The Times of Bill Cunningham is a joyous account of a wonderfully fulfilled human being who simply radiates on the screen the sheer passion and excitement he has for his life. Filmed in 1994 by Mark Bozek (Cunningham died in 2016) it had been shot purely as an interview but spliced together with some of Cunningham’s iconic photographs this 74 minute film is a perfect tribute to this very talented and immensely likable man.
Cunningham was born into an Irish working-class conservative Catholic family and he sent them into despair when he insisted on becoming a milliner who soon attracted a very fashionable clientele to his tiny atelier in Manhattan. As the one sop to his embarrassed relatives the labels inside his hats simply read William J.
It was working for the designers who dressed Jackie Kennedy, that someone somehow put a camera into his hands, and the rest is history. There’s no doubt watching him at work in those early days that he would have made a great designer himself, but he possessed this unique talent of observation that set him apart from other would be fashionistas.
The documentary is littered with his ground-breaking photographic street diaries in the NY Times that cemented his success, and also previously unpublished ones too. The real joy however of the film is watching and listening to the man himself. He may be a grey haired old man in his 60’s but what we see is this mischievous looking school boy who maintains a highly charged and total natural enthusiasm for seemingly simply everything.
Immensely private with no hint of any personal relationships outside the world of fashion and art, he suddenly is on the verge of tears when talking about how many people he knew that had died in the AIDS pandemic. There is mention of the fact that he paid a lot of money for some art from a dying Antonio Lopez, only to give it back for Lopez to sell again. You suspect that Cunningham is responsible for more of such acts of generosity that he kept completely to himself.
This is the second excellent documentary on Cunningham but this one has the advantage of just seeing the man talking about himself in his naturally disarmingly charming way. His photographic work has always been recognised for its sheer beauty and uniqueness but the man himself was only really fully appreciated and loved by those he worked with, this film should deservedly change all that .
Bill Cunningham was one in a million and it’s such a joy to be able to appreciate that so much more with the help of this film.