Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 of 2011



Happy New Years Eve everyone! As we farewell 2011, it's time to take stock of the year in cinema. Once again the marvellous Matt Ravier has polled Sydney critics for their best films of the year, so be sure to head over to A Life in Film to see the top 20 released and unreleased films, as well as all the great wrap ups. It turns out both my #1s take poll positions - winner!


Here are my lists, with links to reviews where possible:


BEST RELEASED:
  1. Drive
  2. Bill Cunningham New York
  3. Melancholia
  4. The Tree of Life
  5. Black Swan
  6. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  7. Midnight in Paris
  8. Incendies
  9. Bridesmaids
  10. Jane Eyre



BEST UNRELEASED:
  1. Martha Marcy May Marlene
  2. A Separation
  3. Shame
  4. Hugo
  5. Tomboy
  6. The Arbor
  7. Tiny Furniture
  8. The Forgiveness of Blood
  9. Attenberg
  10. How to Die in Oregon


Another cinematic year has shot by and I’m left grappling with my sieve-like memory: Black Swan was released in 2011, right? Indeed I feel a bit sorry for the films from early in the year, especially lighter fare like Tangled or Rango - both of which I was giddy about at the time – as they seem to have found themselves elbowed out by art-house behemoths like Tree of Life and Melancholia. In fact it strikes me that my list reads a little like a who’s who of art-house snobbery, so forgive me! I promise films like The GuardThe Trip and even True Grit were vying for position on this list. And what of local cinema? The brilliant Burning Man, the delightful Griff the Invisible or Fred Schepisi’s impeccable The Eye of the Storm definitely deserve honourable mentions. As does Snowtown…for haunting my nightmares. Bring on 2012 (minus the apocalypse, please!)!



So there you have it. Have a very Happy New Years Eve everyone (whatever you do, don't waste it watching New Year's Eve!)! Here's to many many more film fun times in 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!


Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas!
Here's to eating, drinking and enjoying all the merriment the holiday season has to offer. And of course I'm looking forward to oodles of film fun in 2012.

But why wait til then? I'm just back from another delightful family celebration and kicking back with this guy on Blu Ray - can you pick it? (If you know me you probably won't even need to look!).




Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Giveaway: The Iron Lady


It's Christmas come early! Well, errr, actually late depending on how Australia Post goes - but regardless, thanks to Icon Films I'm delighted to have some tickets to give away for The Iron Lady.

The marvellous Meryl Streep has already garnered a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, so you'd better catch this film to keep ahead of all the Oscar buzz.

Synopsis: 

London, 2008. In her well-appointed apartment, the elderly former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher prepares breakfast for her husband Denis, as she has every morning of their married life. It’s not until Margaret’s personal aide bustles in that we see that Margaret sits at the table alone. Denis is alive only in her imagination.


Once described in life as “always present, never there”, Denis is still present for Margaret. Is he a loving memory made flesh? A manifestation of her grief? Or perhaps her conscience, taking her to task?


Locked in the infuriating inaction of retirement and battling ill health, Margaret is ambushed by memories.  Fragments of her private life and of her premiership crowd in to her mind and she relives them in vivid detail.  As she struggles to maintain her equilibrium, Denis teases and needles her.  The struggle, the triumphs, the betrayals – in the end, what did she achieve? When all is said and done, was it worth it?


THE IRON LADY is the story of a woman who came from nowhere to smash through barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male dominated world. It is a film about power and the price that is paid for power, a story that is both unique and universal.  THE IRON LADY stars Academy Award-winners Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as her husband, Denis.



To win one of FIVE double passes to see THE IRON LADY, simply email me (subject: THE IRON LADY) with your name and address. Winners will be notified by reply. 

Australian release date: 26 December 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Interview: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Chris Miller (Puss in Boots)


Back over on TheVine, I had great fun interviewing Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and director Chris Miller about their animated feline prowess in Puss in Boots.

Unfortunately I was suffering from a horrid fever and tonsillitis, but it turns out my state of semi-delirium was quite appropriate for talking to Antonio and Salma, who had done over 700 interviews! Hat's off to them for being so delightfully animated (sorry), after such an epic press tour.



Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 8 December 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Movie Club: Melancholia




Yes, the metaphors are quite literally the size of planets in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. But by God does he pull them off.

With a knockout performance from Kirsten Dunst, a luminous Charlotte Gainsbourg and a stellar supporting cast in Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt, Melancholia is the most artfully devastating dyad of depression. But it’s also not without a sense of humour…

Indeed Giles Hardie, Ben McEachen and I have a world of fun discussing this beautiful film, and maybe, just maybe, we wade in on the metaphors!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Limelight Magazine: Melancholia



The gravitational force of depression is devastatingly and magnificently explored in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia

By dividing his focus between the fates of two sisters, Von Trier explores the inner melancholic demons that plague Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding day, and the manifold fear Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) holds towards the strange, eponymous planet that appears to be bearing down on Earth. 

