The Vanity Fair curse is a phrase that has been tossed around in the mainstream and new media, and, like so much rumour, has entered the blogging world as "fact". A fringe spectator sport has emerged around this idea which runs alongside the persistent complaint from observers that the magazine's group covers put actors of colour "after the flap". The flip side of this argument is that perhaps all actors who scored a cover but were after the flap may yet escape the curse...
This annual Hollywood issue looks like a 1960's confectionary in a shop window framed in some nostalgic film. The 10 "fresh faces", a title doomed to invite internet snark (which itself needs no invitation) are beautifully arranged in old fashioned, candy coloured, designer dresses or retro bathing suits that encourage normal women to dream of a reason to wear a gown. In hues of palest green, light coral, or white, the subjects sit awkwardly beautifully (an early Nicole Kidman-ish Amy Adams), fail to sit up straight (an uncomfortable and miserable looking Ellen Page) or gamely work it (the three girls on the 3rd flap who may never be seen by most readers).
"These classic photographs capture Tinseltown talent and glamour like nothing else" suggests VF.com. One inclusion like nothing else is the inclusion of Jessica Biel on the cover-before the flap. Biel is most recognized for being linked to Justin Timberlake for the past while, which has coincided with her recieving a huge dose of haterade on the internet. She may be as poor of an actor as many who are actually A or B list, and is passably pretty, even while being made to sit on the floor.
In a recent Gawker piece, it was claimed that "looking at the trends of who was on the cover when, and how many times, it seems like the mag has created basically two categories: 1) Women who've proven themselves as successes and therefore merit a spot and 2) Women who are random and out of the blue and whose careers will forever be ruined by the premature exposure ... Someone like Gretchen Mol comes to mind when thinking of the latter category; the poor kewpie doll has been ruined by a VF cover more than once. Also, does anyone remember Monica Potter?"
The irresistable nature of amateur career watching that all film lovers engage in makes the Vanity Fair curse a novel idea, but what is most striking is that they make the effort year after year. They compose a beautiful picture which tries to fashion stars of them all, even though only 4 will be seen, and maybe a handful will be around in 5 years or have enduring careers. The uncomfortable-looking Ellen Page, breakout star of Juno, sits hunched at the bottom of the frame in 2008, visually bullied by the person above her, but is undoubtedly one of the most interesting actors of recent years who will go on to have a long and interesting career, one that resists curses (after all, she survived the extremely risky move of starring in Hard Candy), and has just hosted SNL, and quite ably.
Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue, crafted for a whole year by a dedicated team, is emblemized by a group cover which mixes established stars and those with really good publicists, and has a limited (thought impossible to quantify) effect on future careers. The magazine's pedigree and exposure is enough to make any young actor leap at the risk to be doomed with the title "fresh face", even if that face is barely masking desperation and they are on their 3rd round of this game. The curse is that the world of Name actors is small and ever-more fragile, as train-wreck is the main genre of mass entertainment. It seems that the window for 20-something actors is the smallest of all, which is why some solid talents would seem to have been afflicted. What really emerges, however, is that 12 years is just enough perspective for a good point of analysis of the single image's ability to capture something in the air-organic, forced,or fluke, that is in the pop culture atmosphere. It also reveals that VF is running out of ways to say "The Next Wave":
(click to see full image, all images c.Vanity Fair)
APRIL 1995: “HOLLYWOOD HIGHEST—THE CLASS OF 2000” Jennifer Jason Leigh, Uma Thurman, Nicole Kidman, Patricia Arquette, Linda Fiorentino, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julianne Moore, Angela Bassett, and Sandra Bullock.
Could be titled : "High Class Girls! In Naughty Lingerie! (Except Gwynnie)" The first and one of the most remarkable photos- this one's a no-brainer to study. There are really only three exclamations- 1) Forget Lindsay, forever. Will Jennifer Jason Leigh ever realize her enormous potential and deserved success? 2) Oh, remember Linda Fiorentino? - (Topless curse maybe) 3) Sarah Jessica Parker is trying so hard, really hard, that we have no choice but to be embarrassed for her. Lots of curse-defying talent to love here: Julianne Moore, Angela Bassett, and the likable, reliable Sandy Bullock.
