Thomas Brady with the December 2014 issue of Vanity Fair: nothing shall escape him.
Let us read the issue cover to cover. Scarriet will confront art culture as it lives in a literary fashion magazine, the giant, distinguished, even historic, glossy, Vanity Fair, which has the good manners to visit its subscribers once a month and look exactly like Elle and Vogue. We picked this particular December 2014, 212 page issue (including ads) very much at random; also we need something to do as we sit in our cafe across the street and drink coffee and write poems. Anyway, the New England Patriots are cheating again; we have no desire to watch football.
Vanity Fair is a great glimpse of the zeitgeist: it is pictorial, smart and extremely well-connected to billionaire wealth; serious, yet whimsical; it sucks up to the famous in a friendly way, yet has a certain combative, independent swagger one would expect from billionaires. It dwells in the rarefied air of the politically non-partisan, though it does aspire to be politically correct—because when you’re that rich, you need to at least appear earnest and moral.
But Scarriet readers need to know the history; ignorance on this point is not trifling; there have been other, older magazines called Vanity Fair, but this one belongs to the Conde Nast empire, a publishing empire, a fashion empire, a society pages empire, whose spirit can be encompassed in the following way: the ostentatious, modern art-collecting, immoral rich feeding their habit of feeling better about themselves by making the moral middle class as jealous of them (the rich) as possible. One could put it more simply, as a friend did, calling Vanity Fair a “status symbol.” But Vanity Fair is, in fact, more than “status” and more than “symbol.”
Vanity Fair, along with Women’s Wear Daily, Glamour, GQ, Allure, Vogue, House and Garden, Architectural Digest, Golf World, Details, Conde Nast Traveler, The New Yorker, Self, Teen Vogue, The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and hundreds of U.S. newspapers, is a monopolizing publishing empire whose first acquisitions were Vogue and Dress—quickly renamed Vanity Fair, by a German immigrant, Conde Nast, (a Georgetown U. classmate of Robert Collier) who had successfully increased the advertising revenue of Collier’s—a muckraking, leftwing, sophisticated journal—as its advertising director.
Enter the real-life model for Jay Gatsby: Frank Crowinshield, a Boston Brahmin life-long bachelor, social elite hobnobber, and modern art collector, editor of Vanity Fair from 1914 to 1935. Crowinshield, whose family tree includes the DuPont family, published Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot, and Gertrude Stein, and was the first editor to publish reproductions of Matisse and Picasso, as well as the work of erotic artist Clara Tice, the “Queen of Greenwich Village” in 1915, after her run-in with the Vice Squad. Frank also ran with the Modernist circle of wealthy modern art collector Walter Arensberg, which included Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, William Carlos Williams, and Louis Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg’s socialist, nudist camp, poet father; as well as the Algonquin Roundtable of Robert Benchley and morbid wit Dorothy Parker.
In other words, FC ran with everybody. He was a founding trustee of MOMA. Crowinshield’s niece married Harvard football star and businessman Frederick Bradlee, whose son, Ben Bradlee, became the famous editor of the liberal newspaper Washington Post, which toppled a conservative president. A 2004 issue of Vanity Fair revealed the identity of Deep Throat.
The Vanity Fair party began during the Modernist/connected super-rich/European royalty’s genocide of World War One and ended in 1935, during the Great Depression, as Vanity Fair folded, and hid in the arms of Vogue.
In the meantime, the Newhouse Empire, presently worth billions, now called Advance Publications, Inc., bought Conde Nast. Advance publishes Vanity Fair and its European editions. This octopus is huge. When you own Vogue, Teen Vogue, House and Garden, the Discovery Channel, and the New Yorker, you own the elite brainy literary fashionable politically correct mind of the United States. You are golden and you make more golden.
Si Newhouse, Advance Publications Chairman and CEO, who owned the obscenely priced Jackson Pollock No. 5 drip painting, relaunched Vanity Fair in 1983. VF’s current editor, Graydon Carter, succeeded Tina Brown in 1992. Brown edited the New Yorker (VF’s only glossy culture rival) from ’92 to ’98 and in 2000 was appointed a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire). So don’t fuck with her.
