Six years I’ve been coming to the Cannes Film Fest but I’ve never attended the Cinema de la Plage, their drive-in on the beach. Quentin Tarantino was here this week with his tribute to Sergio Leone, truly one of the best directors of the western and one to whom Tarantino himself owes a great debt. But many directors have stolen from Leone, not just Tarantino. Tonight’s event featured The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, a three hour tour de force of suspense, guns and cool Eastwood expressions as the young actor made the leap from television to film. An icon was born.
Cinema de la Plage is free and open to the public. You are forbidden from bringing food or drink, and they enforce this rule as they enforce every rule here, for better or worse. They hand out free blankets to keep you warm on these chilly nights in May. I’d forgotten two things upon leaving my flat. The first, my badge. I didn’t think I would need it, imagining myself simply walking to the outdoor theater to take my freely given seat. The second, that every night in Cannes, but especially Saturday night, is packed around the Palais du Festival, with the entire thing mostly gated off.
I thought I could get to the beach the back way, so I took a brisk walk down the docks, where all the swank yachts are parked, their lights twinkling with all the promise of a Gatsby gala, replete with champagne and confetti at midnight. Women in party dresses dotted the edges of the dock, some were squired inside. Who comes here in yachts? A lot of people. A lot of Saudis. There was a yacht from China.
By the time I reached the back gate, the guards arrived to inform me no passage sans badge. I said “fuck” very loudly, now getting a wee bit comfortable with my role as fit-having entitled American. I stomped back up by the yachts. Now, with sweat pouring down my chest, they did not look so fancy anymore. I then tried to push through the throngs of onlookers waiting for a glimpse of “somebody” up on the red carpet stairs. There is a gala premiere every two hours in the evening at the Palais. This is the main thrust of Cannes’ publicity — those beautiful stars on those technicolor red carpeted stairs.
I pushed, I shoved, I zipped, I zagged — and eventually I arrived where the movie was playing. Panting like a runaway dog, I tossed my water bottle, per their rules, and found a lounger. Turns out this was a popular show, at least for the first hour. Later that night, people would drift out as the film began to hit its two, then three hour mark.
But life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. This was the second time I’d sat next to a farting Frenchman. The first time was during a screening of the Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. It was a continual stream of stench that I could not escape from. I breathed through my mouth most of the time, silently begging him to go take that much-needed dump. I sympathized with him – the gastro-intenstinal details of any traveling experience is something no one really talks about but is a continual problem. Now, in my lounger, the guy next to me started up — all of that garlic, cheese and wine was wreaking havoc on his bowels, I figured. So I pulled myself and all of my crap up and took that opportunity to use the bathroom myself. Why did I suddenly have to go so badly? All of that water I drank? Or was it my tight jeans pressing on my bladder.
Either way, I had to find a bathroom or else. Their public restrooms by the beach are nowhere near as bad as they are anywhere else I’ve been. They are clean and the toilets flush. I peed and then went back down to the beach. I found a great seat right in the front row this time. I was in heaven. Big, beautiful screen stretched across the sand, cozy scarf and blanket, the stars up above, twinkling Jordan Belfort yachts floating in the water. The movie was engaging, brilliant and unlike anything I’ve seen lately, or maybe ever. Eastwood with those long spider legs and that wry smile was in his absolute prime. But just fifteen minutes later I had to pee again. I was starting to think I was being punished for my holier than thou attitude about the farting Frenchmen. So, FOCK – I pulled myself up off the lounger again, and tromped through the sand, once again, to the public restroom. I then took my seat again and watched the film for about twenty more minutes before I felt that bladder urgency once more. This was turning into a urinary nightmare. This time, the bathroom was closed.
The French can be very polite most of the time, especially if you are polite to them. But in such instances that you need them to help you? You can mostly forget it. The guy who locked the bathroom gate was not sympathetic to a woman with an issue. I had no choice but to speed around the crowded blocks nearby looking for some kind of a restaurant situation. It was a world of “no.” No one would let me use their toilette. No one. Until finally, a very nice Chinese man said yes. I vowed then and there never to disparage the Chinese, not for their taking over of our film industry, and not for their taking over of our middle class labor force and productivity. After all, who can blame them? We’re the ones who sold our country out on the cheap.