APRIL 1996: “BOYS’ TOWN” Tim Roth, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rapaport, Stephen Dorff, Johnathon Schaech, David Arquette, Will Smith, and Skeet Ulrich.
A very rare all male cover which seems very stale compared to the 1995 version. Will Smith is almost furniture here, who knew? Not VF. It was all about Leo, and he is still Leo. Skeet Ulrich probably did nothing to deserve the joke his name has become over the years, except for having an odd and fun to say name (instant late-night fodder) and a more than passing resemblance to (the absent) Johnny Depp, who broke around the same time. At least one of those things was entirely unchangeable. A soft spot for Stephen Dorff makes this writer root for a comeback, who is with me? He was fine in that Britney video... damn it was nice to see you Stephen!
APRIL 1997: “THE NEXT WAVE” Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Claire Danes, Renée Zellweger, Minnie Driver, Alison Elliott, Jada Pinkett, Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, and Fairuza Balk.
Here we go, the first next wave. Also the first Glam photo. It is quaint to think of Jennifer Lopez minding her place on the third fold, and looking quite lovely doing so. This cover group is a pretty well-curated group, with Fairuza Balk as the wild child for good measure. But it must be said. That legs spread in expensive gown look is just never entertaining, unless you are actually performing in "Chicago". Alison Elliot is a non-entity and less interesting then the floorboards.
APRIL 1998: “THE HOT NEXT WAVE”Joaquin Phoenix, Vince Vaughn, Natalie Portman, Djimon Hounsou, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Claire Forlani, Gretchen Mol, Christina Ricci, Ed Furlong, and Rufus Sewell.
Could be titled "The NEXT NEXT (HOT?) WAVE": They got this one right, with the exception that Cate Blanchett should have been in the first group. Maybe Gretchen was cursed by rudely draping all over the chair of the also career disappeared Edward Furlong, when he so clearly claimed it with his bum? There isn't time enough in this already long post to explain the despair of seeing a young, trim, and lovely Vince Vaughn. Funny only goes so far, baby.
APRIL 1999: “NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK” Adrien Brody, Thandie Newton, Monica Potter, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Stiles, Leelee Sobieski, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Polley, Norman Reedus, Anna Friel, Omar Epps, Kate Hudson, Vinessa Shaw, and Barry Pepper.
Could be titled: "THIS BLOCK IS GETTING CROWDED!" This casual, Gap Ad-ish cover is hit and miss, but remarkably, includes Thandie Newton on the first flap. Will we ever realize any promise from Norman Reedus (?) and Vinessa Shaw (?) Barry Pepper is missed, at least by me. Kate Hudson is young and lovely. Nice to see our Sarah Polley as the Ellen Page of her class (uncomfortable, adorable, very talented, Canadian) featured. Strangely, I only now notice Anna Friel, even as she squats menacingly from inside the brightest and nipply-est garment on the page. And immediately forgot her. Monica Potter- another victim of the Skeet Ulrich Curse, she looks and sounds far too like a young Julia Roberts to thrive. Almost 10 years on, even Julia is no longer Julia so maybe we are ready for a new Julia?
*note: was Norman Reedus method acting? He looks as if he has just been released from a nasty interrogation and was dragged in here with his hands still cuffed too tightly behind his back!
APRIL 2000: “SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS” Penélope Cruz, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Marley Shelton, Chris Klein, Selma Blair, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Sarah Wynter.
