ When you found the real Cecil, it was delightful.
The real Cecil would come out when he was home at Reddish, in the garden with his old garden clothes on.
He was happy.
There was no grandeur.
He really was himself, which was very nice to see.
♪ Here's my little cat.
He likes very much staying in the herbaceous border.
I wonder if I might be able to get you.
Come on, Timothy, yeah.
Oh, I'm so pleased to see a nice cat.
♪ Timothy White.
I have no plans for settling down at all.
I think my idea of a peaceful old age is continuing to experiment and develop and tackle each new hurdle as it comes along.
♪ London's National Portrait Gallery is paying an unprecedented compliment to Cecil Beaton with an exhibition of 700 of his portrait photographs.
♪ It was a landmark show.
It put Beaton back in the limelight.
It put the National Portrait Gallery, up until then thought of as the dowdiest gallery in London, at the height of glamour and excitement.
And no national collection had ever staged an exhibition of a living photographer.
So it put photography on the map as never before.
She has star quality.
She's a natural.
She is above all else intelligent.
Her brain works so clearly, so healthily, she could be a lawyer."
♪ Would you have liked your life all to be different?
Very different, yes.
♪ I think that I wish that I were able to dig down deeper.
♪ I think that I relied on my instinct and tried to perfect my inner sense of reality, but I don't think that I have made an intellectual enough approach to my work and my life.
♪ And the winner is Cecil Beaton for Coco.
♪ This is simply spiffy.
I'm very lucky to get this.
I'm lucky because I don't think any other designer has ever had such a marvelous inspiration to work to as Mademoiselle Coco Chanel.
♪ Beaton's relationship with the V&A Museum began when he was invited to stage an exhibition called Fashion: An Anthology.
It was a huge success.
It was wildly popular.
And it included garments and clothing from virtually everyone Cecil Beaton knew.
♪ Cecil got a CBE in 1957.
That's Companion of the Order of the British Empire.
And for a long time he wasn't knighted.
But what he actually said when he did get knighted finally in 1972 was, "Oh, it's practically posthumous."
♪ Good, and the hands, give it a little more sort of...
"As the years pass, I have found that I must work harder than ever I did before."
It's good, it's very nice.
"The whole problem of the future is one of anxiety."
After a very intense working career, Beaton suffered his stroke.
He was greatly debilitated.
He was paralyzed down his right side and he never really got the use of his right hand back.
♪ Worst of all perhaps for him is that he lost his particular elegance, and that he resented very much, and he was very, very, very depressed.
"It is awful how easily I weep.
Why have I not any self control?"
"Suddenly I realized I was appalled by the sadness of life."
"I was weeping for my own lost youth, and I was weeping for the dead people I had loved.
My mother and my brother and all who had been part of my childhood."
"Why should I feel sad about the passing of so much rather than gratitude that so much has been fitted into life?"
♪ He was on this endless quest for something, not immortality but to achieve something that he was proud of.
♪ But I feel in some kind of way that none of the things he did really satisfied him.
♪ I don't think he thought that he really... was all he could have been.
♪ He was so much more interesting and so much more curious, and so much more complex as a person.
But I think that complexity he had is what artists have.
♪ It's not... it's not for the ordinary.
♪ He gave up writing diaries when he had this bad stroke in 1974, but there was actually a post-stroke diary as well, because when I went to see Cecil and Eileen, his secretary, they told me that they'd had this terrible drama because the cat, Timothy, after 17 years had had to be put to sleep.
♪ And when I actually got my hands on the diary, the last thing Cecil Beaton ever wrote was, "So Timothy has passed through to oblivion.
Is he perhaps the lucky one?"
♪ And exactly a week later, he himself got flustered in the night and out he went.
♪ Cecil Beaton died at Reddish House on the 18th of January 1980.
There were three photographs in his room when he died.
One was of Peter Watson, one was of Kin Hoitsma, and one was of Greta Garbo.
Those were the three people that he considered the great loves of his life.
♪ I was sad for him because I know he would have hated dying.
♪ He loved life too much, and it would... he would have felt he was missing something by being dead.
♪ His life was about living for the wondrous, living for beauty, rejecting the banal, rejecting the commonplace, and believing that you can create a life, you can create a personality, you can create a world for yourself and those around you.
♪ No one has had the ability to wave the wand and scatter the magic over somebody like Cecil Beaton.
♪ He was uniquely connected to so many different worlds, and it's always fascinating having his perspective.
♪ The pointed observation that someone else might have missed.
♪ It's very interesting to get the unvarnished truth sometimes.
♪ And I think he could always be relied upon to furnish that, you know, even in his most private writings.
"If I knew anyone had read this, I'd almost go mad."
"And yet I feel I had to write it."
"Perhaps I have digressed in life.
But what if one doesn't want to specialize?"
"Be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the slaves of the ordinary."
"What if one is a dreamer?"