THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE Sundance 2009 Review

     January 18, 2009

Written by Cady Heron

Anna Wintour may very well be the most powerful woman in America. If you’re drawing a blank, here’s a question: ever hear of a little movie called The Devil Wears Prada? Meryl Streep’s character is rather un-loosely based on Anna, the Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue for the past 20 years. Anna is ruthless, cold, and critical to a fault.

Documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler’s The September Issue follows the staff of Vogue as they strive to make the most influential issue of the year the biggest and best issue to date, emphasis on the biggest, while desperately scrambling to please their ice queen. Although many moviegoers may be eager to disregard such subject matter as fodder for only the fashion conscious, Cutler carefully molds his footage into a story about workplace politics, the need to be respected, and finding beauty in the everyday.

The counter to Anna’s steely, cutting pilotage is Grace Coddington, Vogue‘s creative director and perhaps modern fashion’s greatest stylist. Grace emerges from the pack of Vogue staffers as a brilliant artist with an unfaltering eye, but more importantly, as the only one brazen enough to question Anna’s seemingly arbitrary decrees.

Coddington and Wintour began working at the magazine on the very same day, and the creative director’s wild, red mane and comfortable personal style is the extreme physical opposite of Anna’s perfectly coiffed bob and immaculate sweater set/gemstone necklace combos. Grace is the film’s heart: through her eyes, we see the beauty and passion of the fashion industry. Anna’s opinion may be what everyone in fashion cares most about, but Grace demonstrates why we should care about fashion.

The September Issue sheds light on what working at Vogue is really like while also offering some, albeit slight, insight into the mind of a woman more famous for her cantankerous demeanor than her impeccable taste. For all her ill-tempered lip pursing and cross-armed, imploring looks, Anna Wintour seems a delicate, insecure creature.

At one point in the film, Anna states that her highly successful siblings are quite amused by her line of work, revealing herself as a person fiercely longing to be taken seriously. Although all of fashion succumbs to her every whim, Wintour’s own daughter declares fashion silly and that following in her mother’s footsteps is last on her career list. There are much more important things in life, she says once her mother is out of earshot.

This sentiment is not untrue. There are many things more important than fashion. The same can be said for art. Or film. But then, what would we have to look forward to in life? If taking time to appreciate the beauty in life’s small moments is unimportant, then fashion can be written off as trivial fluff. So go ahead: to each his own. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us who know better won’t feel sorry for you.

B plus

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