Who would have thought that a documentary premiere would be the hot ticket in Los Angeles this Friday night? But fresh from a record breaking run at New York’s Film Forum, “Bill Cunningham New York” opened to a sold out crowd at the Nuart Theatre and was followed by an entertaining Q&A with director Richard Press and producer Philip Gefter.
For fifty years, legendary photographer Bill Cunningham has joyfully shot both high society and street fashions for two weekly New York Times columns. For the popular Style section column, “On the Street,” Cunningham, at 80-something years, captures what he sees; he lets “the street tell you what fashion is.” Conversely for the “Evening Hours” column, Cunningham attends high-end functions and photographs society’s finest citizens, if they’re wearing chic, stylish clothes.
Interestingly, Cunningham is a stark contradiction to the usual fashion photographer. For starters, his sole means of transportation is his Schwinn bike – his 29th he explains in the film; the other 28 bikes have been stolen. He lives like a monk in his studio above Carnegie Hall amongst his film negatives, file cabinets and cameras. The studio doesn’t even have a kitchen or bathroom, although a full bath is down the hall, which suits him fine.
Yet Cunningham has an incredible eye for beauty, spotting trends before they’re even seen on the runway or in the pages of magazines. Vogue editor Anna Wintour explains, “we all get dressed for Bill,” and Cunningham gladly captures these looks.
Enthusiasm for Cunningham and the movie carried over to the audience Q & A after the credits rolled. Director Press and producer Gefter said they were thrilled with the response that the film has been receiving, and this LA audience was no exception.
Press and Gefter remarked that the film took ten years to make – eight to convince Bill to be on film, and two to actually shoot and edit the film.
When asked what Cunningham thought about the film, the filmmakers replied he still hasn’t seen the documentary; he feels he doesn’t need to. Cunningham gave the filmmakers his full blessing on the project and is happy that it’s doing well for them.
Regarding how they knew Cunningham, Press and Gefter explained that they all had worked together at the NY Times. In fact, Press worked as an art director laying out Cunningham’s fashion page. Gefter joked that it’s from this workplace friendship that they were able to wear Cunningham down over the years to be filmed.
We’re glad Press and Gefter succeeded because “Bill Cunningham New York” is a bright and charming film about a man who for half a century has captured through his camera the world of New York fashion. Bravo Bill Cunningham!