Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: The September Issue

The September Issue
Dir. RJ Cutler
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 90mins

Watching the new documentary The September Issue is, at times, quite strange. It was made in 2007, which means its filming started before the similarly-themed The Devil Wears Prada was released and became a worldwide hit. Director RJ Cutler must have been kicking himself that he hadn't come up with this idea a couple of years earlier, which would have made its release come at the same time, making it able to feed off of that Hollywoodised version of the tale. It's also funny that the world of fashion is so deep into trends and seasons and yet this movie is coming out nearly two years after the fashions it features would have run their course and been thrown out by the "fashionistas" and fashionista wannabes that rush to purchase Vogue so they can feel in the know. Everybody watching The September Issue will be judging the clothes as much as they will the movie itself, and it adds an interesting dynamic in knowing that this is all from two years ago. Interesting too is that barely any of the clothes featured within are the sort of outfits that regular people could indeed purchase and wear on a coffee date. Such is the world of fashion.

As the poster states, "Fashion is a religion, this is the bible" and The September Issue goes a good way in showing just why. In its brisk - very brisk - 90 minute running time we follow the five month process that goes into creating the famed "September issue" of Vogue. Given unlimited access to the work (and occasional home) life of editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, it is this that gives the film an edge over a more broadly-based documentary on the fashion industry.

Wintour has been called many things, least offensively being "bitch" (yes, least offensive), but while she can, at times, come off as quite passive aggressive, a bitch she is not. Not to those who she cares for anyway. She's blunt, yes, but if you were in charge a media empire such as Vogue and you lived and breathed it every day of the year then I am sure you'd lose the ability to be subtle too. And the old expression is as true here as it's ever been; if Wintour was a man she would be commended for doing such a great job, but because she's a woman she is "cold" and "a bitch". It's unfortunate then that the film doesn't delve into Wintour's opinions on those ideas. It sticks strictly to the fashion and in that regards the film succeeds.

Watching this alternate universe work is quite fascinating. Watching not only Wintour, but also the likes of her fashion editor Grace Coddington, up-and-coming designer Thakoon, eccentric and flamboyant editor-at-large André Leon Talley and the many models, art directors, photographers and assistants that populate the offices at Vogue. Not enough time is given to them, unfortunately, but thankfully Cutler has recognised what a wonderful personality he has in Coddington, who eventually becomes the star of the film with her giant mass of hair and her defiant opinions on Wintour's methods. The film truly sparks when she is on screen.

Wintour herself, however, does prove to be an enjoyable person from time to time. It's quite endearing to see her cracking jokes when she has the reputation she does. She is confident and motivated and worked her arse off to get the best magazine she can onto the shelves. She is in charge of this empire and that means not talking to the models in a way that would please them then so be it. Having seen the mammoth task she undertakes - remember that whilst this "september issue" is being produced there are still other issues to be published - then I think comes off more than acceptable.

One person who doesn't come out smelling quite as nice is, unfortunately for her, Sienna Miller. The actress whose managers somehow got her onto the cover of the September issue that the film follows. Miller is ripped to shreds by this movie. Whether its everybody and their pets talking about how bad her hair is, to the photographer blaming her for a photoshoot in Room not working and then to everyone complaining her teeth are too big in one shot while her neck isn't right in another. Poor gal probably won't wanna sit down to watch The September Issue any time soon.

In the end though The September Issue is a fun time at the movies. It overflows with gorgeous feathers, frills and fashion with a great collection of characters on show. It's not all light and fluffy, but its never a drag. One just wishes that the director had used this unique and rare opportunity that he was given to truly delve into some of the more serious issues on hand such as sexism and the idea that fashion is nothing more than a waste of time by people who think football is the height of greatness. B-

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