The September Issue
Those glasses would’ve made sleeping in class so much easier.


Golden Mug

NOMINEE:
Documentary

Theatrical Release Date: 09/11/2009
Director: R.J. Cutler
Featuring: Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, Sienna Miller, André Leon Talley

I’m fairly certain this thirty-something male reviewer who still dresses like it’s the 90′s (jeans and a flannel shirt the standard fare) isn’t quite in the demographic for “The September Issue”, a documentary about putting together the titular edition of Vogue in 2007. My only awareness of its editor Anna Wintour, who is a legend in the fashion world, is that Meryl Streep played a version of her in “The Devil Wears Prada“. Still, I figured it would be interesting to glimpse into that world and to compare the fictional counterpart to its real-life cousin … Have I ever mentioned how much I love being right?

This documentary is not only fascinating from an outsider’s perspective but it also is very well put together and managed to keep the tone fun and energetic, avoiding most of the momentum killing pitfalls the genre tends to fall into.

The foremost reason the film retains its ability to engross the audience are its compelling characters. As Wintour is described in the film by a Vogue employee, if the magazine were a church, she’d be the Pope. There is a wide-spread perception that she is an ice queen, willing to dispose of those she deems useless with little more thought than ordering her morning coffee. However, the film manages to present another side to her, as bits of her personal life are put on display (mostly through one of her daughters).

As a cynic, I came up with heaps of other questions about her personal life and a number of glances and pauses while on-camera lead me to believe the perception is closer to the truth than what’s up on the screen. However, I don’t feel that’s necessarily a bad thing or that it’s something one should make a value judgment on. Wintour runs arguably the most influential magazine in the fashion industry and you don’t stay on top for so many years by taking it easy and always being the nicest person in the room. Some of the most compelling moments of the film see how much of a toll the job must take on her personally and emotionally and it is in these moments that simply calling her an ice queen is far too naïve.

While the project may have started out as a profile of Wintour as she steers the Vogue ship, as is the case with many other good documentaries, the director (R.J. Cutler) saw another story within and decided to run with it as well. Grace Coddington is the magazine’s creative director and she started at Vogue right at the same time as Wintour. A former model, Coddington has a remarkable eye for setting up photo shoots and extracting the very best from that set up.

As the film goes on, Cutler shifts the focus almost entirely onto her, as the dynamic between Coddington and Wintour becomes more and more tense. Coddington has delivered some very beautiful shots to include in the issue, Wintour sometimes disagrees and each go about using what they’ve learned about each other over the years to get not only what’s best for them but what’s also best for the magazine.

The throng of people surrounding the two is a mixture of indentured servants, sycophants and top-named designers. Each add a colorful element to the film and provide audiences with more ammunition in their holster. Fashionistas will probably relish in spotting clothes and designers the layman knows nothing about while the rest of the audience revels in seeing everyone do their dance around Wintour, as they all seek her approval like a newly acquired puppy.

Cutler also did a smart thing and added a trendy, indie soundtrack to lay underneath the majority of the film. Perhaps the primary reason documentaries and older films tend to lull me into lower states of consciousness is that there is no background music or score to keep my brain humming along. As a child of the 80s, I’m used to doing almost everything with the stereo or TV on in the background and I need that ambient noise to remain somewhat functional. I’m not saying every song was a winner or that I necessarily want to go out and purchase it but I was happy that it was there so I could concentrate on the film without fear or drifting off to never never land.

One last aspect to mention is that you don’t need to be knowledgeable of the fashion industry to enjoy the film. Everything I know I learned watching Oscars pre-shows and from other films or TV shows. I’ve only read fashion magazines while waiting at some sort of medical professional’s office. Still, I was thoroughly entertained and engaged with “The September Issue” and give it a 4 out of 5. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the notion of beauty or in discovering a bit more about the fashion world. It makes for wonderful companion viewing with the aforementioned “The Devil Wears Prada” and gave me a larger appreciation for what goes into the newsstand magazines I skim the covers of while waiting in line to buy a gallon of milk.