Sundance Film Festival

R.J. Cutler Reveals the Impenetrable Mystique of Anna Wintour

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE
THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE

Anna Wintour slipped into the premiere of THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE, all dark glasses and fur and mystique and emaciation .

She’s really got that down.

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE is, as the Festival catalogue promises, a clever film. It doesn’t launch a frontal attack on Wintour–she hardly would have turned up at the premiere if it did. But it pokes at her slyly, from the side. It is revelatory about Wintour’s relationship with her family and it explores the enduring partnership between the editor-in-chief and the far more likeable (in the film, at least) creative director Grace Coddington. It is the flame-haired Coddington who reveals an artist’s passion for what she does at the magazine, while Wintour exudes an icy and sometimes seemingly capricious detachment.

A good part of Wintour’s genius is her unrelenting commitment to her own point of view, which is (in part) that her taste is infinitely better than yours. It’s an image that she projects so effectively that most people tremble in her presence, nervously seeking her approval without much hope of getting it. I won’t reveal exactly how filmmaker R.J. Cutler does it, but he manages to reveal the very mundane insecurity that underlies the impenetrable exterior.

I felt conflicting emotions during the film. Should I accept the rarefied obsessions of Vogue’s creators because they view clothing and style as art forms? Or should I stick with my feminist revulsion, recoiling at the sight of emaciated models, one of whom is laced into a corset so tight that there literally is concern about her ability to breathe? I have an appetite for beautiful clothes (especially marked down) but I couldn’t stop seeing the dark side of Wintour’s peculiar world.

By the way, Wintour did not expose herself to hazards of a question-and-answer session with commoners–I mean, audience members. After the screening, Festival programmer John Cooper appeared with a few harmless queries, expressing the usual Wintour-induced anxiety by commenting that he was trying to hold in his stomach.

Later, Cutler told me that my feminist concerns were not even mentioned briefly in THE SEPTEMBER ISSEUE because “it’s not the subject of the film. . . I tell stories about people and landscapes. But the landscape is there for you to judge.”

Cutler says Wintour agreed to do the film and gave him final cut in their first meeting; he doesn’t presume to know why. Given rumors that the fashion queen might be forced to abdicate her throne, as the New York Post put it, it seems possible that she had a prescient wish to cement her identification with the magazine. According to Cutler, he made no concessions to get her cooperation. But obviously he didn’t set out to demolish her.

“You can be mean to Anna Wintour with a camera,” he says. “If that’s your goal, that’s what you can do. But if your goal is to tell a truthful story–then something else comes out.”

Watch Sundance Channel’s Interview with director R.J. Culter below: