Bill Cunningham New York

by Victoria

“Bill Cunningham New York” is a documentary movie directed by Richard Press. Released in the USA in 2010, it tells the story about Bill Cunningham – a famous photographer who was obsessed with fashion and did the job that he enjoyed and loved – took pictures of the clothes that New Yorkers wore on the streets. As it is a documentary film, instead of actors, real people who knew Bill participated in the film and gave interviews: designer Iris Apfel, fashion model Carmen Dell’Orefice, Patrick McDonald, philanthropist Annette de la Renta and many others. After watching this movie, you will know about the personality and the career of Bill, how he worked, how he lived and why people loved him. 

Bill Cunningham was a photographer who rode his bicycle and took pictures of what people were wearing. He didn’t just take photos of everything he saw, but only clothes that he liked and that attracted his attention. At first he was known as a designer of women’s hats, but then he started to do what made him famous. Bill wrote about fashion in Women’s Wear Daily and the Chicago Tribune and had some columns in the New York Times. He managed to capture the history of street fashion and how it has changed over the years and made a huge contribution to fashion journalism. Comparing to other people who worked in his sphere, some of his views on life were different: he could earn a lot of money and become rich and wealthy, but he didn’t do that and lived in an old, small apartment. He thought that “money is the cheapest thing” and “if you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do”. He was a nice and friendly person with a big smile on his face, he called his friends and familiar people “kids”, and people adored him for who he was and what he did. However, they didn’t know anything about his personal life since Bill didn’t talk too much.

To introduce Bill to the viewers, the director includes interviews with Bill himself and people who know him personally in the movie, shows his photographs, newspaper pages and scenes which depict how the photographer works, lives and talks. Personally, the storytelling was a little bit chaotic for me, and it seems that the movie doesn’t have a strict structure like other documentaries always have. By these words I mean that the information isn’t given in a chronological order. But, it doesn’t make it boring or confusing at all; people learn everything steadily and in a specific way, so they can understand Bill’s career and personality better.

As I have already mentioned before, there are no actors in the movies, and real people appear on the screen. In the film there are scenes where Bill and these people interact, and we see their real emotions: how they smile and laugh, how famous fashionistas, models and others adore his personality, how they look at him in a friendly way, with admiration and respect in their eyes.

The film starts and ends with the soundtrack. At the beginning, when Bill takes photos, the melody is funky, jazzy and energetic like the morning street of New York. I would say that it suits the fast tempo in which Bill usually works: if he sees clothes that he likes and he feels that the snapshot will be good, he takes it. On the contrary, the music at the end of the movie is peaceful, which can symbolize calm daily life of a person who likes what he does in life.

In general, I could say that the movie is worth watching, and you won’t notice how quickly time flies by. I recommend this film to those who are interested in fashion history (in people who contributed to it in particular) and who want to spend time not only in an interesting, but also in an informative way. To my mind, people who don’t prefer documentary films or don’t like fashion and photography will like it because it’s easy to watch. As it is historically accurate, you can watch this film to write an essay or make a presentation about Bill Cunningham.

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