Von Trier also manages to outdo the jaw-dropping beauty of Antichrist’s operatic opening, with Melancholia’s first frames unfolding in an utterly stunning, ultra-slow motion sequence.

Dunst and Gainsbough are simply glorious on screen. Their effortless performances are masterfully supported by an enviable ensemble, which includes luminaries Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt, a wantonly underused Alexander Skarsgård, and an uncharacteristically effete Kiefer Sutherland. Audiences will no doubt pick their favourite of the film’s two parts, with Justine’s wedding feeling like a distilled, perfected version of Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, while Claire’s angst builds towards the film’s transcendent climax. 

There is nothing subtle about the metaphors at work here, especially as von Trier steeps his film in Wagner’s epic tones. But depression as apocalypse is both a horrifying and beautiful sight to see, making Melancholia a piece of cinema that will leave you reeling.

4 1/2 Stars
Published in the December Issue of Limelight Magazine
Australian release date: 15 December 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Interview: Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol)


I was already starstruck enough at the prospect of interviewing Simon Pegg, but to sit down with Brad Bird as well?! Of course I film geeked out! In fact, you'll get to see a bit on camera, as the brilliant, Academy Award winning director wraps up our conversation with a fun dose of film history.

Big high fives to my marvellous brother James for helping me learn the ropes of video editing.

Enjoy!



Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 15 December 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Interview: Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol)


Yes I got to interview Simon Pegg!! So much excitement! (Though alas I couldn't really justify gabbing about Spaced...another time perhaps.)

And even more exciting is the fact that you can actually see the interview (below or over on TheVine) because I've finally had a crack at video editing. I still have much to learn and finesse (be kind!), but I'm hoping this will be the beginning of a whole new chapter.



Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 15 December 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Movie Club: New Year's Eve


Yes yes I know The Movie Club is supposed to be about recommending the best in film, and New Year's Eve definitely doesn't fit the bill! But it did afford Melissa, Scott and I the opportunity to chuckle over why the celebs flock to these ensemble films, as well as chat about our favourite cinematic ensembles.

And to that end I cannot BELIEVE I forgot to mention Robert Altman! Cinema gods smite me!

If you can forgive the glaring omission, then watch the episode below and feel free to share your fave film troupes over on our Facebook page.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Movie Club: Attack the Block


Over on The Movie Club Melissa Wilson, Scott Ellis and I had lots of fun reminiscing about Spielberg's E.T, and busting out some dodgy South London accents to review Joe Cornish's fantastic debut Attack the Block.

Enjoy, innit!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Burning Man




No, this film isn't about a bunch of rich hippies getting stoned in the Nevada desert. Burning Man is a beautifully wrought and fiercely subjective kaleidoscope of anger and grief, directed by Jonathan Teplitzky (Better than Sex, 2000). Matthew Goode gives a searing performance as Tom, a simmering Bondi chef who explodes in fits of road rage, drinks like a fish and tries to shag around. Tom’s young son Oscar (an impressive debut by Jack Heanly) is relegated to the sidelines, and Karen (Essie Davis) gets on his case about it.

Why has Tom gone off the rails? Eventually Teplitzky lets us in, temporally jumping backwards and forwards through a series of punchy vignettes. We meet the vivacious Sarah (Bojana Novakovic) and slowly Tom’s self-immolation makes sense. Goode and Novakovic are utterly devastating together on screen, although grief comes more convincingly to Goode than anger, which never entirely resounds. But as a portrayal of a phoenix rising from the ashes, Burning Man is a must see.

4 stars



Published in The Big Issue #394
Watch The Movie Club episode on Burning Man

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Limelight Magazine: Restless



After his devastatingly arresting death trilogy (GerryElephantLast Days), Gus Van Sant takes a gentler look at the flipside of life with Restless. From the pen of first-time screenwriter Jason Lew, this poignant love story stars Australian Mia Wasikowska and newcomer Henry Hopper (son of Dennis) as a pair of outsiders drawn together by their shared fascination with death.

After meeting gate-crashing a funeral, Enoch and Annabel quickly become inseparable, whiling their days away deep in wilfully alternative conversations, while gadding about in an array of over-styled vintage outfits. But each has a sobering secret, and as their love burgeons amid the spectre of death, their fresh-faced youth becomes a potent reminder to embrace the time we have left.

Sweet but slight, Restless frustratingly feels like minor Van Sant. Though Wasikowska shines and Hopper makes a strong debut, Danny Elfman’s rather twee score does them no favours, nor does the screenplay’s more obvious notes on death and dying. Enoch’s imaginary friend – a WWII Kamikaze pilot (Ryo Kase) – is curiously saddled with the emotional heavy lifting, which ultimately prevents this tale from tugging much at the heartstrings.

