21 and 1/2 months ago I saw Richard Press‘s Bill Cunningham New York, a likable, open-hearted, intensely New Yorkish doc about the legendary N.Y. Times “On The Street” fashion photographer. (The MOMA showing was the opening-night attraction for 2010’s “New Directors New Films.”) But it’s eligible for 2011’s Best Feature Doc Oscar so I’m revisiting.
The DVD came out last September. I was recently sent a copy by Karen Fried, the film’s publicist, and I watched it again last night. It’s likable, clean, sturdy, straight.
The 82 year-old, Manhattan-residing Cunningham has been shooting fashion and society pics for the last 45-odd years, and in the process has often been at the forefront of fashion trends. His photo collages in the Times are his claim to fame.
As the owner of a red Bridgestone bicycle I’m down with anyone who peddles all over New York. Press’s doc would have you believe that Cunningham never takes a cab or a subway. I don’t really believe that. There’s no way an older guy, even if he’s in terrific shape, would ride a bicycle around in sub-zero Manhattan temperatures with those Arctic winds howling and swooshing down…no way.
The other question mark is why does Cunningham still insist on shooting film? Anyone who’s been around for ages is going to stick with the tried-and-true — I get that — but for a guy who travels light and lives alone and lives in a small apartment there’s no reason in the world for a professional photographer to not shoot with a digital camera these days. Film has been extinct for…what, at least seven or eight years? Longer? Only eccentrics and sentimentalists are still shooting with the stuff.
I don’t blame Cunningham for being who he is, but I do blame Press for not asking about film vs. digital and making it part of the doc. It’s a huge topic to ignore. I tried reaching Press earlier today to make sure it;s not in the film, but he didn’t respond.
Bill Cunningham New York isn’t what you’d call a stunningly original doc, but it’s a very assured one, and not a frame longer than it needs to be.
The doc makes clear that Cunningham has a wonderfully radiant attitude about life. He lives healthily, stays lean and trim, is constantly on the go, constantly scanning the city for the next hint or clue and full of good cheer. This is how to live your life when you get older.