J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Maddman: A Steve Madden-Designed Documentary

Steve Madden is a self-styled rock & roll, youth-culture shoe designer. That was all hip and fun when it involved clubbing and partying, but not so much when he was sentenced to thirty-one months in prison for SEC violations. Unfortunately, he was the biggest name attached to the Wolf of Wall Street case. Yet, Madden would mount a massive comeback for his eponymous brand after his release. It is an inherently dramatic story, but Ben Patterson makes it sound like bland corporate puffery in Maddman: The Steve Madden Story (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

Madden grew up in a hard-working Long Island community, largely representing the Madden family’s college drop-out black sheep. However, he discovered he had a knack for selling shoes. Working his way from the stock room to the sales floor, from a neighborhood store on the Island to a swanky Manhattan boutique, Madden found his calling. He started his own company with $1,100, building it up to a fashion juggernaut, facing up to his alcohol addiction along the way. It was a spotless Horatio Alger story, except for the fact Jordan Belfort’s Stratton Oakmont brokerage house handled Madden’s IPO. As a result, Madden’s finances became problematically intertwined with those of Belfort’s company.

You could argue Madden was grossly over-prosecuted, but that could potentially involve taking a controversial position, so Patterson sticks with a hazy Steve-was-done-wrong position, while divulging precious few details on the actual legal case (which naturally makes us curious). Whenever Madden teeters on the brink of honest self-examination, Patterson promptly cuts away to another former cellmate or company employee to tell us how great a guy he is.

Granted, Madden is a charismatic figure, but his supremely confident bluster gets old after the first forty-five minutes or so. It is also too bad Patterson couldn’t find at least one anti-Madden fashion critic to serve as the skeleton at the feast. Instead, the film is all Steve Madden, all the time.

There are some intriguing lessons budding entrepreneurs might take from the chronicle of Madden’s success, such as his practice of producing limited handmade runs of new designs to immediately test in his flagship Soho store. Nonetheless, it is rather amazing that Patterson could make this story of high living, prison hard time, and subsequent redemption so unforgivably boring. If you want to see a film about a shoe magnate facing adversity, watch Toshiro Mifune as Kingo Gondo in Akira Kurosawa’s absolutely classic High and Low. Not recommended, Maddman is now available on VOD platforms, including iTunes.

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