F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 23, 2013)

23 08 2013

“I let the street speak to me,” says Bill Cunningham of his work.  A fashion reporter for The New York Times, Cunningham rides his bike around the streets of the city capturing the look and feel of the moment.  His column has been a staple of the “Sunday Style” section for decades.

Richard Press’ documentary “Bill Cunningham New York,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” takes a look at the man behind the byline.  As it turns out, there’s quite a story behind the octagenerian reporter never caught without his simple coat and a camera.  He’s an enigmatic figure at the Times: no one knows where he came from, but many suspect he’s from a moneyed background.  Wherever his origins are, he’s as comfortable with the world of high society as he is with the fashion of the street.

Press does a great job in his documentary of laying out the significance of Cunningham and his column.  While many people dismiss fashion, it’s undeniable that Cunningham has provided the world with a guerilla-style documentation of the way we live.  If culture expresses itself in our wardrobe, then Cunningham’s column may be a defining artifact of the times.

But as “Bill Cunningham New York” ambles on, we observe that the subject is so devoted to his job that there’s actually very little Bill Cunningham for the film to document.  He truly is his work.  That’s a frightening thought for some people; for Cunningham, however, there could be no other way of life worth living.  He has no romantic history, just a love affair with fashion and society.  And Press makes sure that we not only understand and appreciate that passion but also take away a little of it ourselves.

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