2 1/2 Stars
Published in Limelight Magazine
Australian release date: 1 December 2011

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Movie Club: X




Oops, I'm tardy posting this Movie Club episode of the fun chat Scott Ellis and I had with X director Jon Hewitt.

Click below to hear about the free production value that comes with shooting in Kings Cross! And no, I don't know what was going on with my fringe.



X is in cinemas now. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Ides of March



With echoes of Machiavelli, a Shakespearean title, and a slather of Sun Tzu, George Clooney’s The Ides of March is a punchy portrait of contemporary politics. But let’s get this out of the way up front: this is no Julius Caesar. In fact, Clooney might just have namedropped a little more than he can muster, for while brilliantly acted and thoroughly watchable, this political drama doesn’t quite manage to be as smart and savvy as it wants to be.

Based on the semi-autobiographical play Farragut North by erstwhile idealistic political staffer Beau Willimon, Ides (from a Washington Metro station to a Shakespearean reference, take the name change for what you will) traverses the professional coming-of-age of suave press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). Meyers is a true believer: passionately working for campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) on the charismatic Governor Morris’ (Clooney) Presidential campaign, with the duo neck deep in the Ohio Democratic primary. Running the rival Democratic camp is the bristling, Karl Rove-esque Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who spies Meyers’ fresh-faced talents and makes a play to woo him over to his side. And while Meyers wrestles with this offer, he is entirely more enthusiastic about accepting a date with the beautiful and forthright young intern Molly (a scene-stealing Evan Rachel Wood).

Rounding out this dream cast is a messy-haired Marissa Tomei, playing a sassy New York Times reporter, Max Minghella as Meyers’ ambitious underling and a characteristically cool Jeffrey Wright as Senator Thompson, the man who has both sides vying for his campaign winning endorsement. Include Alexandre Desplat’s brilliantly brooding score and this is total Oscar-bait casting. Fortunately for Clooney, everyone brings their A-game.

Although, just as the film pivots around the comparison between Meyers’ youthful idealism and Zara and Duffy’s flabby, haggard cynicism, one can’t help but notice Gosling getting schooled by both Giamatti and Seymour Hoffman. It’s quite the sight to see, as these two character actor lions deliver pitch-perfect performances, with just the right amount of scenery chewing. But Gosling is gracious, and nevertheless manages to carry the film with impressive ease. Nuanced and intelligent, his performance is by no means all about the designer stubble and clenched jaw, though those two feature rather prominently.

Obvious too are some of Clooney’s allusions. The Governor’s ‘Believe’ campaign poster is straight out of the Obama/Shepard Fairey playbook, while Molly and Meyers’ potent nightcap is shot with a clear nod to Stephen Soderbergh’s sultry hotel bar scene in Out of Sight. More than anything though, The Ides of March has set tongues wagging about whether Clooney will one day throw his hat in the presidential ring (he says not).

It’s impossible to explain just how the film falters in the third act without venturing into spoiler territory. More useful then, is the notion of viewing The Ides of March as a film noir: broad, dramatic brushstrokes, a femme fatale, and a plummeting fall from grace. In fact, this really isn’t too long a bow to draw, as Clooney and his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael seem to do a stylistic bait and switch from the first two acts’ verisimilitude to the heavy shadows and noirish hallway that leads Meyers to his political showdown. But even these conventions can’t mask the frustratingly blatant psychological change Meyers undergoes in the final act. Clooney needed to dial him back a notch or three, for Gosling gets dangerously close to Drive territory in his transformation.

As a portrait of power, hubris and the systematic corruption of integrity, The Ides of March makes for compelling viewing. It’s well-crafted, wonderfully scored and solidly acted across the board. But, Mr. Clooney, beware calling your film The Ides of March if you don’t have an impeccable script, worthy of Shakespeare.

- Three stars
Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 24 November 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

ABC702: We Need to Talk About Kevin and Burning Man


While we're talking about Burning Man today, I'll finally get around to posting my review from last week's appearance on ABC 702 Mornings. The delightful Sarah MacDonald was hosting, so we had a really good chat/group therapy session reviewing the harrowing We Need to Talk about Kevin as well as the splendid Burning Man.

Enjoy!
 ABC702 Review9 by alicetynan

I can also recommend listening to Francine Stock's brilliant interview with Tilda Swinton over on The Film Programme. Swinton gives some great insights on the process of adapting the book and internalising the story. As a bonus Francine also has an intriguing chat with Sleeping Beauty director Julia Leigh.



Australian release dates: 17 November 2011

The Movie Club: Burning Man



Why so furious?!

Fuelled by anger, grief and a truckload of road rage, Burning Man is a must see film.

Australian writer-director Jonathan Teplitzky (Better than Sex) combines a brilliantly fractured narrative with a stunning shallow focus aesthetic to lock audiences in with his anti-hero, Tom (played be the marvellous Matthew Goode).

