Snap shots: ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ turns the camera on fashion’s most influential paparazzo

LENS ME A SHOE | The Times photographer documents foot fashion in ‘Bill Cunningham New York.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Project Runway’s to blame, maybe The Devil Wears Prada, but for the past few years there has been a surplus of documentaries about the fashion industry, with profiles of designers like Valentino (Valentino: The Last Emperor), Yves Saint-Laurent (several in fact), even young designers (Seamless) and Vogue magazine’s editor (The September Issue). (By contrast, I can only recall one fashion doc from the 1990s: Unzipped, about a young designer named Isaac Mizrahi.) Is there really that much to say about dressmaking?

Maybe not, but while Bill Cunningham New York fits broadly within the category of fashion documentaries, its subject is unusual because he eschews the trappings of haute couture even as he’s inextricably a part of it — a huge part, really.

If you don’t read the New York Times, you might not recognize Cunningham’s name, and even if you do read it, it may not have registered with you. For about, well, maybe 1,000 years, Cunningham has chronicled New York society with his candid photos of the glitterati on the Evening Hours page. At the same time, however, he has documented real fashion — how New Yorkers dress in their daily lives — with his page On the Street, where he teases out trends (from hats to men in skirts to hip-hoppers allowing their jeans to dangle around their knees). Anna Wintour may tell us what we should wear; Cunningham shows us what we do.

“We all get dressed for Bill,” Wintour observes.

What makes Cunningham such an interesting character is how impervious he seems to the responsibility he effortlessly wields. He loves fashion, yes, but he’s not a slave to it himself. He scurries around Manhattan (even in his 80s) on his bicycle (he’s had dozens; they are frequently stolen), sometimes in a nondescript tux but mostly in jeans, a ratty blue smock and duck shoes, looking more like a homeless shoeshiner than the arbiter of great fashion. He flits through the city like a pixie with his 35mm camera (film-loaded, not digital), a vacant, toothy smile peaking out behind the lens, snapping the denizens of Babylon whether they want it or not.

One of the funniest moments is when strangers shoo him away as some lunatic paparazzo, unaware how all the well-heeled doyens on the Upper East would trade a nut to have Cunningham photograph them for inclusion in the Times. Patrick McDonald, the weirdly superficial modern dandy (he competed as a wannabe designer on the flop reality series Launch My Line a few seasons back), seems to exist with the hope that Cunningham will shoot him. And shoot him he does.

Many artists are idiosyncratic, even eccentric, but Cunningham is supremely odd by any standards. He lives in a tiny studio near Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets cluttered with decades of film negatives on the same floor as a crazy old woman, a kind of urban variation on Grey Gardens. He knows tons of people but most of them seem to know very little about him. By the time near the end when the filmmaker, director Richard Press, finally comes out and ask him outright whether he’s gay, Cunningham arches in that prickly New England way, never really answering outright, though he says he’s never — never — had a romantic relationship. Things like that were simply not discussed by men of his generation.

In some ways, we never really know any more about Cunningham at the end than any of his friends do, and perhaps even him. Cunningham comes across as defiantly non-self-reflective. He lets his work do all the talking for him. And that work has a lot to say on its own.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Local Briefs

CCGLA surveys candidates, sets meet-and-greet events

As municipal elections approach, the Collin County Gay & Lesbian Alliance has sent an online survey to city council, school board and mayoral candidates in Allen, Frisco, Plano and McKinney, and “meet-and-greet” sessions for candidates are planned in Frisco, Plano and McKinney in April.

The organization will also create and distribute a voters’ guide.

The Plano “meet-and-greet” will be held on Friday, April 8, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at a private residence. For more information, go online to CCGLA.org.

Results of CCGLA’s candidate surveys will be posted on the CCGLA website prior to each event. The events are informal, non-partisan, and all candidates are invited.

Oak Cliff Earth Day to feature vendors, info booths and more

Oak Cliff Earth Day, which has become the largest all-volunteer-run Earth Day since it started five years ago, will be held on Sunday, April 17, from noon to 5 p.m. at Lake Cliff Park, located at the intersection of Colorado Street and Zang Boulevard in Oak Cliff.

There is no charge to attend the event, which will include art, food, plants and other environmentally-friendly products available for purchase.

There will also be educational booths on topics such as how to save energy and clean up the environment, along with locally-grown honey, animals to adopt and native plants for gardens.

