Anna Wintour, the subject of R.J. Cutler’s new documentary “The September Issue,” has been called Ice Queen by the media enough times to have it stick, and as this film tries to show the moniker isn’t far from the truth. This documentary is structured like a narrative film, and like all narrative films there is a goal, a hero and a villain. Guess which one Wintour ends up being.
As the title states “The September Issue” details what goes into making American Vogue’s 2007 September Issue. For the uninitiated the titular month is the biggest issue the magazine puts out each year, and at least according to Vogue it is the most influential periodical in the fashion world.
One problem with the documentary is that this all has to be taken at face value. There is little to prove that Vogue holds so much sway over tastes and trends, it is thought of as given fact. I’m not putting forth an argument for or against, but the film doesn’t either. Though if we are to accept the fact that Vogue is the predominant publication in fashion, and Anna Wintour is the undisputed dictator of the magazine, then de facto she rules fashion. The picture suffers from the cursory discussion of this fact, which would have made for a more satisfying investigation than just a straight forward dictation of what goes into the making of one issue of a magazine.
“The September Issue” does touch on the fact that an entire industry rests on the opinions of one well kept British woman. In a meeting with the CEO of Neiman Marcus Wintour’s power is on display as the man begs for her help with distribution, something over which a magazine editor usually would hold no influence, but like a queen placating a member of court she says she will see what she can do. She literally gifts a career to a young designer and renders the head designer of Yves Saint Laurent to a shivering mess. It may have been the initial intent of the film makers to highlight Wintour’s vast role, but as the film goes on it takes on a more simple tone.
Essentially the film boils down to a fight of creativity versus commerce with Wintour on the side of the former and the magazine’s Creative Director Grace Coddington as the latter. While the film starts and ends with Wintour Coddington emerges as the focus. In her attempts to create beautiful and expressive photo spreads for the magazine the fire haired Coddington is shot down time and time again by Wintour. Wintour’s villainy comes into focus in an off-handed comment about the documentary’s Cinematographer, Robert Richman’s, waistline. The sheer nastiness and disregard for any feeling evidences her callousness. On the other side Coddington’s insistence on keeping the romance in fashion endears her to the audience. Whether it exists in real life or not the film portrays the tension between the two deftly setting up an archetypal struggle of good and evil.
Director R.J. Cutler coming from the world of reality television might explain the film’s contained nature. Not addressing any larger issues than the “Issue” at hand, focusing on the stubborn battle between the two women makes the film play more like an HBO or A&E Special (A&E did produce) than a theatrical feature.
There are a few funny bits in the film, mostly revolving around cover girl of the issue Sienna Miller’s teeth, and a truly hilarious scene of Vogue Editor-At-Large Andre Leon Talley attempting to play tennis. Despite these moments the audience for this picture is fairly limited, and for a lot of the country it may be relegated to the “Who Cares” category. Most of the turf in the film has been covered by Barbara Walters and Morley Safer in interviews of the last few years, but true aficionados will definitely find the construction of this perennial fashion tome compelling.
El Luchador Rating: 3 out of 5 (3 out of 5)
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)