The September Issue
Released August 20, 2009
Hitting cinemas in tandem to the 2009 “September Issue” of Vogue, this documentary takes us behind the scenes of the world’s most famous fashion magazine – simultaneously giving us a look at the fashion industry itself.
Interestingly, the film begins on a defensive note, with American Vogue’s Editor in Chief, Anna Wintour, talking about the prejudice that exists against her people. It’s an odd complaint from the Ice Queen of fashion, who is often caricatured as a martinet of style (most recently by Meryl Streep, in The Devil Wears Prada).
“Just because you like a Caroline Herrera dress or J-Brand jeans instead of something basic from Kmart, doesn’t make you a bad person.” It’s an unexpected note of insecurity – that returns later in the film.
First, however, the filmmakers want to build her up as the most intimidating woman in fashion. The first ten minutes closely corresponds to the set up for The Devil Wears Prada: we hear how essential she is to Vogue; she is invoked as the high priestess of a religion that is fashion (Vogue of course is the Bible); we see the phalanxes of shoes and clothes racks at the office, ready to be touched by greatness or summarily executed.
Then there’s the woman herself: her perfectly coiffed bob, her rosebud lips, her giant Prada sunnies, her taste for fox. “Is there a way to wear fur this winter?” Someone asks her. “There’s always a correct way to wear fur,” she purrs disdainfully. “I like it on my back, personally.”
The happiest you see Wintour look in the first ten or fifteen minutes is not when she is in her office; not when she is with her colleagues; not when she is at a fashion show; not when she is hob-nobbing with designers Stefano Pilati (YSL) or Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel) – it’s when she is hosting a breakfast for Neiman Marcus creatives and buyers. These are her bread and butter: the retailers; the people who advertise in the magazine; the people who Vogue needs more than they need Vogue.
Beside her at the fashion shows and equally as inscrutable is Creative Director Grace Coddington, a monstrous wreck of a woman with wild red hair, and not a lick of make-up – not unlike Vivienne Westwood. Coddington’s advice after years at Vogue? “Many people come, many people go – you have to be tough, to withstand the heart break.” You wouldn’t know it to look, but when she was barely out of her teens, she began a full-time career as a model for British Vogue.
It is Coddington who emerges as the hero of the film, and the powerhouse behind Vogue’s playfully imaginative and often decadent fashion shoots. Coddington still dresses the girls herself – one of the last to do so, and breaking an unwritten law that the stylist should never “touch” the girl directly. Instead, we see her wrestling the clothes onto Raquel Zimmerman and Coco Rocha for the “Texture” shoot of the issue.
By far the most interesting parts of The September Issue are where Coddington is talking; and the key drama hangs around the complicated relationship between her and Wintour – who keeps cutting her shoots and vetting her images, while at the same time admitting that Grace is the best in the business. If Wintour is the brains behind Vogue, then Coddington is the beating, romantic heart.
Besides this, many people who know Wintour by reputation will be fascinated at this rare glimpse of her on the record. To their credit, the filmmakers manage to capture some uncomfortably vulnerable moments, talking about her relationship with her father (or lack of), and her siblings, who are all successful in more humanitarian and “serious” fields. This clearly stings.
There’s also an interesting historical context backgrounding all the bustle of the September Issue preparations, through Wintour and Coddington’s recollections of coming-of-age in the swinging London 60s, an explosion of fashion, and back when celebrities were yet to grace the covers of Vogue. How things have changed.
Opens September 3, 2009
As compelling as it is confronting, The Soloist is a musical journey into the heart of a very misunderstood darkness: schizophrenia. In his first US production, British director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) has taken on the incredibly ambitious true story of newspaper columnist Steven Lopez (Robert Downey Jnr.) and his transcendent friendship with the mentally ill music prodigy, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx).
Eschewing sentimentality for the stark, honest and at times intimidating realities of mental illness, homelessness and misguided acts of kindness, Wright and screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) certainly pull no punches bringing this story to the silver screen. Nor have Downey Jnr. or Foxx, both of whom provide virtuoso performances, embodying their characters with an awe-inspiring realism. Downey Jnr. seems particularly in his element, his spitfire narration and muttered dialogue surfacing in a rather ironic juxtaposition to Nathaniel’s unintelligible rants.
Another powerful dichotomy is drawn between the seamier side of the City of Angels and the expansive freedom of Ayers’ music. Academy Award nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey has reunited with Wright to capture the precariousness of Ayers’ physical and mental existence. Indeed in recreating the harrowing halls of Skid Row, it is as if Atonement’s dystopic Dunkirk sequence was but a historic prelude to this devastating contemporary reality.
And yet with their treatment of music, the pair indulges in stylistic flights of fancy. One quite literally with pigeons soaring over LA, and another a blisteringly bright kaleidoscopic montage used to convey Ayers’ experience of a Beethoven symphony. The result – visually and thematically – borders on phenomenological.
The Soloist blurs the lines between friendship and idolatry, persuasion and prejudice. The film may assault your senses and interrogate your beliefs, but it shall also offer up redemption, refreshingly unvarnished.