This has been a difficult week for many reasons, mostly because of my paternal grandfather’s passing at the age of 86. But it’s also the week preceding the Academy Awards, one of the highlights of my year no matter what.
This year, I started the week before the Oscars by interviewing current Documentary Feature nominee Dan Lindsay about his film, Undefeated, the True/False Film Fest and how he became enraptured with the documentary medium. Anyone who knows me well knows that one of my life goals is to attend the Academy Awards. I don’t care if I’m a seat-filler—I have just always wanted to be in Hollywood for the biggest night in entertainment. And so to interview Dan Lindsay, a 2001 MU graduate and now an Oscar nominee, is as close as I’ve gotten so far.
Lindsay, originally from Rockford, Ill., went to the University of Missouri to study advertising, but he ended up studying finance and some theatre. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles where he hoped to get some sort of production work, he told me. At a Kinko’s (because there were actual Kinko’s back then…I used to love hanging out at Kinko’s and making copies when I was 4 and 5), Lindsay met a guy with showbiz connections. When 9/11 happened, that contact he met asked if he’d be interested in driving from Los Angeles and New York to make a documentary, and that’s how things began for him.
I’d say more, but I think you should just listen to the interview itself—it’s only the first part of a two-part interview series I produced for KBIA, the NPR affiliate in Columbia, Mo.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am anything but à la mode vis-à-vis, well, fashion. I wear polos and T-shirts well into the dead of winter, and I wear button-up dress shirts and ties when formality and professionalism are priorities. So when I started this documentary, the sight of an eightysomething-year-old man nimbly navigating the streets of New York while photographing interesting outfits and physiques (especially female) seemed somewhat peculiar. That’s not to say I didn’t know about Bill Cunningham, the photographer/legend at the New York Times.
For nearly 60 years, Cunningham has traveled on bicycle armed only with his photo equipment and his remarkable sense of wit and duty. This documentary is more than just a tribute to Cunningham—it’s another piece in his massive body of work. The man himself remains a mystery to many, even those who have known him for years. His year of birth has been given as both 1928 and 1929. (I couldn’t find a definitive answer——anyone know?) Cunningham’s work, for those who don’t know (or who didn’t click the link) is revered for capturing people’s candid moments on the street. There’s no end to fashion, he notes in the film, but he has seen styles come and go so frequently he sometimes would place a designer’s new dress in print next to a similar one from 15 years prior.
The film itself is much like Bill, ignoring pretension and what others might think of it, adapting its own style as it goes. That’s not to say there’s not some sort of narrative. Cunningham and the other inhabitants of Carnegie Hall (including Editta Sherman, the 99-year-old celebrity photographer) faced eviction from their living spaces during filming, but Bill just shrugs it off. (He left Carnegie Hall in April 2010; Sherman followed months after.) The film treats it as an afterthought compared to Bill’s daily work.
Cunningham is 80+, but at times moves with the energy of a man one-quarter of his age. There’s a childlike wonder in him. And ambition. He’s a man with stories to tell, and he’s not yet finished.
This film is available on DVD and on Netflix Instant Streaming.