My God, but VF cannot resist a corny title, and one that reminds us that there is nothing resembling a Natalie Wood or Warren Beatty here. The worst of the covers, both for it's Abercrombie and Fitch esthetic, absence of great gowns or shoes, setting, and actors. This cover is probably the source of The Curse, and was, possibly, a shitstorm of a cursed shoot. The only thing that keeps me from weeping for all these lost kids is that Chris Klein and Paul Walker both knew they were cursed if they showed bare boy chest, a no-no (until already well established as a man actor, if you must). Paul Walker looks as happy as a pig in shit, so that makes me feel all better. I enjoy him and hope he continues to turn up every once in awhile, as the smile suggests, he knows how to play the game and only works enough to afford his lifestyle, so hats off. (Or at least that's his PR so hats off to that game saving story).Wes Bentley (second from left): A terrific perfomance in American Beauty caused the very good looking Wes Bentley to recieve acclaim, for a while. Then he disappeared. Can we start a campaign to trade Tom Cruise for him?
APRIL 2001: “MASTER CLASS” Nicole Kidman, Catherine Deneuve, Meryl Streep, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Vanessa Redgrave, Chloë Sevigny, Sophia Loren, and Penélope Cruz.
What a relief, it has never been so good to see stuffy decor and too much red lipstick as it does right now.
For anyone who cares about such things, this is what these photos should be: a mix of CLASS, age, youth, beauty and wildness. Our first repeats with Nicole, Gwyneth, Cate and Kate, and Penny, rewarded for rocking last year's photos. Gwyneth Paltrow is always featured in these pictures in a way she is never seen on film or at events, which is sort of interesting. Nicole is really working it, all but falling out of that dress, but Kate Winslet, the real young light of this group, quietly owns the picture. Chloe Sevigny looks all kinds of wrong, photoshopped in and messed up, but that's Chloe.
APRIL 2002: “RHAPSODY IN BLUE” Kirsten Dunst, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Connelly, Rachel Weisz, Brittany Murphy, Selma Blair, Rosario Dawson, Christina Applegate, and Naomi Watts.
Here's a curse to ponder: Along with the Skeet curse, the nipple/topless curse, and the general curse, these forays into GAP ad territory cursed us all to an era of casualness that millionaire line readers have no right to except on their day off. These photos had a hand in the unfortunate casual friday element that makes Hollywood so dull nowadays. BUT this was after Sept 11 and we were defintely doing understated then. This strange year got it so right: Kristen Dunst, Kate Beckinsale (both have franchises), Jennifer Connelly, Rachel Weiss, Naomi Watts, and so wrong: Everyone else. Selma, what are you doing here again? This was a strange year- Britanny Murphy and Christina Applegate were both being pushed as fresh faces.
APRIL 2003: “ALPHA LIST” Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Ewan McGregor, and Matt Damon.
Could be titled "ALPHA LIST ... and Crazy Tommy, who you will shortly meet". This confusing jumble of established stars is the attempted answer to the Master Class cover of 2001. For some reason I can imagine bloody battles being waged over who got included in this one. Dennis Quaid must have enormous good will or good dirt in town. This was Jude Law's big year, as indicated by the important VF tradition of bestowing one of a few chairs on him. Pretty sure that Will Smith ought to have been included, and hate to think why he wasn't...
APRIL 2004: “SEND IN THE GOWNS” Julianne Moore, Jennifer Connelly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Watts, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Aniston, Kirsten Dunst, Diane Lane, Lucy Liu, Hilary Swank, Alison Lohman, Scarlett Johansson, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
It's probably best to just ignore the title. It's getting crowded, it's getting fierce. 13 ladies grace the cover, including familiar faces Moore, Connelly, Paltrow, the quickly established Watts, and Dunst. Gyllenhaal and Alison Lohman along with Swank and Johansson were on about their second leg of their big push, Lohman is MIA now. Diane Lane was on a suprise comeback, still beautiful and has carved out a little place for herself since then. Lucy Liu's inclusion is a mystery, Aniston's presence reminds us that she really is just TV star famous for one show and a famous marriage, and amusingly, Scarlett is rather cleverly trying to steal the picture. What's less clever is that she has more or less adopted this look full time since 04.
