Saturday, April 30, 2011

On the Street

Today started badly, with that particular assortment of missed appointments and frayed nerves and thwarted plans that doesn’t really seem like that big a deal until you’ve been out of the house for a few hours and have achieved absolutely nothing, then suddenly you’re standing in a coffee shop and feel like crying because the poor counter girl got your order wrong.

But things got better when Rob and I took in a matinee. Things nearly always look better after an afternoon at the movies, certainly, but today we saw Bill Cunningham New York, and it restored my faith in humanity.

If you don’t know who Bill Cunningham is, read his Wikipedia entry or watch a few of his wonderful "On the Street" videos for the New York Times. Then go see the film. It doesn’t matter if you give a toss about photography, or fashion, or anything, because even though Bill’s made a career of taking pictures of clothes, it’s about so much more than that.

This is a film about art, and about loving beauty. It’s a film about a monastic devotion to one’s work, to the exclusion of everything else. It’s about principles and self-respect and stubbornness and possibly loneliness. And yes, it’s about the joys of fashion.

One of the many things that struck me about this documentary is that it’s populated by old people. I like seeing and hearing from grown-ups in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. These are people who’ve lived—and continue to live—amazingly rich and fascinating lives. When I watch television (or consume any mass culture, really), all I see are the very young. It’s easy to forget that old people exist at all, much less remember that they’re doing cool stuff and that they have things to share with us. What could a rich twenty-two-year-old celebrity, compared to these individuals, possibly have to say about the world?

Another thing that intrigued me was seeing someone still shooting rolls of film. He's probably the only guy at the Times who has to go and pick up his negatives, then painstakingly go through all those images to select the ones to run in his columns, then have them scanned, then pull up a chair beside John, his layout guy, and argue about what should go where (the source of some of the movie's funniest moments). I guess it's a testament to how far and how fast technology has come that I find this process so deliciously old-fashioned.

There’s so much to enjoy about this lovely movie, and so much to talk about, but I just hope you’ll go and see it. Bill Cunningham New York is as charming, confounding, and delightful as the man it follows. “We all get dressed for Bill,” says American Vogue editor Anna Wintour in the film, and even though I don’t live anywhere near New York or Paris, I want to get dressed for Bill too.

Here's the trailer--now go!

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