Wow.This is a powerful and still entertaining documentary that takes a soft lens to look at the making of the September 2007 issue of Vogue magazine.For those who might not know it, and count me as one, the annual September Vogue is the fashion bible, the tastemaker for the season, and an effort in both excess and refinement for the industry.
Going behind the scenes of the magazine, and noting pretty good access, director R.J. Cutler dissects what goes on in the decision making offices at Vogue, what Anna Wintour does to get the magazine out, how much money is blown on shoots and reshoots, how much effort is taken to get stars for the covers, how egos are managed, or avoided, to get shots and clothes in an issue, and how in the end, because it has to, it all comes together for the art and folly that is fashion.
Harder pieces have been done on Wintour, and it might have been better to have seen some more of that here.Perhaps as an appreciation for the access, which was formidable, Cutler offered an olive branch on behalf of visual journalists to Wintour, and allowed her to be portrayed as sensible, smart, active, and certain.
Parsing this you could also see her as controlling, cunning, preening, and didactic, but she just as well may be both.
Cutler and cinematographer Bob Richman did a fantastic job integrating themselves into this story, and, in a delicious twist, standing, or jumping, for a shoot that was part of a section of the September, 2007 issue of Vogue.
Creative Director Grace Coddington was the real star here, dishing at times, revealing a range of emotions, and showcasing her remarkable career, one that went from runway to magazine office, creating truly remarkable shoots under great stress and time constraints. Coddington is Wintour’s alter ego, and you wonder whether the magazine would be what it is today without her.Throughout the film Coddington consistently praises Wintour for her vision, but it’s the tension, and the disagreements, and the frustration with the regal decision making process employed by Wintour, that grates on Coddington, while similarly motivating her to prove Wintour wrong.
And of course in a film about high fashion there’s not just one start.Wintour tours the globe to meet with A-list designers, name brands all to their own.Vera Wang, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Galtier, among others unknown to me, pop up early and often.
But it’s the characters at the magazine who advance this film.From the sheepish and apparently mute young girls who follow Wintour and other senior staff and implement their whims, to the disciplined young photo assistant who proudly helps with the magazine boards and mock ups, and recognizes great photography, to the yes man Wintour has as an editor, and of course to André Leon Talley, the larger than life editor-at-large who in his few moments absolutely fills the screen and steals the show.If it’s not already, the scene of André playing tennis, then explaining his tennis wear, and gear, should be a you-tube sensation.
Documentaries, by design, and intent, are serious studies.Cutler doesn’t skip past the serious here, but he leaves it to us to determine whether the making of an 840 page advertising behemoth of a magazine is art or madness.Behind the laughs, and there are many, both well-placed, and unintentioned, there is a serious study presented on screen.And through the process, and the reduction of time, the work of recognized photographers, and phenomenal costumers and make-up artists, we end up with an issue that just barely went to press complete.
While not a full story, there’s enough in this film to complement the well played (thank you, Ms. Streep) one-dimensional image of Wintour that was presented in ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’Not since Robert Altman’s Pret-a-Porter has the fashion industry been so well documented, the excess presented so plainly, and the richness of the visuals made so clear.