Bill Cunningham documentary offers a touching look at the fashion of New York City

“The best fashion show is definitely on the street. It always has been, always will be,” Cunningham says in the documentary “Bill Cunningham New York.” Directed by Richard Press and produced by Phillip Gefter, the documentary is showing at Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s Noble Theater, 415 Couch Drive, at 5:30 and 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The film follows the columnist and photographer as he rides his bike along the New York City streets, stopping on a dime to shoot a photo of some fantastically dressed person.

“It’s always the hope that you’ll see some marvelous bird of paradise, meaning a very elegant, stunning woman or someone wearing something terrific.”

Anyone who’s anyone in New York City’s fashion world hopes to find their photo in “On the Street,” a weekly photo essay photographed by Cunningham. His social column, “Evening Hours,” documents the social galas he chooses to attend with his trusty camera.

The man is a legend in his own time.

“I’ve said many times that we all get dressed for Bill,” says Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue.

The 84-minute documentary clearly portrays Cunningham’s sincerity, his integrity and genuine love of fashion — not the kind of love a fashion designer or retail buyer might have for fashion. This is the kind of love a father has for his child.

He is a designer, having started his career as a milliner after dropping out of Harvard in the 1940s, designing hats under the name William J. But when a friend first put a camera into his hands, a new world opened up to Cunningham, and he became an historian of fashion.

Some of the most funny and touching scenes in “Bill Cunningham New York” are those in which Cunningham talks about his subjects — “A lot of people have taste, but they don’t have the daring to be creative.”

Not all of Cunningham’s subjects are women. One of the documentary’s laugh-out-loud moments is a montage featuring Shail Upadhya, former United Nations diplomat from Nepal, who was known for his outlandish fashion sense and whom Cunningham featured in his “On the Street” column. In the scene, Upadhya models several of his favorite outfits — his “Alphabet Outfit,” a white suit with large black letters printed all over in a Dr. Seuss-like font with a matching beret; a brightly striped suit he calls his “Awning Stripes outfit”; and his “Lollipop Salesman outfit.”

“This used to be my old sofa, the jacket, and the pants used to be my ottoman,” Upadhya says of an outfit made from what looks like, well, a sofa and ottoman.

Cunningham’s story is touching, funny, sweet and, often, a bit sad. But the documentary is one not to be missed if you are a photographer, love New York City, love fashion or just love well-made documentaries.

— Heather Warlick Moore

Apr 21st, 2011 | Posted in Fashion
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