Making a movie about putting out a fashion magazine — even a fashion magazine as spectacular as Vogue’s epic September 2007 issue — obviously requires some shaping of the material. The makers of The September Issue found a wonderful story in the tension between editor Anna Wintour, “the most powerful woman in the United States,” and creative director Grace Coddington. The film starts out highlighting Coddington’s frustration as Wintour cuts her babies to make way for more shots of Sienna Miller running around Rome. (I actually thought Anna was right about losing the group shots!) As the movie goes on, Coddington emerges a hero, not just for her great creative instincts, which I think people have discussed elaborately elsewhere and go without saying, but her willingness to use the movie to totally fuck with Anna Wintour.
We see her in a meeting bugging Anna about the budget for her (totally stunning) couture shoot. Later, riding down somewhere in an elevator, she confesses that “I love talking to Anna about money in front of you” to the crew. It’s not a big moment, but it’s a way of acknowledging the crew that you don’t see Anna do outside interviews. (Though it’s hard to forget she’s being filmed; when we were headed home, both the work friends I saw it with noticed the intense, make-up free close-ups of Wintour, Coddington, and basically everyone else.) The camera crew clearly becomes part of Coddington’s world, enough that it becomes part of her work, as the camera man shows up in a last-minute shoot she’s assigned for the issue.
Coddington actually puts the camera crew in the issue. I kind of love this, but I kind of love it more when — after hearing that Anna wants to airbrush out the cameraman’s gut — she makes a point of marching over to the nearest phone and calling the retouching department to leave Bob’s stomach alone, as the assistant manning the desk loses it in the background. She kind of knows she’s the hero by this point.
As for Anna? She’s not really a villain, you can’t really see her that way. She’s obviously really tough and really competent, and really an amazing mega-bitch (which I mean only as a compliment, I am all about reclaiming shit); but in the end the movie paints a picture of her as, not really weak or immature, but kind of lonely, I guess? The film starts with her talking about how people who don’t get fashion and who mock fashion — because it’s frivolous and expensive — seem scared of it, and are jealous of the cool kids (I think that was her atual line of dialogue). Later on in the movie, this line of questioning is picked when Wintour’s daughter is asked if she wants to go into fashion. She looks kind of horrified, and says she doesn’t want to knock it, but “there’s more important things to do with your life.” Toward the very end, the subject comes up again — in a talking-head presumably taken from the same interview — when Anna tells the crew about her serious British newspaper family, who are, she says “amused” by what she does. Wintour doesn’t seem wistful, doesn’t seem apologetic or regretful, I don’t want to suggest the tightness in her voice is hiding inner frailty, but it is a tightness.