Here’s a film that is as ‘feel good’ as they come. Mostly films with that tag leave a chalky taste in your mouth, a feeling that you’ve been manipulated into being and feeling something that you didn’t come by naturally. Bill Cunningham New York is genuine and genuinely touching in only the way that sincere and unaffected films can be. This is a documentary about New York Times Lifestyle photographer and columnist, Bill Cunningham. Everyone loves and respects Bill. And Bill seems to love and respect everyone right back. This is a portrait of a happy man, doing what he’s always wanted to do. This is the way life should be lived.
A fixture in the street life and the night life of New York, Cunningham spends his days riding around town on his Schwinn bike, snapping up rolls of film with the eye of a master artist. He takes shots of whatever takes his fancy, and what takes his fancy is then put together in marvelous ways. Cunningham sees the world around him, really sees. We see Bill at work with his paste-up man and they’re a delight to watch. There are interviews with several (New York) famous people in the fashion, arts and literary world who seem to stand in awe of Cunningham.
A private man, he confesses to never having had a personal relationship with a woman, though he’s friends with many. He’s a church going Catholic who reluctantly admits to his religious habits. Cunningham is a smart guy, but seems not to be an introspective one. Who has the time for that? He’s lived most of his adult life in a locker sized apartment in Carnegie Hall, one of the few remaining there, that once was full of artists studios. Since they all are being evicted, Cunningham most choose another residence, and he’s shown looking at a much more spacious and airy apartment overlooking Central Park – complete with a bathroom in the apartment and yes, a kitchen! Cunningham muses that he’s never eaten or cooked a meal in his apartment, preferring to eat out.
Seeing Cunningham, you get the feeling that he’s the last of a dying breed, and we’re not likely to see his sort again anytime soon. A documentary to savor. I was literally grinning through much of it, caught up in Cunningham’s exuberance for his life and work. Highly recommended.