"Powerful Eye-Catching Portraits"
What You Need To Know:
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK is a documentary about the 80-year-old fashion photographer for the New York Times. It follows Cunningham through the streets of Manhattan at all hours of the day. It depicts him riding his bike through the streets as he photographs people on the street and people at fancy parties or other local events. Eventually, Cunningham reveals he remains a committed Roman Catholic. He also refuses to demean or mock the people he photographs. When asked about his love life, including whether he’s homosexual, he says he feels he was born to just be single and concentrate on his work. He says all people have sexual urges but they have to do their best to control them.
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK is a terrific, fascinating documentary. It’s likely only to be of interest, however, to those with an interest in New York City, journalism, photography, or fashion. That said, Cunningham’s quiet defense of his Christian Catholic faith seems real and inspiring. Caution is advised for children because of brief foul language, some slightly revealing photos, and the discussion about the photographer’s apparent lack of a private love life.
(BB, CC, Ho, L, S, N, D, A, M) Fascinating documentary about the life and work of veteran New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, age 80, has a surprisingly moral worldview with a strong Christian element, as he reveals himself to be a weekly churchgoing Catholic who lives his life in great simplicity and humility while employing a deep sense of ethics in his work, but Cunningham (a committed bachelor) is cagey about his private life and avoids a question about whether he’s homosexual or not and avoids discussing whether he’s had any affairs of any kind; three obscenities (including one “f” word is heard by a distant woman warning a photographer not to take her picture) and three or four light profanities; no violence; light sexual references during interviews such as interviewer asks main subject if he’s homosexual, and he replies that his parents thought so because he was so fascinated with clothing, but he admits he’s never had a serious relationship and that he feels his life was called to just be single and work, plus, in a separate quote, he says that all people have sexual urges, but that we have to do our best to control them; no explicit nudity but some revealing photos; archival photos showing people drinking; archival photos showing people smoking; and, some of the people discussing Cunningham and his work appear to be homosexual and man reports he’s had several bicycles stolen from him over the years.
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK was an arthouse hit in the Spring of 2011. It offers a relatively no-frills, yet highly personal, portrait of the life of renowned 80-year-old New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham and his work.
The documentary follows Cunningham through the streets of Manhattan at all hours of the day and night. It depicts him riding his bike through the streets as he searches for his specialty: people with a unique sense of fashion, whom he makes or keeps famous by bringing them to vibrant life in the pages of America’s most famous newspaper.
On the positive side, the film paints a portrait of a man who is vibrantly active well into his senior years, and who has an unshakable sense of morals and ethics in his work. Anecdotes throughout spotlight situations in which he either quit jobs or turned down work he felt was demeaning to people or mocked his subjects. Also spotlighted is the humble life he leads, living in an artists’ studio at Carnegie Hall for decades with just a bed and endless rows of photo-stuffed file cabinets until new real estate developers drive him and other elderly artist residents out of the historic building. The movie provides a fascinating look at this iconic cultural observer’s life. It also gives viewers a bike’s-eye view of Manhattan and a feel for the creative process Cunningham employs to find fresh takes on the city’s fashion scene.
As Cunningham reveals his countless photos, he also provides a historic look at the cultural elite of New York City in the past 50 years. At one point, Cunningham says fashion is a vital part of civilization, telling the camera, “Fashion’s the armor of everyday life.”
In the end, the director tries to pierce the strict privacy Cunningham he has built for himself. The photographer’s countless contacts in society’s upper-crust all admit they don’t really know him or even whether he has a personal social life. Cunningham winds up revealing that he’s proudly Catholic and is glad that he was raised with a strong relationship with faith and his religion. In fact, he credits his faith for keeping his life’s priorities in order and says it’s important for people to have that in their lives.
Confronting the assumption by some that, as a lifelong bachelor, he might be secretly homosexual, he dodges the question by saying his parents thought so because he was so fascinated with clothing, but says he feels that he’s just been called to remain single and focus on his work. He finally admits he’s never had a romantic relationship, saying that all people have sexual urges but that we have to do our best to control them.
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK is a terrific, fascinating, visually dynamic documentary, but is likely only to be of interest only to those with a particular interest in New York City, journalism, photography, or fashion. That said, Cunningham’s quiet defense of his Christian Catholic faith seems real and inspiring. There’s brief foul language and some revealing fashion photos of women, but no explicit nudity. That, and the unsuccessful questioning of Cunningham’s private life, warrants caution for older children.