The magic of discovery

James Crump on Bill Cunningham and Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco

by Anne-Katrin Titze

James Crump on Antonio Lopez seen at work with Karl Lagerfeld in admiration: "He has this magnetic aura that draws people in."
James Crump on Antonio Lopez seen at work with Karl Lagerfeld in admiration: "He has this magnetic aura that draws people in."

In the final installment of my New York conversation with James Crump at the Mercer Hotel in SoHo we discuss Bill Cunningham's relationship to the world of Antonio Lopez, Luca Guadagnino and Call Me By Your Name, Francis Bacon and the "void of the mouth", and Charles James as inspiration for Daniel Day-Lewis's character in Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread.

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco, the magnetic documentary on the famed fashion illustrator, executive produced by Ronnie Sassoon, features Jessica Lange, Grace Jones, Jerry Hall, Bill Cunningham, Yves Saint Laurent, Donna Jordan, Pat Cleveland, Jane Forth, Corey Tippin, Grace Coddington, Patti D’Arbanville, Karl Lagerfeld, Joan Juliet Buck, Bob Colacello, Paul Caranicas, Juan Ramos, Tina and Michael Chow.

James Crump: "I like the magic of discovery and I like the idea of bringing Antonio to the attention of a younger generation …"
James Crump: "I like the magic of discovery and I like the idea of bringing Antonio to the attention of a younger generation …" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

We start out with the discovery and challenges of bringing the life and work of Antonio Lopez out into the open for all to see in James Crump's tumultuously entertaining journey through the fashion world of the late Sixties and early Seventies.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I must admit that I didn't know the name Antonio Lopez before I saw your film. And I was surprised after seeing it that I didn't know the name. His illustrations did look familiar. Have you heard this from other people? Is it one of the reasons why you made the film?

James Crump: Yeah, I've heard that from other people. In this film I consider it kind of a discovery. I mean, Antonio has been swirling around in my head for many years. I first became aware of him when I was a teenager through his illustrations through Interview magazine. Then later on when I finished graduate school in art history I met his heir, Paul Caranicas, who was Juan Ramos's partner. And that was over twenty years ago. And I went to the archive and began to edit.

AKT: He is in the film.

Jessica Lange in the film on Antonio Lopez: "And when I say I had a crush on him, I mean it!"
Jessica Lange in the film on Antonio Lopez: "And when I say I had a crush on him, I mean it!" Photo: Antonio Lopez

JC: Yes, he is in the film. He speaks very intelligently, very concisely. He's very articulate about the relationship between Antonio and Juan. But to answer your question - Antonio is a kind of discovery for most people. Unless you're like really hard-core in the fashion scene and understood the history of the Seventies in Paris and New York, you probably don't know that much about him. You might have heard about him in the last few years because, for instance, there was a big retrospective exhibition at El Museo del Barrio.

AKT: Which I noticed after seeing your film.

JC: And there was a large monographic book that was published in 2012, of the career of Antonio and Juan, beginning in the 1960s. For most people Antonio is a discovery. That's been a challenge for us as filmmakers - to make a film about someone who is lesser known. He is not on the tip of everyone's tongue.

I like the magic of discovery and I like the idea of bringing Antonio to the attention of a younger generation and people who are passionate about fashion. To see also the connections in history and some of the characters.

AKT: Jessica Lange has a great moment when she talks about the crush she had on Antonio: "And when I say I had a crush on him, I mean it!" He seems to be somebody that many people had a crush on. Almost everybody he met - that's how it comes across.

JC: Right. He has this magnetic aura that draws people in. I think that's very clear in the film. One of the challenges in storytelling was that a lot of people were in love with Antonio. They loved him dearly. They really had a strong feeling about him and they were saying this. I was trying to find other kinds of stories too to create a bit of cinematic tension but they were indeed in love with him. It says a lot about his personality and his incredibly charismatic character.

Bill Cunningham with Antonio Lopez: "He considered Antonio and Juan to be his best friends from that period."
Bill Cunningham with Antonio Lopez: "He considered Antonio and Juan to be his best friends from that period." Photo: Juan Ramos

AKT: What's funny is that you don't necessarily get the aura from the photos. But then you have a moment when he speaks and there it becomes clear. It falls into place - his movement, his being alive, that makes him so magnetic.

JC: There were so few clips that show that kind of essence of the person. There are some clips of him drawing and he's very fluid. It gets out that kind of sensuality, fluidity. There's a couple of scenes where we basically had to create a montage of the movement. People always talk about how important dancing and music was for him and how it fed into the illustrative process.

AKT: His breathing is mentioned. How he is breathing in his subject and exhaling it all out into his drawings.

JC: Also the process is kind of sexual. He is a multi-faceted character. Sexuality is a very important part of him. But the way he is moving, it's almost a kind of paranormal bringing things in. It's like he is receiving the information, he is processing it through his body and then it's coming out - the way it's described by someone like Bill Cunningham - to me it's almost like a climax. There's something about it that's very physical. It's reaching a crescendo.

AKT: You have a moment with Antonio's mouth - in concentration, early on. It reminded me of the film Call Me By Your Name.

JC: I love that filmmaker, Guadagnino.

