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Bill Cunningham New York - Review

Bill Cunningham New York

Review by Louise Carleton

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

TO THE inhabitants of New York 84-year-old Bill Cunningham is a familiar sight. The octogenarian can often be seen pedalling the streets on his bicycle in his trademark blue work shirt furiously snapping at the well dressed and the flamboyant who stalk the streets of Manhattan to grace the pages of his Sunday New York Times fashion feature.

His place as fashion royalty cannot be disputed and Richard Press treats him as such in his new film, Bill Cunningham New York, which is littered with New York Darlings and a who’s who of the fashion world, all exulting their praises of Bill.

Yet Cunningham doesn’t get lost in the fickle world of fashion and nor does Press exclusively focus on the New York Fashion scene (although the Big Apple is never far away). Instead, Press ensures that the sensitive and creative man that Cunningham is shines through in this warming and inspiring documentary.

He’s a man dedicated to his profession, prompting Kim Hastreiter, the founder and editor of the notoriously cool magazine Paper, to refer to him at one point as ‘a war photographer’. And it is with military precision that he manoeuvres the streets looking for the bright, shining everyday fashionistas who stand out in the world of mass manufactured fashion that Bill detests so much.

Indeed, it appears his profession is all he has. Though the film heavily centres on a variety of talking heads (Anna Wintour and Carmen Dell’ Orefice just being two) they appear to know very little about the man himself or his private life.

He remains a man shrouded in secrecy (it took years for Press to convince Cunningham to agree to being filmed in the first place) and Press gently unfurls the real Bill Cunningham, offering us a rare glimpse into a life usually guarded behind closed doors.

We meet the eccentric friends facing eviction from the Carnegie Hall building they share with him, we learn he is a man of faith, and, in a touching moment of vulnerability, we learn he has never been in love.

We watch Bill as he goes about his routine with inexhaustible energy and vigour, snapping the well dressed on the streets and attending and documenting society galas and charity soirees. We watch him be praised, get rebuked and see him meet and mingle with New York high society.

Yet for a man who’s a huge part of the New York fashion scene and who spends his days surrounded by the beautiful and the rich, he is a man of very simple tastes and desires, living on very modest means.

After reams of constant praise and watching the finer points of Bill’s profession, you might find yourself asking where this is going and while some questions don’t get answered (Bill’s sexuality is left ambiguous, as are certain points of his upbringing and background) the film is ultimately a brief exploration into the life of a wonderful, warm and artistic man who lives and breathes his job.

In the cut throat world of fashion Bill Cunningham New York is refreshing, light-hearted and doesn’t take fashion too seriously.

Bill is also refreshingly liberating in his views – he likes what is aesthetically pleasing and comes with no pretensions and no front. He’s just a lover of what looks good and feels great and is deserving of this uplifting and, at times, moving documentary that celebrates the tour-de-force he is.

Bill Cunningham New York is a must-see for fashion lovers, fans of New York and ultimately anyone who wants to spend 84 minutes with a smile plastered across their face.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 84mins
UK Release Date: March 16, 2012