Though he is in his early 80s, New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham can, daily, be seen riding his bike around New York City, wearing his trademark blue jacket, snapping pictures of fashionable New Yorkers going about their business. He is at every Fashion Week show worth seeing, sitting front row and making decisions about which designs and designers get enough approval for him to lift his camera for a shot. He knows a trend-in-the-making when he sees one and has been responsible for helping break the careers of some of the most well-known designers in the world. He has been one of the most important fashion photographers in the business for decades and his story, as told in the wonderful documentary Bill Cunningham New York, which was just released on DVD via Zeitgeist Films, is an inspiring one.
To be photographed by Cunningham for his “On the Street” or “Evening Hours” columns in the Times is an honor for most New Yorkers, some of whom value his opinion about fashion above almost anyone. “We all get dressed for Bill,” says Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who gushes enthusiastically about Cunningham and how much she adores him throughout the film.
Director Richard Press gives us a comprehensive look at the life of the revered photographer, through photographs, footage of Cunningham in action (filmed recently and in the 1980s), as well as revealing interviews with Cunningham and with New York style makers, friends, colleagues and fans — such as Wintour, Editta Sherman, Annette de la Renta, Howard Koda, Kim Hastreiter, Lesley Vinson, Annie Flanders, Carmen Dell’Orifice, Iris Apfel and Patrick McDonald. In addition to chronicling his career, past and present, Press also gives us a fascinating look at the fight between the artists who, at the time the movie was filmed, lived in the studio spaces at Carnegie Hall — including Cunningham and Sherman — and the city of New York, who wanted to, and eventually did, evict them from their homes in order to embark upon a massive renovation project.
If you missed seeing this film in the theater as I did (it only played in my city for, like, five minutes), it’s well worth your money to pick up the DVD, which is gorgeously packaged in a brightly-colored cardboard case laden with Cunningham’s photographs. In addition to the film itself, the DVD also includes 20 minutes of additional footage, the original U.S. theatrical trailer and a beautiful 12-page collector’s booklet, which features a statement from Press and more of Cunningham’s terrific photos.
Whether you’re a fan of fashion, photography, art, documentaries, or all of the above, I highly recommend you check this film out. It is definitely one of the best documentaries you’ll see all year.