Saturday, September 12, 2009

The September Issue Movie Review


Judging from the clothing on the other audience members at the Kabuki Sundance Cinema crowd with me this afternoon, most people who paid to see The September Issue were there because it highlighted the fashion industry. I, however, was there for the fun of seeing just how they put together the magazine. Magazines 'R' my business, and my interest.

The September Issue is the new documentary focusing on the creation of Vogue's mammoth September edition. We see the issue come together as editors plan photo shots, discuss which clothes to feature, meet with designers to see their collections, travel to Europe for photo shoots, and much more. Running the entire process is Anna Wintour, the much-feared and much-accomplished editor in chief, and heading up most of the photo shoots is Grace Coddington, the magazine's creative director. There are other characters -- other editors, magazine designers, clothing designers, photographers, ad sales reps, Ms. Wintour's daughter, and many others -- but it's when Coddington or Wintour are on the screen that the movie is at its best.

This film more than lived up to my expectations. Wintour shows herself to be an extraordinarily talented and clear-sighted leader. She knows what she wants, and she doesn't waste time dithering over what's right. When she makes a decision about a potential cover photo having too much teeth or a model in a billowing dress looking pregnant, she's quick with her decision -- and she's correct. That's her job. Such editors are very rare, and I'm sure she's worth every dollar of the reportedly multi-million dollar salary Condé Nast pays her.

Whether the audience likes her or not is likely to depend on the individual audience member's attitudes about quality, publishing, strong women, and whether they liked their boss. I've worked for bosses who were tough. Sometimes I could see the what and why of their behavior; other times, I could comfortably conclude they were just jerks. My feeling about Wintour (as is probably already more than obvious) is that she might not be the most touchy-feely boss, but she'll make you better and she's damn good at her job.

There's no villain in this movie. And there's no drama about whether or not they'll put together a successful issue of the magazine. We already know they will (it was the September 2007 edition, the fattest edition in Vogue's history) and we can clearly see that the magazine's staff is competent and professional. But for me the drama came from seeing exactly how they made decisions and exactly how the issue came together.

Though I was not like the large portion of my fellow audience members in that I was more interested in the magazine part of the story than the fashion part, I think there's a lot of similarity between the two topics. Readers of high-fashion magazines, or car magazines, get much of their pleasure from seeing things they'll never be able to buy or own, at least not completely. (They might not be able to afford the entire ensemble that the model is wearing, but they see in the photo layout how they can add a specific accessory to their clothing to get the desired effect.) For me, it was nice to watch how a magazine at the top of the market is put together. How they spend tens of thousands of dollars on photo shoots, have large staffs that can pull off anything they deem neccessary for an issue, how they can worry about doing the right thing and not just whatever they can afford.

The September Issue is worth picking up.
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