July 30, 2020  (Web Review)

The Times of Bill Cunningham

(2020) 75 min. DVD: $19.95. Kino Lorber (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 4.0/4

Filmmaker Mark Bozak interviewed legendary photographer and fashion historian Bill Cunningham in 1994, and his engaging interview is the centerpiece of this delightful retrospective of Cunningham’s life and career. Wearing his trademark blue shirt and riding his trusty bicycle (that he replaced often because it was stolen), Cunningham rode through the streets of Manhattan and neighboring boroughs taking photographs of a diverse group of people he saw along the way. A selected group of photographs with descriptive information appeared in the Sunday New York Times for more than 60 years under the title On the Street. Ezinma’s original music, Sarah Jessica Parker’s compassionate narration, and loads of photographs culled from Cunningham’s vast collection add pizazz to Bozak’s onscreen interview with the passionate and ebullient photographer who died in 2016. Cunningham tells viewers he grew up in the shadow of Boston’s Fenway Park in a conservative Catholic family. At age 19 he moved to New York where he stayed with family members while working at Bonwit Teller in the advertising department. But fashion was always his calling and as a sideline, he began creating trendy hats for society ladies. He eventually moved to the famed Carnegie Hall Studios where he lived for 50 years in a tiny, cluttered apartment. He also served in the U.S. Army in France where he moonlighted as a hat maker and fashion designer. Saying he was “always fascinated by wonderfully dressed people,” the gift of a camera in 1967 propelled his illustrious photography career. Cunningham is amazingly forthright, telling about other creative persons who influenced him and talking about such fashion icons as Jackie Kennedy, Diana Vreeland, and Anna Wintour. He gets choked up when the AIDS crisis topic comes up; he gave millions of dollars to support AIDS research. Viewers will be charmed by the dazzling collection of color and black-and-white photographs, sometimes shown in split-screen images, of both recognizable celebrities Liza Minelli, Nancy Reagan, Andy Warhol, and Cher, among others as well as equally fascinating unknowns, including New York street people. The familiarity of Cunningham is not a requirement for enjoying this outstanding portrait of a New York legend. Aud: H, C, P. Highly Recommended. Editor’s Choice. (S. Beauregard)