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Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham New York: Documentary Profiling the Original Street Style Photographer.

  • Anna WintourBill Cunningham...
  • Documentary
  • Out now
  • Richard Press
reviewed by
Yasmin Shehab
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Bill Cunningham New York: Documentary Profiling the Original Street Style Photographer.

As the second documentary this year to profile a reporter from The New
York Times
, this film showcases the paper’s eighty-year-old fashion
photographer, Bill Cunningham.

Within the first five minutes of seeing Bill, it’s absolutely clear what
kind of guy he is. He’s in love with his work to the point of obsession, is
self-deprecating to the extreme and lives a very simple existence. His life
revolves around fashion and not the high concept Vogue-y stuff either.
As he states multiple times, Bill’s interest is street fashion; how the average
woman styles her clothes and combines different pieces together, how she
translates a piece off the runway into real life. He spends his days riding
around on his bike and standing on New York City curbs shooting any clothes
that grab his eye. He then makes trend pieces out of his photos for The New
York Times
.

Bill’s passion for his work is infectious and it consumes every inch of
his life. He’s the odd artist who doesn’t burn out or become jaded. Judging
from the archival footage and the interviews with people that knew him and
worked with him when he was just starting out, time hasn’t dimmed the joy he
finds in his work in the slightest.

Bill makes for a pretty fascinating documentary subject but his
character isn’t plumbed to the depths that it could have been. The documentary
basically revolves around footage of him staking out interesting clothes and
reiterating his love for his profession. And while Bill seems like a very
affable person, the director doesn’t seem bothered with getting to know him
very well; consequently, the documentary gives a rather shallow view of him.

Some attempts were made to give a personal touch to the documentary,
mainly by including a subplot involving Bill’s impending eviction from his
studio flat in Carnegie Hall where he’d lived for the vast majority of his life.
Despite this, the documentary frequently feels invasive and exploitative; especially
when the director interacts with the people on camera. During the scene when
the director sits Bill down for a proper interview focusing on his personal
life, Bill’s unease is quite visible and this is compounded by the director’s
completely unnecessary questions regarding his sexual orientation and his
religious views, which result in a deeply awkward, momentary lapse into
tears.    

In this reviewer’s opinion, this documentary missed a golden opportunity
to link Bill Cunningham, the original street fashion photographer, to the
current explosion of street-style fashion blogs such as The Sartorialist. It
would have been fascinating to see how they influence and affect each other and
would have given the documentary another dimension from which to explore Bill’s
legacy.  

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The documentary includes cameos by Anna Wintour, Tom Wolfe and Michael Kors.

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