The September Issue is about hideous people obsessed with glamour, and the occasionally ugly business of keeping the world awash in beauty. As the pre-eminent guardian of the fashion industry's bible Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour quite literally controls the fate of thousands of careers and millions of dollars with a withering glance, and she bears the tortured visage of a soul so committed to snooty disapproval. Her Cruella Deville furs and couture coats are her battle armor, with comically severe bangs atop her head drawing a harsh, symmetrical line over the perpetual scowl she flashes at designers and subordinates.
Under her stewardship, Vogue has placed an ever greater focus on celebrity, and much high drama here revolves around a photo shoot of actress Sienna Miller for the cover of the pivotal fall issue.
Director RJ Cutler takes us to the epicenter of one of publishing's (remaining) centers of power, to the offices and boardrooms where tense battles are waged.
Vogue's creative director Grace Codington was once a model, but has since lost herself in the work; her frumpy look and gnarled mass of frizzy red tresses give the impression she's an old crone on the flipside of beautiful youth. Many of her facial lines rise from worry, and she frets over every hemline, button and eyelash, but she has an extraordinary gift for making pretty pictures. Grace has the vision of an artist, but Anna has a merciless eye on future and commerce, and they clash like two wicked witches at war over a fairy kingdom. The court jester is flamboyant editor Andre Leon Talley, a cuddly bear with sharp fangs, jovial, but lightning quick with a sarcastic remark. Talley, at least, has a sense of humor, but some the folks here treat the fashion world's peacock frippery as a matter of life and death.
It's fascinating to watch an industry so outwardly devoted to pure art and individuality, marching in groupthink lockstep to the whims of one woman. Yet the pressure of staying ahead of constantly shifting tastes is akin to roller skating atop a moving freight train, and while it doesn't absolve Wintour of her bad behavior or casual cruelty, the film does offer a bit of perspective. Wintour's dirty secret is that down inside she considers herself a miserable failure. Watch the barely concealed melancholy and bitterness in her eyes at the notion that her proud intellectual family including her brother, the Guardian UK's political editor, don't take her seriously.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111, and at the AMC 30, 44681 Mound Rd., Sterling Heights; 888-262-4386.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.