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DVD Review: The September Issue

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As The Devil Wears Prada is one of my favourite movies of 2006 (especially given Meryl Streep’s amazing performance), and Vogue’s September issue is one of the few fashion magazines I regularly buy, I was excited to hear about a movie called The September Issue, which chronicles the making of the 2007 edition of that very issue.

Unfortunately, the movie is not nearly as thrilling as I thought it would be. It's supposed to be a documentary about Anna Wintour and not just any September issue, but rather the 2007 September issue of Vogue, which happens to be its biggest one to date. This is saying a lot, since the September issue is already Vogue’s biggest one of the year. And I suppose that, seeing how Anna Wintour is so private, it probably was rather difficult for the producers to get into her bubble.

And while the movie is interesting (how could it not be?), it falls flat in achieving its goal of showing how Vogue’s September issue came together, and Anna Wintour’s role in its production. The movie itself is visually captivating and well shot, taking us into places most of us have never and will never visit ourselves (amongst others, it gives us a great inside view of what the New York offices of Vogue look like). The soundtrack is also well chosen and greatly enhances the scenes. The first disc in this two-disc set contains the film itself, along with five deleted scenes.

But rather than being a ride into the bowels of the making of said issue, the movie feels more like a haphazard series of clips filmed during the months before its publication rather than a well thought-out series of chronological clips showing Vogue readers as well as other viewers how the process starts and how it comes together. The movie goes off on interesting yet irrelevant tangents that detract from its main objective.

Consequently, The September Issue feels more like an episode of The Office: Vogue rather than a standalone documentary. One notable aspect is the fact that nowhere in the documentary do you see anything that has to do with the written content of the magazine. It might not be as glamorous a process as the various gorgeous photo shoots that were done for the September issue of Vogue, but the quality of the writing in the magazine (from the topics chosen to the articles themselves) certainly doesn’t come without a lot of hard work that is barely touched upon. And so, the movie left me with a vague sense of dissatisfaction, as I still don’t know how the September issue was put together and only have a sense of it.

However, this isn’t to say that The September Issue isn’t a source of insight on a couple of fashion-related topics. For example, the hatred that some have for the fashion industry is addressed by Wintour herself in the opening sequence of the movie: “I think what I often see is that people are frightened by fashion, and that because it scares them or makes them feel insecure, they put it down. On the whole, people that say demeaning things about our world, I think that’s usually because they feel in some ways excluded or, you know, not part of the cool group. So as a result, they just mock it. Just because you like to put on a beautiful Carolina Herrera dress … it doesn’t mean you’re a dumb person …. There’s something about fashion that can make people very nervous.”

This opening is on its own bound to create quite some lively discussions at movie club viewings of The September Issue and I think it’s fantastic for many reasons.

What particularly intrigued me while watching The September Issue is how intelligent people such as Anna Wintour can claim that fashion is life, and to see how thoroughly some people, as depicted in this documentary, live by that motto to the extreme (I’m thinking specifically of André). Yes, fashion is important — but is it as important as these people claim it to be?

While fashion does have its place in such the process of advancing human civilization, it shouldn’t be taking centre stage. And yet at times, The September Issue seems to be more of an attempt at convincing us of fashion’s importance rather than being about Anna Wintour and her work at Vogue, specifically in creating the historic issue at the centre of this film. By the same token, fashion not being centre-stage in life doesn’t imply that those who are talented and who dedicate their lives to it should be demeaned. 

One of the people who has suffered from such prejudices is Anna Wintour herself, and one of the good things about this movie is that is shows many of the reasons why she should be respected. I’m impressed by the Wintour portrayed in this documentary. I’m impressed by her poise (even under pressure), by her focus, by the amount of work she gets done, by the number of people she deals with (all the while maintaining her abovementioned poise), by her organisational skills, by her obvious passion for fashion (obvious by the way she talks about it and the way she avidly follows conversations); all in all, The September Issue shows us a woman who really is at the top of the fashion field, who knows she is, and who doesn’t suffer fools.

The September Issue also made me wonder about the accusations Anna Wintour has long fielded about being an emotionless ice queen. I can understand why one’s first impression of her would be so; after all, this is a woman whose standard pose is arms crossed tightly across her chest, legs crossed (or knees tightly locked together), sunglasses on (even during a fashion show), face expressionless, and eyes seemingly taking everything in. But to base one’s judgement of a person on her public persona seems ridiculous, and The September Issue does well to demonstrate just how different Wintour is in more personal settings.

Another topic that is bound to come out after viewing this movie is that of the hypocritical double standard applied to successful men versus successful women. Anna Wintour expanded and consolidated an empire; doing so didn’t happen by being flighty, by being unfocused, and most importantly, by lacking confidence and being uncertain of where she wants to go. And yet, she’s faulted for the very things that made her successful, and the very things that, in a man, would beg for much more flattering adjectives.

It took me awhile to be convinced to give the DVD a try – why would I want to subject myself to the same distaste twice? But I soon found out that the movie comes with a second DVD packed with almost an hour and a half worth of deleted clips. And so I decided to give it a chance, and, lo and behold, viewing the deleted scenes makes for a much more satisfying movie, albeit the nagging question of why in the world did these clips not make it to the final edit (including the abovementioned deleted scenes that chronicled the writing of the articles for the issue). I found it very ironic that the bonus features tell us more about the making of the September issue than the movie itself. Much of the meat of the film was seemingly left on the editing room floor. One of the important aspects of the creation of the September 2007 issue was its writing, and it was only covered in the deleted scenes available on the second disc in the set.

The biggest brouhaha this movie created was, of course, regarding the opportunity to glimpse into the life of the very elusive, private, yet extremely influential Anna Wintour. And while The September Issue  expresses a lot of black and white opinions, the extra features provide  opportunities to see the various shades of grey also involved in the discussion about fashion.

If you have seen this movie and loved it, you are going to love the DVD even more, as it comes with over an hour worth of extra footage. By the same token, if you didn’t like the movie because you found it oddly dissatisfying like I did, you are most probably going to be more satisfied with the DVD for the very same reason. And whatever you think about fashion, this is a great tool to use in movie club settings to discuss fashion’s right place in our world – neither as a deity nor as a devil – as well as discuss the different gender-based standards our society has for successful women versus successful men.

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