Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York

Decades before the Sartorialist, there was, and still is, Bill Cunningham's ON THE STREET column in The New York Times.  The man behind the camera is the reluctant subject of a recent documentary.  Gregarious, yet humble, he finally gave access to a small crew who shadowed him for a year.  Bill's days are long and active.  His sole mode of transportation is a bicycle, and at 81 that is a very impressive accomplishment.  Pedaling the streets of Manhattan with his Nikon around his neck, Bill combs the crowded sidewalks for trends and arresting style.  At night he attends multiple society events, and finally returns to his storage room-like apartment when most others have already gone to bed.  Bill is an enigma; for a man obsessed with fashion he owns very few clothes, and wears a simple, practical uniform of dark slacks and a blue sweater or workman's short.  He has little interest in food and drink, is shockingly thrifty, and although he has access to every extravagant party in the city, leads a monastic life.   His love for his work was immediately evident, but something saddened me about his life.  When the filmmaker asked Bill if he had any regrets, he said he never thought to have any.  And yet there was another moment, triggered by a different question, which caused him to break down in a deep, heaving cry.  I was an intruder on a personal moment, too profound for pop psychology, but whatever I had been sensing through out the film was exposed, and it made me feel even sadder.

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