Published Oct 22, 2009In the opening scene of The September Issue, a documentary about the notorious Anna Wintour and the creation of the 860-page September 2007 issue of Vogue, the frosty editor states that anyone who slights fashion is simply jealous of an exclusive world where they cannot gain entrance.
Later in the film, Anna's daughter, Bee Shaffer, calls the fashion industry "amusing" and "bizarre," stating that she has no interest in being a part of it. Furthermore, Ms. Wintour contests that her successful siblings, who work in politics and aid in third-world issues, think her job is a joke.
Therein lays the impetus behind this rather effective and engaging documentary, as "Nuclear Wintour," a woman parodied in The Devil Wears Prada, relentlessly seeks external validation through social superiority while passionlessly critiquing the clothing and photographs presented by her underlings.
We get the impression that those around her are more annoyed by the arbitrary scrutiny than terrified or impressed. This is clarified when Anna's defensive tendency to tell people to lose weight or wear different clothing reveals only an insecure woman holding on to the minor superficialities that sustain her.
Of course, since the figurehead provides few interviews and constantly seems aware of the cameras' presence, the real insight and emotional centre of the film come from senior stylist and director Grace Coddington, a woman clearly driven by the art behind fashion. Having worked with the figurehead for 20 years, the talented Grace doesn't hold back on her opinions, appreciating Wintour's eye for trends and celebrity nonsense while remaining fervent about design and composition.
R.J. Cutler's feat here is that of making a humanizing documentary about a shallow environment and a cold woman. Rather than throwing the audience into an inaccessible, hyper-realized world, we get a sense of tangibility by seeing the banality of it all.
Even those of us less inclined to give a crap about designers and couture can appreciate this grounded sensibility, taking something of meaning from beneath the polished surface. (E1)