DVD Review - Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham is a photographer who has two columns in The New York Times. One column is "On the Street" where Cunningham will take his bike out on the avenues of Manhattan and shoot pictures of daytime pedestrians. His other column is "Evening Hours" where the octugenarian shoots pictures of wealthy socialites at night during parties or charity events.

Cunningham's columns are photo spreads. They look like a dozen or more in a mosaic, slightly spaced apart like dough on a cooking sheet. These photos exclusively focus on fashion, what clothing people are wearing. When his eye is on the town, he's looking for what's creative, bold and unique or simply what's beautiful to him as the beholder.

His camera is an actual film camera. It's not a digital one. He has a little shop that he goes to get the film developed. He'll sort through his rolls of film and often time he'll find patterns or trends, similarities between the tons of people who cross his lens, people who aren't models and who often don't know they're being photographed.

Through this documentary, we get a clear sense of how Cunningham does his columns and why. He is a man who believes fashion is an art. He's not paparazzi. He's not doing this for the cash. He doesn't care about celebrity. He simply cares about the clothes. He knows the styles, the history and often he's very critical, but if nothing else he's merely celebrating good clothing.

What is perhaps notable is not many if anybody knows anything about Cunningham's personal life, his private, inner world. It's arguable and he would admit that he doesn't have one. It's shown that he lives in a tiny room above Carnegie Hall. The room is tiny because mainly it's filled with file cabinets, so many that he has no other furniture that can fit in there, including a bed. He doesn't have his own bathroom. He has to share one with the other tenants on his floor.

He dedicates his life to his work, but he is a man who has lived in New York for decades upon decades. He lives alone. He isn't married or has kids, and he has a high interest in fashion. Some obvious questions come up and the filmmaker here, Richard Press, eventually does sit Cunningham down and press him for answers to those obvious questions. Cunningham's response to those questions reveal or indicate a tragedy or at least a heartbreaking tale that probably has never and will never be spoken.

Instead, what we get is this absolutely jovial, elderly man riding around on his bike taking pictures. He's so personable and passionate about his job that ostensibly his mere presence is enough to carry an audience. I'm not sure that audience at the end has a better understanding of fashion, what makes it good or bad, but Cunningham's fondness for it certainly translates.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended for 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 24 mins.


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