— THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE

BILL CUNNINGHAM.

I Just recently came back from second trip to New York in the last three months. Each trip has been memorable for many things, but this one really was truly magical. Apart from being privelidged to go and see LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden, I also got to see some fabulous films, art and culture, that, certianly in regards to the latter, was as qunitessential to the New York experience as you could imagine.

Of the films I saw, one stood out above all others. A documentary recommended to me on the life, career, and unique New York character that is Bill Cunningham.

In Bill Cunningham; New York We discover the world of the man who, for more than 30 odd years, has worked for the New York Times as the photographer of ‘On The Street’. His weekly round-up of what the ordinary and extraordinary New Yorkers are wearing. The page these days is considered the template for the huge growth of street photography embodied by The Sartorialist, Jak & Jil, Facehunter and many more. His style, quick snatched imagery (while roaming the streets on his 28th bike – the other 27 stolen over the course of that career) has captured a city in constant style evolution. His eye for detail, honed through a career in fashion dating back to the 1950’s, is egalitarian, but treasured by the ultimate power brokers of fashion. So much so that in fact, that he is awarded the highest cultural honor in France (the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) in the final third of the film.

He was responsible for almost all the photography in the upstart DETAILS Magazine, which chronicled the off kilter styles of the 1980’s Downtown scene in glorious detail. Yet, he is also the photographer of choice for the uptown party scene, (His ‘Evening Hours’ page in the New York Times) and the mail deluge of invites to fundraisers from the moneyed doyens of Park Avenue and Republican high fliers never ceases.

This chameleon like nature, only deepened once the film exposed Bill’s lifestyle beyond the camera. If you could call it that, as such was the dedication to capturing fashion in all it’s myriad forms that it had consumed him, and as the viewer, you are left with this confusing sense of whether this is how he wanted it to be, or how it was forced upon him by outside influences that he felt beyond his control (the religious aspect of his character seems to point to this way for me)

The climatic scenes of the documentary are amazingly raw and touching. I won’t spoil it, because if there is one documentary that you should try and see this year, then this would be it.

As far as I know, it doesn’t have a UK release date (it does feel like a film made by New Yorkers for New Yorkers to be fair) but keep checking, as it’s worth the effort.

Trailer below.

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