Bill Cunningham New York (12A)

The ViewNewcastle Review

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Review byIsabel Stevens16/03/2012

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 84 mins

“The fashion show has always been the street” - that’s the mantra of Bill Cunningham, the first fashion photographer to turn his lens away from the catwalk and onto the real world. And after watching Richard Press’s portrait of the 83 year old shutterbug, you’ll be inclined to agree.

What’s it all about?
It’s ironic that one of the key figures in the fashion industry, a man responsible for spotting and snapping trends as they appear, wears as his daily uniform a baggy but functional blue cotton shirt – the same type worn by Parisian street cleaners – and a cheap plastic poncho. Meet the enigma that is Bill Cunningham, New York’s own street paparazzo.

In his ode to the octogenarian photographer, Richard Press tries to keep up with Cunningham as he roams Manhattan’s streets on his bike by day, hunting the best and wackiest in street style for his weekly New York Times column On the Street, and by night as Cunningham prowls society events and catwalk shows with his camera.

The Good
A number of high profile talking heads pay tribute to Cunningham – Anna Wintour among them. But they aren’t nearly as insightful or as interesting as those lesser known, but more flamboyant and daring fashionistas who the photographer regularly snaps on the street. Richard Press gives us access to some brilliantly bizarre wardrobes (in particular one UN diplomat whose suits are far from drab) and manages to make a documentary that clearly illustrates Cunningham’s views – that fashion is, and always should be seen as, a bit of fun, and that style is never synonymous with money nor youth.

The Great
The best scenes are those where Press simply follows Cunningham – and fortunately this observational approach dominates the film. It is a joy to watch him work, zipping down Manhattan’s thoroughfares on his bicycle, picking out intrepid and idiosyncratic fashion choices from the hordes of people with his camera. Just as illuminating though are the moments in the New York Times office where Cunningham trawls through his negatives, assembling his columns. The energy of this workaholic is impressive as is his utter dedication to his art – he refuses to accept payment (“I eat with my eyes” is his response to an offer of a free meal at one lavish function), and lives in an apartment that is as far from the luxurious world he captures as possible. Throughout Press mainly sits back and watches, but occasionally probes the contradiction that is Bill Cunningham - and the results are fascinating.

Worth Seeing?
Bill Cunningham New York is a delightful portrait of an utterly singular photographer. Richard Press is clearly in awe of Mr Cunningham, as will you be after watching this.

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Content updated: 24/07/2012 03:27

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