Everyone had always said that john would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself. Not until the morning of his fourteenth birthday did he really begin to think about it, and by then it was already too late. — James Baldwin*
Join Ayana Mathis for an online discussion of Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain. See link below to register.
I’m not talented. Wee Gee was a real photographer… I’m lightweight stuff… I think of myself as a fashion historian… [Street photographer] Harold Chapman was the biggest influence on me… He taught me to be invisible. “Stop waving that camera around like a fan,” was his expression…
I’m strictly interested in the way women dress in their own lives. — Bill Cunningham*
Cunningham—New York City’s greatest postwar documentarian of street style—was incredibly self-deprecating, claiming that his New York Times colleagues dismissed his regular columns “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” as “filling around the edges of the ads.”
Arriving in New York in 1949 at age 19, Cunningham went to work as a milliner at Bonwit Teller and the high-end boutique Chez Ninon, where Jacqueline Kennedy and Babe Paley shopped for line-for-line copies of couture originals. While Ninon’s proprietors valued his contribution, they did their best to push him away from fashion and into “straight” journalism—above all keeping him away from Diana Vreeland, fearing the eccentric editor would irrevocably seduce/corrupt the impressionable young man.
(Of course, Cunningham and Vreeland eventually met, and the photographer went on to document nearly every show the doyenne of fashion staged at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.)
In the new documentary THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM—directed by Mark Bozek, and constructed around a long on-camera interview he shot with the photographer in 1994—Cunningham tells his tale: making hats under the name “William J,” sharing a loft at the Carnegie Hall studios with Bobby Short, Marlon Brando, and Norman Mailer, decamping to Paris for the shows during his U.S. Army stint in Rochefort-sur-Mer.
In the early 1960s, Cunningham wrote a column for John Fairchild’s Womens Wear Daily, and in 1967 was given a small Olympus-Pen by David Montgomery, who worked with Antonio Lopez. A Cunningham street photo of Greta Garbo was published in the Times in 1978, and his career at the paper began.
The year of the film’s interview is key. 1994 was at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and several times during the second half of the film, Cunningham breaks down in anguish at the loss of loved ones, including Lopez and his partner Juan Ramos.
Montgomery Clift—along with Marlon Brando and James Dean—was the embodiment of the leading man-as-sensitive antihero in the American cinema of the 1950s. A decade after his death in 1966, Clift was the subject of two biographies. The first—Monty (1977), by Robert LaGuardia—was enjoyed by reader-voyeurs as a salacious romp through the intoxicated life of a beautiful acteur maudit. The second—Montgomery Clift: A Biography (1978), by Patricia Bosworth—was, alternately, deemed serious, “definitive,” and in every way superior to LaGuardia’s.
While watching the fascinating new documentary MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT, a question comes to mind: is LaGuardia’s book, in its way, the more honest of the two?
Bosworth—who has also written about Diane Arbus—established a rapport with and interviewed key members of Clift’s family. Her book was reviewed as a work of weighty scholarship, yet she took liberties with her material, and allegedly edited conversations to suit the slant of her book, which is a picture of an a deeply troubled actor tortured by his homosexuality.
MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT—receiving its world premiere tonight at the LA Film Festival—tells a different story, and calls out Bosworth’s treatment line by line. According to filmmakers Robert Clift (Monty’s nephew) and Hillary Demmon, Clift—within his circle—was blithe about his bisexuality, and remained enthusiastic about his craft until the end of his short life.
(The film largely sidesteps the actor’s alcohol and prescription drug intake following a catastrophic 1956 car crash in Beverly Hills which greatly altered his looks and his career. Clift was driving home from a party at his soul mate Elizabeth Taylor’s house, and the accident and its aftermath became fodder for The Clash when composing their 1979 London Calling song “The Right Profile.”)