Ok, Tom is a bit of a bastard, but Teplitzky eventually lets us know why. So join me, Ben McEachen and Giles Hardie as we step around any spoilers to rave about this searing drama.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Ok, so it's not an Australian holiday, but thanks to my wonderful American sister-in-law, I get to appreciate the wonders of family endorsed overeating and general turkey revelry. Mostly though, I appreciate the opportunity to stop and be thankful - which is something I definitely do more often these days - and today I have so much to be grateful for.

Big virtual high fives and hugs for all!

Here are a couple of gorgeous Charley Harper illustrations to celebrate the day. I know my other marvellous sister-in-law, Kate, will just love them.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Moneyball



Australians already have enough trouble with baseball, so a baseball drama that spends hardly any time on the field seems like a tough sell. But Moneyball was penned by dialogue guru Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and stars Brad Pitt, so while it’s definitely more talky than sporty, it’s also quite brilliant.

Pitt brings gravitas and nuanced charm to the true story Billy Beane, the general manager of Major League Baseball team, the Oakland A's. Frustrated at loosing players to richer teams, Beane and his number-crunching Yale economics grad recruit (Jonah Hill) take a statistical approach to selecting players during the 2002 season, ultimately making an unexpected play for the World Series.

Director Bennett Miller (Capote) maximises his talents here, while funnyman Jonah Hill is a remarkable straight man. Philip Seymour Hoffman is comparatively underused as Bean’s gruffly incredulous coach, Art Howe, yet both he and the game of baseball itself punctuate all the statistical chat well.

Smart, witty and impeccably produced, Moneyball is the thinking person's sports film.

4 stars



Published in The Big Issue #393
Australian release date: 10 November 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Back on The Film Programme


Last week I had the great pleasure of chatting with Francine Stock again on BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme. You may recall that I appeared on the show earlier this year, which was indeed a highlight of my trip to London. This time I was in a ABC radio 'Tardis*' (yes, I giggled) here in Sydney, and over the airwaves Francine and I delved into the brutal and brilliant Australian film Snowtown (which is in UK cinemas now).

Many thanks to Francine and her tireless producer Zahid Warley for inviting me back on the show. You can stream or download the podcast HERE. And if you don't already, follow Francine on Twitter for all the updates on The Film Programme.

*No really, that's what they're called:




Thursday, November 17, 2011

6 Days of Christmas


Tis the season to be jolly. But if you need a little kick into gear, then this web series ought to do it. 6 Days of Christmas comes from some of the brilliant, bizarre minds that brought us Beached Az, with Jarod Green and Anthony MacFarlane teaming up with the Nick and Ben Mattick, aka. the guys who gave us The Hawk.

Here's part one:


Follow the rest on Facebook or YouTube.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On 2


Squee!! My favourite shell is back! If you haven't seen the original, do yourself a favour and have a giggle HERE.

Then get ready for a delightful new guessing game with Marcel:


Thanks again to Kate for the heads up! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Limelight Magazine: Bill Cunningham New York



Why does Vogue Editor Anna Wintour declare, “We all get dressed for Bill.”? Well, it’s high time we find out, and very possibly fall in love with the exuberant photographer Bill Cunningham. He has been cycling around Manhattan for over thirty years, capturing both street style and high society fashion for The New York Times (just don’t go mistaking him for a fashion photographer or paparazzo!). But despite being a veritable cycling fashion encyclopaedia, Bill certainly doesn’t look the part. The spritely gent - who celebrates his 80th birthday during the documentary – prefers to gad about in a blue smock, the uniform of Parisian street sweepers.

Richard Press’ pitch-perfect documentary is a gentle, heart-warming and infectiously celebratory affair. Winning audience awards at both Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, Bill is already a proven crowd-pleaser, with his jocular laugh and marvellous joie de vivre sure to leave you beaming. There is a sublimely old-fashioned and honourable quality about Bill, which extends to his reticence in discussing his private life and his single-minded desire to play a straight game; a seemingly herculean task in the Big Apple. Instead Bill lives by a wonderfully simple code: “He who seeks beauty will find it.”



5 Stars
Australian release date: 3 November 2011
Published in Limelight Magazine November 2011
Read my interview with Richard Press and Philip Gefter.
Watch The Movie Club episode.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Interview: Richard Press & Philip Gefter (Bill Cunningham New York)

Published on TheVine
Bill Cunningham New York is the easily one of the most delightful documentaries you’ll have the pleasure of seeing. In 2010 it took home the audience awards at both Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, and now, finally, it’s getting an Australian release.

Celebrating the vivacious life of bicycle-hopping New York Times photographer (and priceless fashion historian) Bill Cunningham, this feature debut by Richard Press is a collection of fantastic characters, dazzling fashion and his utterly humble and charming subject. Visiting New York earlier in the year, TheVine ventured to the West Village to sit down with Richard and his producer and partner Philip Gefter and discussed all things Bill.

