The September Issue

Director: R.J. Cutler
Starring:  Anna Wintour, Thakoon Panichgul, André Leon Talley
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Runtime: 89 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: infrequent coarse language

“She’s the most powerful woman in the United States,” someone says of Anna Wintour, the central figure in this fly-on-the-wall documentary. With that accolade, you could be forgiven for thinking Wintour must be a key figure in politics or religion or some other enterprise deemed critical to society. But no. Wintour’s field is fashion. And she is not even a designer. She is editor-in-chief of Vogue, the “bible” for slaves of fashion.

September’s Vogue is the magazine’s most important issue every year. It is always big — so big that people refer to how much it weighs, not how many pages it is. And the September 2007 edition was set to be the biggest-ever. Documentary maker R.J. Cutler sent his camera crew to the Vogue offices in New York for five months to observe the process involved in planning and creating what Wintour and her acolytes, as well as the bosses at managerial level, hope will set a new record for size and weight and (not incidentally) advertising revenue.
Wintour is popularly held to be the model for the Meryl Streep character in the movie The Devil Wears Prada, and she pretty well lives up to that film’s depiction of a fashion editor as an icy, ruthless operator with a take-no-prisoners attitude in her dealings.
English-born, daughter of a Fleet Street editor, Wintour confesses to having been fascinated by fashion from an early age and when young to have written “to be editor of Vogue” on a form asking for her ambition in life. She runs her empire imperiously, and the film shows that others approach her with awe, if not an element of downright fear. As people nervously pitch ideas to her, she sits impassively, her baleful glance (when not hidden by dark glasses) giving no hint of what is ticking over in her mind.
Vogue’s publisher, Tom Florio, excuses her by saying she is a busy woman with no time for idle pleasantries: “She’s not warm and friendly; I have to be warm enough for the two of us.”
She can dismiss an idea in an instant, with no apparent concern for the time and money someone may have spent developing it. The magazine’s creative director, Grace Coddington, a fellow expat Brit who joined American Vogue at the same time as her boss, claims they have learned to work together with mutual respect, but she still clearly fumes when one of her spreads that has cost $50,000 is tossed aside.
Wintour reveals little about herself in the few moments she talks to the camera. She is guarded about her upbringing and her siblings, and there are no revelations about her private life beyond a quick reference to “my children”. But this is one of those observational films about what a person does more than who she is, and the filmmaker is content to observe what goes on and let the audience make up its own mind.
So how you respond will depend on your level of interest in the subject. Unless you think fashion is riveting and you are not easily bored by people having meetings and poring over photos, layouts and cover mock-ups, perhaps it may not be the film for you and you should rent out The Devil Wears Prada again instead.
The 840-page September 2007 issue of Vogue sold 13 million copies, by the way, and weighed about 2.2 kilograms.

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