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Maddman: The Steve Madden Story

DOC NYC 2017 Review


Independent; 79 minutes

Director: Ben Patterson


Written by on November 22, 2017 




Functioning in the mode of a lifestyle documentary like Dogtown and Z-Boys, Ben Patterson’s Maddman: The Steve Madden Story tells the sweeping take the shoe impresario, a self-made man who started from the bottom as a shoe salesman, worked his way to the top, fell from grace, and came back leading his Long Island City-based design house. It’s a lively, energetic story that only occasionally veers into that documentary gray area called Branded Content. In the opening random shoppers are asked, “What do you know about Steve Madden?,” and evidently nobody knows much about the man.

Told through interviews with Madden, his brother John, his ex-wife Wendy, and several key employees, many from the old days relay the story of how a fashion brand with one SoHo store grew into a billion dollar business. After a modest success with his signature Marilyn shoe, his company goes public via Jordan Belfort’s Stratton Oakmont with disastrous results for Steven as he gets pinched for securities fraud. Jail turns out to grant Madden a new lease on life after falling for his operations manager Wendy, who was assigned to pay him weekly visits in lock-up. He gains a family and life-long friends whom he grants second chances to.

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Mixing talking heads, archival materials, and performative visits with Madden — both in and outside of his Long Island City design studio — Patterson creates a rapid-fire, fast-moving documentary chronicling Madden’s inspiration in glam rock and his desire to make an accessibly-priced shoe for young women. The journey is quite interesting and undoubtably could spawn an engaging biopic with perhaps too broad a focus, no doubt inspired by the candid interviews Madden gives to flesh out his life. The presence of others though appears as a bit of a distraction, adding praise to a mad man with a passion for fashion, despite his own appearance in a t-shirt and jeans.

As a brash New Yorker, the film embraces his attitude moving quickly from passage to passage as Steve returns to his first shoe store where he learned his sales craft to appearances with celebrities, including Katy Perry and the Jenners. Maddman, like the man himself, is all over the map, lacking the polish and restraint of previous fashion films such as Matt Tyrnauer’s Valentino: The Last Emperor, which focused specifically on the creative process. Maddman is a bit more about persona, gravitas, and business rather than process and intimacy. Patterson’s film, as entertaining as it is in passages, feels more like a ripped-from-the-Wikipedia account. Its charm and design is also its biggest flaw as the frankest details about Madden come often from his employees and family and not from a vérité approach.

Maddman: The Steve Madden Story screened at DOC NYC.


C+







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