---

TheVine: I hate to start with the obvious question, but I have to know, how’s Bill?

Richard Press: Bill’s great. He hasn’t seen the movie. He knows what’s in it. He’s given us his blessing, but he just says, “Kids, you’ve made a movie. Have fun. I’m too busy.” 
Philip Gefter: Shall I tell the funny story about when the movie opened? 

Richard Press: [Nodding] It’s a funny story.

Philip Gefter: When the movie opened a month ago The [New York] Times reviewed it. So I went to Bill and I said, “Bill, have you seen the review in The Times?” He said, “Well, I was sitting here reading the paper and I turned the page, and there’s a picture of a photographer kneeling over shooting women’s shoes. And I thought to myself, ‘Who is that foot fetishist?’” This is Bill talking, so we both had a chuckle.

Richard Press: But then he said, “Then I realised it was me!”

Philip Gefter: So then I said, “Did you read the review?” And he said, “Oh I don’t know what all the fuss is about. But as long as it’s good for you and Richard[pronouncing it ‘Reechard’].” Now the thing is Bill calls us ‘Phillipe’ and ‘Reechard’ and we don’t know to this day whether he does that with affection or in mockery! 

A little from column A, a little from column B, right?

Press: Exactly! Exactly! 

Do you think Bill will eventually see the film?

Press: With Bill you just don’t know. It’s possible. I can’t imagine him going into a movie theatre and seeing it. 

His nights are too busy!

Press: That’s the thing. He’s always working. It’s not like he’s just not going to see this movie. He doesn’t go to the movies. He doesn’t go to the theatre.

Maybe he’ll see it on the plane?

Press: When he goes to Paris for the collections! Oh that would be great.
Gefter: He’s never even listened to his On the Street narration that he does every week for The Times. He does it, but he doesn’t listen to it. I think he doesn’t want to see himself reflected back to himself. At all. I think that that would take him away from that purity he has.
Press: It’s just not on his radar screen. I think it so doesn’t concern him.

It’s interesting though, because later in life you feel like people tend to get a bit more reflective and think about their legacy. Was there ever that idea of reflection with Bill? Is that why he let you make the documentary?


Press: I think it was almost the opposite in terms of reflection. I think he actually doesn’t think he has a legacy; he doesn’t think what he does is important. And I think that’s truly sincere. He’s really just completely humble and modest, and he does not see the importance of the work he’s done.

Really?!

Press: He gets total pleasure out of it. And he knows he’s sharing something [but] he thinks it’s small. He thinks there are people who are interested, but it’s not something that would require a movie about a person, or that his archives would go to an institution.

But he keeps archives, so does that suggest...

Press: It’s for himself.

Gefter: It’s for his own reference. If he needs a picture, he knows where to find it.

Press: And he also jokes that he keeps the photos so he has them for the New York Times for the obituary. He jokes that he has it in case they need it for references.

Gefter: I write about photography, and I keep bringing up his archive to him and he just doesn’t want to talk about it.

But he’s a living archive!


Press: Exactly. He’s an historian.

Gefter: He’s chronicled the intersection between fashion and society for the last fifty years. And it is cultural anthropology. It’s an amazing resource. But he doesn’t see it that way.

His reticence does make you wonder: are we just the Oprah generation where we want to share and talk about everything? Bill is from an older generation that lives a quiet, reserved, dignified life. Do you think you kept hitting up against that? Wanting him to divulge more?
 

Press: For me, I wasn’t really interested in doing a biopic. I feel like the facts of his life are only interesting in that they give the contours of his life, but what I was really trying to capture was his spirit. And the way he’s chosen to live his life, and his joy for living and his obsession with his work. I think that says more about who he is than the biographical details. And I don’t think he defines himself by those either, they’re just not important. It’s not who he is. I think it’s actually in some way how he’s wired. He said, “When I was a kid I used to go to church and look at women’s hats.” That was when he was five. So what was interesting to me were not the facts of his life but the sort of more intangible things: his spirit.

This documentary was ten years in the making. It took you eight years to convince him to come on board. Now that’s a labour of love on your end as well. What finally won him over? 


Press: The short version is that we wore him down! At one point I thought maybe he needed to be around a camera because he’s so shy. So I said to him, “Bill, I might be on the street with a camera, and if I’m there and I see you, I might film you.” So I go out on the street with a video camera - this is like eight years ago - and I film him for an hour, and he ignores me, and I’m very discrete. And then as he’s getting back on his bicycle, he looks at the camera and he waves me over and he says, “Come back to The New York Times if you want to film me doing my work there.” So I thought, “Oh my god, he’s going to let me make the movie.” I go back to The New York Times and I film him for the afternoon and at the end of the day he says, “Richard, that’s all there is. This is your movie, there’s nothing more to know. You have your movie.” I was like, “Oh no!” So I had all of this footage that I put away in a drawer. Then about three years ago, he was being given a living legend award in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria. He didn’t want to accept the award, he didn’t want to make a public appearance, so I said, “Well I have this footage, I’ll cut together a little three minute short film to show.” Which I did, and he saw it. He was actually there covering the event - not getting the award! [Laughs] 

Just like in Paris, right?
 