AKT: The boy [Elio] has his mouth open at certain moments, almost like a fish - it's simultaneously funny and tender and passionate.

James Crump on Karl Lagerfeld: "He is someone who keeps moving through cycles and cycles and cycles."
James Crump on Karl Lagerfeld: "He is someone who keeps moving through cycles and cycles and cycles." Photo: Juan Ramos

JC: The mouth is an orifice. Something that moves. Francis Bacon at one point wanted to do a whole series of paintings just about the void of the mouth. The way Antonio uses his mouth to breathe, again, it crosses over into sensuality.

AKT: It has a mystical dragon thing to it, too. Let's talk about Bill Cunningham. You dedicated the film to him. You have a lot of him talking, wearing a very rumpled pink shirt. It's not his usual uniform.

JC: I'll tell you about it. Of course we wanted Bill in the film because genuinely he considered Antonio and Juan to be his best friends from that period. We were fortunate to get Bill. It was his last, his very last, interview before he passed away. I think Bill knew that time was short. He wanted to share the stories. He was very forthcoming, very generous. But in order for us to do the interview, we had to sort of be on call.

So one morning I got a call from his assistant [John Kurdewan] saying today's the day. And it was a Friday, which is the day he edits for the Sunday paper. So we had to go to the Times building and we waited for two and a half, three hours. And Bill was feverishly trying to finish his column, because he was getting eye surgery. He was wearing a down jacket. So he came into the meeting - it was a blue down jacket, like his blue jacket - he takes it off and his shirt is so rumpled, you know. But there's nothing I can do and I wasn't going to say anything. Because I was just happy.

James Crump on Antonio Lopez: "It's like he is receiving the information, he is processing it through his body and then it's coming out - the way it's described by someone like Bill Cunningham."
James Crump on Antonio Lopez: "It's like he is receiving the information, he is processing it through his body and then it's coming out - the way it's described by someone like Bill Cunningham." Photo: Bill Cunningham

AKT: It's so perfect because nobody wears this. Nobody in the world has on a rumpled shirt like this when you're Bill Cunningham. I loved it.

JC: He is such a humble person, Bill. In so many ways self-effacing. He had like a little cup of soup and he's drinking his soup and he got into the conversation. And it got very emotional, as you can see.

AKT: Oh, yes.

JC: He made a whole team of six people in the room start crying.

AKT: The ending when Bill is breaking down and starts crying …

JC: We had to stop filming. I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking about it. It was so powerful.

AKT: It's so clear how much he loved him.

JC: Yeah and we had a great challenge with that ending. I didn't want it to seem exploitative at all. But I felt it was such a powerful statement and expressed the feelings, genuine love. We had like six cuts on that because we weren't sure - how do we make it work?

AKT: I think it works. Bill Cunningham usually is an elusive presence. He is the one taking the pictures, the one who makes people happy. The few times he took my picture - it didn't just make my day, it made my week. I just thought - yes, I dressed the right way today. He got me.

JC: I can see him photographing you. Being drawn to you, yeah.

Antonio Lopez filming Jerry Hall
Antonio Lopez filming Jerry Hall Photo: Norman Parkinson

AKT: You can?

JC: I can see him being drawn to you. I can tell. He would have been interested to photograph you on the street.

AKT: At the farmer's market on Union Square was the last time.

JC: On his bike?

AKT: His bike tied to the lamppost. I remember I was wearing a plaid shirt sticking out of a short, grey tweedy jacket, a bit strange, but there he was taking my picture. I was super happy. I believe most people he photographed felt that way. That was the last time he took my picture. The last time I saw him was at the Met Costume Institute press preview for the Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age of Technology exhibition.

JC: Yeah, Ex Machina, that was two years ago. The last one was the Rei Kawakubo.

AKT: Speaking of the Met - Charles James. It was Bill Cunningham who introduced Antonio to Charles James?

JC: Yes. Charles was living at the Hotel Chelsea and had been there for years. He was old friends with Bill. I think he knew Bill from the Fifties. Charles James is interesting in terms of history in New York because he cuts across a swath of culture that you wouldn't expect him to. He's a super eccentric character. He was interested in collaboration. I think he liked having these young guys around. It was something that energised him.

AKT: He had the beagle?

JC: He had the beagle.

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco UK poster
Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco UK poster

AKT: The obese beagle, Sputnik?

JC: Yeah. I've heard other stories about Sputnik. I think it's Jessica Lange who talks about him. The footage of Charles James is very rare footage because you don't see Charles James in action very often. I think he's an interesting character.

AKT: Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread is inspired by Charles James.

JC: Apparently that's the key inspirational character for that movie. I was happy to include Charles James [in the documentary] because he is such a legendary character. There's another new book coming out about Charles James that's to be published in the next few months.

It has a whole chapter on Antonio. Antonio's relationship has never really been covered in the literature. For instance the Met's catalogue, there's only a couple of photographs of Antonio, he's mentioned.

Read what James Crump had to say on Karl Lagerfeld, Andy Warhol's film L'Amour!, a Lacanian analogy, diversity and inclusivity on the runway, and the search for imperfect beauty by Antonio Lopez.

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco opens in London at the ICA on April 6 with the director participating in a Q&A following the 9:00pm screening.

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