Saturday, June 19, 2010

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

It took me a little while to be comfortable with outright rejecting and despising this well-made doc. The basic problem I had is that it is well-made, to the point of confusing me regarding my own intentions for its dismissal. The vapid characters and their void conversations about fashion and clothing that only a rich little princess (or an actress, or a model) would wear are contrasted against a perfectly shot and edited film that plums the depths, so to speak, of Vogue Magazine's editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, and her preparation for their celebrated giant-sized issue, hitting the streets every September. It's their first day of school, with the largest printed edition paving the way for the year to come.

The film feels like it wants to get behind the scenes and take a harder, closer look at Wintour, and find her soul. And a good doc with a good subject might have been able to do so. As it is, she has no soul (again -- so to speak). She is encased in plastic and elastic instead of human skin, pushing everyone and everything for her own utilitarian purposes, which are a fashion that only appeals to other millionaires.

If Wintour were a part of a car, some would say she's the engine, pushing all other parts, the force behind the forward-driving machine. I see her more as the windshield. She's what you see through to get the point across, but honestly you can live without it.

The problem with my immediate criticism is that I was concerned I was only looking at the subject matter and not the accomplishment of the film itself. There have been many documentaries and stories over the years in which I've hated all the main characters and realized that was the filmmaker's point. Such a film will get a highly favorable response from me. The intentions in such cases are clearly made; they've accomplished their goal. With The September Issue, it's a little harder to figure out the filmmaker's intentions. If it's to provide insight into the industry and illustrate the gaping hole at its center, plodded around and avoided by an entire cast of characters involved, then it has succeeded, too, I guess. But I don't that was the intent behind the production and I do not think that is the point. Director Cutler is trying to show something deeper about Wintour, some kind of honor or value -- and sadly, there's simply nothing there.*

So the filmmaker is responsible for this mess, too. He has picked a subject that has no substance, and cares not to admit it, holding himself over everyone else to blame. It would be one thing if Cutler were actually making the point that these people had no substance and that fashion is a sorry form of existence. But that is clearly not the point he's trying to make, and he miserably fails if he's trying to show that these people are to be respected for anything deeper than a cardboard cutout. So this is an all-around failure, and I feel OK admitting that, regardless of its good production values.

*She does appear to love her daughter. I will give her that much. I wish that relationship had been a little more explored. As it is, it is clear that her daughter doesn't want to follow in Wintour's footsteps -- she is in law school.... Which may actually lead her to law -- another exercise in American style over substance. But I'll save that rant for another day.

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