A Near-Buddhist Reflection on the NYT Photographer in Bill Cunningham New York


Bill Cunningham New York
Directed by Richard Press
Zeitgeist Films
March 16 through 29, Film Forum

No passion for fashion is required to enjoy this absorbing portrait of legendary New York Times “On the Street” photographer Bill Cunningham, but a sense of history and tragedy might help. Director Richard Press doggedly shadows the chipper octogenarian, foregrounding the modest lifestyle and quietly radical work ethic that have made him as much a hero as an anomaly. Several big-name fans offer enthusiastic tributes, including a positively bubbly Anna Wintour, but the film is no more a document of high style than Cunningham is a spendthrift. Instead, Press has crafted a near-Buddhist reflection on what it takes to fully engage Gotham, as well as an astute snapshot of its evermore avaricious soul: Cunningham’s cheerful asceticism is so out of step with what we currently expect (and don’t expect) from our city that tagging along with him is a bracing reminder of what’s been lost to the bottom line. Perhaps inevitably, Press also slyly raises the question of whether Cunningham’s self-deprivation and single-minded focus on surface aesthetics (“If it isn’t something a woman can wear, I’m not interested”) have taken an unacknowledged toll. Decide for yourself whether the climactic Oprah moment is earned or contrived; it’s heartbreaking either way.

My Voice Nation Help

I saw the movie and was utterly charmed by the genuine and passionate person behind the eponymous Times feature. We all know he work, but so few really know the man behind it. So telling of our values. It is also a quiet commentary of the cost of religious faith to personal expression and happiness. A gem of a man, and a gem of a movie. If you can stand to have your heart and consciousness expanded, don't miss it.


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