Commentary

Vanity Fair

In the definitive words of Tom Ford, ''Three girls in a bed is a bed full of girls. Two girls in a bed are lesbians.''  Thus, ostensibly to save Vanity Fair readers the shock and horror, not to mention the sheer indignity, of seeing lesbians on the cover of the VF Hollywood issue, (once Rachel McAdams, who remains nameless, refused to pose nude) Ford selflessly flung himself into the picture.

And verily, that's how it came to be that the former Gucci designer, sporting his trademark unbuttoned white shirt, black suit, and permatan, appears to be inhaling the ear of a very pale and nude Keira Knightly. Meanwhile, an ivory-white Scarlett Johansson, wearing nothing but excessive amounts of  lipstick, lies on her belly in front of them, in full tush-revealing obliviousness.

If you want to get all arty, you can say the naked women/clothed man thing refers to Edouard Manet's classic painting, "Le Déjeuner sur L'herbe."

Let's just say that Manet's painting was an ode to composition, whereas this cover is an ode to one swelled head. Unfortunately, Ford sucks up all the oxygen in the picture. Knightly's pose, particularly, is stiff and awkward. (And why wouldn't it be, with the Fordman creeping into her pale little ear?) In fact, a Fordless version of the photo is featured later on, on one of several pages dedicated to explaining Ford's work (''Welcome to Tommywood"). The pic looks just fine, not in the least lesbianic.

Indeed, way too much of the magazine is devoted to explaining what a swell guy Ford is to work with. That's the story Graydon Carter tells in his editor's letter, and he's sticking with it. No Bush-bashing from Carter this time around; rather he begins his letter with a painful mixed metaphor: ''I should have known that inviting Tom Ford to oversee this year's Hollywood issue would create a chorus of office lore a few octaves higher than the shrill solos......'' He ends with an even more painful, powerfully politically incorrect story about a local homeless man whose pants ''edge down his backside, ....and with a butt crack like that, he might have a future in Tom Ford's Hollywood.''

What's going on here? Well, I agree with Ford's assessment that the typical VF Hollywood issue of old, showing group shots of the old-timers, was getting a bit, well, old. I never understood why readers would care; are people sitting at home saying  ''can you believe that they got Dustin Hoffman to stand next to Sophia Loren? What wrangling!''

Still, even under Ford's exalted tutelage, the 2006 portfolio doesn't look much different, save for a few more shots of nipples. (This seems to have become something of a joke, to the point where Dr. Garth Ancier, the L.A. plastic surgeon best known for giving all those women on "The Swan" the same look--country western porn star--is shown standing on a golf course,  next to a giant fake breast.) But the reality is that the breast looks much too natural. More in keeping with Tom Ford's aesthetic is the shot from behind the scenes in which he appears to be biting on the super-duper supersized breast of Mamie van Doren. Ugh! Sienna Miller was shot in the nude by Annie Leibovitz, and, even though she is gorgeous, the result is surprisingly unsexy.

So although all the stars and nudity might be buzzmaking for the VF Oscar party, the photos are not that interesting. On the other hand, there's so much, how you say, bona fide magazine journalism packed into this issue that it requires at least two trips on the redeye to get through it.

Two pieces I'm putting aside, New Yorker style, for future reading: A profile of the woman who wrote the novel Peyton Place (sordid death at 39) and an excerpt from the upcoming biography of Bette Davis. (''All my husbands were canaries. Tweet Tweet Tweet.!'')

In a piece suffering from unfortunate timing, media critic Michael Wolff writes about corporate raider Carl Icahn's passion to break up Time Warner. (Dick Parsons just announced last week that they had come to terms on a deal, and that there would be no break-up.) The piece makes an interesting overall point that the trend (and the word zeitgeist is used about 50 times) is the disagglomeration (is that a word?) of media giants--such as the move that Viacom made in breaking itself in two. Wolff is a long-time T-W hater, and never passes on an opportunity to quote some source who calls the company's upper-level executives ''morons.'' And Wolff apparently is sticking to his own reality--that T-W avoided it this time, but the breakup will come to pass.

The Fanfair section has an interesting piece on an upcoming Ric Burns documentary on playwright Eugene O'Neill--not a happy guy. Then it devotes a page to ''The Swingin' Lower East Side'' which seems about two years too late.

There's an outrageous George Wayne Q&A with the mayor of Las Vegas, who seems every bit up to the task. 

And finally, the back page (Proust Questionnaire) is devoted to jazz legend Dave Brubeck, a pianist and composer I admired deeply--just as I used to admire Tom Ford--before this issue. There seems to be a psychic link: when asked which historical figure he most identifies with, Brubeck responds, ''Jesus.''

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