Press: Exactly, exactly. So he saw the film and he really liked it. And The New York Times was there and they really liked it. So we started talking to them about them supporting us in making the movie, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the publisher, called up Bill and said, “Bill, Richard and Philip want to make this movie and we want to support them, so it’s time.” So it was all those factors: that Bill kind of saw that I got him, his relationship with Philip, because they’ve been very close for fifteen years...

Gefter: What did you call me?

Press: ‘The Bill Whisperer’. I call Philip ‘The Bill Whisperer’ because Philip was very instrumental in sort of navigating Bill into getting his cooperation. Because even when Bill agreed to do the movie, he didn’t really agree to do it. It was constantly a negotiation getting him [to] allow us to film him. I lived at The New York Times for a year with a camera, but I wasn’t shooting all the time because...

Gefter: You had to navigate his mood.

Press: When he was ready. It wasn’t even his mood, it was more...

Gefter: His work.

Press: His work. He just wants to do his work. He’s allergic to any attention. It was so anathema to him. We had to find the right time when it didn’t intrude on what he was doing.

And show him that respect.


Press: Exactly. It was more about that. But over time, he eventually introduced us to his neighbours at Carnegie Hall. He started to open up. And so it really became this revealing of the man mirroring the filming of the movie.

You feel that. That he’s letting you in and you’re letting the audience in. And to that end, the adage of ethnography is that the very act of observing something changes it. Do you think you affected Bill in that way?


Gefter: I don’t think so at all. I think that that was part of the navigation as well. Allowing Bill the organic flow of what he does and just to be there as a kind of observer and witness, which is what we do. I mean every once in a while by the very nature of sitting down and having a conversation with him, that might have changed what he does as a matter of course, but it all felt very pure to what he was, even though the camera was there.

Press: The thing is, the movie was made really unconventionally. There was no camera crew, there was no sound person, no boom operator. I had these tiny little cameras, so it looked like we were hanging out. Or I was just invisible. There was no spectacle; it was very discrete. And I was really trying to be invisible the way he is with his subjects.

Gefter: There was a sum total of three of us at any time. Or less. There was Richard, myself and Tony [Cenicola] who is the other cameraman. And Bill knew all of us, so it wasn’t as if we were these strangers. We understood who he is, so it just allowed for more organic flow than I think the camera somehow altering what was going on around him.



But you do sit him down, and there’s that scene (which we won’t spoil for audiences) where you’re very careful to say “You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to.” How much trust and guts did it take on your part to actually pose those questions?


Press: We knew we were going to ask those questions. Actually Philip is the one who asks those two questions.

Gefter: That session was over the course of an hour and those two questions were towards the end of that session. And we really didn’t know how Bill was going to respond. I mean we were asking questions that seemed relevant to a subject who you’re making a film about. He’s a human being and those seemed like two essential questions that you’d ask any subject.

But you’re very wary about asking them.


Gefter: You very rarely ask Bill personal questions, so to that extent...

Press: It was a way of showing respect. 

Gefter: Yes, approaching him gingerly. That said, we didn’t know that there might be an emotional moment.

Did you ask further?


Press: It really seemed like that moment was complete. And that anything you needed to know was in that moment. People ask us to explain the moment, but I don’t think you need to explain it.

The way you set up the film is that people love Bill, but does anyone actually know anything about him? And this documentary gets to that, but at the end of it as an audience member you kind of go, "Well I love Bill, but I don’t know anything about him."
Press: More questions are actually posed by the end of the film. I mean you know more about him, but there are still more questions. And I think he doesn’t know the answers, in the same way that nobody knows the answers about themselves. We’re all very complex, and that’s why I think those two questions are very interesting because I think it makes Bill a beautifully full and complex human being. It’s not a romantacised portrait; he is ultimately a human being with contradictions, with things that might not ultimately be resolved - as any person is.

And again I wonder if it goes back to that generational divide: he just doesn’t talk about his personal life.


Press, Gefter: Right, right.

Whereas you interview someone from my generation and it’s all “Yeah, my Mum did this and now I’m so messed up.”
[Both laugh] 

But for Bill it was kind of his refrain: “Oh no, we don’t talk about things like that.”


Gefter: That said, Bill is a very honest and very direct person. And you can ask him anything and he’ll respect you more if you’re honest and you’re straightforward with him, than if you tiptoe around him.

