Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The September Issue ***


Director: R.J. Cutler

"There is something about fashion that can make people very nervous" says Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour.
Taken out of context that something she talks about could perfectly describe her. Known for her headstrong, "Ice Queen" approach she has been head of the magazine for two decades during which: she's provoked controversy by wearing fur, endorsed celebrity worshiping, created and destroyed trends, created and destroyed people and was played by Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada" (well, a version of herself at least).
Wintour had Cutler's crew follow her around for six months in 2007 while they prepared the September issue of the magazine.
"September is the January in fashion" says one of the editors before we learn that the staff are trying to make the biggest issue of the magazine in history.
They have Sienna Miller on the cover, spreads by Mario Testino and more ads than you can shake a stick at. All things which at one time or another have to go under Wintour's fierce eye.
There's two things that immediately come to mind watching this movie.
First is how much is Wintour using the film as a PR strategy to convince the world she's not Satan.
Her trademark bob (which we learn she's used since she was very young) and sunglasses, she uses to meet with top designers and figures, give her an armor of sorts that makes her not only impenetrable, but fascinating.
"She's not accessible to people she doesn't need to be accessible to..." says one of her employees defending the view most people have of her after the "Prada" book and movie.
One has to wonder how much is Anna paying homage to Meryl, because she does give a performance in the movie (even one of the film's first sequences evokes the movie).
She knows she can't lash out at her employees like we're expecting her to do and that she must wait until the cameras are turned off to go all Anjelica Huston in "The Witches".
The curious thing is that even if we see she doesn't act like that in front of the camera, it's easy to assume she's holding back and even if she's not and is actually opening up-in her own way-she only becomes more fascinating.
The film establishes dramatic conflict by showing the relationship between Wintour and Grace Coddington-a former model turned style editor- who's every bit as romantic and idealistic (Wintour calls her a genius) as her boss is goal driven and stoic.
When Coddington goes all the way for a flapper inspired photo shoot, Wintour takes a few minutes to single out what she thinks was a waste of time.
When Coddington insists that a man's protruding stomach shouldn't be retouched, Anna gasps at the sight of "fat" in Vogue.
Coddington usually does "all the things [Wintour] doesn't like" and knows it, with each of this micro dramas being put to great use by the movie which always remains brisk and fun.
But the second and perhaps most important question to ask about the movie is: will it result interesting to people who hate, fear, ignore or are indifferent towards fashion?
The answer might be not, but the movie like Wintour makes an ambiguous stand in its own defense by pointing out Vogue's longevity.
"The September Issue" like its real counterpart might just be fluff disguised as depth. It doesn't say much, but boy do you have a need to buy it.