Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Cannes-Deed - not by Voltaire (part 3), reminiscence concluded

by Karen Jaehne

Conversation in Cannes has a way of being very silent or very deep. It can be chit-chat full of the blithe despair adopted by people who can't figure out why they're here in this place and not over there in that one. Or it can suddenly take philosophical curves at dangerous speeds. Famous critics abound, in naughty defiance of the belief that, like children, they are better seen and not heard. Favorite moments include Vincent Canby's remark, "I ran into Norman Mailer at the Lost & Found - checking to see if anybody had turned in his soul." Roger Ebert showed up late at a press conference, fussing to get his TV camera running and then directed a question to an actress who was not on the dais and the star of a movie that was not the subject of this particular press conference. Michel Ciment (the pope of French criticism) stood on the steps of the Palais chiding the American critics for undoing everything he has tried so hard to do FOR American cinema. Ducking out of a screening packed to the timbers with VIPs, the acid-tongued Rex Reed claimed, "The best thing I can do for this film is not see it." And one afternoon, the entire American press corps, some 25 big critics, including Ebert, Corliss, Sheila Benson, Jay Scott, Rex Reed, the august Village Voice Hoberman, et al. trudged off after lunch to see "Surf Nazis Must Die." Why? Nobody was sure, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

There's so much going on at Cannes - about 1,500 movies - that you can't escape a nagging fear every hour of every day that you may be missing the really important film - or lunch - or party - or press conference. If you're looking for movies to write about or to buy, your day runs something like this. Breakfast by 8, because screenings start at 8:30. If you don't walk out of that movie, you make it to your mail box in the Palais about 11:00 to see what invitations are/are not there. You rush to a phone to RSVP quickly before trying to cadge a lunch among some swells sitting on the beach, before ducking out quickly to make a 1 o'clock screening. If you don't walk out of this one, you rush from it to a 3 o'clock screening, emerging wall-eyed to plop down with anybody who will be your friend and drink coffee. Time for a nosh and shower and change, before the evening festivities start off. Either it's dinner before the screening, or a cocktail party before the 8 o'clock pic, emerging to cruise through the party in hopes of a buffet line and get back to see the midnight special screening. While standing on line or listening to other people chat, you sort through your notes and vow to get up early to write your column or report or whatever it is you're here to do.

Seeing this many movies every day soon creates in your mind a weird picture composed of jagged little pieces belonging to several different jigsaw puzzles. Every once in a while you say something weird, like "I'm sure glad Woody Allen decided to put Sharon Stone together with Marcello Mastroianni for his adaptation of La Traviata." I remember overhearing somebody once say, "Everybody at the party was named Jerry and wearing hats."

If love makes the world go 'round, then publicity is what sets Cannes spinning. Without the mousy little folks who kindly lead stars around from screening to swimming pool, it would all be just summer camp with sex. The publicists at Cannes are like Rosenkranz and Gildenstern, like Ehrlichman and Haldeman, like Boris and Natasha! Publicists tell you if, when, and how long you can see a star. They invite you to the parties. They decide who's in and who's out. In short, they rule Cannes, because they are the organizing principle. For many years, a woman named Renée Furst did for Cannes what Gabriel waiting to do for the Second Coming. When Renée tooted her horn, the world listened. She matched people up and made things happen. Furst was one of some 50 people who are on the festival circuit year-round. If there's a festival, they are there. Or put another way, if they are not there, it's not a festival. They bring an energy and excitement that makes it look like fun, sound like fun and, sometimes, feel like fun.

Americans at Cannes do something other people consider strange. They get together with their friends from back home. You run into Norm, whom you see once a week at the Magno Screening Room, and you say, "Hey, Norm, let's have lunch on the beach." Before you know it, you and Norm are....well, what are you doing? That's what people want to know! Why spend time in France with your own kind? There's a good reason: Cannes is the kind of experience that makes you reach out for something warm, fuzzy and familiar. Familiar will do, in case Norm is bald. You see, it's fun to see people like yourself on the Riviera, gawking just like you, saying, "Can you believe we are here? Watching this stuff?!" And seeing your friends helps you do that. Back in the days when Cynthia Schwartz worked for Renée Furst and Cannes took its toll on us, we would get together in the days following the festival and just walk around town, telling each other what had happened, how crazy it was and laughing it all off. We needed that, just to recover from the zany intensity of doing our jobs at Cannes. We swapped the most incredible stories - in total confidentiality. And I know they remained confidential, because I can't remember all the wild, wonderful stuff - or I'd write a comic book about it.

My clearest memory of this principle at work was a party on David Bowie's yacht. Now you think this is going to be high-profile, right? Lots of glitterati! Nope. I got the invitation from a friend, who said, this is just a party, no particular reason, no particular celebrity. I figured somebody famous would surprise us all, and I brought a friend who was certain we'd see Liz or Michael Caine or Charles & Di (an item that year). We went in small boats out to the yacht, we boarded, drank champagne and chatted with other folks from New York and Los Angeles, London and Berlin whom we mostly knew. Then we got in the small boats and returned at sunset to the dock below the Carlton Hotel. "What was that all about?" asked my friend. "Just the nicest I've ever been to at Cannes." "But what was the point?!" he snarled. "I dunno, there was no publicist at the door to tell me."

Cannes can be just about anything to anybody, but the one thing it never is: what you expect.

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