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The September Issue

It’s hard to believe that R.J. Cutler’s The September Issue will engage the interest of anyone outside the coteries of fashion industry mavenistas in New York and around the country. Cutler’s documentary follows the assembly of the September 2007 issue of Vogue, the largest in its history. More particularly, he’s tried to catch and collect glimpses of the semi-imperial style and operation of the notoriously icy and unapproachable editor, Anna Wintour.

When Johnny Depp was asked a few years ago if he had modeled his queeny Chocolate Factory owner Willy Wonka on Michael Jackson, he replied (facetiously?) that he really had Wintour in mind. And the almost parodical pageboy bob was there, to be sure. But don’t be misled. Anyone who comes to this in expectation of an expose of the real-life model for Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly will be quickly disabused.

The Wintour seen and heard here is guarded but self-assured and scarcely a glad-hander, but her emotional flat-lining and quietly insistent demands don’t make the portrait offered much fun. Too much of Cutler’s film is, to be blunt, rather a bore. The chief tension is produced by the probably respectful but also sometimes resentful collaborations between Wintour and creative director Grace Coddington, who both began at Vogue on the same day. But even this interest is vitiated by Cutler‘s in-and-out, montage-based approach. It’s hard to get a grip on much of what we’re shown, as the movie seems to be marking time at various junctures.

The real-world significance of this hard-to-follow narrative is the palpable possibility that the 840-page magazine produced two years ago may mark a long-term high water mark for this kind of print operation. This September’s issue is about 30 percent smaller, and perhaps not just because of the lousy economic environment. Consumer capitalism requires spectacle and luxurious pipe dreams, but Wintour’s Vogue may not be on the wave of the developing changes in the economy or the publishing industry.

george sax

Watch the trailer for The September Issue

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