Vanity Affair is known for its 1991 Leibovitz cover of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore, a 1996 expose of the tobacco industry, a 2006 photo shoot of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ daughter who up until then had been “hidden,” and other glorious promotions of fine art and fine literature, such as “scoop” interviews with Jennifer Aniston (after her divorce from Brad Pitt) and Martha Stewart (after her release from prison.) You get the picture. Media firepower.
THE COVER: closeup face of Angelina Jolie—non-smile smile and icy blue eyes which resemble two planet earths perched in almond-shaped beauty—with the words:
PERFECTLY AWESOME! ANGELINA JOLIE Visiting War Zones, Directing an Oscar Contender, and Life as Mrs. Pitt —by Janine Di Giovanni photos by Mario Testino p.152.
In other words, she is Angelina Jolie and you’re not. Wouldn’t you like to experience life as Mrs. Pitt as you visit War Zones and direct Oscar contender films? Of course you would! Actually, you wouldn’t be able to handle that in a million years, and that’s the point, too.
At the bottom of Vanity Fair‘s cover is:
Also, Photos That Should Never Be Taken —by James Walcott
Walcott writes of the Selfie, which is of you, and which cannot compete with the cover portrait of Jolie. Obviously.
At the top:
ANJELICA & JACK: HER NEW MEMOIR! [as if powerful Jolie shaming you weren’t enough…Anjelica Huston!]
Van Gogh: Suicide or MURDER?
How to save a 100,000 ton DROWNING SHIP
The World’s most DRIVEN UBER Customer
The PUBLISHING Dispute That Absolutely Everybody Is Talking About
The PUBLISHING Dispute That Absolutely Nobody Is Talking About
So that’s Vanity Fair’s December 2014 cover (dominant color, white). And now we dive headfirst into its inside pages.
A barrage of ads hit one first (and I always look for the ones that can make me smell good):
RALPH LAUREN fold-out ad: The Ricky Bag (alligator). How big is the bag? 2 pics of it, but by itself. The simple black style emphasized. Gold lock right in the middle of the bag sends unspoken message to proles: gold protects; you have no gold to protect. B&W photo of Ralph and wife, black tie tux, black pants suit, she rides a horse in the other full page pull out photo, gold button jacket, jeans ; elegance w/ hint of working class ‘real.’
“Rare Discovery, Rare Luxury. Introducing Re-Nutriv. Diamond Dual Infusion. Energize the 100 million skin cells on your face.” Black background. Silvery gold bottle w/ liquid curtain stream.
Snake skin knee boots on young, flat-chested model, lips slightly open, fragile yet surly expression, upward gaze, bare shoulder, long bare arm, one leg bent awkwardly horizontal on wicker chair.
Small handbag, vague urban landscape at night, ‘string’ headlights, model in simple gray cloth coat, hair pulled back, lips slightly open, heavy eye makeup, faint lipstick; sense of night-vision, on-the-go, in-a-hurry, head-turned, straight-on gaze, almost as if coolly facing a night stalker.
“New Collection. L’Absolu Rouge” Black model reclining above scattered, fat pink and red rose blossoms, mouth half-open to show teeth, almost as if talking, diamond stud earrings, very red lipstick, lipstick in foreground with phallic shapes.
3 teenage girls, expressionless, full lips, mouths closed, standing stiffly looking straight at viewer, in ancient-looking, grassy park, broken wall in background, similar outfits, 2 wearing pants, 1 dress, stitched-outline collars, pockets, straight, masculine wear.
TIFFANY & CO. New York Since 1837 (4 pages)
Model small in snowy, NYC Central Park cartoon-landscape, short red high-heel boots, short gray coat, running to large cold ring perched on little stone bridge
Night, winter, 5th ave, 23rd street, cartoon-landscape, man pulling sled with 2 large rings and young boy and girl.
