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LARGER THAN LIFE: THE KEVYN AUCOIN STORY (2017) review

June 28, 2018

largerthanlifeposter

 

produced by: Jayce Bartok, Bronwyn Cosgrave and Troy Surratt
directed by: Tiffany Bartok
rated: not rated
runtime: 103 min.
U.S. release date: June 29, 2018 – July 5, 2018 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)

 

I typically find myself puzzled, impressed and sometimes surprised when I see footage from the past in documentaries. Granted, that is often the route filmmakers must take when their subject is deceased, but questions come to mind like: “Who was recording?” “What was the intention?” and, “Did they ever thing the footage would land in a documentary years later?” Those are some of the questions that came up while watching “Larger than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story”, the documentary from director Tiffany Bartok which explores the meteoric career and tragedy of the titular makeup artist’s death and the groundbreaking impact he had on the art form. Aucoin was an artist who took something considered beautiful and enhanced it in a unique and personal way, leaving a lasting legacy yet he was an artist who couldn’t find the beauty within himself. 

“Larger than Life” probably works best for viewers like myself, who never even heard of Aucoin before. The fact that he was a makeup artist didn’t impress me, or at least it wasn’t the draw. I was more intrigued with why he became so iconic and what happened to him – why is he no longer alive? There is something very intriguing about finding out who the artist was behind so many iconic Vogue covers (eighteen consecutively, but who’s counting?) as well as his vast array of clients such as Cher, Janet Jackson, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tina Turner, and his childhood idol, Barbra Streisand.

 

largerthanlifeaucoin

 

Born on February 14th, 1962, Kevyn Aucoin was one of four children who were adopted by parents, Isidore Adrian Aucoin and Thelma Suzanne Melancon, in Lafayette, Louisiana. Growing up alongside his siblings, Carl, Kim and Keith, Kevyn always felt different from everyone else and would use drawing, painting and makeup application as an outlet. At the age of six, he realized he was gay and wound up enduring verbal and physical abuse because of his behavior. He started working as a makeup artist at the age of eleven in the Lafayette area and in his late teens he began to realize that he was gay and would eventually became an activist who openly embraced his identity. By the time he was twenty, he made his way to New York City where he would start out working on models for free to gain experience, build contacts and develop a style, eventually becoming a brilliant innovator in the field.

Aucoin would become known for his chosen art form, earning awards, accolades and recognition from within his profession. Much of his story in “Larger than Life” is told from the supermodels and stars he worked on for photo shoots, videos, concerts or live appearances, including Christy Turlington Burns, Naomi Campbell, Paulina Porizkova, Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Isabella Rossellini, and more. Bartok intercuts many of these talking head scenes with footage of a young Aucoin leaning in closely as he worked on these women with the elongated hands he would become known for.

In 1983, he worked on Revlon’s Nakeds line, creating the first of a series of makeup specifically based on skin tones. A year later, another line he worked on, called New Nakeds, was released with the idea to enhance a woman’s natural beauty. Linda Wells, founder of Allure magazine, recalls how the line of makeup Aucoin help create was something designed to be used by women of color and a counterpoint to the plastic and gaudy colors that permeated the market at the time.

 

largerthanlifeisabella

 

There is definitely a fondness and warmth as Aucoin’s subjects recall who he was and the impact he had, establishing that there was a close connection between artist and model. That’s understandable considering it takes a good deal of trust and confidence to continue to work with a specific makeup artist. Hearing from the likes of Cher and Kate Moss, it’s easy to see how Aucoin was more than someone who heightened their beauty, he was their friend.

But there was also a side to Kevyn that many of his friends didn’t know, a side that was in continuous physical pain for years. It was Cher who thought that Aucoin had a condition called acromegaly (manifesting itself as pronounced checkbones, an elongated jaw and fingers, and a rapid growth in height), which stemmed from a long undiagnosed tumor in his pituitary gland. This condition took a toll on Aucoin and he began to rely on an assortment of painkillers to ease his mental and physical pain. Singer/songwriter Tori Amos (who dedicated her song “Taxi Ride” from her 2002 album Scarlett’s Walk to Aucoin) talks about how she began to notice her friend’s disposition deteriorate as he continued to struggle with his illness.

Incorporating exclusive fashion-world footage, family photos, and home movies, “Larger than Life” also covers the intimate relationships Aucoin had throughout his successful career. In 1999, he began dating his partner, Jeremy Antunes, resulting in the two getting unofficially married in Hawaii. This became somewhat awkward for Eric Sakas, who Aucoin had a previous romantic relationship, someone who Aucoin still wanted very close, who would eventually go on to became president and creative director of Kevyn Aucoin Beauty. As the film nears its conclusion, it touches on Aucoin’s unfortunate death in 2002 and we spend more time with his siblings in the present, in a truly touching manner as they recount what their brother had gone through in his last years.

Although the documentary is marketed as one which “explores every corner of Kevyn’s rich, beautiful and complicated life”, I didn’t really gather that. Too much time is spent on his career and what Aucoin was known for, when the more interesting story is who he was underneath all the makeup. He never hid who he was, I just wish Bartok spent more time showing who Aucoin truly was. To be honest, I learned more about Aucoin’s past struggles and challenges in his Wikipedia page, which is unfortunate considering “Larger than Life” had a chance to connect with certain viewers who may have experienced the same kind of discrimination growing up.

“Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story” received its world premiere at the 25th Hamptons Film Festival last October and then had its New York City Premiere at DOC NYC the following month. It is now making its way to a limited amount of theaters.

 

largerthanlifekevyn

 

RATING: **1/2

 

 

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