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I love Bill Cunningham. He's the original street fashion photographer -
the one who mastered today's trend - and a New York institution. For
years, he's been documenting fashion trends on the streets of New York,
which he traverses on his trusty Schwinn, reporting for The New York
Cunningham does a regular feature for the Times called "On the Street" in which you hear him talk about the photos he's taken. He's always so unabashedly enthusiastic.
Who knew you could be so happy about trench coats, leggings, and leopard print? OK, so I've been happy about those things (maybe not the leopard print). But Cunningham's appreciation for statement and expression makes fashion seem like a place for everyday adventure instead of a consumer trap.
A new documentary called "Bill Cunningham: New York" opens in San Diego this weekend. In it, we learn that Cunningham's life is his work. He's in his 80s and has lived something of monastic existence in the name of fashion - or as he might put it - the pursuit of beauty.
He's never had a romantic relationship. He attends church every Sunday. For years he lived in a tiny apartment above Carnegie Hall packed with file cabinets where he stores copies of every photograph he's ever taken (he's still shooting film). The apartment had no kitchen and a public bathroom down the hall. He stored his bike in a hall closet, retrieving it daily to hit the streets with his camera and rolls of film.
Cunningham and the last remaining tenants (paying rent-control prices) at Carnegie Hall moved last year, forced out by the owners who wanted to expand and renovate the apartments into offices and classrooms.
The film also introduces us to Cunningham's former and eccentric neighbors at Carnegie Hall. The most fascinating is Editta Sherman, a 99-year-old photographer who was once a muse for Andy Warhol. Sherman has been called the "Duchess of Carnegie Hall" where she lived for over 60 years.
For all the artifice and pretense of the worlds he covers (fashion and New York society), Cunningham is humble and completely without airs. He's a chronic smiler and his sense of humor is refreshing in an industry known for pouty lips and raised eyebrows.
For more of this review, go to the Culture Lust blog on www.kpbs.org
Greetings again from the darkness. Well my fashion sense is limited to
jeans, a t-shirt and tennis shoes. I would not be one's first choice to
discuss the industry of fashion photography. However, that's not what
this documentary is really about. Instead of focusing on the
photographs of Bill Cunningham, director Richard Press shoots the man
at work and in life ... the two being indistinguishable for Mr.
If you aren't familiar with his name, you are not alone. Bill Cunningham has a long running NY TIMES page where his photographs are displayed. He also has a feature called "On The Street", where he records commentary for his photographs - this can be heard on the website. Still, none of that tells you much about this man.
The film opens abruptly with video of Cunningham at work. He is alternatingly riding his bicycle and sprint-walking as he weaves through the sea of taxis and humanity in downtown Manhattan. His trusty camera is always around his neck as he continues his quest for fashion on the street ... fashion sense in the working people of the city. His eye is sharp and quick. We never know what he will hone in on. Maybe a never-before-seen winter coat, a flamboyant hat, or even a pair of heels that a woman is sporting. The man is over 80 years old and his eye and mind still quickly process what he deems worthy of notice.
Once again, none of those words do justice to this man or his story. He lives an incredibly humble life in a studio apartment within the confines of Carnegie Hall. Yes, as the film takes place, he is among the last of the remaining residents of the great hall. We learn management has determined that the few residents will be moved out of the building and relocated to other apartments nearby. We meet one of the other residents ... the fascinating "Duchesss of Carnegie", Editta Sherman. She has lived there for 60 years and it has been her home and photography studio. She made her living shooting celebrities and we catch a glimpse of her amazing work ... including a short video of her dancing in the 60's - filmed by Andy Warhol! Ms. Sherman's space is palatial compared to Cunningham's. His small studio apartment is crammed with metal file cabinets, each loaded with decades worth of photographs and negatives ... a real history of New York fashion. His bed is a twin mattress held up by books and crates - no kitchen, and a community bathroom. "Humble existence" is an understatement.
