I went to see Bill Cunningham New York (again) at the Townsend Center for the Humanities last night on the UC Berkeley campus. The film is a documentary about the life of New York photographer Bill Cunningham, who at 80+ years of age still travels the streets of New York on his Schwinn bicycle to scrutinize and photograph — with seemingly unquenchable delight — what people are wearing. His findings are published in the New York Times.
He’s been at it for decades.
You come away from this movie convinced that Bill has made New York a better place: his utter lack of interest in money or celebrity (his own or others’), his nose-to-the-ground persistence, unshakable ethics, and commitment to independence inspire those who come to know him. He is wholly devoid of snobbery, and genuinely egalitarian; he’ll pay a top designer exactly the same compliment he’d bestow on a woman in the street: if he likes what he sees, he’ll hoist the camera to his eye and push the shutter button. Doesn’t matter who you are. And if he’s not interested in what you’re wearing, it still doesn’t matter who you are (Catherine Deneuve?). The camera stays down.
Bill’s New York is both more glamorous and more innocent than the actual one. David Koch can be directly in view at a power-broker soirée (the kind of gathering that’s very much Bill’s beat) — and his gravitational force is as nothing on Mr. Cunningham, who offers a deflecting smile, then turns away. In his idiosyncratic meritocracy, Koch is simply … uninteresting.