Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, 2011) 4/4
“I used to tell people that I get dressed for Bill”
Would you like to watch a documentary about the cutest man in the world? If so, please, please watch Bill Cunningham New York. As one of New York’s biggest fashion photographers, Bill Cunningham has highlighted the fashion on the streets for the last 4 decades. He doesn’t photograph just the rich and the celebrated, he shows the working class people and the pieces of magic they create with their outfits. This documentary explores the work Bill creates, the legacy he created, and his relationship with New York and its people.
Bill loves fashion; he lives to photograph the clothes people call art. When he was younger he found something he loved to do and has done that every day since then. Bill pedals around New York on a little, pathetic bike searching out the latest and greatest fashions. He runs a fashion column in the Sunday paper of the New York Times, and has become the most influential trendsetter for the young and the old. People may call him a paparazzi but the biggest difference between Bill and the pap. is that Bill only cares about the clothes. When he takes photos on the streets he doesn’t even look at the faces of his specimen, just the garments. Taking dozens of photographs of every brilliance he finds, Bill finds the magic in an outfit and does his best to expose it.
The most interesting part of the documentary is when the film explores Bill’s personal life, because he doesn’t really have one. Bill lives in a tiny, tiny apartment that is stuffed full of file cabinets (filled with negatives), and fashion magazines. The only “livable” space is a tiny self-made bed placed on top of a stack of magazines. He is very vague when it comes to the relationships he has with people and his “love” life. The most important part of Bill though is laugh and smile. For being over 80 years old and completely married to his profession, Bill is the happiest person in the world. He gets so excited about anything that has to do with fashion and his photographs. When it comes to aesthetically pleasing photos, Bill isn’t the master of the profession, but he sure can capture the beauty in fashion and the people who wear it.
I have a secret love for documentary film, so I spend time pondering the different styles and formats of doc. films. I love films that don’t have much of an agenda and just capture real life. Bill Cunningham New York doesn’t exactly do that, but it explores the real life of an amazing man and the way he got to where he is today. More importantly, all of this is done with zero interference from the filmmakers because no one can tell Bill’s story better than himself, and boy has he had the most incredible life. He moves and breaths for fashion, capturing the latest and greatest of the people of New York. The people who have been photographed by him are legendary, as is the beautiful spirit of Bill himself. There is a moment in the film where Bill is attempting to get into a fashion show to photograph. The woman at the door is being difficult until a man comes up, grabs Bill, and says, “Please, he’s the most important person on earth.” People love Bill because of his persona and his photographs; in return, Bill loves everyone he has ever taken a picture of.
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