The September Issue (2009)
Director: R. J. Cutler
Focus Features, 90 mins

september_issue_stillDirector R.J. Cutler is currently the most renowned producer/director of nonfiction cinema. His long and impressive list of credits includes “The War Room” (1993), a no holds barred look inside Bill Clinton’s first Presidential campaign.

With his “The September Issue,” Cutler shines a very bright, fascinating light on Anna Wintour, Vogue Magazine‘s highly respected but very intimidating editor-in-chief.

Wintour was fictionalized as Miranda Priestly in the best selling book “The Devil Wears Prada” — Meryl Streep essayed the role in a moderately successful film adaptation. Wintour has professed to not have read the book, and we can assume that she most likely never saw the film either.

For “The September Issue,” Wintour allowed Cutler’s cameras into her inner sanctum. We meet a strong, no nonsense woman who knows what she wants. Wintour rules Vogue with an iron fist, many of her employees worship her even as they quiver in fright when she enters a room.

The film details the production of Vogue‘s Sept. 2007 issue — September is January in fashion, says one insider.

This one single issue will determine what’s hot and what’s not for the year that follows

We see Wintour at home and at work in New York, directing photo shoots from her cell phone, and meeting with top designers. Viewers attend Paris’ Fashion Week with the editor — the magnitude of the glamor is like something out of a dream.

The film is a peek inside a world of wealth and privilege that most of us will never know. Its a world where success comes at a cost: there are few real friendships to be found. Relationships are based on youth, looks, style and bank accounts. When people talk to each other, they seem to be performing.

Wintour is, to many, the most terrifying figure in the fashion world. With one word she can make or break a career, and she has no qualms about speaking her mind.

She’s a strong woman, and displays true courage when she reveals her vulnerable side to Cutler. Her three London based siblings, all of whom are involved in human rights work and politics, look at what Wintour does with disdain. As she speaks of this, she almost seems to be fighting back tears. We briefly meet Wintour’s daughter, who wants to be an attorney and clearly thinks little of the fashion world. Again, an on camera Wintour cannot hide her disappointment.

Now playing…

“The September Issue” is now playing in select cities. In the Carolinas, catch it at:
Cary, Galaxy Theatre
Chapel Hill, Chelsea Cinema
Charleston, Terrace Theatre
Charlotte, Manor Theatre 2
Charlotte, Ballantyne Village Theatre
Mt.Pleasant, Cinebarre – Mt. Pleasant 11
Raleigh, Six Fork Station

It’s Anna Wintour, the dragon lady of Vogue whose employees shake in their boots at the mere sight of her, who turns out to be a true friend. Vogue Editor at Large Andre Leon Talley credits Wintour’s intervention with saving his life. The once morbidly obese Talley took up diet and exercise at his boss’ orders. “What Anna says, goes,” Talley informs us matter of factly while he plays tennis. But he might not be alive today had he not followed his employer’s advice.

Talley turns out to be quite a character in his own right. The flamboyant gentleman was, in 2007, ranked 45th on Out magazine’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America. It was he who advised First Lady Michelle Obama on her White House wardrobe. “There’s a famine of beauty!” Talley proclaims during the film’s most amusing moment. “I’m starving for beauty!!” Talley refers to Vogue as a “church”. Wintour is it’s “Pope”, he says.

Viewers also get an intimate look at Wintour’s sometimes adversarial relationship with Grace Coddington, her second in command. Coddington is herself a former model, and one of the few people who can stand up to Wintour. One wonders if the two women like each other, though there’s no denying their mutual respect.

“The September Issue” is a rarity among documentaries. It’s a fast paced, funny, highly entertaining look inside a very private world. It shows that merely pointing a camera at a colorful subject can be a riveting movie going experience.