White handbag with model’s arms, hands in handles, black raincoat, can’t see model’s face; opposite, close up of severe, blue-eyed, mannish woman.
Soft-focus, white atmosphere, Nicole Kidman reclining, lips closed, slight haughty smile, gold band, white watch face.
2 young models, Chinese and blonde, full lips, hair back, but blowing in wind, in high-grass, sloping, meadow, samurai-like outfits, warriors advancing down hill, bare arms, legs, necks.
“Follow: see & hear, eat & drink, events, shop, video, offers”
White electric scrubbing brush machine with bow. “The gift of great skin just got better. Meet our new skin changer.”
CHANEL Fine Jewelry
Close -up side view of Grace Kelly-looking model in white feather boa with slim diamond-encrusted crown. “White gold and diamonds. Plume de Chanel”
Photo of fine face powder pouring. “90 seconds to flawless. With Clinique, pretty is easy. Foundations, Concealers, Powders. So you look perfect in any light.”
Out of focus, outdoor urban, soft, bluish. “World’s best tasting vodka. Give the gift.”
MICHAEL KORS Only at Macy’s, Macys.com, MichaelKors.com
“The new men’s fragrance for the ultimate jet setter.” Mountain lake, woman in white bikini facing lake away from viewer, wet, straight hair, man looking at viewer, blue eyes, smallish under thick brows, hair combed straight up, Shakespeare-mouth, 5 day red-blonde mustache/beard, white shirt, one nipple showing, sunglasses in hand, wearing watch.
Front-on B&W shot of Asian woman in black turtleneck, long fingers on face. Watch with black face, diamonds on border, gold band.
COACH New York
B &W photo, young model, full lips, blue eye, fur collar coat, leather handbag, flower design, under her arm, hair covering face, facing page, closer shot of bag.
Gold color background color scheme, Charlize Theron, bare back yellow dress, lips slightly open, looking in distance across viewer, phallic bottle in foreground.
Diamond encrusted watch, model w/ shades, gold purse, smiling, bare arms crossed, no hair on arms.
“We promise to transform your skin.” Large close-up smiling face, electric scrubbing brush.
Now that our skin is clear, and we have our watch, handbag, boots and lipstick on, it’s time for:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Photo slices “From Left: Russell Brand (page 188): Angelina Jolie (page 152); Anjelica Houston (page 192).”
“152 Woman of the Year. Director, globe-trotting humanitarian, Oscar-winning actress, newlywed, mother of six,and now an honorary Dame—how does Angelina Jolie do it?”
“160 VF Portrait: Salman Khan. Starting w/ a video tutorial for his niece…Salman has led a revolution in learning.”
“162 The War of the Words. One of the world’s largest publishers, Hachette, is battling Amazon over e-book revenues.”
“168 Collage Education. Spotlight on Jean-Charles de Ravenel, whose collages, now on view in L.A., create deeply personal histories.
“170 New Girl at the Kit Kat Club. Spotlight on Emma Stone, fulfilling a childhood dream as Cabaret’s latest Sally Bowles.”
“172 NCIS: Provence. Attacked for questioning the legend of Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide in their 2011 biography of the artist, two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors present new evidence, enlisting a leading forensic expert in a case for murder.
Woman of the Year: How does Angelina Jolie do it? We assume she gets a little help. The article reveals that Jolie is a member of the highly exclusive Council on Foreign Relations, with guys like Kissinger, David Rockefeller, and U.S. Presidents. First you belong to Skull and Bones, then you become a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Or your dad makes Midnight Cowboy. It’s no wonder then, given her membership in the New World Order, the VF article respectfully reveals nothing: no gossip, no flaws, just some boilerplate about Jolie attending U.N. Refugee meetings, working on a film about Bosnian Muslims (during the time President Clinton bombed Belgrade), and her latest, Unbroken, about a WWII Pacific Theater POW, who was her Hollywood neighbor. Jolie looks great in the photos in a cheekbone/lips/blue-eyes beaming with confident stare sort of way, though the pictures do not personally attract us; she is still young—has not hit her mid-40s yet, when inevitably the woman’s youthful blush finally dies, in a flurry of covers, foundations, and powders, U.N. or no U.N.
