Guess what arrived in my mailbox today?! The 2012 Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair. As a writer, one of my vain dreams is to someday be published in Vanity Fair. This stems no doubt from an early-childhood experience when my family moved into a new house on 7th Street in Twin Falls, Idaho and I discovered a pile of old Vanity Fair magazines in the furnace room left behind by the previous tenant. To paraphrase William Goyen: "They were my sensual revelation." Years later, in the midst of my enflamed infatuation with Djuna Barnes, I discovered she wrote for Vanity Fair. That shoveled coal into the furnace, so to speak.
Naturally, the current issue kicks off with a three-page foldout cover photographed by Mario Testino who—along with last year's cover photographer Norman Jean Roy—carries on a tradition initiated by Annie Liebovitz in 1995 (when movies turned 100). Although a portfolio of Liebovitz's Hollywood issue covers was published in the February 2007 issue of Vanity Fair, the current issue updates that portfolio with Senior West Coast editor Krista Smith's expanded survey of the "unfolding drama" of the "cover-by-cover history of Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue, 1995-2011" and a "Behind the Scenes" column tracing the influence of English decorator Syrie Maugham on the cover's pastel glamour. Vanity Fair's website amplifies Smith's article with bonus videos of an introductory roll call of the young actresses chosen for the cover, an interview with contributing photographer Testino and fashion and style director Jessica Diehl about the inspiration that went into creating the cover look, a behind-the-scenes look at the shoot, and Smith's candid conversations with cover girls Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence.
Also available online is Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter's introductory "letter" wherein he bemoans the current state of cinema's landscape. "When one of the most regular logos on movie titles belongs to the comic-book publisher Marvel, you know it's not 1939 anymore—the year that was arguably the high-water mark of American moviemaking ... that faraway time before superheroes, children's toys, and even board games replaced wars, literary classics, and epic love stories as fodder for producers and studios." Carter is not to be undone, however, by Hollywood's sorry state of affairs and waxes poetic in his gestural tributes to screen divas Sophia Loren and Anjelica Huston, both featured in the Hollywood issue; Loren in Sam Kashner's in-depth profile and Huston in a portrait by Lillian Ross (available online). Anjelica Huston, incidentally, has joined the cast of NBC's new musical drama Smash as Eileen Rand ("a tough-minded, eagle-eyed Broadway producer, scary and magnetic, and uniquely attractive"). Vanity Fair has backstage photos of that fledgling TV series produced by Steven Spielberg.
Further online samplings of the Hollywood issue include a quartet of photos from Vanity Fair's 2012 Hollywood Portfolio (Kirsten Dunst and Charlize Theron are particularly titillating), Pico Iyer's tour of India's Bollywood southern rival "Tollywood" (with a related slide-show of Robert Polidori's behind-the-scenes photographs), and an immensely clever column by Evening Class favorite James Wolcott: "Free Willy! The History of the Penis in Cinema" aka "The Hung and the Restless." By nature of his reputation, Wolcott grants a kind of contextual credence to one of my favorite cinematic sports: "penis spotting". Here I must give a shout-out to Gary Morris who taught me to be "upfront" (so to speak) about "penis spotting" through his unabashed dispatch from the 2000 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (now known as Frameline) published at his site Bright Lights Film Journal. In 2000 penis spotting might have been reduced to a subcultural activity but it has now clearly gone mainstream and not—Wolcott suggests—for all the right reasons.
Other treasures in the print issue? Well, for starters, there's Martin Scorsese's spotlight on Kevin Brownlow and his quest for Abel Gance's masterpiece Napoléon (1927), whose five-and-a-half hour restoration will be premiering March 24 at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California under the aegis of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. I bought my tickets the moment they went on sale and have already secured dinner reservations. How about you?
There are other celebrated photo essays, of course, including an archival set entitled "Opening Acts" bringing back Vanities headliners from 2006-2011; Vanities being, of course, Vanity Fair's regular spotlight on the ever-shifting "new generation" of young actors, often in delicious and provocative poses. There's also Sam Jones' group shot of some of the best character actors working in movies today.
Charlotte Chandler offers a lovely remembrance of her dinners with Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni and traces parallels between their lives. Here's one fantastic anecdote: "Fellini, who frequently visualized his characters in cartoons before casting actors, told me he had wanted Mastroianni for La Dolce Vita from the start. 'But Marcello wanted a script. I gave him a thick manuscript, every page blank except for the first. On it was a picture I had drawn, showing his character as I saw him. Mastroianni was alone in a little boat in the middle of the ocean with a prick that reached all the way down to the bottom of the ocean, and there were beautiful lady sea sirens swimming all around it. Marcello looked at the picture and said, 'It's an interesting part. I'll do it.' "
There are flashback pieces to Rocky's 1997 Best Picture win at the Academy Awards®; S.L. Price's fond recollection of the legacy of Diner (1982), which launched the careers of Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Barkin and Paul Reiser; and Henry-Jean Servat's interview with Brigitte Bardot (accompanied by luscious photographs of the sex kitten in her prime). David Kamps explores Steve Coogan's comic genius, while Ingrid Sischy profiles Cindy Sherman on the occasion of MoMA's upcoming retrospective.
But what would an issue of Vanity Fair be without its hard-hitting investigative journalism?—the Hollywood issue no less?—which balances all the spectacle of celebrity with its darker aspects: Mark Seal investigates the fall from grace of Arnold Klein, the "Father of Botox"; Ned Zeman questions of the dangers of human growth hormones on Hollywood's "vial bodies"; and, in a separate piece, Ned Zeman takes a look at the controversies surrounding child talent manager Nick Roses.
Even some of the ads are great in the Hollywood issue! A special advertising section on the "haute horlogerie" of Richard Mille boasts stunning photographs by Timothy White of celebrities wearing watches. And the advertisement for the new HBO series Game Change based on the best-selling book by Mark Halpern and John Heilemann provides our first cocked eyebrow at just how amazingly Julianne Moore looks like Sarah Palin!
Cover photo courtesy of Mario Testino. Portrait of Anjelica Huston courtesy of Annie Liebovitz. Photo of Kirsten Dunst courtesy of Tom Munro. Illustration of the zippered curtain by Barry Blitt. Photograph of Julianne Moore courtesy of HBO.