We learn from Mr. Cunningham that his work is divided into three parts: his street work, fashion shows, and charity events. He makes it clear that celebrities bore him and he is much more interested in how the everyday person uses fashion in their real life. Still, early on, we get comments from Vogue editor, Anna Wintour about how Cunningham's eye impacts the fashion world. She gives him much credit. We also get quickies from Tom Wolfe, Annie Flanders and even Brooke Astor to see how easily Cunningham fits in with the upper crust, despite his connection to the street. There is even a segment in Paris where he is honored by the French Order of Art and Letters ... and he "works" his own event! But it's the street where he is most at home. He says he is on his 29th bicycle ... the first 28 were stolen. He states this with the same enthusiasm that he shoots his subjects. The man is a constant smile and quick with banter, yet we learn just how alone he really is. When asked about his friends, family, lovers ... he momentarily breaks down only to regroup and express his love for what he does - it's not work, it's pleasure.
By the end, it's clear that while so many people respect the man and his work, no one really knows him. He lets his pictures stand as the testament to decades of documenting the colors and patterns and style of New Yorkers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had very little idea of who Bill Cunningham was other that he is a
photographer, works for the New York Times and that's about it. This
documentary is a stunning insight into a man who is really an unknown.
At 80 years old Cunningham stills works for the Times, he cycles around
the streets of NYC taking photos of everything and anything, but his
real passion is fashion. The images that get into the Times are of
everyday people in NYC, who for what ever reasons, perhaps a unusual
coat, or pair of shoes, stand out from the rest. As he himself says,
he's not interested in celebrities, the everyday is more beautiful.
His passion for what he does is immense and consuming, he admits he had no time to do very little else, but has no interest in the glamour side of fashion and lives incredibly humbly, prefers cheap sandwiches to fancy dinners or repairing a cheap rain mac with tape to save buying a new one 'that will eventually tear anyway'. He is a wonderful character with a seemingly endless joy for his work and the world around him. A career spanning decades has lead to him meeting an array of people and photography thousands more, his work fills endless filing cabinets in his tiny studio apartment above Carnegie Hall (which sadly came to an end, after the Carnegie artist director kicked out the last remaining tenants) much of which will never be published. His passion for his work shows clearly when he is awarded a medal by the French government. Not only his acceptance speech wonderful and moving, before hand he is busy working, snapping guests, which as one woman describes, 'You are working at your own party?!' The film follows Cunningham as he goes on his daily journeys, as well as a trip to Paris for fashion week and we also get to see him putting his column together, remarkably he still uses old film cameras and choices to get them developed at a small shop. He has absolute perfection for his column, ensuring the photos are in the right order. We also see a handful of Cunningham's subjects from over the years, an array of wonderful if not eccentric New Yorkers, all individual and delightful in their own way. The excitement they have for appearing in Cunningham's column is great to see and shows what a wonderful job he does. As he is never rude or horrid about what he sees, it's almost a stamp of approval, Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, even says that Cunningham foresees fashion well before desingers do and suddenly next season, an idea is everywhere.
Cunningham remains an unknown in the sense that the film reveals very little about him. Nor does it seem that those who have known him for years, know much about him. When near the end of the film he is asked if he has ever had a relationship, he laughs and says no, he never has had time. He opens up briefly about family and desire. It is a fascinating moment, one that becomes ultimately sad as Cunningham breaks down momentarily, for what reason we can only guess.
This film is a fantastic insight into one person and their passion, one that is simply told but is uplifting and often funny and if anything inspiring. It shows that some people lead the most simplistic life and yet achieve so much happiness and that is a glorious thing.
More reviews at my site iheartfilms.weebly.com
I have lived in Manhattan for 32 years, 31 of them a very short walking distance from the corner of 57th and 5th, where Mr. Cunningham hunts his prey during the year. I have met him and seen him at work, but knew very little about him. This wonderful documentary not only shows Cunningham going after his shots, but is a wonderful window into the role of fashion and society in New York, with incredible images going back to the 1970s (and in some cases, even earlier). I admit that I cried for about 15 minutes in the beginning, so beautifully do the filmmakers create Cunningham's world -- and a New York I have had the privilege of experiencing. If you liked "The September Issue," or the recent Valentino or Yves St. Laurent documentaries, run don't walk to Bill Cunningham New York. And if you're a gay man of a certain age, bring Kleenex.
