13/03/2012

Bill Cunningham New York


As the 12th film to look forward to in 2012, Bill Cunningham New York was under enormous pressure to not be shitbags and make me look like a complete dumbass. For those uneducated/uninterested in fashion or fashion photography will assume this is of no interest to them (I'll take a bit of blame for that) but amazingly little of this 2010 documentary is about skinny chicks in expensive clothes. As an innovator of street style photography, Bill Cunningham doesn't click away on the streets of NYC looking for trends or to indulge in the banal and frequent "Who wore what?" cult of celebrity; he simply pays attention to clothes that interest him and nothing more. If anything, the film is more about the renovation of New York, one man's commitment and passion for his job and how to not be blinded by the bullshit of the fashion industry.

Indeed, Cunningham himself is a silver-haired 80-something who still uses an old camera and is happy in simple slacks and a blue raincoat. He sticks out like a sore thumb at fashion shows and at one particular standout moment in the film, some bitchy girl with a clipboard at Paris Fashion Week ignores the repeated flashes of his press pass before a man enters the frame and ushers through "the most important man alive". Testy street kids unaware of his legend and influence threaten him when he takes their picture and he simply responds with a giggle before hopping back on his 1970s bicycle. Everyone went batshit crazy for Grace Coddington after she wistfully gazed upon the Parisian streets from her cab window and reminisced about a time when fashion photography wasn't pin-sharp and celebrities weren't the most important people in the industry, and Cunningham is cut from the same cloth; when the paps go crazy for Catherine Deneuve he's busy trying to snap some random girl's socks and is genuinely flabbergasted that anyone would be interested in taking her picture when there are so many other more interesting things around her.

As a film, Richard Press aptly follows his subject and tries his best to delve into the man behind the camera but apart from a slightly awkward moment in which Cunningham pauses after being asked about religion and sexuality, he and his contemporaries only need a camera pointed at them in order to entertain. Watching this will make you re-assess your interest in fashion (even if you think that's an area from which you are exempt) and give Cunningham a ruddy good hug.