The September Issue (2009) Review
R.J Cutler’s behind-the-scenes documentary follows the build up to American Vogue’s September issue, renowned for being the most highly anticipated edition of fashion goodness.
For five months prior to the issue’s conception, we shadow the lives of the magazine’s Editor Anna Wintour and Creative Director Grace Coddington. There’s a distinct nod to The Devil Wears Prada or Ugly Betty, and at first, I watched this as a slightly fashion ignorant cynic. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have very minimal interest in the fashion industry itself, but for others like me, it’s an engaging and applicable visualisation of what it’s like to work on a magazine. And for those that are interested in what Vogue has to offer, this is a documentary crammed with fashion-ey people doing fashion-ey things.
The relentless icy gaze of Anna Wintour; American Vogue’s steely editor for the past 20 years could sum up the theme of the film itself. A self-proclaimed ‘icy woman’, she seems to revel in her own ruthlessness within her fashion empire. Cutler asks: ‘Can you think of an aspect in the fashion industry that she’s not involved in?’, which is met by the quivering ‘no’ of Vogue’s publisher Tom Florio. This is the result of the cut throat, dog-eat-dog world of the fashion industry that is hidden under a veil of spurious politeness. Step out of line, and you’re outta’ there, please.
For a ‘behind the scenes’ documentary I was expecting a bit more scandal or controversy – aside from the industry standard ‘size-zero’ and ‘real fur’ topics that seem to be synonyms for ‘normal’ in the fashion industry. I couldn’t help but feel that some parts were scripted or held back. Although we do see sparks flying between Anna and Grace, it all seems slightly diluted – I imagine to place Anna in a good light. Grace does show her frustrations, but she’s inevitably not too brash.
You could argue that the real story here is not the September issue’s conception but the office-politics within the fashion industry, most notably the abrasive relationship between Anna and Grace. The deafening silence between the two when waiting for a lift speaks for itself. It seems that this is a case of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object – in this case, Anna’s editorial standpoint reigns supreme, and once again Grace is left reeling in her office with only a caesar salad as consolation.
‘The colour isn’t supposed to be bright. It’s meant to be soft’ insists Grace, as the Smithers-esque Design Editor Charlie Churchward proceeds to weakly critique $50,000 worth of photography. The only stable part of the magazine seems to be the advertising, which is coming out of the woodwork by the way; 516 of 644 pages are advertising in the September issue.
My star performance goes to ‘Bob’ the cameraman that gets a cameo as part of a last minute fashion shoot. This was actually one of the more engaging parts of the film, is that bad? Probably, but it gives a hint of comedy to the film.
Journalistically, I’ve got to give kudos to Cutler for getting backstage in the first place, let alone getting the undoubtedly venomous seal of approval from Anna for the film to air. If you’re a devout reader of Vogue then you’re probably going to watch this regardless. If you aren’t, stay open minded and watch the film for what it is – a well produced documentary following the life of people working on a magazine. As a journalist, I can’t let my slightly anti-fashion bias detract from the other aspects of this documentary.