Saturday, October 20, 2012

FEATURE 109 ~ Bill Cunnigham

This is an unassuming documentary film, very like its subject ~ the life and work of Bill Cunnigham. For decades he's cycled ( Yes, cycled!) along streets of New York, attended New York Society charity functions and Paris fashion shows etc looking for what's happening in the world of fashion, for its trends, for individuals with a certain flair and style. Supremely egalitarian, Cunnigham is just looking for great ideas, for great clothes and accessories, he's not that bothered about 'who' is wearing it. Though some of his regular 'subjects' do have egos the size of Brooklyn wanting to be regularly flattered and pandered to. He himself, though appreciative, doesn't remotely pander to the 'street celebrities' he sometimes creates.. For him its great design and the panache of how its worn and carried off. This is his passion, which he's documented in photography for most of his life, after an earlier career as a milliner.

You are presented with a really strong impression of the man and his character. Perhaps infuriating to have to work with, but clearly he knows what he's looking for. Producing two columns every week for the New York times on trends and events he's seen. It is his whole life, and his flat is stuffed with filing cabinets where every single photograph he's taken is cataloged,  whilst he is happy to sleep on a mattress on the floor between them. An eccentric maybe, but no greater enthusiast for the colours and textures of life, which he thinks the ever changing world of fashion embodies, could you find. Living in a complex of studio flats occupied by similarly aging but enthusiastic people, all still alive and creatively kicking.

 He's asked in the film about his sex life , whether in fact he's ever had sex. No, is the answer. Is he gay? Well, all he said was that the fears for him, and what this implied, when he entered the world of fashion that came from his parents, had proved to be true. All of which I took to mean, Yes. But sexual orientation didn't seem to be remotely what he wanted his life to be built around. This film was made three years ago, and he's still working now at the age of eighty three! For myself, as someone whose creative interests have often ranged far too widely, and whose enthusiasms and passions soon wax and wane. It was good to see what this remarkably humble and single minded man has achieved by maintaining this sole creative focus.

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