Half a million reasons* to go see the film, Bill Cunningham New York http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/billcunninghamnewyork/index.html

On the whole I really enjoyed the film. It’s playing in Toronto now and if you can get to see it, you should

 It’s hard not to like it: Bill Cunningham is a modest and charming man and he’s irresistibly likable. The film as a whole was irresistibly likable to me as well because it’s set in New York and Paris, it features the New York Times, it’s a documentary and a history, and it’s all about clothes and fashion. It’s also very thoughtful and smart. Really, what’s not to like?

There are many great threads going on in the film. First off, it is a character study of Bill. What makes him tirelessly trek up and down Manhattan on his bicycle, taking all of the photos that he does? What does he live the modest life he lives? How is it he is so close to these people he seems nothing like in many ways?

Bill is both an aesthetic and an ascetic, which I found fascinating. He is driven to find beauty in the world and capture it, while at the same time living a monk-like existence in his tiny apartment above Carnegie Hall. He loves great clothing, yet he wears the most minimal of things for himself. He is well known by the rich and powerful, yet he lives a frugal life, living with no kitchen and sharing a common bathroom.

In fact, there are a great many contrasts in the film. Many of the people interviewed live in wealthy homes or are extremely fashionable and stylish. Bill is none of those things. He is admired and lauded, but all he wants to do is be invisible and take photographs. At one point he takes about how great designers were inspired by bag ladies, and how in some ways this was a taboo topic.

The film is packed with history. It’s mostly recent, but I sense the filmmakers are especially attuned to life in New York in the 80s. Much of the music in the film is from that time period, and there is alot of talk of when Bill worked for Details magazine at the time. But it is really not of one time and Bill is timeless (and seemingly ageless) in many ways.

  Bill Cunningham reminds me alot of the great Parisian photographer Eugène Atget. Like Atget, Bill is an artist, but like Atget, his artistry comes through not in his rejection of things but in his acceptance of things. Like Atget, Bill wants it all. He wants all his pictures in the paper, he wants all types of people to be perceived as stylish and fashionable and beautiful. That’s not to say his photos are random or accidental. He takes photos quite deliberately. I think he is in love with the world and the beauty of the world, and he cannot see why he should reject any of it.

There’s much more about the film and the man that is interesting, but I’ll leave that for you to discover when you go and see it. Even if you did not like clothes, I think you’d be fascinated by this man and what he does.  I greatly admire him, and I am glad they made a film about him. I think you should see it.

Right now it is playing at the Varsity in downtown Toronto.

* My estimate of how many photos Bill has taken since the 1960s, based on at least a 24 roll a day, 365 days a year.

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