Bill Cunningham New York is a beautiful, gentle film about a beautiful gentle man. Cunningham is an octogenarian fashion photographer who has been taking pictures on the streets and at the parties of New York for the NY Times since the 1970s, and that is as much as I knew about him before I stumbled across the film and remembered that someone somewhere a long time ago had said it was good.
Despite what you might expect, the film is not about photography and it's not about fashion, it's about a gentleman and an artist, striving to make pure work in a desperately commercialised industry. Bill Cunningham is a quiet, infectiously cheerful, unassuming man who until he was evicted lived in a tiny kitchenless and bathroomless studio in Carnegie Hall, sleeping on a camp bed, surrounded by filing cabinets full of his negatives. He travels around New York on his bicycle, with his old Nikon film camera slung around his neck, wearing a blue jacket that he first spotted on some Parisian street cleaners and thought looked both practical and was a nice colour. He is 84.
The film is about him in the simplest way that a film can be a portrait of a person; it follows him working; interviews him about his thoughts, life and ideas; speaks to the people who know and love him, (which seems to be everyone, he is an immensely lovable man - something that becomes apparent almost as soon as the film begins) and leaves the viewer to fall for and feel for the man as it goes. There isn't much that I can say about him or the film that doesn't feel inadequate; it's quietly moving and inspiring and if your heart isn't a little bit broken by that interview with him (you'll know it when you see it) then you might want to get your heart checked, because it's likely defective. It's been 3 hours since I watched it and I still feel tearful.
*image Bill Cunningham by The Sartorialist