DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: SUNDANCE REPORT #5: The September Issue

Monday, 19 January 2009

SUNDANCE REPORT #5: The September Issue

The September Issue (2009) dir. R.J. Cutler


Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue Magazine, has been a formidable and intimidating figure in fashion for 25 years. Industry followers know her reputation as the “ice queen” of fashion, but it wasn’t until her persona appeared in the novel “The Devil Wears Prada”, and then via Meryl Streep’s infamous thinly disguised and Oscar-nominated version of her in “The Devil Wears Prada” was she put into mainstream pop culture consciousness.

For the first time we get to see up close and personal the real Anna Wintour in R. J. Cutler’s high profile high budget audience friendly documentary, “The September Issue”. The September issue of Vogue is always the biggest and most important issue of the year (600+ pages), and for 8 months Wintour gives Cutler an all-access pass to the behind-the-scenes stress and drama it takes to craft a magazine this size.

Fashion fanatic will devour every morsel of the pomp and circumstance and hijinks of the unveiled industry. Unfortunately with the prevalence of fashion industry TV shows there’s not much so unveil that we haven’t seen dramatized in “The Devil Wears Prada” or “America’s Next Top Model”, “Project Runway” or even “The Hills”.

Those expecting the outrageous behaviour we saw from “The Devil Wears Prada” may be disappointeded. Wintour comes across as an intelligent but demanding ambitious professional. Her achievements in the industry are unprecedented. Almost anything or anyone that breaks in some way or form has to go through the gates of Ms. Wintour’s scrutiny. The film in energetic and entertaining ways attempts to show the effect of Wintour’s top-down method of authority in business and art.

There’s something fascinating about watching top professionals in their field go to work and influence the world. As Ms. Wintour walks down the racks choosing the outfits to be featured in the magazine we are witness to how quickly the future of fashion and the careers of the designers are beholden to the decisions of one woman.

There’s much to tell about Anna Wintour’s life as well. We get a brief peak into her personal life, her kids, her upbringing and the surprising neuroses she harbours about her career. We get to see a number of familiar fashion characters interact professionally with her, Jean-Paul Gauthier, Oscar de la Renta, Karl Lagerfeld and the flamboyant Andre Leon Talley who is so fashion conscious we see him at one point playing tennis dressed in Louis Vouton couture.

But the key relationship that emerges is with Grace Coddington, Wintour’s creative director. As we learn the history of Anna’s career director Cutler also tracks the parallel path of Ms. Boddington. Wintour’s decisions about which photos and outfits to feature appear to subvert Coddington’s authority as creative director, a mini cold war of fashion which becomes the most solid throughline in the film

If you’re expecting cat fights and outrageous diva-like behaviour you won’t get it. Decisions are made with subtle glances and gestures. Sometimes decisions are quick, but there’s nothing arbitrary or whimsical about Ms. Wintour’s choices. She has a passion for fashion and her magazine. There are plenty of conflicts, but when they arise it becomes a complex game of personality management.

A solid runway worthy soundtrack is the polish on this entertaining documentary. Enjoy.

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