I washed my hands, mercifully, and headed back to the beach. This time I decided to watch the finale from the back of the theater area, where all of the drunks hang out partying to watch the show. If the movie didn’t have one of the best endings of any film ever I might have considered the night only a partial success, given the awkward bathroom debacle. But it was a success, one of the best experiences I’ve had here at Cannes.
Walking home through the streets it was astonishing how this town was just beginning to wake up. It was 1am and there were people everywhere. Eating, drinking, laughing, dancing. The streets were hardly empty and every light in the place was switched on.
The Cannes film fest was switching into high gear with the best of their main competition slate being laid out. Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman drew mixed reviews, though I loved it. Now, with my newly minted pink badge I could attend the press conferences, where I could only watch them from Wi-Fi room in previous years. The press room is a mix of legit journalists and the occasional crackpot. When you see it from the Wi-Fi room it looks much bigger than it is. Inside, though you are being filmed at all times, it seems like any other roundtable press thing you’ve ever been to.
The idea behind these is to give journalists a taste of it. They crowd forward to get a picture of the famous people as they walk in the room. Their desperation every bit as palpable as that depicted in David Cronenberg’s Map to the Stars, which I would see the following day. The stars need this admiration to drive the business. We need the stars because somewhere in our DNA is the need to have gods and goddesses reign over us, to put ourselves below them, to give them dominion over us.
Nobody seems to have a problem with this, probably, except when someone oversteps in the wrong direction. One journalist in the press room took Robert Pattinson’s autograph and held it up for a camera, as though he just laid out his fresh kill of an exotic animal. Pattinson got it worse than anyone else because his face brings more dollars, apparently. Though he’s only in the film for a total of about fifteen minutes he was pinned with the long lenses of the cameramen who snapped and snapped and snapped away at every expression on his face. He looked exceedingly uncomfortable. This, of course, is so much what the Cronenberg film is about. It’s just that no one really says anything about it. I asked the author, Bruce Wagner, if all of this was surreal. He said “I’m not even here.” To him, he was having an out of body experience where he was there to do his job and sell the movie but he was aware of the irony of it all. Fame, he said, has always been around, going all the way back to early civilizations. Fame is part of the human condition as much as jealousy, hate and love. That is to say, fame and the uncomfortable reactions to it on both sides.
John Cusack said that, more specifically, Hollywood has become an ecosystem of greed, desperation and fear. Lately, with celebrities who are, as Wagner described them, famous forever. No one ever fades and there are more and more celebrities, so-called, born every minute. Social media seems to have spread out the fame pie to include all manner of people who can make themselves into legends online.
The press conferences for the big films here — The Homesman, Foxcatcher and Map of the Stars all had the same things in common. Reluctant-to-speak stars, kind and humble directors who are just glad to be there and very very good looking people staring down the throngs of schlubby journliasts.
You have to beg the people working in there to get the mic and ask a question. They really make it difficult because so many people want to ask questions. You can’t ask one until they give you the mic. I told the guy sitting next to me once I wrestled the mic out of some poor journalist’s cold fingers that I didn’t want to ask my question anymore. The urgency had evaporated because suddenly none of it mattered much. I’m not sure why this feeling came over me but it did. It was all bullshit. Sometimes interesting, occasionally illuminate bullshit but bullshit nonetheless.
Later, after the press conferences, the tweets, the tapped out reviews, I headed up to the Suquet with Craig Kennedy of Living in Cinema to have some dinner. A French meal at a great restaurant with a dog they called “The Boss.” I keep passing this dog every time I walk up the street to head home. He’s 11. I snapped a photo of the restaurant’s owner who said the dog was the best thing that ever happened to her. As I finished the last of the crisp rosé I said a silent prayer for my mostly anonymous life. I don’t think I would want to be watched all of the time, or worse, to worry about not being watched enough.
As for today, the rain made the streets wet. Cannes was at the half-way point but leaning closer to the end. The next thing that happens is the hierarchy, the great settling of what film will win the Palme d’Or. As I lay down for a nap I heard a text from my daughter all the way back in the states. Her classmate looks just like the Big Lebowski she said. I miss her. I was thinking about Clint Eastwood’s face. I was thinking about cowboys. I was thinking about the big screen — the good, the bad and the ugly of everything we’ve seen here so far. Two more days left. Somewhere far off, many blocks down, I could hear singing. It was a slow song, a sad song but I couldn’t hear it very well. I didn’t want to. If I did, it might make me want to put my boots back on and head out into all of that light, into that seductive night. I closed my eyes and went to a different place.