Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Review: The September Issue

The September Issue is a documentary about Anna Wintour, and the process of publishing Vogue's September issue, which is apparently a big fat telephone book of a magazine devoured eagerly by fashion aficionados. I have no fashion credentials, and no real interest in the genre, so why did I watch this movie?

The short answer was that I was stuck with nothing but my Nexus One when my Kindle broke on this year's Tour of the Alps, and I had stuck this into my N1 thinking that it was about magazine publishing. I'm also a photographer, and thought it would be interesting to see how a magazine worked.

The movie opens with Anna Wintour defending the interest of fashion. It definitely came across to me very much as a "Thou dost protest too much." Then we're treated to meeting after meeting of Wintour's staff discussing what needs to go into the issue. The secondary star of the show is Grace Coddington, a senior editor who puts together the photo-shoots and proposes layouts for Wintour to dispose. She's clearly very passionate about her work, and is extremely unhappy when Wintour takes out photos that she put a lot of work into or that she particularly likes.

Mid-way through the movie, we see an interaction between Wintour and her daughter. The daughter declaims to the camera after a discussion with her mom about some upcoming layouts: "There's no way I'm going to go into fashion. I can't imagine a life much more shallow than spending all your time thinking about clothing." I thought that was a great counter-point to the film's opening.

Did I learn something about magazines? Yes. It's amazing how much every page of the magazine has been photo-shopped. One scene after another, you see editorial staff bringing up photoshop and tweaking the photos. And they're not doing things like cropping, they're compositing backgrounds, removing skin blemishes, that sort of stuff. It's pretty impressive how quickly these professionals work, but at the same time, it hammers home to me how every image in media is suspect, except for perhaps a few magazines like National Geographic that have made a point of emphasizing image integrity.

In the end, the movie was interesting enough for me to keep watching to the end, but I'm glad I didn't pay full price for it in the theaters. Recommended only if you've nothing else to watch on your N1 while cycling through Europe with a broken Kindle.
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