on 28 November 2000
You won't need popcorn to enjoy this trip to the movies. And, what a trip it is - the classiest, glossiest, most glamorous photographic history of Hollywood to be found in print.
"Vanity Fair," the magazine that has kept an unerring eye on Tinsel Town for the past 87 years, has assembled a gallery of memorable images by such renowned photographers as Edward Steichen, Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz, Irving Penn, and others.
Luminaries of the silver screen are found at work and at play, in incredible photos that capture not only a visage but an essence: a clown costumed Al Jolson is poignant in song, an in your face bathrobe clad Jack Nicholson wields a golf club, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Joan Crawford laze on a sun kissed beach, a sensuous Johnny Depp challenges with his eyes, a bereft Steve Martin is the quintessential loser, and Mae West gives a boxer her heavy lidded once over.
Artfully and thoughtfully positioned, the photos themselves are a visual record of movie town's history: a black and white studio shot of Walter Huston faces a color portrait of jodphur clad Anjelica Huston, the Fonda family (Jane, Henry and Peter)offer congenial smiles, A piquant very young Drew Barrymore is partnered with a revealing backstage glimpse of John Barrymore, Harold Lloyd faces a bemused Tom Hanks.
Group photos also tell a story from Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall joining pals for a Sunday afternoon gin rummy tournament at Clifton Webb's house to the directors who made and are making cinematic history to the MGM musical starlets from the 1940s and 1950s. All here - a visual paean to the past and present.
Among the 292 iconographic photographs are found brief essays, the words of P. G. Wodehouse, D. H. Lawrence, Dorothy Parker, Walter Winchell, and Patricia Bosworth. Carl Sandburg devotes a poem to Charlie Chaplin, Clair Booth Brokaw Luce focuses on Greta Garbo, a woman of whom she writes, "Our generation's loveliest woman is but a phantom upon a silver screen." We go behind the scenes with the top gossip columnists of their day - Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper. One round and chunky, the other extravagantly hatted - the two amazingly powerful. We also discover that there is more footage to the dark, mysterious murder of Lana Turner's lover than we had ever imagined. Scandal, greed, cupidity aren't overlooked in this chronicle of the land of broken dreams.
Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter offers a succinct explanatory foreword in which he confesses to being "a simple unabashed fan. Of movies, of the people who make them, and of Hollywood." Confidante to the famous Dominic Dunne pens a telling afterword. in which he admits to being mesmerized by Hollywood. Aren't we all?
Remember the catchy "Hooray for Hollywood"? Now, it's hooray for "Vanity Fair's Hollywood", which is a great deal more than catchy - it's a wonder!
on 4 November 2000
If there were only one picture in the book - that of an amply-aged Tony Curtis wearing nothing but his briefs and clutching the hand of the equally-matured Jack Lemmon wearing a slip, obviously a parody of their roles in Some Like it Hot, the book would still be worth the price. The expressions on their faces, especially the side-way glance by the heavily made-up Jack Lemmon, is a mini-performance by itself. In capturing this split-second expression the photographer, Annie Leibovitz, is putting on show her own genius, or lucky break. I am inclined to believe it is the former. The other 200-plus photos are a bonus.
Hollywood has always stood for dreams. Vanity Fair's take has always been to turn the tinsel used to depict those dreams into glamor. This book is very much in keeping with the magazine's slant and Hollywood's most inflated view of itself. The book faithfully reproduces a cross-section of Vanity Fair's 86 year history.
Before you read further, let me caution you that this book teems with suggestiveness. If that sort of thing isn't your cup of tea, skip this book.
The photographs are the best part of the book. There are large numbers of outstanding examples of work by Edward Steichen and Annie Leibovitz.
The pages are oversized, and many images are done as double spreads. This makes for seeing very large features of the stars portrayed, and this has high impact effects on the viewer -- evoking a sense of the wide screen. The editing was wisely done to select many images that can be reasonably faithfully reproduced that way.
Unfortunately, many fine photographs were reproduced with the middle fold through an important part of the image. Some of the images that were not so spoiled also were overinked in a way that make the details hard to discern. Inexplicably, there were no credits listed for many photographs. I graded the book down one star for being insufficiently well designed, credited and printed to portray all of the photographs to their best advantage.
Except for this very regrettable and significant set of flaws on the photography side, the book is very well done. The selection of photographs was brilliantly done to not only highlight great ones, but to create interplay among them . . . and among themes . . . and among generations of Hollywood performers. I found it all quite exciting and entertaining.
Some of my favorite photographs in the book are:
Jack Nicholson; Annie Leibovitz, 1992
Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, and Jim Carrey; Annie Leibovitz, 1997
Doris Day; John Florea, 1953
Spencer Tracy and Katherine Kapburn; n.c., 1949
Nancy and Ronald Reagan; Harry Benson, 1985
Pee-Wee Herman; Annie Leibovitz, 1984
Walt Disney; Edward Steichen, 1933
Dustin Hoffman; Herb Ritts, 1996
Rita Hayworth; n.c., 1946
Robert Redford; George Gorman, 1984
Meryl Streep; Annie Leibovitz, 1982
Gloria Swanson; Edward Steichen, 1928
I also liked the caricature of Greta Garbo by Miguel Covarrubias from 1932.
The essays were more of a mixed lot. My favoite was D.H. Lawrence on sex appeal. "Sex appeal is only a dirty name for a bit of life flame." Other essays looked at Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo (by Walter Winchell), the queens of gossip columnists, and agent Sue Mengers.
After you have finished enjoying this close-up look at Hollywood, ask yourself where your dreams come from. Then consider where they should come from. Should Hollywood be the source of your dreams, the reinforcement of your dreams, or simply be a source of entertainment? You'll have to decide. But do so explicitly. Your dreams are too important to turn over to others to create and
As the Everly Brothers used to sing: "Dream, Dream, Dream . . ."
on 5 December 2001
if you dig annie leibovitz's art, then this is a must have: the pictures are all stunningly beautiful, and range from old hollywood studio shots to last year's halls of fame. in a few words you get your rufus sewell as well as mae west. and the articles that go with it are all vanity fair standard. just something film buffs ought to have on their coffee table.