Tuesday, December 13, 2011

DVD Review: Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham New York ***
Directed by: Richard Press.

Bill Cunningham is one of the happiest people I have ever seen in a movie. He lives precisely the life he wants to live – nothing more, nothing less. Until he was evicted, he lived in an artist’s apartment in Carnegie Hall in New York. It has no kitchen, and he shares the bathroom with another tenant. His tiny apartment was packed with filing cabinets, boxes and books. He sleeps on a mattress on top of more files. He is 80 years old, and has been doing the same thing every day for decades now. And he loves every minute of it.

Bill Cunningham loves clothes and shoes. Yes, he goes to the fashion shows and takes pictures of the new clothes by designers, but that isn’t what he truly loves. He loves being on the streets of New York and taking pictures of regular people with a unique style. He notices trends far before anyone else does, because he’s on the street, snapping pictures and he sees them develop before his eyes. Fashion magazines and designers love him for that. He isn’t paparazzi, because he doesn’t know and doesn’t care who the celebrities are. He is interested purely in the clothes they wear that make him happy. He pedals off to events all over Manhattan on his bike – he’s on his 29th, the other 28 having been stolen. He doesn’t care.

For someone so interested in clothes, Cunningham doesn’t dress in any way that would make him stand out. He wears practical clothes, including a smock made for garbage men, which he dons for two reasons. The first is that his camera always rips them and they’re cheap. The second is that it has many pockets for his film.

Cunningham’s work has been featured in all sorts of magazines over the year, and now he has a regular segment in the New York Times. The people who he puts in there are always happy to be seen there. That is, after all, why they dress the way they do in the first place – to get noticed. And Cunningham never takes mean photos of people looking awful or tripping. Again, that doesn’t interest him.

Cunningham seems completely at peace with himself. He has found a job that he loves and is good at, and that’s enough for him. He is always smiling, always talking, always laughing and the film doesn’t feature one interview subject with anything negative to say about him.

There is only one scene where Cunningham seems uncomfortable in the movie. Richard Press, the director, asks him about his personal life and whether or not he’s ever had a romantic relationship. “Are you asking whether or not I’m gay?” Cunningham asks, but even this doesn’t faze him. He’s open about his lack of romantic experience. What throws him is when he’s asked about religion, because it seems the only time he isn’t working is when he goes to mass on Sundays. For once, he can’t think of anything to say.

I enjoyed Bill Cunningham New York, even if I must admit, I don’t really see what the point of the movie was. Perhaps it’s as simple as showing a man who is completely and totally happy. That is a rare occurrence that it warrants a documentary.

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