MARCH 2005: “NOT SO DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES” Uma Thurman, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Claire Danes, Scarlett Johansson, Rosario Dawson, Ziyi Zhang, Kerry Washington, Kate Bosworth, and Sienna Miller. Since this post has taken hours, and anyone still reading must really love me, I don't mind telling you that this image of Sienna Miller epitomizes everything about her that is maddeningly loathesome: Legs spread, no shirt, skanky hair= major star of screen and fashion. By now it seems like the VF Hollywood issue is treading the same old ground. Also present is the tabloidification of Hollywood: Miller, Danes, and perhaps Johansson are more infamous for their relationships and exploits than famous for their work or talent. Something tells me next year is not going to be much better...
MARCH 2006: “FORD’S FOUNDATION” Scarlett Johansson, Tom Ford, Keira Knightley, and Scarlett’s …
(ellipses is VF's)
Nice Bum crack there ScarJo. Creepy Tom Ford is soley responsible for this mess. Presumably this magazine was sucessful for all the wrong reasons- for the first and only time in history, I was unable to find a single copy on a newstand in my city. Ford looks like Jeremy Piven here. Scar's rear is powdered white like a baby but his forehead shines like a creepy predator.
MARCH 2007: “MEN IN BLACK” Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Chris Rock, and Jack Black.
A year late, the penguin craze makes it to the cover of VF's Hollywood issue. Cute. Irritating and boring, this cover suggests that there are only four funny men in town, and they are only as funny as Ben Stiller. Chris Rock is sort of unrecognizably bloated, and Jack Black looks like Brandon Flowers, which is weird. There is a curse, alright, and it's called a lack of creativity. It's all enough to make this year's cover a welcome return to candy coloured form, for better or for worse.
Hollywood cover as predictor of Next Big Wave: (Out of 6 years that it seemed to be the theme- 97=6/10, 98=6/11, 99=5/14, 2000= 0/9, 2004=4/8, 2005=1/4, 2008) *Note- 2004 and 2005 were hybrid covers of established and new stars, included here are new faces only.
as Safe Bets: "All new" well established actors: Anne Hathaway, Ginnifer Goodwin (but she well deserves some recognition) Christina Ricci, Edward Furlong, Tobey McGuire, Zihi Zhang, Sienna Miller.
as Huh? Stop pushing Claire Danes, Chloe Sevigny, Penny Cruz, Rosario Dawson and Selma Blair... and as Who Cares? Allison Elliot, those 1999 people already discussed, all of 2000 Bentley excepted, Bosworth.
as They Were Damn Lucky to be Asked: David Arquette, Patricia Arquette, (no Alexis, the most interesting of the Arquettes?) Dennis Quaid, Kate Bosworth, most of 99, 2000.
as Possible Curse/career killer or virtually last sighting of actor: Skeet Ulrich, Stephen Dorff, Patricia Arquette, Linda Fiorentino, Alison Elliot (?), Gretchen Mol, Claire Forlani, all of 2000 except or even Penny Cruz, Jada Pinkett Smith (though possibly focusing on raising kids and not accepting work).
as creepy Tom Ford takes over: The dark days of 2005.
As hiding people of colour, when they are included at all: Rather than quantify, let's just say it's like porn- you know it when you see it. However, it is notable that some of the very finest emerging actors have been included, (for example Djimon Hounsou) which is sort of suprising when you factor how hit and miss these covers can be.
And As Got It Right, by and Large: 2001 Year, Kate Hudson, Reese Witherspoon, Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Jennifer Connelly, Thandie Newton, Naomi Watts, Djimon Hounsou, Charlize Theron*
Notably absent Big Things: Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen, Will Ferrell, Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Abigail Breslin, Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhall, Terence Howard, Eric Bana, Jennifer Garner, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling... (although few men's issues in those years, and a few had solo covers).
As for this year's crop, strong bets are Emily Blunt, Amy Adams, and Ellen Page. The rest remains to be seen.
A final look at these 12 covers, and especially the ones that offer some version of The Next Wave, suggests a very compelling case for a chair curse. See: David Arquette, Claire Danes, Gretchen Mol...
Further reading on The Vanity Fair Curse:
FILM EXPERIENCE BLOG - ongoing analysis of this issue: which I couldn't read til I had finished writing, because the analysis is so good. *Credit to FEB piece for refreshing me on Charlize Theron's early career.