Thursday, July 07, 2011

"Bill Cunningham New York"

It's already been a long, hot summer in Tucson, AZ. It's 110 outside and I'm dying to get into an air-conditioned theater. I scroll down the movie listings. Nothing but a bunch of unimaginative, dried up remakes (some of which you couldn't pay me to see in the original version) and a dumbed-down romantic comedy that I've already seen.

Thank Heavens for my oasis in the desert. During Hollywood's intellectual and emotional drought, the Loft Cinema offered a stream of refreshing foreign dramas, thrillers and comedies. And when I had seen all of those, there were the documentaries. Watching documentaries is a fairly new theater experience for me. When I thought of documentaries, I thought of dry educational programs. But a new kind of doc has emerged - quenching my thirst for fascinating characters and compelling storytelling. One such documentary is, "Bill Cunningham New York."

While watching the trailer, I knew I was in for a good time when Vogue editor Anna Wintour (made infamous by, The Devil Wears Prada) quips, "We all get dressed for Bill." The trailer is full of testimonials from fashion icons and socialites on photographer Bill Cunningham - the schwinn-riding octogenarian who weaves through Manhattan traffic trying to capture the latest "street style" fashions. Cunningham obsessively documents fashion trends and society charity events for the style section of the Times. I didn't expect much more than a interesting character study, a love letter to NY, or a tribute to a by-gone era of high society. But it was more than that. It was one of the most inspiring films of the year.

Bill Cunningham. This man lives his passion. He initiated the concept of "street style" when he started snapping flower children's threads in the sixties and went on to document emerging street trends through the decades. In his column, Bill presents the definitive fashion show taken right, "On the Street." His meticulously arranged fashion layouts can be read like a thesis in urban anthropology expressing the styles of the times. And in his show, everyone one is treated equal - from societies' grande dames to colorful eccentrics. The only thing that matters is fashion.

This is a man who unapologetically lives life on his own terms. He lives fashion. He sleeps in a tiny studio, his bed squeezed in between file cabinets full of every photo he ever took. He even refused payment for his moon-lighting magazine gig so he wouldn't have to take orders from anyone or "sell out" his vision. He doesn't do it for prestige, money or fame. (He is notoriously camera shy.) He does it for the beauty of the art. On one of the rare occasions where he agreed to accept an award, he tearfully gushed, "You can find beauty if you look for it!"

I found beauty here.

If you love NY, you won't want to miss it.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

No comments: