Bill Cunningham New York Movie Review
And as it digs deeper, the film becomes a remarkable exploration of the true meaning of success.
Bill Cunningham is a pure photojournalist with a passion for fashion. At 80, he's been riding his bicycle around Manhattan for 50 years snapping photos of street fashion: where catwalk meets consumer. His iconic pages in The New York Times are watched by the fashion industry for trends that no one else has noticed. But Cunningham lives in an overcrowded one-room studio in Carnegie Hall. He has no appetite for celebrity, fine food or clothes, romance or money, and is happiest when he spots a particularly colourful person on the street.
The film explores Cunningham's work through the people who know him best. But they don't know much about his private life, so director Press gets increasingly close to Cunningham himself as he interacts with old pals like his neighbour Sherman, his patient editor Kurdewan and his Parisian mentor Piaggi.
Finally, Press asks questions point-blank to fill in the gaps, revealing a wildly successful man who's neither rich nor famous. And he prefers it that way.
Cunningham is a terrific on-screen presence, endlessly optimistic about everything he encounters, unable to make a distinction between the very wealthy and the poorest people on the street. Wintour comments that everyone watches who he photographs, as he has no interest in the stars: he's looking at the clothes. So when he snaps a picture of a catwalk model, everyone knows that he's seen something special. Or maybe he's just noticing that a designer has stolen someone else's idea.
The film is edited together in a fast-paced way that allows the filmmakers to include all kinds of material. This makes the doc feel rather a lot longer than it actually is, but the cheerful tone and warm, thorough approach hold our interest. As does the way the filmmaker slices through the eccentric, artistic personalities to make some pointed comments about politics, commercialism and society. But best of all are Cunningham's own frank observations: "Fashion is the armour we need to survive everyday life."