One of the most magical and moving personal portraits you’ll ever see, this charming documentary film follows the legendary 80 year-old fashion photographer Bill Cunningham – a man who is still spotting trends on the streets of the New York, getting around in his trademark blue jacket on a bicycle. Despite Cunningham being intensely reclusive and understated, director Richard Press delicately reveals the man’s career and daily approach to work, along with his almost unbelievably ascetic lifestyle. Eight years in the making (it took seven years to convince Bill to do it) the film has been a darling at film festivals around the world for the past eighteen months, and won last year’s audience award for best documentary at the Canberra International Film Festival.
Starting life after World War II as a milliner, Bill Cunningham took to photography by chance and has become an icon and an accidental cultural anthropologist since, documenting what really gets worn around the town that never sleeps. Ignoring celebrities and catwalks, Cunningham is only interested in the clothes and accessories of those who walk past his familiar figure on the streets of Manhattan, using what he finds with the lens to document two influential fashion columns in the New York Times. He lingers all day – rain or shine – totally absorbed in the colours and cuts of clothes around him, noting the subtle shifts in style. Press also manages to take us inside Cunningham’s tiny studio apartment in Carnegie Hall, a room bursting with filing cabinets full of negatives and books on art. Cunningham has no kitchen and little interest in eating. His “bed” is a mattress on top of a stack of files. Sleeping – like everything else not directly connected to his pure and simple vocation – seems unnecessary.
And as the portrait progresses – following Cunningham to Paris where he has to receive an award for services to the fashion world – it becomes clear that everyone adores Bill. From Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour to well-dressed author Tom Wolfe, there’s never a bad word to be said about the man who works harder than most of us but who never seems to be working at all. Bill has followed his bliss for 60 years, and it’s a delight to follow him for 80 minutes – even if you have no interest in fashion. Don’t miss it.