The documentary “Bill Cunningham New York” is an amazing achievement. It has changed the way I see the world. I wish I could be more like Bill Cunningham, delightful and modest, able to make friends with everyone and see past phony surfaces to the real innovative fashion that cloaks pedestrians on the street. But I’m not. Very few people have the vision to see beauty in such fleeting moments.
Since 1978 Bill Cunningham has ridden his bike all over Manhattan to capture photos of interesting fashions for the New York Times' "On the Street" photo feature in the Style section.
Watching this movie is almost like reading a recipe for happiness. I laughed several times when Bill would squabble with his assistant or with the other elderly photographer who lived in his building. The assistant’s job consisted of taking film out of boxes and moving images around on a screen, meanwhile listening to Bill Cunningham tell him what to do. I thought it was hilarious when Bill described a woman’s garbage bag dress as looking like a black rose. The assistant replied, “Looks like a black garbage bag to me.” After making another insightful fashion observation to the assistant, Bill jokingly said something along the lines of, “Why am I taking to you about this? You’re a lumberjack!”
Bill Cunningham is an honorable man who should set the moral code for all photographers in the fashion industry. While people are struggling to redistribute wealth, Bill Cunningham is redistributing beauty where it belongs: in everyday people, not in sickly skinny models or surgically configured faces. He doesn’t care about celebrities and he doesn’t accept money for his work. He does what he loves and lives meekly.
While watching this movie, I remembered hearing a song by Jens Lekman about waiting for Kirsten Dunst to arrive at a club in his hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. She could not get into the club, even being Kirsten Dunst. In this song, Lekman takes pride in his town’s down-to-earth sensibility and disinterest in celebrities. That’s the way it should be everywhere, if you ask me.