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USA 2010
Directed by
Richard Press
84 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Bill Cunningham: New York

Synopsis: A portrait of veteran New York Times fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham

Boys and girls. Whether you are into dressing up, and perhaps even more so if you aren’t, you really should see this joy of a movie. In recent years we’ve seen some interesting documentaries about the world of high fashion, notably The September Issue (2009) and Valentino; The Last Emperor (2008) but Bill Cunningham: New York is not about the New York fashion world but rather its self-appointed chronicler – an obsessive shutter-bug with a dash of social anthropologist who now in his 80s is as a passionate about what he does as when he started doing it in the late 1960s. It is both an intriguing portrait of an individual and opportunity to share in some of the delights provided by the Big Apple’s hardcore fashion tragics. Few people will not crack a smile at the former UN diplomat with rack full of custom-made psychedelic outfits or the Beau Brummel milliner with painted eyebrows, sideburns and a beauty spot.

Cunningham himself is the complete antithesis to the world of the fabulously coutoured that he documents on a daily basis and publishes each week in the New York Times. He lives monastically in a closet-sized apartment that has no kitchen or bathroom, sleeps on a mattress on a pallet crammed between dozens of filing cabinets, and rides around Lower Manhattan on a bicycle with seemingly scant regard for his personal safety.

His approach to his work is Zen-like in its simplicity. He wants for nothing but to be free to go his own way, to such an extent that he will not accept even a glass of water from the hosts of the swank functions he attends. His personal life is a closed book, or rather it seems that he has sublimated it in a compulsive collating of other people’s, people who, ironically, are sublimating their own in a giddy whorl of appearances.  As he observes in one archival interview, fashion is civilization's mask. At one point Press asks him a question about his romantic alliances and he denies ever having been interested in such things. But as he moves on to the next question he suddenly breaks down from an upwelling of emotion, drops his head briefly to recover his poise before resuming his breezy manner. Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone, he might be saying. Or as Mehitabel said to Archie: "Toujours gai, toujours gai".




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