It All Happens On the Street

I had no idea so many elements of New York City’s “je ne sais quoi” could be so elegantly woven together in a 90-minute documentary about an 83-year-old fashion photographer.

If you have any interest in fashion, New York City, photography, the arts, the changing face of the urban culture, real estate battles, bicycles or human nature, add Bill Cunningham: New York to your Netflix queue. (Or run down to the Film Forum if you’re lucky enough to be in New York, in which case you’ll love it even more.)

For the uninitiated, Cunningham has worked for the New York Times for decades as a fashion chronicler of sorts. His weekly “column” is a page full of photographs focused on a particular trend. When I worked for Saks Fifth Avenue, little unfashionable Iowa fish-out-of-water that I was, his Sunday Styles page was open on everyone’s desk come Monday morning. I remember the clamor around the office when my already very glamorous and well-known boss was included on his page. If Bill took your photo, so they said, you’d made it. But to put it all in perspective, Anna Wintour, perhaps the most fashionable woman in the world, is the one who utters these words in the film. The mere fact she was willing to appear in the film (smiling, at that) speaks to the influence Cunningham, who cycles around town in a reflective orange vest, wields.

Even if you have no interest in fashion, this is a brilliant film about generations worth of life in New York City. Until recently, Cunningham lived in legendary artist studios above Carnegie Hall that evicted their tenants when they were converted into office space. It’s a fascinating look at gentrification and the changing landscape for creative types.

Personally, I loved watching a film so rich with personal memories. I studied Bill’s trends as a young, reluctant fashionista to have something to talk about ’round the water cooler. Years later, I harassed my media relations agency daily to get Cunningham to photograph charity events for the university where I worked. One of my best friends worked at Carnegie Hall when he lived upstairs; she said her colleagues all used to wonder if they were wearing anything worthy of “On the Street” as they came to work.

New York’s one great big small town. I’m so glad Bill Cunningham is one of my neighbors.


1 Response to “It All Happens On the Street”

  1. 1 travelinglightjs 28 March 2011 at 09:29

    And it’s been busy breaking box office records for my favorite NYC indie theater!

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