“The stakes are pretty self-evident,” says RJ Cutler when asked whether he thinks his film The September Issue surveys less culturally relevant territory than the film that marked his entry into documentary filmmaking: 1992’s award-winning Clinton campaign saga The War Room.
“Vogue is a single publication that profits in the tens of millions of dollars,” says the Emmy-winning filmmaker, whose latest work chronicles the seven-and-a-half months leading up to Vogue magazine’s record-breaking September 2007 issue.
“Their September issue generates between $30 and $50 million, which is more than most magazines generate in a year.
“(September 2007) was the single largest issue of any magazine that’s ever been published, and the people who made it are the ministry of the fashion world — arbiters whose opinions affect a $300 billion dollar industry.”
What’s most impressive about The September Issue (which makes its Toronto premiere as part of Doc Soup on Wednesday before opening theatrically on Friday) is how Cutler manages to communicate the sheer enormity of the magazine while maintaining an intimate, human focus.
Cutler also refrains from overemphasizing Vogue’s formidable editor Anna Wintour (famously, the inspiration for Meryl Streep’s imperious fashionista in The Devil Wears Prada). Instead, he balances the narrative between Wintour and her creative director, Grace Coddington, a fierce, proud professional willing to stand up to her longtime friend and collaborator.
“The way the film is structured is to bring Anna onstage first, because she is the sun around which the planets rotate. But there’s also the question of that sun’s relationship to the planet known as Grace Coddington.”
The September Issue does not lack for incident or intrigue (a major subplot revolves around Coddington having several beloved photos turfed from the layout), and yet it betrays few traces of overt editorial manipulation.
“I’m telling a story, and I want to tell the truth,” says Cutler. “One of the things I always do before I’m finished with a film is show it to the principals involved and ask ‘is it true?’ I want to make sure that they believe that I have told the truth, which is something I learned from (filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker).”