Sunday, November 29, 2015

Photographer captures decades on funky streets

About the movie
Bill Cunningham New York
MPAA rating:
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Bill Cunningham
Directed by:
Richard Press

I love this man, I love this movie.

Bill Cunningham New York is a documentary about the photographer whose "On the Street" column - the weekly photo spread of New Yorkers walking and wearing, sporting and comporting on Big Apple sidewalks - is the only reason some folks buy that other paper that comes out on Sundays.

But beyond just being a fascinating ride-along with the octogenarian photojournalist, Richard Press' film is a celebration of individualism, integrity, fashion, passion, urban living, street art, magazines and newspapers, and the absolute essentialness of a vintage three-speed bike.

As he has for decades, Cunningham continues to photograph the citizenry of New York - often stationing himself at the corner of 57th and Fifth, dashing to and fro with his camera firing away. At night, the New York Times lensman covers two or three society events, nabbing candid shots of the tuxed and begowned, the old guard and the nuevo fashionistas, as they wine and dine in museums, galleries, and clubs. And he still works the runways, too - he says it's essential to do all three, to understand the connection (which goes both ways) between street style and the couture houses.

Anna Wintour and Tom Wolfe are among the film's talking heads - and Annette de la Renta, whose dog may be a source of some concern (i.e., is it breathing?). Cunningham's friends and former editors at Details and Paper are interviewed, and the amusing relationship between the photographer and his Times production partner, John Kurdewan, is captured in all its tricky symbiosis.

From his rent-controlled hole-in-a-wall atop Carnegie Hall (home to just one of the film's only-in-New York subplots) to his tireless navigations around town, to his early days as a milliner and his lump-in-the-throat 2008 acceptance speech when he receives honors from the French minister of culture, the star of Bill Cunningham New York is funny, frank, inspirational, and wise.

And he knows a thing or two about clothes, too.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at


Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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