Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York (Wanous)

Photographer's obsession: NYC couture art

 The subject of this winning documentary is a photographer for the New York Times who, for the past 40+ years, has biked the hazardous streets of New York City to chronicle the fashions of both the street and the runway.

Now on his 29th bicycle (the previous 28 were stolen), he is driven by a passion for the pursuit of beauty that some might say borders on obsession. Trying to find what fuels that passion is at the heart of this film.

Like a friendly paparazzi on a bicycle, Cunningham stalks the streets of the Big Apple, constantly snapping photos of clothes that intrigue him. During the day, it's the people of the street that interest him. At night, he goes from one gala to another, shooting the rich and famous and those who want to be. Cunningham moves freely among every level of New York society and, in his own way, has become a style-maker himself. As Anna Wintour, the famous "Vogue" magazine editor, says "We all dress for Bill."

 And they all seem to recognize him. But even his friends admit they know little about his life or background. Most don't realize that he lives in a tiny apartment with no kitchen, closet, radio or TV, and his bathroom is a public restroom down the hall. There's seems to be little room in his life for anything but his work. He even confesses that he has never had a romantic relationship. Ever.

Cunningham carries the film with his charming personality and, although the film does have a home-movie feel as the filmmakers try to keep up with their subject, I liked seeing the fashions of the last half-century chronicled through his photographs.

Even more enjoyable was the parade of colorfully dressed characters that populate the movie, including the former U.N. diplomat wearing a suit made from his old sofa, and the dandy who won't be caught dead in public without his hat and his painted-on eyebrows.

Because of Cunningham's ever-present grin, I couldn't help but smile through much of the movie and really enjoyed it. But I was left with a lingering question: Is Bill Cunningham the happiest person in New York or the loneliest? I recommend you go see the film and decide for yourself.

[from the Keynoter -]

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