“So tonight, enjoy yourselves, because nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues.”
Billy Crystal – at the 84th Academy Awards
What’s the most influential movie of the last 30 years, according to Vanity Fair’s latest Hollywood issue?
DINER (1982) apparently. Not least for launching the careers of Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Micky Rourke – making it a trump card in any game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It was also directed by 80s stalwart, Barry Levinson, who managed to win plaudits and some some success through this semi-autobiographical movie about the reunion of a group of twenty-somethings. Its influence has been down to its semi-improvised conversations that riff through popular culture. It has has some how become forgotten, but the article traces its line through SLACKER, HIGH FIDELITY, RESERVOIR DOGS and SEINFELD.
This issue marks the 18th Anniversary of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Edition, which is published to coincide with the Oscars. I made the perilous journey into Dirk’s special vault in the rafters of the den, where magazines and books are piled-high in joist-bursting stacks to find my original copy. In April 1995, the height of New Lad domination of the magazine industry, Vanity Fairs’ cover of ‘The Class of 2000’, 10 actresses dressed only in designer lingerie was a stylish alternative to Kylie Minogue in various states of undress on the cover of LOADED.
It looks rather gauche now, Nicol Kidman and Uma Thurman dominate the cover with a squatting Jennifer Jason Leigh, looking like she’s been photoshopped into the land of the giants. The gatefold reveals Gwyneth Paltrow being more demur in an evening frock and the then unknown Sandra Bullock showing off her huge feet. This issue marked the tone for the the next 18 years of covers. They all have aspirations of sexy glamour, yet somehow seem cold and lifeless; as in the 2006, where Tom Ford nibbles the ear of Kiera Knightley, at her most androgynous, with Scarlet Johansson’s cadaverous bum looking on.
The cover is the entree to the inside feature portfolio of the great and good of the film industry who are photographed in appealing vignettes devised by Annie Leibovitz, with pithy titles. The 1995 portfolio includes: ‘The Three Kings’ Schwarzenegger, Cruise and Hanks in monochrome ‘Three Men and a Baby’ pose with captions extolling their domestic box office to date; an up-side-down ‘Wild Card’ Robin Williams with his hairy chest appearing like something out of a John Landis film; there several ensemble photographs, the most casual is ‘The Directors’ with Oliver Stone, Herbert Ross, Barry Levinson, Ron Howard and Tarrantino apparently relaxing in chat and there is ‘fold out’ photo of elderly actors (most of whom are now dead) ‘The Studio Kids’ featuring Ginger Rogers, Roddy McDowell, Janet Leigh, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr and Tony Curtis, who also appears in an image with Jack Lemmon, ‘The Girls’ in homage to SOME LIKE IT HOT and a parody of the cover image, which should be funny, but is disturbing.
There are strong articles on the big releases de jour, including CASINO, APOLLO 13, and photo-story about BATMAN FOREVER (I’d forgotten how lurid the colours are) and a fascinating story about the illegitimate daughter of the real Citizen Kane, William Randolph Hearst, an immersive story of the super rich. For Vanity Fair, it is about the money, the ka-ching, ka-ching and ba-bling ba-bling. What is striking about the latest issue is that the advertisements are more extravagant than 18 years ago, like the crash never happened and everything is rosey. Billy Crystal is right, there is nothing better to take the sting out of the world’s economic problems than Kidman et al lording it in adverts for Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and a host of esoteric brands that I couldn’t pick from a line-up. I enjoy flicking through this annual purchase as it is a throw-back to the Hollywood of the past and the photo-journals that fed the star system, however, I can’t help thinking that it is a magazine that talks to itself rather than its readers; it plays its stories and adverts in a loop and is reverential to trappings of wealth and fame.
In the 30 years since DINER has been released, the world and popular culture has changed, where the tone of ironic detachment is the prevailing mode. Vanity Fair behaves like it never happened.