Bill Cunningham's two weekly photo spreads in the New York Times, "On the Street" and "Evening Hours," have chronicled, respectively, the shifting mores of New York fashion and the town's glitterati. In the documentary Bill Cunningham New York, Cunningham is portrayed as a gentle eccentric, an ever-smiling eightysomething who tools around town on a bicycle, snapping shots of the natives in a kind of populist fashion parade. There seems to be an almost comic disconnect between his own thriftiness - he duct-tapes the tears in a plastic poncho and raves about his $3 breakfast sandwich - and the philanthropy and fashion communities he photographs.
You yearn for a hard-fact understanding of Cunningham's biography. His early start as a milliner is briefly touched on, as is his family life, but documentarian Richard Press delays any real probing until a late interview that is candid though incomplete. While certainly an affectionate and admiring portrait, Bill Cunningham New York provides no revelations and leaves you puzzling over whether the picture Cunningham has allowed to develop of him is completely transparent or utterly impenetrable.