Bill Cunningham New York

Edina Cinema, starts Friday

No passion for fashion is required to enjoy this absorbing portrait of legendary New York Times "On the Street" photographer Bill Cunningham, but a sense of history and tragedy might help. Director Richard Press doggedly shadows the chipper octogenarian, foregrounding the modest lifestyle and quietly radical work ethic that have made him as much a hero as an anomaly. Several big-name fans offer enthusiastic tributes, including a positively bubbly Anna Wintour, but the film is no more a document of high style than Cunningham is a spendthrift. Instead, Press has crafted a near-Buddhist reflection on what it takes to fully engage Gotham, as well as an astute snapshot of its evermore avaricious soul: Cunningham's cheerful asceticism is so out of step with what we currently expect (and don't expect) from the city that tagging along with him is a bracing reminder of what's been lost to the bottom line. Perhaps inevitably, Press also slyly raises the question of whether Cunningham's self-deprivation and single-minded focus on surface aesthetics ("If it isn't something a woman can wear, I'm not interested") have taken an unacknowledged toll. Decide for yourself whether the climactic Oprah moment is earned or contrived; it's heartbreaking either way.

 
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