VF Portrait: The piece on Salman Khan, serendipitous founder of the on-line Khan Academy, a learning tool for kids, has less than a page of text and wastes the talents of Annie Leibowitz (just a photo of a nerd in front of a desk) but helpful, perhaps; we didn’t know about this free website.
The War of the Words: The “e-book pricing” story involves “the future of publishing, maybe of culture.” This is surely an exaggeration, but this reads like a fair and balanced piece, succinctly outlining the battle for book readers’ souls between Amazon and the Big Five Publishers, with best-selling authors siding with the publishers, and smaller, self-publishing authors with Amazon—who benefited from a recent Justice Department anti-monopoly lawsuit against the Big Publishers. But isn’t Amazon the monopoly, here? the article asks. Anyway, it all seems to hinge on Amazon having the right to sell e-books for $9.99 and, less, if they so desire—with the Big Five wanting to charge $14.99. Apple is a de facto ally of the Big Five as it competes (with partial success so far) in the e-trade with Amazon. We can’t help but side with Amazon; we have little sympathy for Monopoly Publishers and their overrated big name authors and high prices. We worked in a bookstore years ago, and recall how major publishers discontinued inexpensive paperbacks (a few bucks a pop) and introduced Trade Paperbacks instead—for 15 bucks. VF has done well to give us a fair and clear view of this fight, which author Keith Gessen characterizes as West coast/new capitalism vs. East Coast/old wealth.
Collage Education: This is a “spotlight,” with only a quarter page of text and a photo of the artist (French) in his studio in the Bahamas. It reeks of self-congratulatory Modernism: the ubiquitous, aristocratic movement still going strong, in which any fragment or smudge after World War One by someone with a French name is considered the most profound and socially relevant gesture in the history of humanity. Excuse the yawn; we must quote the first paragraph in its entirety:
“It is rather unusual today to come across an artist today who uses the old technique of collage in a new creative way—the first collages were created by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in France in the early 20th century. Jean-Charles de Ravenel, the subject of an exhibition this month at Hollyhock, in Los Angeles, is one such artist, a titled Frenchman who lives in and works out of a studio which literally drips down from a seaside villa on an island in the Bahamas. He has not forgotten that collage found its roots in the European Dada movement as a reaction to the First World War. The method allowed artists such as Hannah Hoch to challenge sexist and racial codes in turbulent Weimar Germany, and the American artists such as Man Ray to solarize photomontage portraiture in the 1930s. Even the great Matisse produced staggeringly beautiful, colorful cutout works during the last creative period of his life (currently on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.)”
The Modernist art movement was aristocratic and fascist; it is disingenuous to pretend every Art-inflected Modernist heroically opposed the worst elements of humanity in the 20th century as seen in the terror of the first two World Wars—which is inevitably the rhetoric we get whenever those artsy-fartsy artists and their wealthy friends are described. But the Modern Art Investment Scheme is the fertile soil from which VF grew—so we’ll always get this corrupt type of cheerleading in every page of the Conde Nast Empire, even as VF, with its wealthy independence, manages to get things right in other areas.
There is a highly prevalent, nutty idea that the Modernist loosening of morals between the wars acted as some kind of hindrance to fascism. No. It fed it. Speaking of which, we have the next VF spotlight, the newest Sally Bowles of naughty Cabaret, Emma Stone. The Kit Kat Club. Enemy of fascism? Hardly. A joyous full color picture of scantily clad cast members at the bar is included with a couple of paragraphs of text, revisiting Christopher Isherwood’s Nazi Berlin inspired 1930s invention.
