Sunday, September 6, 2009

281) The September Issue (2009)

281) The September Issue (2009) Dir: R.J. Cutler Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: September 6, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

Had director/producer R.J. Cutler taken the advice of Anna Wintour, chief editor of Vogue Magazine USA and the subject of The September Issue, he would have been able to capitalize on the unprecedented access he had in documenting the production of Vogue's September 2007 issue, the biggest one in the magazine's history. His focus in the film periodically wavers from that central goal, flying in the face of advice, Wintour, renowned for having an "Ice Queen" persona and a colossal impact on the fashion world, freely dispenses to Cutler early on in the film: "Less is more." Cutler ignores that trite but true maxim and tries too hard to  contextualize Wintour's world. By showcasing personalities like Thakoon, an up-and-coming fashion designer or Andre Leon Talley, one of Wintour's top advisors, Cutler diverts attention from the crux of the film, namely an insider's look at how the various members of Wintour's inner circle put together the month's issue under Wintour's glacial scrutiny.

Cutler's reticence to buckle down and hone in on the production of the issue that, according to the film, 1 in 13 American women will buy, leads him to gravitate towards Grace Coddington, Wintour's most trusted taste-maker, though Wintour rarely tells Coddington that. When it comes to sacrificing extraneous personal profiles for the sake of charting the issue's progress, Coddington is the exception that proves the rule. She provides a necessary foil for Wintour and shows why the tight-lipped fashionista's unapproachable persona is both essential to her business and unrepentantly frustrating. Coddington provides The September Issue's narrative arc with a central ballast as she's almost everywhere Wintour needs to be before she even knows she needs to be there. Every other subplot in the film is secondary to hers as they all provide comparison/contrast to Coddington's, which is reason enough to rhetorically ask, as Wintour repeatedly does, "Do we need this?"

What makes The September Issue such an engrossing, if not padded, behind the scenes character study is the unencumbered freedom that Cutler enjoys. He's able to unreservedly flit about Wintour, an indomitable figure that one of her cronies early in the film calls "The Pope" of fashion. While Cutler perhaps defers a bit too much to Wintour's personality and doesn't probe too deeply into her mindset, he does effectively humanize her because of his ability to follow her through her never-ending routine of executive decisions and spot-check approvals. He effectively conveys the frantic pace of Wintour's world. If Cutler had channeled his inner Anna and trimmed the film down just a leetle bit more--I know, I know, 90 minutes doesn't seem so bad but it is when it feels like 120--he'd have a profile every bit as enviable as the one Wintour and her team strove to create. After all, details matter.

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