I finally had a chance to see the documentary (Bill Cunningham New York) on the incomparable, Bill Cunningham! While I've always admired Bill and knew him to be a sweet man, I left the theatre with a whole new level of respect for him. What an incredible human being. Humble as can be, anybody else in Cunningham's shoes would have taken advantage of the position of power and influence that he is in and used it and abused it to propel themselves to fame and fortune. Not Bill. He isn't interested in any of that, he is only interested in the clothes. And he doesn't care about celebrities unless they are wearing something fabulous that is worthy of being photographed. In fact, he doesn't really watch TV and isn't aware of many of the "celebrities" out there today.
Though Cunningham has been a fashion photographer and columnist for the New York Times for over three decades, people know very little about the living legend who pedals around New York City in his utilitarian workers smock with camera in tow. However, the film does reveal that Cunningham has never been involved in a romantic relationship -- "There's simply no time," he says. We learn that he attends Church every Sunday, served in the military and up until this year when the last remaining residents of Carnegie Hall were forced out, he lived there in a tiny apartment jam-packed with filing cabinets holding thousands of precious photographs.
Bill's love for his work is so apparent and the level of his dedication and passion is incredibly rare. He is the ultimate professional and never accepts so much as a glass of water while photographing an event. Cunningham is a simple man who prefers a simple life. But, for him, simple means cycling through the dangerous streets of New York City every day and standing outside for hours in all kinds of weather in order to capture the street fashion. So long as he has his black plastic poncho he's fine. And if it tears, he patches it with black duct tape. He points out the irony.
My most favorite part of the film was when Bill was standing outside, waiting to get into a Chanel show in Paris. He was patiently dealing with the pushy people behind him while he showed his credentials to a woman -- one of the "gatekeepers," if you will. She was skeptical and hesitant. Bill didn't rant and rave like most would, instead he remained calm. Gentle. A few seconds later, a man came out, pushed the gatekeeper aside and said, "Don't you know who this is? He's the most important person on the planet." Then, he escorted Cunningham into the show. I got a lump in my throat.
Please go see this film. I don't care if you're "not into fashion" or if you basically live for fashion, either way, you will be moved and enlightened by the story of this genuine, passionate, unique and talented man.