Bill Cunningham New York, a fashion documentary about the New York Times street style photographer who has obsessively chronicled fashion trends for decades. From your every day uptown eccentrics to New York fixtures such as Brooke Astor and David Rockefeller. The preview screening was at Mother London’s epic HQ in Shoreditch; Liz Muirhead reviews.
Bill Cunningham has an infectious smile and a passion for photography and fashion that is hard to match, given the number of decades he has been working in and around the industry. The film begins in a light hearted vein with frequent clips of Bill cycling around New York animating him as a ‘one of a kind’. Accolades from household names such as Anna Wintour in the first part of the film, did make me wonder quite how deep it would delve into his life behind the image and reputation that has developed over the course of his career. But then, just as I was in doubt, a high-profile fashion figure says she knows nothing of Bill’s personal life. In fact, a former colleague and close friend who has known Bill for many years seems relatively unfamiliar with his past as well.
With this, a more personal line of questioning emerges with the precursor “you don’t have to answer any of these questions if you don’t want to…” and some incredibly moving footage follows. It was gripping. The interviewer had obviously built a good rapport with Bill – a vital ingredient for a documentary such as this. Of course, it’s wasn’t long at all before Bill’s smile returned and he was back to his playful self, and yet I felt I’d seen a side to him that very few had ever witnessed. An interesting sub-plot, if you will, focuses on Bill’s home in Carnegie Hall and his subsequent uprooting, which allows us to explore some of his friendships of many years with his amusing neighbours. The film establishes itself as a touching insight into Bill’s life rather than a surface scratching montage of “real” people Bill has photographed, which it so easily could have been. Even the somewhat comical bike scenes reinforce the idea that Bill is hugely dedicated to his job – though he would never call it a job. He was known to refuse pay cheques, preferring to keep his artistic freedom and integrity. With a delicate soundtrack including Velvet Underground, the film captures Bill wonderfully – it’s inspiring stuff. Bill Cunningham New York opens in the UK on March 16, 2012
Liz Muirhead – When The Clock Strikes