“Beauty, beauty, look at you. Wish to god I had it, too.”
That’s the first line in “Kevyn Aucoin: Beauty & The Beast In Me,” a new documentary about perhaps the only celebrity makeup artist to conquer popular culture in his own right.
The late Aucoin says this over an opening montage of impossibly famous women he’s painted, from supermodels to music legends to best actresses. They have names like Cindy, Naomi, Gwyneth, Liza and Cher.
Though the film is directed by Lori Kaye, a good bit of the footage, mostly from the 1990s, was shot by Aucoin. A handheld camera accompanied him in the makeup chair beside stars like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Linda Evangelista, and traveled with him to Louisiana when he found the birth mother who gave him up for adoption at 15.
It’s this trove of footage and dozens of star interviews from which Kaye carves “Beauty & The Beast In Me,” to mixed effect: The footage is ahead of its time, from before reality TV and celebrity news took over. And it tells a harrowing tale of identity crisis, abandonment and redemption. But the film can’t decide if his mastery of the superficial was his gift or his downfall. Perhaps it was both.
Logo TV has already acquired the doc and will air it this fall, but first it served as the documentary centerpiece for Outfest 2017 — where it premiered at the DGA headquarters in West Hollywood on Friday night.
The crowd was beyond pleased with the candid moments, especially from the bona fide supermodels of the ’90s. Cindy Crawford tells awesome dirty jokes; Naomi Campbell ogles the hottest gadget of the day, which was, coincidentally, a cell phone; Linda Evangelista realizes her famous quote about not getting out of bed for less than $10k per day has gone viral (long before anything would go viral).
There was also plenty of insight as to what motivated this adopted genius, revealed by friends and clients like Andie MacDowell and Gwyneth Paltrow — he worked with the latter on Oscar night 1999, when she won Best Actress for “Shakespeare in Love.” Paltrow’s look is widely considered one of the most glamorous in Academy Awards history.
Fast and close friendships with clients were a hallmark of Aucoin’s, who died in 2002 from complications of a rare brain tumor. He saved answering machine recordings from people like Liza Minelli and Wynona Ryder.
Paltrow said the recordings were a source of comfort and reassurance for Aucoin, who endured bullying so severe as a teen that he dropped out of school in the tenth grade to study beauty.
“In a way … those friendships were saying to his eight-year-old self, ‘Look at where we’re going. We’re going to be OK,'” said Paltrow.
After early days doing makeup for free to show off his talents, Aucoin’s profile skyrocketed. He booked nine Vogue covers in a row and worked week-long music video shoots at $15,000 per-day rates. Segments on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and his own range of books empowered the average woman to transform with makeup, and soon made him a national figure and a true brand.
In his personal life, he struggled with security and sincerity in his romantic relationships. He never trusted that he was loved, the film says often, no matter how many fabulous people or handsome lovers would tell him so.
The project has some interesting B-stories about race (Aucoin worked at a Southern department store in the ’70s, and was the only employee who would give beauty consults to women of color) and his religious family conflicting with his sexuality.
But none of these threads can overpower the story of a talented person attempting to fill the void with fame. We’ve seen it many times, and while it’s familiar, it’s effectively deployed here.
Another supermodel, Paulina Porizkova, said she and Aucoin shared this particular sensitivity. They came up with an analogy: a cup that has no bottom.
“How do you fill it?” she wondered. “You can’t. The liquid just spills out.”