Two Fashion Documentaries

Bill Cunningham at work.

I recently saw two documentaries about the world of fashion that were quite good.  Each concerns a man whose life has been deeply affected by his talented work in the fashion world.  One film is about a man who revolutionized fashion with his signature brand.  The other is about a man who has devoted his life to the appreciation of fashion.  “L’amour fou” is the story of the late designer Yves Saint-Laurent, as told by Pierre Berge, Laurent’s partner in business and in life.  “Bill Cunningham New York” is an exuberant, inspiring and completely captivating portrait of street photographer Bill Cunningham, whose photographs of fashion trends for the past 40 years, as worn by everyday people, appear in the “Sunday Styles” section of “The New York Times.”

In “Bill Cunningham New York,” filmmaker Richard Press has created a wonderful portrait of a true New York original.  At age 80 Cunningham still rides his bike around town to find his subjects and photograph them, on old fashioned 35mm film, as opposed to shooting digitally.  He is not concerned with the rich and famous, although Cunningham has photographed many of them.  “I’m not interested in celebrities with their free clothes,” he explains.  Cunningham’s only interest, we learn as we follow him from New York to Paris, is how people dress.

“L’amour fou” portrays Laurent as an “Citizen Kane” like figure who, despite incredible success and wealth, could not find happiness.  Much as Charles Foster Kane, in the movie “Citizen Kane” (1941), amassed a huge art collection in his search for contentment, so Laurent and Berge compiled a large collection ranging from Picasso to Matisse to Egyptian sculptures.  The premise for the documentary is that Berge has decided to auction off the collection.

“L’amour fou” director Pierre Thoretton has gained incredible access into world of Laurent and Berge.  The spine of the documentary consists of extensive interviews conducted with Berge, many set in the beautifully decorated homes that he shared with Laurent.  The interviews are juxtaposed with an incredible series of stills and archival footage of Laurent and Berge.  What emerges is a portrait of Laurent as a man who, “understood his times but didn’t like them,” and could not find a level of satisfaction.  Berge describes Laurent as only being happy when a particular collection of his was unveiled, at a fashion show, and Laurent came out to take a bow to audience applause.

In marked contrast to Laurent’s wealth, art, fine homes and unhappy emotional status, Cunningham lives in a small studio apartment, above Carnegie Hall.  The building was originally built as housing for artists and has a communal bathroom in the hallway.  Cunningham’s apartment is jam-packed with file cabinets containing negatives of seemingly every photograph he has ever taken.  He sleeps on a small cot in the middle of it all and could not be happier. “I don’t work.  I know how to have fun every day,” Cunningham explains.

“L’amour fou” screens as part of the “Tribeca Film Festival” on April 26, 28 and 29.  For more information please got to  “Bill Cunningham New York” continues its run at City Cinemas Village East (181 2nd Avenue) and at IFC Center (323 Avenue of the Americas), after having completed its run at Film Forum.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 14, 2011, in Documentary. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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