Bills, Bills, Bills

The New Yorker and the Hicks.

Bill Cunningham New York

82 Arriving with the prized imprimatur (and fonts) of the Sulzberger Times, director Richard Press' graceful documentary is deceptively spontaneous—a quality it shares with fashion photographer Cunningham's "On the Street" column. It requires real concentration to find the patterns and connections between haute Paris runways and harried Manhattan commuters, just as it surely took effort to get Cunningham to reveal any detail of his personal life—or even to sit still long enough to take questions. As the octogenarian cyclist pedals through Times Square in search of great jackets and better legs, it's clear that the movie, while belonging to the milieu that gave us profiles of Anna Wintour and Valentino, is also one of the great recent New York street-life films; it does for newspaper photography what I Like Killing Flies did for diner cuisine. Himself darting along the sidewalk like a Kennedy-accented lightning bug with a handheld flash, Cunningham eventually begins to seem a frail bulwark of civilization. "He who seeks beauty will find it," he declares, and his work is a natural subject for the movies: the physical ecstasy of truly and uniquely seeing a thing, and immortalizing a glimpse of it. Opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.

American: The Bill Hicks Story

64 Though he hailed from Bush I-era Texas, the scabrous comedian's blistering fusillades against know-nothingism—including a spectacularly vengeful impression of a Waffle House waitress asking, "What you readin' fer?"—couldn't be more current. The drawback of Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas' affectionate and visually inventive retrospective on the late Hicks is that it doesn't serve up a thick enough slice of that stand-up: The most compelling moments in the movie can all be found on YouTube. American favors the life over the work (since Hicks' surviving relatives control his estate, this was perhaps inevitable), but the man's journey—creative kid chafes at religious upbringing, becomes a phenom but eddies into "drinking suicidally," gets sober, finds his subject and second wind—is standard for talented people. The film is more interesting when it addresses Hicks' anti-capitalist rage and his belief in the consciousness-expanding potential of psychedelics—American is the rare movie about comedy that features a sincere montage of cosmic tripping. Though Hicks suspected that death was no permanent end, the main takeaway from his terminal pancreatic cancer is a sense of continuing loss: He just was made for these times. Opens Friday at the Hollywood Theatre. 

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