Currently Viewing: Bill Cunningham New York

I finally got to see the documentary on photographer Bill Cunningham.  But first, a word about the theater…

Asheville is very lucky to have a small independent theater that shows  movies that the big mega-plexes would not touch.  Even better, the Fine Arts is downtown, and is located in a cute, slightly art decoish building.   The theater originally opened in the 1940s as the Strand, and was one of four downtown theaters.  From the time I can remember, it had been renamed the Fine Arts, and was strictly showing porn films, or as we called them, skin flicks.   All the other downtown cinemas closed or moved to the malls, but the Fine Arts remained downtown, as the area became increasingly seedy.

In the 1980s, with downtown Asheville as dead as that doornail,  obscenity laws finally shut the place down.  But in the 1990s, people began to see the potential in downtown, and in 1997 the Fine Arts reopened, this time showing small, independent films.  It’s a great addition to the area.

Bill Cunningham New York is just the type of film the Fine Arts shows.   It follows 80 year old street photographer Cunningham as he goes through his day, riding his bike through the streets of New York, looking for fabulously dressed people.  We watch him at work in the evening, covering affairs for the New York Times.  And then we get a look at the real work, the planning of the Times pages, deciding the layout and themes of each.   To see the process of how he works each page, echoing the themes running through each is simply enlightening.

This is in sharp contrast with Cunningham’s private life.  The photographer who is so fascinated with the clothes people wear, hangs his own very limited wardrobe on the handles of the file cabinets lining his small apartment.  His possessions seem to be limited to his files and his books.

But the really striking thing is how happy Cunningham is.  He talks all through the film about how dangerous money can be, that taking money limits one’s artistic freedom.   To him, being free to tell the story in his own way is the way to artistic fulfillment.

Or as he put it, “He who seeks beauty will find it.”

Hopefully, you have your own little art theater that will be showing Bill Cunningham New York.  It really is a don’t miss for fashion lovers, or for anyone who needs to see the result of a life lived without compromise to one’s beliefs.


Filed under Currently Viewing

7 responses to “Currently Viewing: Bill Cunningham New York

  1. Christine

    Great post! I wasn’t aware there was a doc about bill Cunningham. I’ll look for it. I also had no idea he was 80 years old! Now I’m really impressed.


  2. I already saw it 2x and want to see it again. I loved this movie!

    From the moment it starts and he’s taping together his black rain poncho because, “who cares? they tear anyway” I was smitten by his pragmatic, no-nonsense style.

    Another thing that I think is really cool is that he still rides his bike. As a life long bicyclist, I can’t help but see view his mode of transportation as having very positive effects on the way that he works. I’m of the belief that biking is great because it allows you to see more because you’re free to (even forced to) take it all in because there’s such an immediacy to doing it. Obviously, bicycling also keeps him young.

    Couple this with his solid work ethic that stems from the belief that “if you don’t take money, they can’t tell ya what to do” and you’ve got an artistic maverick who’s managed to inspire everyone in fashion! This is such a great movie.

    Didn’t you just love those scenes at Edita Sherman’s apartment when she was trying on the hats? AWESOME!

    Glad you loved it, too, Lizzie.


    • I love the scenes of Editta doing the ballet.

      I’d think one would need to see this several times to fully take it all in. Just a super fun movie!


      • Oh, yes. That was so priceless. Also when they first film at her place–something to the effect of–“What are you here for? …oh, who? Oh, Bill. Why aren’t they making a movie about me.” Indeed, Editta, indeed!


  3. Amanda

    I want to see this so badly! The one independent theater in Montpelier was damaged by flooding.


  4. Oh, I want to see this! Our single indie theater is closed until the end of July (they’re relocating)–I do hope this will be part of their offerings.


  5. Yes, you all much try to see this. He is truly a one-of-a-kind talent! Hopefully it will be available from Netflix later on.


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