Those who worship the gods of fashion undoubtedly will find The September Issue revealing, absorbing and perhaps -- providing they're of generous spirit -- insightful. As one who never has genuflected at fashion's altar, I found this documentary about the production of Vogue's massive September issue (the 2007 edition) to be a flat pancake of a movie that never convinced me of its relevance.
Prior to seeing the movie, all I knew about the fabled Vogue editor Anna Wintour, I learned from watching The Devil Wears Prada, a movie in which Meryl Streep turned bitchiness into an art form playing an editor who supposedly resembled Wintour.
After seeing The September issue, I didn't know much more. In fact, I felt as if I might know less.
Wintour certainly talks authoritatively, and she clearly runs Vogue, but her sphinx-like half-smile seems to mask ...well... who knows what.
As is the case with most very important people these days, Wintour's significance seems directly related to cash flow. Wintour can spot fashion trends, make or break designers and generally facilitate the movement of clothing into the closets of women around the world. And if you want to know something about contemporary values, consider that Vogue's massive September issue -- '07 was a record breaker -- probably outweighs the collected works of Emanuel Kant.
Oddly, Wintour may be one of the least interesting people in the movie. The work of the magazine's creative director, Grace Coddington, seems more accessible, and Coddington conveys none of Wintour's goddess-among-us qualities. She occasionally disagrees with Wintour -- something lesser mortals evidently avoid -- and she doesn't seem to believe that all of human evolution builds toward a well-displayed fall line.
Director R.J. Cutler evidently was allowed to roam the halls of Vogue without fear of intervention, but his documentary lacks a strong point of view, relying instead on eavesdropping and on interviews from designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang and Jean Paul Gaultier. Andre Leon Talley, a Vogue editor whose personal wardrobe seems as plush as that of a pasha, makes the boldest fashion statement in the movie.
Perhaps to show Wintour's beneficent side, Cutler includes testimony from American designer Thakoon Panichgul, whose talent Wintour recognized early. (Panichgul has developed into a top-ranked name in global fashion.)
I can't say that I was bored by The September Issue -- which at one point travels to Rome for a shoot with actress Sienna Miller -- but I never was convinced that there's something terrifically intriguing beneath the surface of a magazine that's devoted to surfaces. Take that as a fault of the film, not of the people who assemble Vogue. I wanted to know more about almost all of them.
For her part, Wintour remains beyond reach, someone who seems to know something the rest of us don't; I only wish the film had done more to show us what exactly that might be.