Parking at the park is limited, however, free parking is available at Methodist Hospital, in Lot 10 only, located at 1400 S. Beckley Ave. across from the hospital entrance on Beckley Ave. Methodist Hospital is providing a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the event.

Participants are also encouraged to take DART to the event or walk or ride a bicycle. There are a number of bike racks, funded by Oak Cliff Earth Day, at the park.

Mayoral candidates to speak Sunday on animal issues in Dallas

Dallas’ mayoral candidates will participate in a forum on animal issues in the city of Dallas on Sunday, April 10, at 2 p.m. at the Central Dallas Library, 1515 Young St., in downtown Dallas. The Metroplex Animal Coalition is sponsoring the forum, with is free and open to the public. Journalist Larry Powell with Urban Animal magazine will moderate.

The mayoral candidates are former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, Councilman Ron Natinsky, real estate consultant Edward Okpa and Mike Rawlings, former Pizza Hut CEO and Dallas homeless czar.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

NYC City Council Restores Funding for LGBT Homeless Youth

The NYC City Council has restored million to the city's budget including money that was cut from LGBT homeless youth programs late last year.

Quinn Earlier this week, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg was criticized by Carl Siciliano, the executive director of The Ali Forney Center, the city's largest provider of shelter and services for homeless LGBT youth, for making an "It Gets Better" video encouraging gay teens to come to New York while the city slashed funding for many of those at-risk teens.

Siciliano responded to the restoration of the funding in a statement:

"This morning City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn (pictured) and Finance Committee Chair Domenic M. Recchia Jr. announced that the Council and Administration have reached a budgetary agreement on the Fiscal Year 2011 financial plan, that fully restores the spending reductions to homeless youth programs proposed by Mayor Bloomberg in the November financial plan. This is wonderful news for the homeless youth of our City, particularly for homeless LGBT youth who would be disproportionately hurt by the proposed cuts. I am profoundly grateful to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Council Assistant Majority Leader and Youth Services Committee Chair Lewis Fidler for their strong and dedicated leadership in seeking to have these cuts restored. Thousands of homeless youth have been protected by their compassionate leadership."

Said Council Member Lewis Fidler, Chair of the Council's Youth Services Committee: "On behalf of the 3,800 runaway and homeless youth who sleep on our City streets every night, I say thank you. Restoring the cuts to shelter services for these kids, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, is a huge win for those who care about children. Our ability to restore some measure of the cuts to after-school services reflects the Council's priority supporting the care and education of our children and the importance of these programs for our future. Special thanks to Speaker Quinn, Finance Chairman Recchia and the Council staff for banging out this deal in a fiscally responsible way."


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Ali Forney Center Director Slams Bloomberg for ‘It Gets Better’ Video, Hypocrisy on LGBT and Homeless Youth

Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, which provides shelter and services for homeless LGBT youth, is furious at NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg for an "It Gets Better" video the mayor released earlier today, in which he urged bullied gay youth to come to New York City where they would be accepted.

Siciliano explains, in a statement: Siciliano

"Two days after slashing support to homeless youth programs in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has the gall to release a video telling LGBT youth that 'It Gets Better.' Mayor Bloomberg, your cruel and reckless cuts to the meager support system for homeless LGBT youth in New York City just made things for them much worse! On January 1st,  Bloomberg cut support for outreach to homeless youth in half, cut most drop-in centers for homeless youth by a third, and cut support for the two LGBT homeless youth drop-in programs in half. In New York City there are over 1,000 LGBT youth suffering on the streets every night without access to safe shelter. The drop-in centers and outreach are their only support. Homeless LGBT youth are at incredible risk of suicide with 62% reporting that they have considered or attempted suicide.

The LGBT community needs to recognize these cuts as an attack against our most vulnerable youth, and against us as a whole. We pay just as much taxes as anyone, and there are far too few City-funded programs that support our most vulnerable youth.  If we can be treated like this in a city with as strong an community as NYC, how will our youth ever get their fair share of the resources they need and deserve? I cannot speak strongly enough about what a horror it is to have LGBT youth who have been discarded by homophobic parents flock to us for help, and to have to counsel them to sleep in the subways because there are not nearly enough beds for them."

Said Bloomberg in the video: "Right now there may be some of you out there who feel that there's no hope, or that you're not wanted. Well I have a message for you. New York City wants you. New York has always been the place where anyone can go, and be who they're supposed to be, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual identity. We need you."


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Query • 11.26.10

Do you feel more comfortable spending money on the holidays this year?

………………….