NCIS: Provence: Van Gogh’s murder story doesn’t produce anything new—the book’s authors revisit their 5 year old thesis (a decent and plausible one) which speculates Van Gogh was shot by a young cowboy bully who hung out with the artist at the time of Van Gogh’s death—a bullet to the abdomen. What is interesting is how the ‘death by suicide’ story accidentally found its way into the popular imagination, helped by a popular biography and a Hollywood film, and is clung to by scholars simply out of habit, with peevish belligerence. The murder of Poe story is far more complex and important, but Poe will never get a fair hearing in any Conde Nast publication (Poe was recently vilified in The New Yorker; it’s a small world) since Poe’s artistic-unity high standards were precisely what the ragtag, found poem, low-brow disguised as high-brow Modernism of Vanity Fair and its sister publications rebelled against.
A model who looks like Naomi Watts, in a navy turtleneck sweater, with a happy smile of dreamy anticipation (life is good) for Tory Burch My First Fragrance. The square bottle with its orange case sits unobtrusively in the lower right; on the lower left, Tory Burch’s signature.
The crown logo. 2 pages with a couple of pictures—one a close up—of “Cellini The Classical Watch by Rolex'” white, lined watch face, with 2 dials, very confusing. We never understood all the fuss about watches. Perhaps some are impressed with utility plus design plus beauty. We say, “meh.” Beautiful wrists are spoiled by watches. They are about as interesting to us as the pillbox hat. We suppose they keep the Swiss out of trouble.
“Continued from page 44″ TABLE OF CONTENTS
“177 The Devil and Dr. Kildare Spotlight on the revival of David Rabe’s Sticks and Bones, starring Richard Chamberlain, Holly Hunter, and Bill Pullman.”
“178 Salvage Beast by William Langewieshe Marine salvage master Nick Sloane has seen it all—ships that are sinking, burning, breaking apart, or severely aground—and his rescue operations are the stuff of high-seas legend.”
“185 Do Tell, Maestro Spotlight on the charismatic Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda, as he takes Rossini’s William Tell on tour.”
“186 Prima Galleristas Spotlight on 14 top female art dealers, gathered to re-create a famous (nearly all-male) portrait. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.”
“188 Russell Brand, Seriously by David Kamp Since his BBC Newsnight interview went viral last year, Russell Brand—yes, the comedian, skirt chaser, and recovering addict—has emerged as a political firebrand. With his book Revolution, Brand aims to turn his audience into a movement.”
“192 The Big Fabulous by Anjelica Huston In an adaptation from the second volume of her memoirs, the author recalls her 1973 move from New York to L.A., where the 21-year-old model fell in love with Jack Nicholson, lost her larger-than-life director father, and became the actress she wanted to be.”
“99 Bang-Up Job The meaning of greeting.”
FANFAIR & FAIRGROUND
“103 31 Days in the Life of the Culture Slim Aaron’s snowy mountain scene. My Desk: Ridley Scott. Hot Type. Private Lives: Stella and Isabela Tennant’s sisterly collaboration; Hayden Lasher’s ladylike bags with a Belgian twist. Punch Hutton’s Holiday Gift Guide. A bounty of festive beauty.”
The Devil and Dr. Kildare: Off Broadway with Richard Chamberlain, Holly Hunter, and Bill Pullman in Rabe’s Tony-award winning play about a Vietnam vet. The VF 2 column Spotlight mentions that Chamberlain, 80, came out of the closet in a 2004 memoir. Chamberlain, “America’s original TV heartthrob,” is quoted, “pretending to be someone else for many, many years…is a terrible way to live.” Pretending for a living and pretending in your life, too. Must make you crazy. Chamberlain, looking damn good for 80, wears Calvin Klein in the B&W photo. Hunter, with her arm on Chamberlain’s shoulder, poses with a twisted torso in a dress by Zac Posen.
