‘Bill’ of Fare

In Bill Cunningham’s Evening Hours column on Sunday, March 28th, entitled ‘Lions of March’, there was coverage of (among other things) a dinner and reception hosted by The Asia Society; the opening of a film, ‘Dancing Across Borders’, by society doyenne Ann Bass; an on stage dinner dance and recital for “The Nose”, held at The Metropolitan Opera; and the March 24th opening night of The Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA’s “New Directors/New Films 2010” (www.newdirectors.com). This was accompanied by pictures of Robin Hessman who would present “My Perestroika”, Shirin Meshat, who would present “Women Without Men”, and Babak Jalali, who would present “Frontier Blues”. There was also a shot of Richard Press and Philip Gefter, director and producer respectively of “Bill Cunningham New York”. The name of the documentary (which also kicked off the festival) was notably absent.

Is there anybody who would be in the least bit surprised to see that the title of the documentary which is all about Bill Cunningham, was nowhere to be found and was obviously omitted from the copy? Any one who knows the famously publicity shy photographer also knows how positively uncharacteristic it would be for him to do anything as self serving or self congratulatory, as to turn the spotlight on himself or to direct any attention to him (as Richard Press put it, he is “allergic to attention”). And true to form, Bill did not go inside the theatre to watch the docu-pic. He said he had never intended to do so. Instead, he left quickly (on his bicycle) after the guests filed into the theatre, to make his rounds for the night and cover the numerous events for The New York Times.

included in Bill’s pictorial layout about the opening night of the film festival were images of those friends and fans who showed up to pay homage to the famed shutterbug: Veronica Webb, Carmen Dell’ Orefice, Editta Sherman – Bill’s famed 98 year old longtime neighbor at Carnegie Hall (they’ve both subsequently had to leave and find apartments elsewhere), Kenny Kenny, and Patrick McDonald, a self proclaimed ‘dandy’ and longtime subject of Bill who also appeared in the film.

By the way, according to Fashion Week Daily, the two “unlikely” stars to emerge from the 88 minute documentary (that’s one minute for every one of Bill’s 81 years and 7 thrown in for good measure) were Patrick McDonald and Shail Upadhaya a onetime Nepalese diplomat who is always dressed to the nines in eye popping getups of his own designs. FYI: I don’t mean to take anything away from Shail or downplay his way with attention grabbing wardrobe items, but my definition of a ‘worthy’ style icon is not someone who goes about his day with the idea of being photographed in mind. Shail told me he literally stands around the tents from morning until Bill takes his picture. As they say in France, “Chacun on son gout”.

In the meanwhile, there are undoubtedly many (myself included) who did not get to the premier and would love to see the documentary. I contacted Richard Press last week to see if it might eventually have a wider release, and he said that’s what he is hoping for (no news yet). The director also told me that he has more than enough interesting material about Bill to easily fill up another film (“Bill Cunningham New York, The Sequel”?) At the rate he’s going, I have no doubt the octogenarian will be around, doing his fabulous thing, for at least another 20 years or more. Who knows, by then he may have mellowed to the point of actually wanted to see it.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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  2. Note to Marilyn Kirshner:

    Yes Bill Cunningham does not seek the limelight and is a real photographer, not a vacuously self promoting clown like Patrick McMullan.

    It is ironic that the Times published yet another flattering dumb article about McMullan last Thursday in the Styles page , almost verbatim the same piece that appeared about 10 years ago. If Bill was a double dipping social climbing pseudo snapper who produces page after page of grip and grim shots he would never be allowed to have his own party page.

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