Review by Camden Ferrell
The Times of Bill Cunningham is a documentary about the iconic fashion photographer and his career. This movie is the feature-length directorial debut of Mark Bozek. While the film’s subject is an undoubtedly lively and interesting character, the movie feels like a superficial exploration of his career and work.
In this documentary, we get to learn about the life of Cunningham, and we get a lot of personal insight from the photographer (who passed away in 2016) thanks to a 1994 interview with Bozek. It’s obvious that his career is one that warrants thorough attention, but the documentary never fully capitalizes on the subject’s entertaining potential.
It appears that a lot of the film’s flaws came from its post-production. Its main interview and archival material are really solid, but it wasn’t executed in editing very well. It comes off like an uninspired film that is far too safe and dry for its own good. The organization of the movie was too repetitive, and it didn’t tell Cunningham’s story in an engaging way.
The narration in this film is also problematic. Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex in the City) provides the narration in the film, but it’s more lifeless than not. Cunningham was an eccentric and exuberant personality, and Parker’s narration is the polar opposite. It doesn’t possess the flair and character that she is known for, and it is fairly monotonous throughout.
Despite the film’s flaws, the actual interview with Cunningham is fantastic. He has an amazing screen presence, and the way he recounts his life is very interesting. However, the movie relies far too much on this interview, and it uses the talking head more often than it should. Regardless, Cunningham’s personality on camera is easily the strongest aspect of this movie.
It’s also pretty interesting for those who are not familiar with Cunningham’s work. His illustrious career had humble beginnings, and it’s admittedly inspiring to see how he achieved the level of prestige that he did. The movie highlights all of the fascinating celebrities and important people with whom he has worked, but it spends a lot if its runtime on his career working with clothes rather than his time as a fashion photographer.
Regardless, the movie also serves as a history lesson in fashion and the trends throughout the years. It should be really engaging to see the progression of fashion and styles over the course of many decades, but a lot of that charm is once again mitigated by the lackluster execution.
The Times of Bill Cunningham is not the thorough examination of the subject’s career that one would hope for, but it does a sufficient job in telling his story in his own words. Unfortunately, its execution makes this a documentary that is a little too lifeless for this vibrant fashion historian.
The Times of Bill Cunningham is now playing in select theaters.