(2011) director Richard Press
Like a lot of things in this world, you probably either know who Bill Cunningham is or you don’t. I fell in the latter category before watching the film. Now I reside in the former. Despite not knowing who Bill Cunningham was, I had been hearing that Bill Cunningham New York was supposed to be one of the better documentaries of the year.
Cunningham is a fashion and society photographer for The New York Times. He’s had two weekly spreads now since the 1970’s, one of society events and people, the second of people on the street, wearing the fashions that catch his eye. He’s now in his 80’s and has been covering the scene for decades. The film examines his experiences going back to his early days as a haberdasher. He lives in Radio City Music Hall studios along with a few other old time hold-outs from another era.
The real thing about Cunningham is he is an incredibly sweet, humble guy, whose life is devoted to fashion and photography, entirely. He’s beloved by the people who are familiar with him and his work. And the one of the aspects of his charm and humility is the fact that he rides his bicycle across town, up and down, from one posh society outing to another, snapping photos as he goes of anything that catches his keen eye.
The reason that people have no doubt come to like the film so much is quite simply that Cunningham is such a sweet, intelligent, humble and likable person. The film-makers treat him with great kindness as well, not delving very hard into his upbringing, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Eventually, they do query him, but this film summarizes his life as this singular, classically New York City individual, a unique and key part of the legendary content of The Times.
Frankly, it’s a decent documentary, not a great one, but it is interesting and is a “feel good” sort of vibe. I know people who would like it too, and I’ll be recommending it.