Salvage Beast: This long article states the amazing: “With 100,000 large merchant ships in the water at any time, scores sink, burn, break apart,run aground, or explode each year—often with toxic consequences. It is Captain Nick Sloane’s job to board troubled vessels and salvage what he can.” This is one of those stories too large for popular consumption; it is too vast, too weighty, too complex, for easy good guy/bad guy political takes; it is a story one meets in The National Geographic: one gazes in wonder at the photos for a few seconds, and then never hears about the story again—precisely because it is too big for anyone—liberal or conservative—to deal with. Political correctness cannot get near it: pirates, environmentalism, insurance fraud, manly rescue heroics, shipping of vast amounts of cargo for the world’s welfare fight for attention, and all fail: one just looks on in wonder, perhaps lingering on the part about saving oil-soaked penguins, and then moves on. Merchant shipping may one day be on our radar, like Big Tobacco or Global Warming, when the Left can pinpoint simple wrong and soft, lily-white lawyers can make easy money. VF is watching out for you.
Do Tell, Maestro: “A rare thing happened this past August during the Mostly Mozart festival, at Lincoln Center. At the first of two performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, led by Gianandrea Noseda, the music director of Tealtro Regio Torino, the audience broke into loud, spontaneous applause after every movement.” Good for you, Noseda, who “raised the money to tour” Rossini’s “rarely heard William Tell.” Bravo to this half-page spotlight.
Prima Galleristas: A 2 page photo by Leibovitz of : “14 of today’s influential women gallerists. The photo is not exhaustive—the universe of important women dealers is now too large for one photograph—but a re-creation of an image by Hans Namuth at Manhattan’s Odeon restaurant in 1982. That photo (which you can see on page 206) was a record of the moment’s most powerful art-world figures, nearly all of them men.” The count, for the record, of the so-called forward-looking (but in fact, reactionary) Modern Art 1982 snapshot? 18 men to 1 woman. Modernism: a Men’s Club playing a simple crass joke on the public. It is still going on, but it’s nice to know there’s some women gallerists out there now, keeping Modernism’s art joke alive. Peggy Guggenheim will always be a Guggenheim.
Russell Brand, Seriously: “British comedian Russell Brand—the ex-junkie bad boy famous for his debauchery, his brief marriage to Katy Perry, and his tight leather trousers—would seem like the last man to emerge as a legit political thinker and voice for the disposed.” We disagree. Debauchery and politics go hand in hand. “I’m not voting,” Brand told the BBC, “out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now, and which has now reached fever pitch where you have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system.” Generations. Imagine that. Actually, Republicans are saying this, too. The only thing mildly interesting about this quote is that Democrats, libertarians, liberals, communists, and Tea Party Republicans would all agree with it. And if you need to get one thing about VF, it is this: escape the Blue State/Red State nonsense and you are on the way to becoming a true aristocrat, a true citizen of the world. In the high stakes world of VF, it is always personal, never, in the boring, trivial American sense, political—who cares whether someone is a Democrat or a Republican (how boring and middlebrow!). For instance: “Brand was, until August, in a serious relationship with a wealthy woman: namely, Jemima Khan, the daughter of the late billionaire corporate raider Sir James Goldsmith (and, as it happens, VF’s European editor-at-large). Khan is an associate editor of the liberal magazine New Statesman, and it was her recruitment of Brand to guest-edit an issue that precipitated his notorious appearance on Newsnight.” So here’s what it’s is all about: “Brand is quite something to experience in person.” If you are a boring person, it doesn’t matter what the fuck your political opinions are. We love this quote from Brand, which is a true we’re-too-rich-to-care VF quote: “We all get excited by the Blairs, Obamas, and Clintons, with their well-rehearsed gestures and photo-op affability, but when push comes to shove, we’re dealing with cunts.” Blimey.
The Big Fabulous: We just can’t get interested in Anjelica Huston’s vague, perfunctory recounting of her non-relationship relationship with Jack Nicholson, the L.A. Laker fan whom she had no children with, and met in 1973. A lot of photos.
And so ends Scarriet’s part 1 look at December 2014 Vanity Fair.