Going into this film I must admit to not knowing much about the eccentric Schwinn-riding New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. After watching Bill Cunningham, New York I must admit to still not knowing much about this quite enigmatic figure. But even though we are never shown the intimate details of Cunningham's life (by his own design, not the filmmakers) we are given a picture of one of the most affable, energetic and enjoyable human beings ever put on film.
For those who also know little about the man, allow me a brief sentence or two to act as introduction. The now 83-year-old Cunningham began taking photos in the 1940's and after several stints at fashion magazines - some ending in bitter walk-outs - he was hired by the Times to chronicle the fashionable world of New York City. Taking to his bike (of which he must get a new one every so often as they are stolen at an alarming frequency) and roaming the streets of New York, Cunningham takes pictures of anyone and everyone who is dressed even slightly out of what society deems as ordinary, and what Cunningham deems as boring. These photos, or at least those deemed worthy enough by the wily, outspoken photog, will eventually make it into Bill's regular two-page spread "On the Street" column. It is with this column that this man has become an icon of the fashion industry and the most credible source for what has come to be known as "street style."
Beloved by many, Bill Cunningham goes about his business with a strange matter-of-factly workingman's ethic. Living modestly in one of the last remaining rent-controlled apartments in Carnegie Hall (since forcibly relocated along with the other remaining tenants), an apartment filled to the veritable rim with files and files of photos and old magazines and newspapers (a sort of organized version of the TV show Horders), and eating as cheaply as possible, Bill Cunningham is the picture perfect epitome of contradiction. Wishing to capture all those on film who care enough to dress so out of the ordinary and not go down the boring stereotypes of everyday society, the man nonetheless eats, sleeps and lives as plainly as himanly possible. Yet this is just another in a long line of quirky character traits that make the man so fun to watch in this quite enjoyable and fun-loving documentary.
I have a close friend, only a few years younger than Cunningham himself, whose lifestyle reminds me so much of the man we see in this film. The apartment, the quirks, the love of constant photographic documentation (only instead of the fashionable among the streets of Manhattan, my friend chooses the small oddities of the world around him) - everything about him is a mirror of some sort to Cunningham's image up there on the screen. Perhaps this adds to my affinity for his character, but even with that in mind, the person we see on that aforementioned screen, whether we find out anything about the man or not, is surely someone I would enjoy hanging out with. [06/15/11]