Here's the thing about Vogue: You don't read it once. You read it as often as you please, cover to cover, including the ads, and you still don't learn the secret of fashion. And that's what director R.J. Cutler's Vogue documentary, "The September Issue," is like. It's delicious and ensnaring and easy on the eyes, but it can't give you the definitive truth about notoriously frosty Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
That isn't Cutler's fault. Wintour is, after all, hardly the kind of gal whose je ne sais quoi can be neatly lassoed in 90 minutes worth of documentary film.
Bypassing most of the big-time hustling-bustling Vogue activity, "The September Issue" shows us Wintour in more revealing situations: among friends, or at least intimates. Eschewing narration and other impositions, the film gracefully sticks to its cinema-verite approach, allowing the Vogue clan to open up without prodding or commentary.
Of course, we want to know about Wintour (and what we learn is that she can reduce a room full of gents to near tears). But the real heroine here is 68-year-old Grace Coddington, the fiercely endearing Welsh-born ex-model who (like the 59-year-old, London-born Wintour) has done battle at Vogue for decades. It's Coddington who's responsible for Vogue's imaginative, lush editorial spreads and soft color palette. And it's Coddington alone who talks back to Wintour, allowing the film to focus on the interesting, occasionally risible tussle between Coddington-and-her-Art and Wintour-and-her-Commercial-Savvy.
An addictive, sly fox of a film, "The September Issue" proffers a clearer, though still inevitably obscured view of the massive Vogue world. Whether you give two shakes of a rat's bum about fashion, the documentary offers compelling insight into a tiny, elite world that normally operates behind very closed doors. But for those who give two shakes and then some about Wintour & Co., those doors can never, sadly, be opened wide enough.
-- Ruth McCann (September 11, 2009)
PG-13, 90 minutes Contains brief strong language.