Thursday, August 20, 2009

(The September) ‘Issue’ of the Devil

Anna Wintour is examining photos from a shoot. An assistant/junior editor is standing next to her. She’s now in AW’s way. AW says, “excuse me” in what could be perceived as a curt tone.

To an uncomfortable-looking Oscar de la Renta, AW opines about a white belted jacket and brown dress ensemble from his latest collection, “I personally would not put this one in the show. The other things you showed us are more exciting. “

“Do we really feel that this is the most important message to put in the September issue?” AW’s question to two junior editors is earnest, but her expression is contemptuous.

These are not scenes from the sequel to “The Devil Wears Prada.” It is “The September Issue,” R.J. Cutler’s (“The War Room/“American High”) behind-the-scenes look at the production of Vogue’s most important issue of the year. The documentary, about the making of the 2007 issue, featuring cover girl Sienna Miller (the biggest ever at 840 pages and nearly five pounds) won the Grand Jury Prize for Excellence in Cinematography at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

It had a star-studded premiere last night at MOMA, where in attendance were many fashion industry heavy-hitters and A-list designers, including a stunning and youthful-looking Vera Wang, who ducked out of the after-party after she was given to know in answer to her query that AW had left the building. The audience laughed during the aforementioned scenes and many others. The sometimes knowing, nervous laughter evoked the ghost of “TDWP” (the film and book), which is widely believed to be about AW, though no one in the fashion business will dare admit it publicly. But if one is of the mind that Miranda Priestly is AW, then “TDWP” is a good primer for “TSI.”

If nothing else, the documentary makes clear the scope and reach of AW’s influence. There she is in Paris giving her stamp of approval to Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld and back home plucking Thakoon Panichgul from obscurity and making him a star. He’s in awe of Anna the Great, likening her, not to a Madonna but the Madonna. And she is described as the Pope of fashion and the most powerful woman in America. Step aside Oprah, Hillary, Michelle and Martha.

In remarks before the screening, RJC thanked AW for giving him so much access to her. It would have been more apt to thank her for giving him access to her staff, including Fashion Editor Grace Coddington, who is a natural in front of the camera and deserves a show of her own, not “Saving Grace,” because Holly Hunter has a lock on that title. We also see snippets of Editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley, probably the most recognizable face at Vogue next to AW. He’s a serious man who is portrayed as a court jester, and not because he is over the top in the tennis court scene. Does RJC have a beef with the big man whom AW ordered to drop some pounds. (There is an amusing irony in his job title and weighty edict.)

We certainly see the Starbucks-swilling AW in no such moments. Most of what we see, however, does little to erase the image of her (exaggerated, no doubt) as Miranda Priestly, illustrated starkly in one scene in which she leaves the door to her home wide open as she departs for the office. Of course, she has a maid who no doubt closed the door, but was AW aware of how that might be perceived? Did she just not give a damn?

Her incessant, “no,” “no,” “no,” “no” to photo spread after photo spread and her putting her imprimataur on designers' collection is more behavior that gives credence to the Miranda Priestly myth. This, though, belittles her and her job title. But with the limitations of film, it is difficult to make interesting and compelling the myriad responsibilities of the job. AW does try to show a softer side of herself by recalling that her father (a high-level newspaper man) is responsible for her career choice. “He said, ‘Well you want to be editor of Vogue, of course,’ so that was it, it was decided,” she reveals, while revealing nothing (she does have nice arms, though, that I am told are a product of daily tennis-playing).

Fashionistas, wannabes and those (journalists included) unfamiliar with the magazine production process will find the film fascinating and illuminating. Desiree Gruber, executive producer of “Project Runway” (which premieres tonight on Lifetime), summed up the sentiments of her spouse, Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Combs and others with whom I spoke.

“I thought it was great. I loved it,” DG said. “If you haven’t seen it I think it really makes a difference who you see it with. Tonight’s audience understood and got the joke, and I saw it the first time with a Hollywood audience (at Sundance) who did not get the joke exactly, so it was a lot more fun to see it with people who were in on the joke and understood the nuances."

While Yours Truly was not as bullish on “TSI” as DG& Co. – and that is only because I have worked on the production side` and understand the process – I give RJC good marks for capturing the plodding, monotonous and often frustrating production process and making it somewhat interesting. Of course, he was helped by characers like GC, who a Vogue staffer informed me, initially hated the cameras. One would never know. RJC also made good use of the fashion footage and chose his music wisely. Still for me, it had no “wow” moments. Though humorous at times, "TSI" failed to capture my imagination. But again, these are sentiments of one overly and cynically familiar with the subject matter, so do consider the source.

“The September Issue ” opens 28 Aug. in New York and on 11 Sept. in Los Angeles and some other cities.

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