John Landry IV — “I wouldn’t say I feel uncomfortable, but I’m certainly spending less than previous years.”

Wendy North — “No I am not comfortable. The economy is still iffy and therefore my purse strings are tighter. More baking this year and less buying.”

Cristina Cabigting — “I don’t feel comfortable spending this year since money has been tight all year. It would be a stupid choice to spend money I don’t have.”

Roger Wetzel — “What money? Who has money to spend?”

Andrez Lozano — “Economy hasn’t affected me, knock on my wood.”

Dina Dutton — “I don’t have the money. So I would rather volunteer at a nursing home or help the homeless. That is what the holidays are about.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Godly & gay

Bishop Bean writes spiritual memoir

3 out of 5 stars
I WAS BORN THIS WAY,
by Archbishop Carl Bean (with David Ritz). Simon & Schuster (2010). $24. 264 pp.

…………………………………..

Carl Bean never really knew his father, and he barely knew his birth mother. Born and raised in a poor area of Baltimore, Bean was basically raised by a village of “warm and wonderful women,” who nurtured him even though he admits was a girly little boy, soft and feminine. Attracted to other boys at an early age, he knew he couldn’t hide his feelings from those around him, though nothing was ever said. Bean was loved, and that’s what he knew.

In his book I Was Born This Way, Bean recounted that embracing childhood, as well as his career and finding God’s love and acceptance.

The shining point of his life was his godmother’s mother, the woman Bean called Nana. She cared for him, took him to church, and made him happy, but when he was just 3 years old, Nana died and life changed drastically. He was taken in by his godparents, who loved him but didn’t seem to like him. Shortly after that, Bean was sexually assaulted by an uncle.

Though various abuses continued well into his teens, and though Bean had fully acknowledged his gayness, he maintains that he was cherished and accepted — especially by the unaware wives of his abusers.

Fortunately, he found solace in God and in song. Bean sang in good times and bad, for audiences of none or many. Because he knew that God is love, most of his favorites were gospel songs that Bean sang in the church choir. He was encouraged and tutored, and when he was old enough, he moved to New York City to pursue a gospel music career, quickly making a name for himself on the gospel circuit. He followed that with a disco career and a top-selling record.

But at different points in his life, Bean was homeless, which showed him what God truly wanted him to do. After his musical career ended, he started a church and opened his arms to the LGBTQ community. He began an AIDS outreach program through his ministry — he became unconditional love.

Though it sometimes drags, particularly in the middle section, I Was Born This Way is a wonderful biography about a religious man comfortable with his orientation, and it’s curiously soothing to read.

Bean is brutally honest in telling his story, which is both sweetly idyllic and frighteningly horrifying. Still, despite the nastiness he endured, he manages to convey a sense of calm and comfort, and a peaceful demeanor. That makes this, oddly, more like a hug than a book.

Readers looking for heavenly succor will find it in Bean’s reassuring teachings, while others will be merely treated to a unique memoir. If you’re up for something good, I Was Born This Way is worth laying eyes on.

— Terri Schilechenmeyer

………………………..

Disco ballsy

Party Animals by Robert Hofler. DaCapo Press (2010); $15.95. 308 pp.

White suits with shiny polyester shirts — remember those? The thumpa-thumpa of the beat and the hazy feeling of strobe light on mirror ball?

If you’re of a certain age, those are either good memories or echoes of “disco sucks.” Either way, Party Animals will tell you about one man who never wanted to stop the music: Allan Carr, who produced Grease and the Village People movie.

Carr, who was gay when it was taboo to talk about such things, became manager to the stars, a job that fully utilized his skills. (anyone who angered Carr himself received a blistering tirade). He could charm anybody, often sweet-talking sponsors into funding his lavish parties so he didn’t have to pay for food or drinks for his guests.

But Carr wanted to be a movie producer, so when he fell in love with the Broadway musical Grease, he knew he could reinvent it for the big screen. He got the rights, tweaked the show and his career took off…for awhile.

Carr’s sense of timing was ultimately poor and his visions bloated. Following the mega-success of Grease, projects flopped or never went anywhere; when Carr finally got his Oscar chance, the entire world witnessed the mess.

Filled with big names and little scandals Party Animals is exhaustively researched, over-the-top snarky, sarcastically funny, and teetering on the very edge of boring. If you’re a Baby Boomer or behind-the-scenes Hollywood die-hard, you’ll get much more out of this book than not. For the rest of us, these Party Animals fail to roar.

— T.S.

Two stars

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas