Tiffany Bartok Directs Larger Than Life, a new documentary about Kevyn Aucoin.

In Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story, director Tiffany Bartok explores the beauty make-up artist who came to prominence in the 1980s, eventually creating unforgettable make-up looks for a host of top stars until his untimely death in 2002 at age 40. “He was the king of make-up,” Bartok says, noting that she has also been a professional make-up artist. “Everybody wanted to be like him.”

Since Bartok never understood how Aucoin had died, especially at such a young age and under mysterious circumstances, she began collecting interviews, both with Aucoin’s personal friends and with professionals who knew him. “I did interviews to build a reel to pitch to get some financial backing,” Bartok explains about her five-year journey. “We had friends shoot it—we used every connection to get 60 interviews in the end.”

Chandra North and Kevyn Aucoin, photo by Eric Sakas
Chandra North and Kevyn Aucoin, photo by Eric Sakas

Going through the process of interviewing Aucoin’s friends and colleagues, Bartok began to see an eventual shape for her documentary. “We need to tell the whole truth about Kevyn,” she states, adding that she slowly broke through to family members and his close inner circle. “I felt Kevyn was involved in the film itself—Kevyn is definitely helping us.”

Rather than create a prototypical “rise and fall” story, Bartok oriented her film towards viewers who she knew were not likely passionate make-up aficionados. “If you weren’t into make-up, why would you watch this movie?” she wonders. “How could such a glamorous lifestyle not provide everything he wanted? Why was it never enough? Is that in everyone if you aren’t filling up your own holes and [experience] self-love?”

Through the film, a narrative emerges where Aucoin, immensely talented, is a troubled soul. “There was a part of him that he couldn’t show everyone,” Bartok reveals, noting that Aucoin’s close relationships were more akin to work-based partnerships. “Service versus friendship; you think these are friends. If you aren’t fully there, they have a job to do. Everybody around them has to be their best at all times.”

Kevyn Aucoin, photo <em>MA</am> archive
Kevyn Aucoin, photo MA archive

While Aucoin traveled the world doing the biggest beauty and fashion gigs of the ’80s and ’90s, his career eventually spiraled out of control, though Bartok notes that it was his own doing. “He wasn’t blacklisted,” she describes. “People are tight, and they started talking—you can’t control it. Him not being there for himself; him not taking care of himself. He was too impatient.”

In order to deal with ongoing, debilitating health problems, Aucoin had to stop doing make-up at one point, during which he attempted to confront his demons before returning to work. That might have been a fatal mistake. “He was addicted to going to work,” Bartok says. “You don’t fully heal and come back. I don’t think he ever addressed every nook and cranny of his loneliness; his fear of rejection; angry that he was gay. It takes a long time to heal.”

Bartok’s process was emboldened by Aucoin’s friends and family providing her with home movies. “Kevyn made everybody document him,” Bartok conveys. “The hardest part was organizing that stuff—there’s a five-hour cut of the movie. It was really hard to weed through that to tell this part of the story. What story are we telling, and what archival [footage] tells that?”

Chandra North, photo by Todd Oldham
Chandra North, photo by Todd Oldham

New York-based, Bartok settled into Matator, a post-production facility, on Aucoin’s birthday, February 14, 2017. “We were editing around the clock until the end of 2017,” she details. “Ezra [Paek] was an amazing editor. We did tons of screenings, asked questions. That was super helpful. You need to see that your point is getting across. If your point-of-view is loud enough, everyone should get it.”

Finally, Larger Than Life world premiered at The Hamptons’ International Film Festival in October of 2017. “Then it did festivals all around,” Bartok adds. “The digital release date was July 31. You can buy the DVD old school, [plus purchase it on] iTunes and Amazon.”

Kevyn Aucoin and Christy Turlington, photo <em>MA</em> archive
Kevyn Aucoin and Christy Turlington, photo MA archive

Ultimately, Bartok is proud of her directorial debut and feels that it speaks to all audiences, not exclusively those in this industry. “Make-up artists bring people to see it,” she says, commenting that her film is holistically about, “wanting that American dream, and, when you get it, why isn’t it enough? Is this the dream I wanted? Kevyn is like everybody else. He is still the guy cleaning the grill at the end of the barbecue. Everyone can see themselves in Kevyn. He was more than make-up.”