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Sundance Film Festival 2009: Shalom Documentaries!

Sundance Film Festival 2009: Shalom Documentaries!

"The dirty little secret about Sundance is that the best films every year are the documentaries," says Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth

director David Guggenheim in one of the trailers for this year's

Sundance Film Festival. Actually, it's more of an openly acknowledged

fact that Sundance's documentary selection is reliably stronger than

its narrative one. And so, having made it through 14 of the 16 films in

this year's U.S. Dramatic Competition (I'll see the remaining two -- Adam and Amreeka

--  today), I shifted gears yesterday and hunkered down for a full

schedule of docs at Sundance's newest screening venue: Temple Har

Shalom or, as it's known until Sunday, the Temple Theatre.

First on my itinerary was The September Issue, which arrived in Park City hyped as a nonfiction riposte to The Devil Wears Prada, which it both is and isn't. Although director R.J. Cutler (A Perfect Candidate) was allowed unprecedented access behind the scenes at Vogue

during the planning and production of its massive September 2007 issue

(at the time, the largest single issue of a monthly magazine ever

published), anyone who comes to The September Issue expecting a

warts-and-all portrayal of Vogue editor-in chief Anna Wintour is likely

to find the 90-minute film something of a let-down. That's not to say

that Cutler lobs softballs at the fashion world's perpetually

sunglass-ed high priestess, but rather that his primary interest is the

nuts-and-bolts running of a magazine, from the concept stages to the

moment the latest issue hits the newsstands. Of course, since this is a

movie about Vogue and not, say, Field and Stream, the

attendant glamour level is high, from the vertigo-inducing haute

couture to the parade of strapping models and actresses who grace the

magazine's coveted spreads.

In addition to following the Devil herself as she meets privately with

top name designers (Oscar de la Renta, Jean-Paul Gaultier, et al.),

scours the runways of the world's fashion weeks and passes final

judgment on what does and doesn't end up in print, The September Issue devotes nearly equal attention  to Vogue's

flamboyant editor-at-large, André Leon Talley, and its legendary

creative director, Grace Coddington. And it's Coddington, a Welsh-born

former model whose hugely ambitious narrative photo shoots have become

a Vogue hallmark during her 30-plus years with the magazine,

who threatens to steal the movie right out from under her more famous

co-star. A force of calm at the center of Vogue's sometimes

tempestuous storm, Coddington is, by Wintour's own admission, "a

genius," and you don't have to know much about fashion (or even take it

that seriously) to recognize the vivid, cinematic atmosphere and

compositional elegance of Coddington's work with some of fashion's

leading photographers.

Wintour, meanwhile, remains as coolly inscrutable to us as she does to

many of the people she works with on a daily basis. And why not? It's

to Cutler's credit that he neither plays into the stereotype of Wintour

as an unfeeling ice queen nor goes out of his way to warm her up. (He

also doesn't pry very deeply into her personal life.) Instead, he

portrays the world's foremost fashion tastemaker as a serious

businesswoman who has managed to not only keep Vogue at the

center of the zeitgeist for the past two decades, but to enlarge the

magazine's success at a time when most other printed media is going the

way of the dodo. For this alone, she commands our respect.


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