The Indy‘s Neil Morris reviewed RJ Cutler’s The September Issue here, and recently, Karlie Justus, the Indy‘s fashion contributor, saw the film and offered her thoughts:
Fashion, as both an industry and obsession, has emerged as a popular focus of the reality television genre, with shows such as Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model, The Hills and The Rachel Zoe Project. They take us middle-Americans down the runway, behind the camera and into the sewing room, without us ever having to leave the couch.
Accordingly, The September Issue‘s look into the nine-month process that went into creating Vogue‘s largest issue to date doesn’t necessarily cover any new thematic territory. Television shows such as Marie Claire‘s Running in Heels, Elle‘s Stylista and even Seventeen‘s Miss Seventeen MTV competition first presented fashion lovers with a look into the elite women’s club that makes up Condé Nast and Hearst’s top fashion publications.
However, the draw of this particular presentation lies not in its behind-the-scenes look into the day-to-day operations of a fashion magazine, as thrillingly and beautifully shot as it is; instead, The September Issue‘s ultimate coup is gaining the participation of Anna Wintour, longtime editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine.
Regarded as perhaps the most important tastemaker in the $300 billion American fashion industry, Wintour is feared, revered and, up until now, largely silent behind her bluntly cut, pin-straight bob and impossibly chic ensemble. Many a blabbering sentence uttered in her presence begins with a noncommittal “I was thinking, kind of …” disclaimer, a testament to the importance of her approval to everyone-from her staff to designers as high up the couture food chain as Prada.
Director R.J. Cutler, who also filmed the Bill Clinton campaign documentary The War Room, not only opens the door to Wintour’s pristine white office, but he also shines a light on the editor’s family history, maternal instincts and thoughts on the oft-accused frivolity of the fashion industry as a whole.
Cutler’s team follows Vogue’s editorial staff on a European fashion shoot and into an exclusive annual breakfast the publication holds for influential retailers such as Nieman Marcus, and even ventures into the homes of Wintour and her creative director Grace Coddington. Beyond those (admittedly fabulous) spaces, however, the film taps into an undercurrent of the struggle of art vs. commerce, the vilification of powerful females like Wintour and Coddington and the often volatile working dynamic they share.
Despite its undeniably exhilarating look into the luxury, beauty and excess Vogue openly upholds, certain parts in the The September Issue feel manipulative and stiff, which are a result of Wintour’s obvious discomfort and occasional disdain during the one-on-one Q&As that pepper the film and the awkwardly tight, lingering shots that frame these interviews. The most telling moments come when Cutler allows Wintour’s silence to do most of the storytelling, as her steely gaze reveals much more than any of her words.
As stylish and glossy as the magazine itself, The September Issue premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where it received an award for excellence in documentary cinematography, and for good reason: Any film that combines cameos by Vera Wang, supermodels Chanel lman and Daria Werbowy, Karl Lagerfeld, Sienna Miller, Stefano Pilati, Oscar de la Renta and Isabel Toledo under the watchful eye of arguably the world’s powerful magazine editors is guaranteed to be nothing less than glamorously fabulous.