Monday, May 2, 2011

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK (2011)

Directed by Richard Press


Where & When: The Landmark, West Los Angeles, CA.  April 23, 2011 8:00PM


One of the first things that I do when I crack open the New York Times on Sunday is look at the "On The Street" column in the Styles section which is a photographic journal of what people are actually wearing on the the streets of the city. I just find it fascinating and a great way to start my day.

"Bill Cunningham New York" is a documentary on the life of the photographer of this column, who at the age of eighty-two, still devotes his entire day photographing stylish New Yorkers from high society and their parties to the creatively dramatic fashionistas to your average individual with a little fashion flair.

Born and raised in Boston, Bill Cunningham dropped out of Harvard and moved to New York where he began designing hats under his own label, "William J," but he was drafted in the army during the Korean War. After he returned from his tour of duty, a friend gave Bill a camera and discovered a love of photography. He later got a job at Women's Wear Daily as a writer but soon this is where he first started photographing for the paper what people were actually wearing on the street. After a falling out with the paper over a creative decision, Bill moved to a new magazine, Details where he brought innovative ideas to this upstart fashion publication.

Doing his columns for the New York Times for over a decade, he spends hours every day, riding his bicycle, searching for people who are wearing clothing that he finds fascinating and inspires him, then in the evening, he attending several galas and parties to photograph the guests attending these events for "Evening Hours" section in the Sunday paper.

There are appearances by a wide array of people who admire the work that Bill does, including Vogue magazine's Anna Wintour, author, Tom Wolfe, the late.socialite Brooke Astor (who invited Bill, the only person from the media, to her 100th birthday party)  to the stylish people who have turned up frequently in his column such as club kid, Kenny Kenny, designer, Iris Apfel and fashion dandy, Patrick MacDonald.

All of these people talk about what a wonderful and talented guy he is but not one of them could actually say that they know anything about him. It's not like Mr. Cunningham is trying to hide anything or even necessarily uncomfortable about talking about his personal life but it is clear that he would prefer to focus on his work.

There is a moment in the film when the subject of his love life and sexuality is asked and he calmly states that he has never had any kind of romantic relationship ever during his life. When he was about to be asked another personal question about his religion, Mr. Cunningham bursts in to tears but he quickly regains his composure and he answers the new question with a smile on his face. This clearly makes a sad comment about how much he felt compelled to make this personal sacrifice so not to embarrass his family and comply with his religious beliefs.

Bill Cunningham is a practical man who needs very little to be content and he genuinely seems like a nice person. He holds your attention as diligently searches for fashion looks that he admires or for ideas that may not have necessarily have occurred to him but he never invades any body's personal space but quietly and quickly tries to capture a moment.

I love fashion and find it an interesting subject, so "Bill Cunningham New York" is right up my alley but even if you don't know the difference between an "Armani" and an "Alaia", I think you will still enjoy this truly fascinating and exceptional film.