Bill Cunningham, I’m Your New Fan

April 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

Recently, I got to enjoy a few films at the Wisconsin Film Festival, which in itself is an interesting experience. I don’t often see movies in theaters, and I’ve never been to a cult classic on opening day – the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Harry Potter kind of movie where everyone dresses up in long robes and camps out for tickets. (Hmm…I never realized how interchangeable those costumes could be. Now if only the Twilight vampires were less romantic and more Dracula-esque, we could turn those robes into capes.)

But I forget how you get caught up in the collective excitement of a full crowd, how impressionable you are to the mood of the audience as a whole. The audience comes truly intending to be delighted with what they see, and with that sort of attitude, it’s impossible not to enjoy the film.

Bill in Traditional Smock #37

However, even if I had watched Bill Cunningham: New York on a dark and stormy night all alone on a Friday after a bad hair day and burnt frozen pizza for dinner, I would still have been delighted. Not only is the documentary well done, moving easily from humor and lightness to more poignant moments, but the subject is a fascinating character.

Bill Cunningham is a photographer in New York who has spent the last 50 years chronicling fashion trends on the street. Reasons I find him fascinating:

1. He knows his fashion, but he personally wears a simple blue smock – even to a ceremony where the French awarded him the title chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres (to which he also brought his camera).

2. He’s not interested in celebrities, he’s interested in what people are wearing (whoever they are).

3. He’s genuine in his modesty and he lives simply (it took 10 years to make this film, 8 of which we’re spent convincing him to do it). Most artists will say they don’t do it for the money, but few turn it down when it’s offered to them on their success.

4. He’s a genius in his field. His weekly photographs reveal both the trends that influence fashion and the way fashion affects our larger culture and humanness, such as how men move in the winter or how ankle boots are changing women’s posture.

To be delighted yourself, watch these On the Street episodes below to find out why cork heels are god-like…

…and just how varied the basic trenchcoat can get:

In his words, it’s all marvelous, all on the street!


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