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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Few 2011 films—or documentaries in general—are quite as charming as Bill Cunningham New York. Most non-fiction films tackle complicated, hard-hitting issues or complex characters with unforgettable stories. This film, however, is about a man, his bike, and his camera. Yet, there's something joyful about the film's simplicity, and its titular character's smile is just infectious. Overall, Bill Cunningham New York might not be groundbreaking, but I challenge you to find a more pleasant, enjoyable documentary.

Everyone always dreams of finding something they love doing so much that they'd do it for free. Meet Bill Cunningham—a New York City photographer who's worked for such publications as the New York Times and Details magazine. Call this octogenarian a fashion photographer if you must, but he'll immediately correct you. He's a photographer of people and the clothes they wear. He lives in a tiny artist's studio in Carnegie Hall, surrounded by decades worth of photographs and files. And while he's on the verge of eviction (his apartment will be replaced by offices), he's still deliriously happy. Why? He's doing what he loves, what he's meant to do.

We don't really learn any intimate details about Cunningham over the course of the film. He slyly laughs off questions about his love life, and he tears up a little when pressed about his religious beliefs. Oddly enough, however, this impenetrability works for the film. I'm not sure digging deeper into Cunningham's psyche would reveal any great truths. He's just a guy who's happy living and working. And the superficiality of the film strangely works in its favor.

There's little else to say about the film, frankly, other than that I liked it very much. Here's a documentary that greatly contrasts your typical fare. Yes, its story is subdued, almost mundane. But it grabs hold of you with an obvious affection for its lead character and an incredibly amount of charm.


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