THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE is an absolutely fascinating documentary, regardless of whether you're interested in fashion, or have ever heard of Anna Wintour aka Nuclear Wintour, the Editor in Chief of American Vogue. Sure, viewers looking for DEVIL WEARS PRADA craziness will find some nuggets, and surprisingly, lovers of BORAT will find a self-parody in ludicrous Editor-At-Large (emphasis on the LARGE) Andre Leon Talley. But what this documentary really gives us is a very recognisable portrait of alphas fighting it out at the top of a corporate entity - and the private neuroses that underlie corporate alpha behaviour.
There are two major characters in this film but only one of them really seems to passionately care about fashion qua fantasty, beauty, art. That person is former model turned Fashion Editor Grace Coddington. It's her passion that produces those wonderful Vogue layouts, and spots the trends in advance. She came to fashion by chance, from a North Welsh mining village, and seems utterly charmed to be there, and often utterly pissed off when her artistic vision is stamped upon by Anna Wintour. You get through this film and wish you could have dinner with Grace Coddington - she seems like she'd have lots to say about a great many things.
Anna Wintour, the apparent focus of the documentary (though largely over-shadowed by Coddington) is also a fascinating, if rather tragic character. Despite great success in fashion (it's positively excruciating watching fashionistas suck up to her) she's evidently deeply insecure about how her siblings, who do worthy things in serious jobs, view her work. Even her daughter mocks the triviality of the fashion industry. She seems to have entered fashion because a highly intelligent alpha woman didn't have the choices in the 60s that they do today. She gets angry because she cares about perfection and her opinion, not about fashion per se. You can imagine that she would've been equally successful as Editor of The Times, but wasn't allowed to consider it. The documentary is surprisingly raw - brutal even - on this point. Still, I think Annna Wintour comes out of it well - or rather humanised from her Ice Queen image, even if every icy "thank you" has the subliminal Malcolm Tucker message of "Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off".
THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE played Sundance 2009. It was released earlier this year in Australia, the US, Iceland, Sweden and is currently on release in the UK, US, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Singapore, Denmark, Spain and Taiwan. It opens in Japan on November 7th.
Eventual tags: r j cutler, anna wintour, craig riche, robert richman, documentary, azin samari, sundance, grace coddington, mario testino, patrick demarchelier, oscar de la renta, vera wang, jean paul gaultier