I wasn't sure how I felt going into Bill Cunningham New York. I thought
to myself this is a man who goes around New York photographing men and
women wearing their attire, and doing a lot of cutting and pasting into
making it a weekly section in The New York Times. But I also thought
that this couldn't be the end of the story. Something about Bill
Cunningham had to be interesting, creative, and unique to get his own
Thankfully, I thought correctly, and now am fully intrigued by the life of eighty-year old Bill Cunningham. His job is not only a different one, but one he tirelessly continues to do as he rides around on his twenty-ninth Schwinn bicycle up and down lower Manhattan to photograph boots, hats, scarfs, clothes, pants, etc. This is a man who through thick and thin keeps on smiling. You'd never know he was having a bad day because he'd most likely smile during that too.
Bill lives in a tiny, rent-controlled apartment in Carnegie Hall where there is no kitchen, but dozens of file cabinets filled with negatives and positives of photos he's taken over the past several years. He sleeps on a mattress that lies on top of several more file cabinets. All I can say is if you think you're a dedicated lawyer, do you sleep on your briefcase? The film is 90% about Bill and his photography, and the other 10% tries to nudge him in the side trying to dig deeper in his personal life when he won't let you. We keep asking questions like "Is Bill straight?," "Does he date?," and etc, but we get little to no answers. Maybe because this is a documentary about his work not his personal life. But the neglection of something a documentary on a specific person needs, a little background, just brings this gem down a tad bit.
Bill explains how when he was a young child, at Church on Sundays, instead of listening to the preacher he'd be too busy staring at other people's hats. This shows that his passion for fashion, a relatively eclectic thing, started early and never held up.
Many of us work at a job that keeps us satisfied and puts food on the table. Bill works a job that keeps him over-joyed and puts food on his floor next to his file-cabinets. Rarely do a lot of people truly love what they are doing, but Bill is one of them. He's a person who if you watch be happy for a while, it begins to make you smile. He's the kind of person that just fills you with glee.
Bill Cunningham New York is short and sweet, but still leaves many questions unanswered that I'm sure will remain unanswered forever. Bill is a closed book, but open if you ask him anything about fashion. He's a mirror-image of what you can become if you take life on the slow track and live a very basic, yet eventful life. It's almost inspiring with its storytelling of just a simple, yet so complex man of interest.
Starring: Bill Cunningham. Directed by: Richard Press.
Wonderful film about the misunderstood and often contradictory
peculiarities of the fashion world. Bill himself is an everyday man
strikingly distinct from some of the outrageous fashions on display in
contemporary New York yet he is respected ans one of the most enduring
authorities on fashion today. His simple and discreet way of living as
embodied by his spare and modest studio in Carnegie hall (a stark
contrast in itself) illustrates Cunningham's principles on fashion
itself: "It's not the celebrity, the spectacle, it's the clothes."
What is also insightful is how tends and set and grow organically out on the street, not on some fashion runway (although it remains a fascination for Bill). The idea that fashion is not just for the rich and famous, but for the everyday person is exemplified by the "bag ladies" of new york, the "water bottle", "baggy jeans", and 80s fashion; it's lovely to see Bill pay tribute to these somewhat eccentric trends in the column that also charts the who's who of high society in New York as if to say "these are our people, and this is our culture, no matter who you are."
Bill is a charming and enigmatic character, still going strong at 80(!) years and heartwarming to see with so much respect amongst his peers. The city of New York is a character itself as always, the variety of fashion and cultures is incredibly rich and entertaining. He shows that there are many good people in high society who donate themselves to charitable and artistic institutions; yet while he becomes involved in that world of riches he remains cautious about becoming too involved dedicating himself solely to the art of fashion.
