movie review | October/November 2014
The September Issue: More than just beautiful creatures in exotic locales
by Anita Casey-Reed
Those of you who know me know I am NOT what one would call a stylish person. Honestly, I was approaching "The September Issue," R.J. Cutler's 2009 documentary on the preparation of one issue of "Vogue" magazine, from the same perspective as a National Geographic nature show. I expected to see beautiful creatures in exotic locations doing things that had absolutely no connection to my life.
Here's the good news -- if you love fashion, you will love "The September Issue." It is filled with colorful couture, cameos by Oscar de la Renta and Jean Paul Gaultier and photo shoots in the shadow of the Coliseum.
If you don't love fashion, you will still love "The September Issue." It has gorgeous visuals, a cast of larger-than-life characters, and moments of drama and tension as the staff works feverishly to meet their deadline. Since September begins the fashion year, that month's "Vogue" is always the bellwether for what styles will be in or out during the next 12 months. Over the course of the film, this particular issue (September 2007) swells to over 800 pages and nearly five pounds of glossy glamour, the largest magazine to ever hit newsstands (until the 2012 September issue topped it at 916 pages). For the staff at "Vogue," fashion is serious business.
It all begins with the editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour. If you've seen "The Devil Wears Prada," you know the caricature of her -- the ice queen in stilettos who shoots people down with a withering stare and sharp tongue. Wintour is certainly portrayed here as someone who is very single-minded in her devotion to her work, even as everyone from budding designers to the CEO of Neiman Marcus courts her favor.
Then, there is the flamboyantly eccentric Andre Leon Talley, ever ready with a bon mot about the season's styles, familiar to TV watchers as one of the judges on "America's Next Top Model." The real star of the show, however, is the longtime stylist Grace Coddington. Striding through the office in a comfy black dress and flats, long hair pulled away from an almost makeup-free face, she's the one who looks at the new collections and finds the common threads (no pun intended) to pull them all together visually -- slim dresses that turn her models into Jazz Age flappers, grand gowns that mirror the extravagance of the palace at Versailles.
As Wintour and Coddington push each other on the ideas and the execution of the stories, you see how this relationship of women with very different styles allows them to do, together, more than either one of them could do alone. That is what makes "The September Issue" such a fascinating film, and well worth your time.
Anita Casey-Reed is a member of the Cinema 100 Film Society, a volunteer for the Dakota Digital Film Festival and co-host of "Reel Retro" on Dakota Media Access. She lives in Bismarck with her husband and two children.