No passion for fashion is required to enjoy this absorbing portrait of legendary New York Times "On the Street" photographer Bill Cunningham, but a sense of history and tragedy might help. Director Richard Press doggedly shadows the chipper octogenarian, foregrounding the modest lifestyle and quietly radical work ethic that have made him as much a hero as an anomaly. Several big-name fans offer enthusiastic tributes, including a positively bubbly Anna Wintour, but the film is no more a document of high style than Cunningham is a spendthrift. Instead, Press has crafted a near-Buddhist reflection on what it takes to fully engage Gotham, as well as an astute snapshot of its evermore avaricious soul: Cunningham's cheerful asceticism is so out of step with what we currently expect (and don't expect) from our city that tagging along with him is a bracing reminder of what's been lost to the bottom line. Perhaps inevitably, Press also slyly raises the question of whether Cunningham's self-deprivation and single-minded focus on surface aesthetics ("If it isn't something a woman can wear, I'm not interested") have taken an unacknowledged toll. Decide for yourself whether the climactic Oprah moment is earned or contrived; it's heartbreaking either way.
By Mark Holcomb, from LA Weekly
Rarely has anyone embodied contradictions as happily and harmoniously as octogenarian New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham. Obsessed with how people dress, he unfailingly dons the same shapeless jacket; a chronicler of ritzy charity events, he tools around Manhattan on a bike. Cunningham's two weekly spreads in the Sunday Style section form complementary opposites: "On the Street" features everyday Gothamites decked out in eclectic fashion statements, while "Evening Hours" captures the rich clad in haute couture. Whatever this Times-produced, TV-ready tribute lacks in tension is amply compensated by the pleasure of watching an enthusiast ply the craft he loves.
By Ronnie Scheib, from Variety
He seeks out and captures humanity amid the maelstrom of life, looking for what Harold Koda, chief curator at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, describes in the film as "ordinary people going about their lives, dressed in fascinating ways." In these fleeting and otherwise unseen or unremarked moments, Mr. Cunningham finds something creative, life-affirming and free, and preserves it forever.
By Carina Chocano, from New York Times