Sunday, October 4, 2009

The September Issue

When I got out of college, I landed at a magazine that covered the graphic arts industry.

Specifically, how all manner of printed products actually were produced and printed. The technologies used, the innovative papers and foils and hits of glosses that banded together to bring a printed piece to life, whether it was an annual report, a car brochure, a direct mail piece, an art book or a magazine.

I was in heaven--as an obsessive reader, I came to appreciate the heft of books and particularly magazines. How the pages gleamed and the images sprang from the pages in a visual marathon. While in college, I interned at a magazine and learned how the editorial side built an issue piece by piece, fact by fact, racing against the deadline that awaited every month.

So getting a documentarian's view of the production of Vogue's annual masterpiece of a September issue--the requisite shenanigans that play out behind the scenes, the fluttering of assistants and the rolling of racks and the racing of heartbeats as blood pressure boils over and defeat sets in amongst some of the most creative minds in the industry--was a startlingly good time.

When it ended, just like my friend seated beside me, I wanted more, more, more. We saw flickers of The Devil Wears Prada personality peeking out, but largely that kind of behavior was tamped down or largely kept from view and instead a carefully constructed Anna Wintour veneer was on display. For the sake of reality, I suppose, we saw her from time to time with her lipstick gnawed-off, or tired eyes caught on film for all to see.

But it was Grace Coddington whom I admired all the more in the end, for trying new creative approaches to telling the stories of those clothes each month. Clearly, she is the dreamer behind the visual driver's seat, assembling tableaus of models and props that take you to another world, whether Anna thinks she can charge her overpriced admission to go there or not. I understand she has a magazine to sell ads for, that it's a business that requires coverage of some and not others and that the who's in and who's out changes like the wind.

But while she clearly seems unafraid to be direct and even brusque with those beneath her, her peers bring out her insecurity. And we were treated to an example of how passive-aggressive bosses (who leave for a trip and ask an underling to deliver bad news once she's left the building) can just chip away at a team's desire to work hard.

Given the glimpses of Grace's chutzpah and keen intellect, I was hoping she'd grab the cell of one of the myriad assistants to call an unsuspecting Anna in her limo to give her what for. But she also strikes me as too shrewd to do that on camera, and probably too well-mannered, being British, after all.

If you've ever cracked open one of the heftier issues of Vogue and wondered what it takes to make it happen, or felt yourself transported to another time or simply pined over the clothes while paging through its fashion spreads, go see this movie. It is well worth your time.

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