Press: He actually even joked [about the personal questions]. The next day [after the emotional moment] he came to The Times and he was joking with some colleges. He said, “Those kids, they asked me some personal questions yesterday, and they wanted to ask me that the first day! But they didn’t.”

He knows! He sees right through you.


Gefter: He’s a very smart cookie. He dropped out of Harvard.

What a life! Where did you get that archive footage of Bill?


Press: That was actually an in house movie The New York Times made in the '80s. But it was a little short, in house movie they made about female fashion editors. Carrie Donovan and some other people, and the only reason Bill agreed to do the interview for that was because it wasn’t about himself.

Gefter: He was talking about fashion, not about himself.

Press: But the footage was amazing. It actually changed the movie. When I found it and put it in, it really gave it kind of an emotional historical weight. Because thirty years ago he looks the same, he’s doing the same thing, he’s wearing the same thing. It gives it that context. It shows a sort of absolute dedication, that he’s dedicated his life to this one thing.

Gefter: It also gives you an insight into what he was like when he was younger. He’s got this kind of Jimmy Stewart quality. And you can see how beguiling he was to people. Even though now he’s a little older, he’s still charm itself. But you see what he used to look like and how he used to navigate the streets.

Press: And he was 60 then! He wasn’t even young!

Gefter: He seemed very young. He was a young 60.

Even when you shoot his 80th birthday, he’s jumping up and down.


Gefter: Isn’t that cute?

Press: Isn’t that amazing?

Gefter: He’s retained that youthful spirit. He’s retained something that’s very pure. And you see that when he jumps up and down after blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.

Press: And at 82 he feels like that about his work! It’s incredible! That there he is, doing what he does, smiling while he works.

Gefter: Bill is still doing what he always does. He’s still on the street. He’s still doing his two columns.

I’ve been looking out for him!


Press: 57th Street and 5th [Avenue].

80 or not, Bill really lives a monkish existence.


Press: He’s taken a vow of fashion. I mean he really has. It’s like a religious calling, and he has set up his life in that way.

Well perhaps this is drawing too long a bow, but Bill came up just as Street Style was burgeoning - you make that point in the film - so it was like he was needed and he was found. Not like a prophet of course, but he was the perfect person in the perfect situation and he’s lived that life.


Gefter: He invented [street style]. He created it. The other thing about his columns that people don’t really understand - and I think it comes through in the movie - is that he conceives all of it. He’s not assigned to do anything. He’s the one who is determining what is kind of bubbling up on the streets, and goes, “Oh that. That’s happening now.” And he puts together the column and writes about it.

Press: And using the multiples, I mean that’s his creation. All the multiple images to create a trend or to show something that’s happening in fashion at that moment. But the thing that is interesting also is that the body of work is not just fashion trends, he’s really documenting the city. He’s documented every Easter parade since the '60s, every gay pride parade since the '60s, every Halloween, every Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Centre. So if you want to know what New York was like in the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st, you look at his archives. As Phil said, it’s cultural anthropology. It’s through the lens of how people are dressing, but it’s beyond fashion. And I don’t think any other city has had a person who has actually documented their lives in such a complete extent. 



Is there any talk of having an exhibition as well as the film?


Press: He refuses everything.

Gefter: About 10 years ago Catherine Horyn the fashion editor at The New York Times and I got a book contract. And it had taken me two years to convince Bill that a book should be done. So I brought him the contract and he said, “Oh no child, I don’t have time for that.” So he’s not interested and the problem is that he’s just working every day and if he were to do a book, which would also yield an exhibition, it would require his time and energy, because he’s the only one who knows how his archive is constructed. He knows where pictures are, based on when they were shot. I could not go into his archive and find things. He would have to be there. So it would require three or four months of his time just going through the archive...

Press: Which he doesn’t want to do. That’s actually another reason why he thinks the work couldn’t go to another institution, because he doesn’t think anyone would know what to make of it.

Because he’s the living dewey decimal system.


Press: Because the individual images are not so important as cumulatively, what they mean and how they add up and how they group together. He knows how to do that and where they are. He needs a curator. He needs someone to go in there and do that.

It’s bigger than him a way, isn’t it?


Gefter: I think secretly he does know that.

Will he cave at some point?


Press: [Laughs]

Gefter: Bill is not a fool in any way, shape or form. And I say that for a reason because it seems like he’s really cavalier about all this, but he’s really not. For example, he’s had many bicycle accidents - this will make sense in a second - so finally in 1997, after his umpteenth bicycle accident, the Times learned that Bill didn’t have health insurance. And so we convinced him to go on staff...

Press: He was freelance up until then.

Gefter: So he agreed to do that. That said, he negotiated a way to be on staff at The New York Times that is singular: he is the only staff photographer who owns his own work. Now that’s major in that institution. 30 staff photographers, 29 of them are on staff but The Times owns their photographs and then there's Bill who owns his own photographs. So he’s not a fool in that regard. It’s the same thing with his archive: even though he doesn’t want to talk about it and he dismisses it, “Oh you know, that’s nothing.” I’m sure he’s thought about it, and I’m sure he’s probably made some plan.

