The subject of fashion seems to be pretty hip in the documentary as of late. From Lagerfeld Confidential (2007) to Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton (2007) to Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) to the current release of The September Issue, fashion film is in and it's no wonder there is curiosity about the world of couture . It is such an emotional and intriguing mix of beauty and disfunction. The most recent examination of a fashion icon is in The September Issue. Directed and Produced by R.J. Cutler (of The War Room fame as well as other award-winning productions), the story centers around the editor-in-chief of American Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour and her collaborator creative director, Grace Cuddington. The filmmaker pit the two characters against each other very effectively. I imagine some might categorize Ms. Wintour as cold and brutal and Ms. Cuddington as warm and sensitive. This depiction shows us that Anna Wintour has built some pretty thick, protective walls over the years. We get only brief flashes of vulnerability. She reveals her family thinks what she does is "amusing". Her daughter trivializes her mother's work as well and when Ms. Wintour is asked what her short comings are she replies "My Children". Outside of the fact that she's often just plain rude to her staff, I can't help but admire her no nonsense approach to her work. She doesn't seem to behave insincerely (no fake nice here), despite living in what often appears to be a superficial environment, full of schmoozers hungry for fashion icon attention.
But when the camera turns it's attention to Grace, we are exposed to an artist that wears her emotions and passions on her designer sleeve. Ms. Cuddington is fascinating and heartbreaking. A face full of beauty and history, an eye for the perfect photo shoot. She seems to see potential in everything around her and Mr. Cutler exposes her brilliantly. Ms. Cuddington's commitment and lasting belief in what she does, and has done for so long, is both tragic and lovely. Sounds like the makings for a stirring documentary, doesn't it?
R.J. Cutler proposes an interesting struggle between two creative, talented and powerful women. Not something we get to see a lot of, much less in high fashion. A business that not too long ago was very closed to outsiders. I found it also interesting that youth obsessed industry is actually powered by women, who are still quite beautiful, but definitely no longer young. How does that feel? Our director gives us subtle glances. Mr. Cutler also depicts fashion as damn hard work, not all runway shows and free stuff as Vogue's scene pages would have you believe.
R.J. Cutler will be the keynote speaker at IFP's Independent Film Conference that begins September 19th. I look forward to the speech.