If you haven’t already seen ‘’Bill Cunningham: New York’’ it is certainly one to add to your list of films to watch. I have wanted to see this documentary for a while but was unable to find any screenings near me, so when I found it was playing on Sky Arts I was thrilled.
Through a number of interviews with the artist himself and his neighbors and friends we learn more about Bill Cunningham’s extraordinary life. The film focuses on the life of Bill however his muses are just as crucial to documentary as the photographer himself. Editta Sherman, who lives next door to him in Carnegie Hall, is perhaps the most notable. Editta’s huge studio next door to Bill Cunningham’s tiny apartment (with no kitchen, closet or his own bathroom) shows the modest life he leads. Although his friends and subjects live lives full of decadence and luxury, the photographer lives a humble life, not accepting more money than he needs to live on and doesn’t eat during his working hours. After Cunningham dropped out of Harvard University he started designing hats under the name ‘William J’. His time as a hat maker, however, was cut short after he was called to serve in the army. When he returned he started writing and became particularly interested in fashion journalism. It was then he started photographing women on the streets of New York City. What was so unusual about his photographs was that he would take candid pictures of well known people without their permission. His collections of images became a regular segment in The Times from December 1978 onwards.
The 84 year old now has, without doubt the most impressive street fashion and society archive around as he dedicated his whole life to what he does. He can be found cycling the streets of NYC with his film camera snapping photographs of the most striking and eye catching people the city has to offer. Having a name or a net worth won’t put you on Bill’s radar however, as Anna Wintour said ‘ Women dress for Bill’ they have to make an effort to get immortalized in his rolls of film. The documentary is punctuated with these intimate portraits from across the ages to remind viewers of the world Cunningham captures. The way he sees things in a different way from everybody else, finding beauty in the bizarre and the unusual.
The film is an emotional rollercoaster, though generally it is uplifting and often humorous. The production quality of the film is terrific and it makes for enjoyable and inspiring viewing for all.