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The Man Who Bought Mustique


The Man Who Bought Mustique

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In 1970, the long-running BBC travelogue Whicker's World filmed an obsequious segment on Colin Tennant, a.k.a. Lord Glenconner, the chemical-fortune heir who bought the Caribbean island of Mustique in 1956 and remade it as a jet-set playground for rock stars and royalty. In 2000, director Joseph Bullman (Confessions Of A Serial Killer) and producer Vikram Jayanti (When We Were Kings) revisited Mustique to film Tennant's efforts to host an outdoor lunch for Princess Margaret. The resulting documentary, The Man Who Bought Mustique, obligingly includes bits of the Whicker's World bio for contrast and historical perspective, which is particularly helpful, since Bullman skims over Tennant's history in order to focus on his modern-day life. Having lost financial control of the island in the late '70s and retired to nearby St. Lucia, Tennant returns as a sort of irascible, dethroned king, clearly convinced that the film crew he has in tow serves as a vindication against the "smug, small-minded, mostly inept... incompetent and useless people" who now manage the island as a getaway for millionaires and a vacation home to the likes of Mick Jagger and Tommy Hilfiger. Early in the documentary process, Tennant (who apparently expected more Alan Whicker-style fawning) began ordering the filmmakers around, setting up shots and scenes, dictating content, and throwing temper tantrums if he wasn't instantly obeyed. Bullman and Jayanti retaliated by taping every moment of the process, then editing together an excoriating 78-minute film that shows Tennant at what viewers will certainly hope is his worst. Whether upbraiding his all-black household crew for not polishing his silver well enough or micromanaging a tent-pitching team ("they're all so frightfully slow and stupid... it's so pathetic to not be able to think at all," he grouses afterward), Tennant comes across as a bully and a fussy, petty, overprivileged tyrant obsessed with celebrity, class, image, and the "social-climbing worms" who supplanted him. While there's some naughty, voyeuristic fun in listening to him threaten, command, swear, and self-aggrandize while apparently unaware that every waspish complaint is being documented by the film crew, the fun wears slightly thin after an hour of infantile petulance and huffy paternalism. But Tennant's dramatic rise and fall, and his obvious belief that he represents the pinnacle of the British class system, give the film larger significance as an exposé and an indictment of that system. At times, Bullman and Jayanti's approach seems passive-aggressive, and even bitchy. But they're simply letting Tennant's words and actions speak for themselves, which they do all too clearly.