While Bill concedes he may not have lived the ideal life (and I think the interviewer probes just a little too close), his life remains immensely rich from his friends and connections, one in which he has almost free rein to document his passions, ironically without the material things fashion itself can exemplify. He is such an enigmatic and joyous character that one can only believe his is greatly fulfilled by life, and only wrongly assume, he is missing out on anything.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wow. Just wow. I really have no words that emphasize enough the
brilliance of this documentary.
I am a complete fashion illiterate. I mean, the only things i wear are sports clothes, jeans and t-shirts. So i've never heard before of Bill Cunningham. He's a fashion photographer for the New York Times, and a damn fine one, it seems.
This is his story, and what a story! Like a modern-day Thoreau, he lives alone in his tiny apartment, filled only with art books and filers full with negatives of his work of this last 60 years. He still uses an old analog camera and rides his bike everywhere, only replacing it when it gets stolen.
But, what's really special in this little marvel, at least for me (because of the fact that i don't do for living something that i really care about... if i think about it, i don't really know what could that be...) is the chance to watch someone who is completely and utterly in love with what he does. He exudes happiness and content, because he is right where he wants to be, doing what he really wants to do, with all his heart. He's 80 years old, and still kicking it like the best, when most people would be wasting away, retired after 30 or so years of unfulfilling work.
His elation transpires into his personality and daily interactions with his colleagues and acquaintances, he's always smiling and good-humored. He's fiercely independent, and seems to be in a never-ending search for beauty in all its forms.
I believe that the world is a candid place with people like Bill Cunningham in it. Now it's up to the rest of us to find that which we can be passionate about.
This is one of the best documentaries you will see. A humble, honest, artistic and amazingly talented man manages to stay connected with the real world despite being a very integral part of the dizzy, artificial world of high fashion. One review here said the filmmakers hadn't really delved enough into Cunningham's personal life. I'd agree -- where did he come from? What were his family's occupations? Wasn't there anyone from his childhood to talk to? Maybe he ruled this out. And clues as to why they didn't persist with this line are in the film -- he is tongue tied when asked about his relationships, and a little shy. In fact some of those personal questions scenes make him excruciatingly self conscious. Like many photographers, he prefers to document the story, not be the centre of attention. And in any case, probably just capturing him cycle around New York and snap the perfect street fashion shots is pretty interesting. Especially the scenes in which he zeroes in on some amazing trend such as polkadots or ponchos or low slung jeans. Overall, the most likable thing about Cunningham is that he is very much an individual, which is also what he says he loves most about his photographic subjects -- how they express themselves, how they're not just part of the crowd. May he long continue to roam the streets of New York.
I can't positively gush about this movie more than any other viewer can. This documentary warms the heart and allows people to see a side of life not many seem to slow down enough to view. I had never heard of him before watching this, but Bill truly is a great man. This movie makes me want to slow down and appreciate the everyday styles that people choose. I loved the various side-interviews with notable subjects of his photographs and colleagues, many of whom have similarly quirky yet important stories to tell. The music was so well grafted into the scenes that you may overlook it, but it guides the times and New York-living so well that it shouldn't be overlooked, either. If you're looking for a heart-warming documentary about a very important figure and artist in modern fashion photography, you'll enjoy learning about Bill as much as I did.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very touching portrait of a most talented individual. It is
shot well and considering the tiny budget presents as outstanding
The structure and presentation flows very well and Bill is frankly captivating. The guy and the relationships he has with those around him of all ages is captured in a very candid manner.
I don't know that I have ever seen a documentary where the needs and sensitivities of the subject get conveyed so well. From the on stage awards to the truly intimate trip around the most captivating of (his) apartment.
In the end you feel like you a know a guy so well, if you bumped into him in downtown NY, you'd be able to walk up and strike a conversation.
Sensitive, touching, intimate and what a great American.
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