No one’s ever accused Anna Wintour, the long time editor in chief of Vogue magazine, of being too emotional. Smart, yes. But in R.J. Cutler’s disarming documentary, “The September Issue,” Vogue’s own publisher Tom Florio actually says it: “She’s not warm and friendly.”
That’s for sure. Cutler got extraordinary access to Wintour and the Vogue staff as they prepared the 2007 September issue of the magazine, the advertising cornerstone of the year or as one department store chief says in the movie: “I’m sure it will as big as a phone book.”
It will, just like past Vogue September issues. But to see how it’s put together, all the backstage stuff, the politics, the fear, the anxiety—Cutler’s scored big time with a documentary that’s beautifully shot and has enough dramatic tension to make “Project Runway” look like “Mary Poppins.”
“The September Issue” also has a star, and it’s not Wintour. As even she acknowledged at an usual question and answer session after Saturday afternoon’s Sundance premiere, the real star of the film is Grace Coddington, her number 2 editor and unsung hero of Vogue for the last two decades. Now a raven haired beauty in her 60s, Coddington was a British supermodel for years before a car accident disfigured her face and cut her career short. She is a remarkable figure, and emerges as the heart and soul of an organism that is otherwise devoid of humanity.
Wintour is not stupid. Far from it. She is wise enough to step aside and let Coddington become the sympathetic center of “The September Issue” while she, Wintour, does the dirty work. That entails meeting with advertisers like Neiman Marcus and the Gap, presenting her finished work to Conde Nast publisher and owner Si Newhouse, and keeping a dicey business together. You can almost sense that the journalist’s daughter in her allowed Cutler to come in and do his job unfettered. She deserves a lot of credit for that.
Still, Wintour does not disappoint fans of “The Devil Wears Prada.” She’s abrupt, chilling, and cold to those around her. Warm and fuzzy? Not a chance. She comes across as vulnerable, a little insecure and uncertain about how to function in non-Vogue situations. Cutler only includes her 20-something daughter who wants to go to law school and proclaims the fashion world an odd business. Although Wintour talks a little about her father and siblings, there’s scant mention of a mother, or Wintour’s son, her ex-husband or her boyfriend. There’s a passing mention of tennis champ Roger Federer, with whom she is said to be obsessed.
Otherwise, the Anna Wintour of “The September Issue” keeps it all business. When she cuts people down, or snubs them, she almost seems oblivious. Cutler’s cameras are very good at capturing her expressions of disgust or dismay over people or ideas with whom or which she clearly disapproves. But what did we expect? A secret interest in Rachael Ray? Her father, she says, retired as a newspaper editor because he felt he was getting angry too often and it didn’t feel good. She says, “There are times I get too angry,” and you can only imagine what they are.
For those who’ve gossiped about Wintour leaving Vogue any time soon, I didn’t see it here. And even though Coddington—who deserves an Oscar for her appearance—says, “I wouldn’t care I saw another celebrity,” something tells me she enjoys her pas de deux with Wintour and would care a lot if she gave it up. In any case, “The September Issue” is set for TV on A&E, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this gang – including the larger than life Andre Leon Talley—make it art houses for a short but memorable theatrical run.
Pierce Brosnan, in search of a career path post James Bond, didn’t do himself any favors singing in the film of “Mamma Mia!” He was awful in a cheap looking, terrible movie that was an inexplicable hit.
But with “The Greatest,” which premiered last night at Sundance, all is forgiven. Brosnan and the remarkable Susan Sarandon are just perfect in a film that clearly echoes Robert Redford’s classic “Ordinary People” but has enough new twists to make it very interesting.
In the film, Allen (Brosnan) and Grace (Sarandon)’s 18-year-old son has been killed in a car accident just after losing his virginity to the girl he loves and graduating from high school. Director Shana Feste indicates well enough that Bennett (Aaron Johnson) has been the apple of their eyes. But they still have a younger teenage son (Johnny Simmons) to deal with, plus Allen’s been having an affair with a fellow professor at his college, so you know the marriage hasn’t been perfect.
Grief envelopes the family. Grace is obsessed with the man whose truck collided with her son’s and keeps vigil at his coma bedside to find out what Bennett might have said in his final moments. Allen bottles up his emotions until they make him ill. Ryan has a teen drug problem, and goes on the sly to group therapy. And there’s Bennett’s girlfriend. She’s pregnant.
Feste could have turned this all into bad “Ordinary People” or a soap opera. A first time director and screenwriter, she takes her team into a field already well trodden with clichés. But she manages to avoid most of them, and carve out a simple new take on an old story with class and subtlety. Carey Mulligan makes a powerful debut herself as Rose, the pregnant and scared girlfriend. Sarandon is a knockout as the grieving and not necessarily sympathetic mom. And Brosnan, this time, is in right key.
The scene last night was at Noah Tepperberg’s temporary Tao, as Demi Moore was holding hands with hubby Ashton Kutcher, and CAA’s Kevin Huvane, Sting and Trudie Styler, horn man Chris Botti, Fisher Stevens, Ron Burkle, Donovan Leitch (who’d just emceed up at the Rock Guitar lounge), “Philanthropist” producer Charlie Corwin, were among those packed into the party space. Up the street there were plenty of other social activities: the Creative Coalition members dined at Butera on Heber Street, while director James Toback and fighter Mike Tyson made to the Bon Appetit Café at Easy Street to celebrate their terrific documentary. Sundance may be hosting a third fewer people this year, but the stars are here, and they are out late. There was a whisper of Britney Spears being somewhere, but Paris Hilton slithering through Tao was just enough to satisfy the non film crowd! And PS: Demi Moore is still rockin’ it, kids.