Do Yourself A Favor And Go See "Bill Cunnigham New York"

Posted by David Ozanich — 22 Mar 2011


One of this blog's favorite photographers is street style legend Bill Cunningham. He is most famous for being the eye behind the New York Times's "On The Street" and "Evening Hours" photo columns which appear in the Sunday Styles section of the paper. He is the magnetic subject of the just released documentary "Bill Cunningham New York".

As a service to you, gentle readers, I went to New York's Film Forum last week to see this movie. And let me tell you - it is wonderful. I'm not generally a "feel good movie" kind of guy, but this sparkling and entertaining look into the life of this legendary photographer is a film NOT TO BE MISSED.

Starting his career as a milliner, Cunningham began photographing fashion for Women's Wear Daily before segueing to the original Details magazine. He's been snapping away for the venerable Times for about three decades. He rides about Manhattan (and occasionally Paris) on his bike taking photos of stylish bright young things (and occasionally the not-so-young as he loves a well-dressed woman of a certain age). Cunningham doesn't claim to be a capitol "P" photographer even though he is one of the best working. Rather he suggests it's just his eye for style that focuses his work.

Besides being a spectacular look into the every day world of a working photographer, the film inspires because of the subject's unique perspective on art, fashion, people, and ultimately, life.

A testament to Cunningham's stature is the inclusion of sit-down interviews with notoriously hard-to-get icons like Vogue editor Anna Wintour and socialite Annette de la Renta (wife of Oscar). But even if you don't consider yourself a fashion fan, I find it unimaginable that you would not be delighted by everything you find in this film. It is about a man who has almost monastically devoted himself to the craft of photography and I guarantee you'll find it completely engaging.


Don't believe me? Just ask the (admittedly potentially biased) New York Times:

[... In] Richard Press's captivating and moving portrait of a singular man and a passing era, it's possible to view what Mr. Cunningham does as the flip side of war photography, and not entirely unrelated. He seeks out and captures humanity amid the maelstrom of life, looking for what Harold Koda, chief curator at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, describes in the film as "ordinary people going about their lives, dressed in fascinating ways." In these fleeting and otherwise unseen or unremarked moments, Mr. Cunningham finds something creative, life-affirming and free, and preserves it forever.

Or Vogue:

Bill Cunningham New York, which opens today at The Film Forum, is quite sensational and not to be missed, especially since the shy subject miraculously agreed to  partecipate. "It took 10 years to make this documentary," says the director Richard Press: "8 years to convince Bill and 2 to shoot and edit the film. We had to capture him the way he claims to capture his own subjects, discreetly, quietly, and invisibly."

Or The Los Angeles Times:

Cunningham got his first camera as a gift. Over the years, he's worked for the Chicago Tribune, Details magazine before it was sold to Conde Nast and for Women's Wear Daily, until he had a falling out with the trade publication over images used to illustrate an "ins and outs" fashion column.

"The evaluation of one person or one image over another is not something he ascribes to," Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute curator Harold Koda says in the film.

Even IndieWire, the independent film news website, was all atwitter because of the film's huge (for a documentary that is) opening weekend grosses.

Since I'm sure not everyone can make it to Greenwich Village for a screening, the good news is that it opens in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. this weekend. After that it will be touring the country over the next couple of months and can be seen in Georgia, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska and so on. Find out about when it's hitting your town here.

For good measure, here is the trailer. Seriously. Mark your calendars and go see this movie or, at the very least, put it on your Netflix queue right now. You won't regret it.

And PS, here's his latest fashion filing for the NY Times from the fashion shows in Paris:

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