Friday, March 02, 2012

Bill Cunningham New York directed by Richard Press

Who's that man in the blue windbreaker taking candid photos of people on the streets of New York? Why do so many people seem so unconcerned when he lopes ahead or behind them, snapping shots from many angles? Do they know him? Yes, many do. He's Bill Cunningham, fashion photographer of the New York Times, and for decades he's been taking their pictures for his Sunday fashion column. Many Manhattanites dress up hoping Bill will notice their wild hats, capes, shoes, earrings, purses, and vests, and they are quite pleased when their photos show up in the newspaper. They strut for Bill, who is the subject of the intimate 2010 documentary film Bill Cunningham New York directed by Richard Press.

There are many surprising things about Bill, including his age. At over 80, he dashes between his Manhattan assignments on a bicycle regardless of the weather. At several points, I thought he might get hit by a cab, but he seems to be protected by a guardian angel. He also lived at the time of the filming in an old artist apartment at Carnegie Hall without a closet, kitchen or bathroom. Most of the space was taken with filing cabinets holding his photo archive. His bed was a mattress propped on boxes wedged between cabinets. He always eats out - the cheaper the better. Despite his total lack of pretension, he receives invitations to many of the most exclusive society affairs in the city, where he never accepts even a drink of water while others wine and dine.

Before our film discussion group viewed Bill Cunningham New York, I couldn't imagine being interested in a fashion photographer, but Bill is a totally free spirit who seems to enjoy nearly every minute. In the serious moments of the film, you will discover that he works very hard to remain independent. Whether he is a viable model for living is a good topic for any discussion group - after they stop laughing.

Bill Cunningham New York. Zeitgeist Films, 2010. 84 minutes.

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