Bill Cunningham New York – Review

by theappliedprocess

Bliss! Pure bliss!

Last Wednesday I migrated my derrier to 209 West Houston (the Film Forum), to meet my lovely friend Jenny for the premiere of Richard Press’s freshman directorial debut Bill Cunningham New York about fashion photographer/maverick trailblazer Bill Cunningham of the New York Times fame.

It is one of the most inspiring, beautifully directed, exquisitely shot, complex yet easy to digest, documentary I’ve seen in a while. To be honest, I vaguely knew who the man was, and I had no idea what an amazing life he’s lived. Richard Press did a splendid job at introducing the mysterious Bill to the rest of the world who might be clueless as to who this bike ridding octogenarian in a blue coat and a 35 mm camera hanging around his neck is.

For such a simple man, Bill’s world is complex. Press captures his daily life riding his schwinn around town, snapping shots of New York fashionistas on the streets, quarreling with his NY Times peers (to ultimately get his way),  interacting with his equally camp and venerable neighbors, trekking to other fashion capitals to snap even more shots of more women’s vêtements, indulging in the least haute of cuisines, and riding his bike yet a few more miles to ultimately end back at his modest, file cabinet ridden apartment at Carnegie Hall.

The documentary keeps you engaged from beginning to end. Bill is an entertaining persona and so is his supporting cast. Interviews with fashion staples like Anna Wintour, Kim Hastreiter, and Annette de la Renta, show that the fashion world has nothing but praise for a man who, despite many unsuccessful attempts from many a suitors, has never sold out and remains true to his vision: photographing clothes and the women who wear them regardless of who they are.

Aside from Bill’s career, Press also shows other aspects of Bill’s life, like his struggle with getting evicted from his apartment where he’s lived for many years, and receiving the title of Chevaliere de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture, an award that has Bill looking terribly charming as he gives his acceptance speech in French. The documentary captivates in many different levels the whole 84 minutes.

Press is very respectful about the way he documents Bill’s life. The pivotal point, for me, comes towards the end of the film when Press asked two very personal questions to Bill, both of which Mr. Cunningham answers in an utterly professional manner. It is at this point that I was left speechless and in awe. If one is not in love with Bill by now, this moment would be the last push needed to be so.

I left the theatre, as I’m sure the rest of us did. Inspired. Delighted. Satisfied. And with a big smile on my face. This was true documentary excellence at its best.