Talk seems more about looks than discourse

Publishing: Tina Brown's newest venture relies on glitzy photos of beautiful people, reminding us that it is, after all, just a magazine.

August 06, 1999|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

Here's the news: Talk magazine is, well, a magazine.

This is news because we live in 1999 in the United States of Marketing and to experience the "buzz" on the arrival of Talk is to experience some disconnect the moment you actually get it and begin reading. One is led to expect something like the climactic scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Surely some revelation is at hand. After all, there's former New Yorker and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown running the words side, Conde Nast veteran Ron Galotti running the money side, a partnership of Miramax Films and Hearst Communications, dazzling advertisers and a "rollout" approaching George Lucas volume. Then, of course, there's Hillary. Beg pardon, "The Intimate Hillary."

The first lady didn't show for the celebrity-infested launch party on Liberty Island in New York this week, but by then it hardly mattered. The Word was out, the talk shows were making hay of the advance Hillary poop, and even local bookstores in Baltimore were compiling waiting lists for Talk. Without it, after all, who could say with any assurance what is truly and totally hip?

"In format and look, it's very different from the current crop of magazines," Brown told the New York Daily News. "It has a portable, accessible, newsy feel, and a sense of intimacy and immediacy."

Love that kinda patter. The book is nice-looking, all right, chockablock with beautiful people. It's hard sometimes to tell the advertising models from the subjects of the articles.

Hillary is beautiful in her Jackie O sunglasses. Isaac Tigrett, former part-owner of the Hard Rock Cafe, is beautiful with his piercing blue eyes, matching black fedora and jacket. Former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss is beautiful in the photo-illustration showing her transformed into a man (don't ask; she looks like a cross between Michael Jackson and Tony Curtis). Hey, Talk even found a beautiful and stylish person in Manchester, N.H. This kind of investigative magazine journalism could give Steve Brill a run for his money.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush looks mighty fine, too, despite the fact that the light five-page profile notes how the multimillionaire deliberately avoids buying expensive clothes. This suits the theme, which is that Bush doesn't care about money, isn't especially eager to become president and isn't particularly concerned about what anyone thinks of him. If detachment is going to be his shtick, at least it's fairly certain there's one Republican presidential hopeful who won't be doing Viagra ads.

More beautiful people appear in a couple of photo layouts. Movie stars cast themselves in unlikely film roles: Drew Barrymore as Esther Williams, Rupert "An Ideal Husband" Everett as a bisexual James Bond, Gwyneth Paltrow as soft-core dominatrix.

If this is hip then bring back those impressionists saying " if Richard Simmons played Don Vito Corleone in `The Godfather,' it would sound something like this "

Then there's "Talking Pictures," featuring celebrities and pithy quotes.

Says Harrison Ford, looking irritable: "Celebrity is the pox of success."

Apparently for glitz balance, the magazine includes a few pieces that are downright grim. There's a short article on a six-year plague of murders of young women in Juarez, Mexico. Under "First Person," a safari guide who survived a deadly hostage-taking in Uganda tells the tale. The "Dialing America" feature offers an account of desperation, poverty and ennui in a rundown trailer park in northern Virginia.

Hillary appears in an eight-page profile written with the sort of skepticism and insight usually associated with the work of Hollywood press agents. For openers, Hillary steps into the Citadel of Cairo: "Quietly declining the slippers set aside for privileged visitors, she walks barefoot into the ancient mosque like a common Egyptian woman, her head bowed, her face turned away from the reporters and photographers."

One wonders if she'll conduct her entire U.S. Senate campaign in New York wearing a veil. We are led to believe this is the unmasking of Hillary and the Clinton marriage, about which we of course have heard scarcely enough.

The first lady reveals that her husband "has weaknesses," that "he needs to be more responsible, more disciplined." She says: "There has been enormous pain, enormous anger." She suggests a link between Clinton's sexual habits and emotional scars he suffered as a boy torn between his feuding mother and grandmother. She says she's been with him "half my life and he is a very, very good man."

Why not, whatever, thanks for the input and, may we add: we've had a most pleasant Talk.

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