Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham New York

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A real photographer would laugh at what he does, says Bill Cunningham. But what is a real photographer?

Bill is a photographer of the old school. Though cautious with money, he still shoots on film. Every day he gets up and rides his bicycle around New York City, taking pictures of people wearing interesting clothes. Every evening he flits between social events. He even takes pictures at parties held in his honour. It's not work, it's fun.

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Bill has a column in the New York Times. It's a publication he trusts - it won't use his pictures to mock particular styles or to suggest people are wearing the wrong thing for their age. It allows him to do what he does best - to express his enthusiasm for everything he finds beautiful, inventive, expressive. It's the clothes he notices, not the people, he says, yet his pictures show him discovering people through their clothes, celebrating a deep love of humanity through his appreciation of what it says with fashion.

As you'd expect, there are lots of beautiful clothes in this film. There are hundreds of pictures on display so you'll need a quick eye to catch them all, but we do get to spend more time with a few New Yorkers who have made their names through what they wear. Bill's work has created celebrities and brought to public attention the work of small-time designers with big ideas. He doesn't retstrict himself to focusing on high fashion trends but has a keen interest in subcultural fashion and sheer individualism.

What makes this documentary so powerful and so enjoyable is its intimacy with its subject. Bill seems happy to talk about pretty much anything. He takes the documentary team out to his favourite cafes, shows them around his home, introduces them to his neighbours, laughs with them at his precarious filing system, tells them where he buys his trademark blue jackets (he's been wearing the same thing for decades). His comments on particular pieces of clothing - surprisingly infrequent - reveal that he has extensive technical knowledge, but what he's more interested in talking about is his passion.

Bill Cunningham New York is one man's story but it is also the story of New York City, a cultural portrait spanning decades. It shows people's shallowness and struggle for status but it also shows community, strength of character and flair. It's an energetic, affectionate film that anyone who loves New York, fashion or photography would be a fool to miss.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2012
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A documentary focusing on New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, who has spent most of his 90 years capturing Manhattan on camera.
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Director: Richard Press

Starring: Bill Cunningham, Anna Wintour

Year: 2010

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

NDNF 2010
Glasgow 2012

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