Last week, I went to see Yves Saint Laurent, a French film that tells the designer’s story from when he first started working at Dior through to establishing his own fashion house and achieving international renown.
It’s a tale of extravagance and decadence but the most poignant message for me was the important role of the designer’s partner Pierre Bergé. It was abundantly clear that Saint Laurent would never have achieved the success that he did without Bergé’s business savvy, love, and unfailing support. As portrayed in the film, Bergé put up with temper tantrums, manic depression, infidelity, and substance abuse.
Bergé was so protective, and Saint Laurent so weak, that when he was diagnosed with brain cancer Bergé together with the doctor decided not to tell him that he was dying.
The same message was clear in another biopic, the Swedish film Monica Z, which revealed the troubles behind the stunning face and voice of the blonde jazz singer who rose to fame int he 1960s.
As it turns out, although I knew her songs and films, I knew nothing about Monica, the person, and so I was quite shocked by her portrayal as being so utterly ambitious and egotistical, her drinking problems and her subsequent inability to take care of her daughter.
Monica’s dad keeps telling her she’ll never make it, who does she think she is, what makes her so special; yet, somehow, she retains her self-belief and keeps going until she ultimately becomes the star she always wanted to be. That takes an incredible amount of confidence and determination; and, as she says in the film: “I’ve got everything that I dreamed of, and there are people who think that there’s no cost, that it’s all for free…”
But I was drawn in by the underlying love story between Monica and the bass player Sture Åkerberg, played by the (rather handsome) Icelandic actor Sverrir Gudnason. Like the others, he is attracted to this incredibly charismatic and talented woman, but unlike the others he also sees and understands her darker side… and loves and defends her anyway. Now that’s true love.
*Pop* goes that romantic bubble, though, as I found out on Wikipedia that they later divorced. Sigh.
So does creative genius require a long-suffering partner to support it, to allow it to come to the fore? Can it flourish without someone following behind, in the shadows? What other examples are there are of incredibly talented but incredibly fragile individuals who were cushioned by a less erratic partner bringing stability and humility? What recognition do they get in the history books?
And isn’t it incredibly selfish to pursue your passion so single-mindedly and with complete disregard for the mess you leave in your wake, a mess that someone else needs to clear up? We owe so much to these “crazy ones” who have pushed the human race forward, who have changed the world… but does such genius have to come at such a cost?