Skip to main content

Movie Review: "Bill Cunningham New York"

No, I don't know anything about fashion, and no, I didn't pick out this movie (that honor belongs to Justin).  But I feel obligated to review it because "Bill Cunningham New York" was one of the best films I've seen in a while.  This documentary made me want to go downtown, track down Bill Cunningham, and give him a hug.  And then maybe find the filmmakers and give them a hug, too, for good measure.

The documentary follows the New York Times' 83/84-year-old fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who has been photographing street fashion since the 1950s or 60s in New York.  The film shows him to be almost naively honest, moral, and fair, rejecting money and anything that would compromise his artistic vision or his genuinely positive message that fashion represents our self-expression.  He lived (at the time of filming) in a tiny one-room apartment filled with filing cabinets of his photographs, with no kitchen and no bathroom ("just more rooms to clean").  He rides his bicycle everywhere, and cares little for his own clothing or comfort.  His only interest seems to be finding beauty, the beauty of beautiful people and beautiful clothes, since there is no point in looking at what isn't beautiful and no need even to consider it.  He rejects negative comparisons between people and styles, although he's perfectly willing to point out when a designer has copied (inadvertently or not) another designer's work.

The absolute joy he takes in his work, as revealed in the film, is something I think we all wish for; the question for most of us is what we are willing to give up in return.  It seems that for Cunningham, there is nothing to give up - nothing is as important as the work.  Perhaps this doesn't make him a role model for everyone, but his absolute integrity, refusing even a glass of water at celebrity charity events in order not to feel indebted to his hosts, is nothing if not admirable.  He's the kind of professional who will only retire when they carry him out in a coffin (hopefully not as a result of a bike accident, although this seems likely!).

The film itself was well-paced, nearly all the people interviewed were interesting (or crazy), and it was impossible not to like the subject himself.  The few times where the filmmakers became present, as interviewers or when interacting with Cunningham (especially in the scene where he insists that they will not follow him to Paris, but of course, they do), provided a baseline of normalcy against which Cunningham's eccentricity played nicely.

As a paean to an artist and his vision, "Bill Cunningham New York" is convincing, and shows Cunningham to be not just a revered figure in New York and the fashion world, but someone we all should respect.


Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: "Theory and Design in the First Machine Age"

Reyner Banham's Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960) is an engaging overview of the important theoretical developments of the early 20th century leading up to the "International Style" of the 1930s-40s.  Banham does a fairly good job, in my opinion, of avoiding excessive editorializing, although he has a clear viewpoint on the Modern Movement and finishes with a strong conclusion.  In opposition to his teacher, Nikolaus Pevsner, whose own history of modernism came out in 1936, Banham dismantled the "form follows function" credo that became the stereotype of modernism, arguing instead that formalism (a preoccupation with style and aesthetics) was an important, if not overriding, concern of Modern architects.  Two sections of the book struck me in particular: his analysis of Le Corbusier's famous book Vers une architecture (Toward a [new] architecture) from 1923, and his Conclusion (chapter 22), where he breaks the link between functionalism and …

Vertical Bike Rack

The work of our hands!

A little backstory:  We bought two bikes as soon as we could after moving here, so we could both bike to work.  After a few uneventful months of chaining up our bikes next to our car in the carport of our apartment building, Justin's bike was stolen.  (Mine was mysteriously left behind, together with Justin's pannier, which the thieves helpfully folded up and placed on top of my bike.  My only guess is that the chain holding my bike was harder to cut than the chain on Justin's.)  Since then, we've kept our bikes inside, hauling them up and down two flights of stairs to our third-floor apartment every time we take them out, which is usually a few times a week.  Ugh.  Better than buying a new bike every few months, though.

We needed a rack that would keep the bikes off the floor, off the walls, and in as small a footprint as possible, without requiring us to drill into or otherwise damage the walls (or floor or ceiling).  This proved a challenge t…

Voter's Guide - June 5, 2018 Election, Santa Clara County

If you're like me, you spend a lot of time figuring out who to vote for, because there is no single place to get all the voter information you need.  So, since I have already spent the last several hours deciding how to vote, I've compiled all the information I used here, so you can decide for yourself!  This is relevant to the Santa Clara County election here in California, so if you are looking for San Francisco-specific information, you can try SPUR or other sources.  Obvious disclaimer:  I am looking for progressive candidates who support strong liberal policies on the environment, housing, education, human rights, and the economy.  If you disagree with me, you may want to look elsewhere.

For each position or proposition, I'm going to list the position, my recommendation, link to my sources, and then note other viable candidates (if any).

State & National Offices

Governor:  Gavin Newsom
Former SF mayor Gavin Newsom has an almost overwhelming amount of policy object…