Bill Cunningham New York is Picture Perfect

Earlier today, I posted about the documentary

Con Artist

, which follows the ups and downs of "business artist"

Mark Kostabi

's controversial career. The review mentions the artistic Orange County roots of the film's New York-based subject and filmmaker. Alas, you have to go to LA to see it (or put it in your Netflix bin now).

A perfect double-bill would feature another Big Apple-centered art documentary: Bill Cunningham New York, which opens today at Regency's South Coast Village in Santa Ana.

The art is this case is fashion, something eleventy-something Bill Cunningham has been photographing and writing about for years and years and years n the New York Times. His two columns cover street fashion and charity galas, and even this late into his career he's still beating the fashion designers, magazines and other industry buzzers in first spotting the hot trends.

Bill Cunningham at work at the New York Times.
Bill Cunningham at work at the New York Times.

Bill Cunningham at work at the New York Times.

He's always the first fix his lens on what will be the season's designated hemline length. Remember the over-sized jeans men wore pulled down about half-ass? Cunningham got that before the others, too.

Lady Gaga

's meat suit may be the only one that got by him.

It's enlightening watching the cultural anthropologist in first-timer Richard Press' eye-opening (if a tad long) documentary work a fashion runway. If Cunningham keeps his camera in his lap as an outfit drifts by--if he doesn't like it or has seen it before, he doesn't shoot it--industry insiders freak out. That's how much the unassuming man's fashion eye is respected.

This is a most-unlikely candidate for trend spotter. He's lived alone since leaving home, and near the end of the picture the longtime tenant was dealing with having to move out of his hole of an artist enclave at Carnegie Hall. Despite sitting on his only mode of transportation--a 10-speed bike--while pointing his camera at strangers' heads, torsos and feet, he comes off quite shy. And his own fashion sense, well, he wears what he has found works best to continue shooting, not peacocking.

Make no mistake, Cunningham is passionate (tearfully so) about the importance of fashion. Fortunately, he seems to be making a relatively smooth transition online, bitching and moaning no more than scribes and shooters half his age. We'll lose a national treasure once he hangs up the camera bag. That makes Press' film as priceless as the old man in the viewfinder.

Visit the Regency South Coast Village page for Bill Cunningham New York show times, ticket prices and directions. (Hat tip to Regency and the Orange County Film Society for the invite to the recent private screening.)


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