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Anna Wintour is more than giant sunglasses and a bob—and she’s not exactly a devil in Prada. Proving those theories is likely one of director R.J. Cutler’s goals in The September Issue, a documentary that follows the famed fashionista and her staff at Vogue as they work on the magazine’s most important edition of the year, a millions-selling issue predicting the looks of the coming year that breaks editorial backs in production and consumers’ backs when they thumb through the monster.
“Important,” though, is a relative term. Viewers who, like Wintour’s children, find dedication to fashion to be little more than “amusing” may be aghast at the money invested/wasted over several months to produce Vogue’s 2007 issue, the magazine’s largest ever, weighing more than four pounds. A parade of expensive outfits and accessories streams through Vogue’s halls for Wintour’s (usually dis-)approval; dizzyingly elaborate and artistic photo shoots are scrubbed at her whimsy; an international shoot takes cover model Sienna Miller (whose hair is “completely lackluster” and gorgeous photo unacceptably “toothy”) to Rome while others jet to Paris and London to look for the newest styles. Watching such ostentatious indulgence may make audiences a bit queasy.
Regardless, Cutler’s access to both Vogue’s often frenetic production process as well as to the elusive editor-in-chief trumps the tsks the film may elicit. Wintour, though hardly warm, rarely seems the demon here, usually speaking in civilized tones—even if her quick, casually crushing decisions do draw some dagger-like stares. Her main foil here is creative director Grace Coddington, a former model who’s just fine working makeup-free, her red hair wild. When Wintour scraps one of Coddington’s most gorgeous and labor-intensive layouts, the director may say little but you can see her anger bubbling as her spirit deflates. Despite Coddington’s obvious talent and the high regard she usually receives, you feel some pity for her when she mentions that she started at Vogue the same day as Wintour. Further: “I know when to stop pushing her. She doesn’t know when to stop pushing me.”
Unless you’re a Wintour devotee, The September Issue is most interesting in its portrayal of the day-to-day races and scuffles behind the publication. But those looking for the human side of the icon won’t leave disappointed. The most gratifying moment may be the film’s end: Once the issue is wrapped and approved, Wintour turns gracious, admitting that Coddington is not some expendable pawn but a “genius.”