So perhaps there’s some master list somewhere?


Press: Maybe or maybe not, I just don’t know.

Gefter: I really don’t think he would just let that go. He does understand that the world considers him, if nothing else, a fashion historian. He is the most reluctant fashion deity on the planet. That said, I think even he has some respect for his knowledge. He wouldn’t talk about that; he wouldn’t say that.

Bill makes quite a big deal that he won’t even take as much as a glass of water, so he has complete integrity. Do you think the reticence to be on staff came from his experience at Women’s Wear Daily [where his copy was changed]?


Press: Well I think he doesn’t want to be tied down.

Gefter: He doesn’t want to be owned.

Press: Even though he’s on staff, he pays for his trip to Paris. He pays for his own film, because he feels like then he can do whatever he wants. He can do whatever he wants anyway, but it’s that fierce independence [he has].

Speaking of Paris, I noticed in one of the shots you see Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist.


Press: Did you? 

Gefter: Oh I didn’t even notice!

It’s at the collections, just before my favourite line: “Don’t you understand this is the most important man on the planet.”


Press: Scott's in that scene? Oh how great. We didn’t even realise that. We didn’t even really know what Scott Schuman looked like, until very recently when the film was done.

Well seeing him has that great reflexivity of Bill being the vanguard for the next generation. Did you ever think of interviewing him or putting Bill in that contemporary fashion blogging context?
 

Press: No, it was really about Bill. There was so much in the movie that didn’t make it in even about Bill that I wanted to get in. So to start dealing with the new generation, it was off point for my purposes.

Gefter: Also people talk about them being the next generation. What they do is really somewhat different from what Bill does. It’s true that they’re street fashion photographers, but they don’t connect the dots the way that Bill does. They’re identifying what they think is stylish, which is fine, and I applaud that. But Bill is doing something else. Bill’s grid or his mosaic, or whatever you want to call it, his weekly columns, exist in the continuity of all the images, not in one single image. And what he’s doing is again showing style and trends as it bubbles up from the streets, so I just make that distinction.

Scott will do series and trends on occasion, but I see what you mean.


Gefter: Oh he will? I didn’t realise that.

So if you didn’t go to the new generation, how did you choose whom to interview of Bill’s contemporaries?

Press: I think it was really important to make Bill traverse his every social milieu in the city. Whether it’s a society woman or a downtown hipster, he’s just as comfortable with either and he documents either and he’s just interested in this broad range of who New Yorkers are. And so it was really a question of finding people who represented the spectrum, the strata of every social milieu in New York. It was also really important for them to be fantastic as characters, because Bill really celebrates self-invention and self-creation. 

Gefter: They also represent Bill over the course of time. So [Founder of Details Magazine] Annie Flanders was a period of his life. They all had a role in his life.

Press: Everybody in the movie knows Bill. They also represent New York, and they represent some part of his life, whether they were muses to him, whether they’ve inspired him, or whether they were part of his life. And I wanted them to be characters in the movie as well, not just talking heads, because they’re so fantastic. 

In that way the film is as much a love letter to New York as it is to Bill.

Gefter: Oh absolutely!

Press: That’s why it’s Bill Cunningham New York, no comma, no punctuation. It’s this one thing.

Gefter: The story about Carnegie Hall, while that was really going on in Bill’s life while we were filming, and that’s why it became an important component. It also represents something that’s happening in New York. New York is less and less hospitable to artists, and if you look at Carnegie Hall as a microcosm - it is a microcosm of American culture over the course of the last century or more. Leonard Bernstein, Marlon Brando, The Actor’s Studio, Agnes de Mille and on and on. Each of these people did really contribute to American culture broadly. And that’s been dying out. Those little microcosms are dying out in New York City, so what I’d like to say - and I’m speaking for me and not Richard, although I think Richard would probably agree – is that [the movie is] a kind of an elegy to that idea.

Press: [Nodding] It’s a lost bohemianism. That’s really what it is.

You do really get the sense that while the film is a celebration, it’s also the end of an era, and that you’ve got these stalwarts hanging in there!
 
Press: [Laughs] Yeah, [Bill’s neighbour Eddita Sherman is] 98 years old.

Gefter: A dying breed.

Press: And when you say ‘a celebration,’ that really was the one emotional quality or word I’d use to describe what I was trying to do with the movie. A celebration of Bill, a celebration of creativity, a celebration of self-expression, a celebration of being in the pure sense of the word. That was really the emotional quality. And it’s really gratifying that people feel really joyful and inspired when they leave the theatre because that was the intent.

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 3 November 2011
Watch The Movie Club review


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