Panic set in once I realized I was going to miss the Mad Men finale while in Cannes. Complaining about that, though, is like going to the moon and complaining about having no reading material. You have no problems. You’re in France. By the Mediterranean. About to have champagne in the same room as Cate Blanchett. None of that matters to an entitled American. I was in the Mad Men groove. I could not abide being online for one second knowing everyone else had seen the final episode but me. I didn’t want to see the cute memes or hear the revelatory tweets. I didn’t want to see the think-piece headlines and the social justice complaints. I didn’t want to deal with anyone who was let down by something so grand. The whole final episode could have been Don sitting on the toilet for a solid hour saying nothing and it still would have been one of the best shows on television.
This was weighing on my mind from the moment I departed LA. I kept saying stupid things to myself like it didn’t matter. I had to shut up about it already. No one else seemed to be in a panic. Someone wrote an article somewhere that said something like “why do we care if TV shows end?” Maybe it’s less about the show ending and more about being part of something that is happening for a lot of people while you are on the other side of the world caught in a time zone that doesn’t allow US television to be shown anywhere. Nobody wants piracy yet we live in tangle of international economic restrictions that sometimes demands it. You do the math.
I’ll come back to this. Meanwhile, on the Côte d’Azure…
Saturday was Carol Day here at the festival — my quiet trade-off for missing Mad Men. I would get to see the new Todd Haynes movie. Are you kidding me? Not only that but Haynes himself would be in attendance, along with Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and cinematographer Ed Lachman, not to mention screenwriter Phyllis Nagy and producer Christine Vachon. To ensure I got a seat close to the screen I stood in line a full hour and a half early, yes, even for a pink badger.
The temperatures in Cannes this year have been unusually warm. Many days in the high 80s, beach days even. Weather here can be unpredictable so one always has to bring a variety of clothes. The day of the Carol premiere was sandals and loose fitting clothes type of weather. Those of us standing there early in line were being pelted by the blazing sun. A woman in front of me, 60ish, from Hungary, turned to me and said she didn’t bother putting on makeup and even took her sunglasses off to show me. I thought, she looks just like me.
She was talking about the festival and how she’d only seen one or two movies so far, Nataline Portman’s among them. That was unusual, I thought, she must not be press. Turns out she is press but she’s Hollywood Foreign Press, otherwise known as the HFPA, otherwise known as the Golden Globes. She’d already been ushered around and been given very exclusive treatment by publicists to ensure she got pointed in the right Oscar direction. We were chatting about nothing all that significant, maybe how elegant Natalie Portman was, when Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan joined us in line. His spot had been saved by Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, whom I’d never met. As soon as the HFPA figured out they were legit print press she dropped me like a hot potato and began talking to them about parties and asking them for their business cards.
“If you need anything, let me know,” she said. She runs a television show that is broadcast in Hungary. Kyle put a hand on my shoulder and started talking to me. I found this to be an extremely kind gesture and it made him my hero for the day. It isn’t that it has to be all about me, it’s just that this woman suddenly acted as though I wasn’t there, which was strange. It was my fault though for just telling her “I run my own website.” I should have made myself sound more important. The truth was I wanted to grill her for inside info without her knowing who I was because you get more candid dish that way. She said she thought Best Actress was going to come down to Blanchett for Carol (sight unseen) and Jennifer Lawrence for Joy. She’s probably right but who knows. Both have recently won Best Actress so I’m going to bet no on that one. She talked about how wonderful Blanchett is, how elegant, what a great actress she is. Kyle Buchanan said that he thought she was a great external actress where so many others today were more internal, more subtle, but Blanchett is fully expressive in a way others are not.
The HFPA woman said something like “she should have won for Elizabeth but do you know who won instead? And look where she is today.” Buchanan stuck up for Gwyneth Paltrow by saying “She’s doing just fine.” That shut down the conversation pretty quickly.
Jeff Wells saved me a seat up near the front though I’d gotten there so early it was no problem. The film fully lived up to expectations, with audience members shouting “Bravo” after it was over. The formal premiere later that night would end with a 15 to 20 minute standing ovation. The trick will be to keep a tight reign on the excitement about Carol until the end of the year. If the hype is too strong too soon it will kill it. At the press conference Todd Haynes was his usual kind and generous self. Blanchett held court, making the room bursts into laughter and applause on occasion. She cleared up the silly ripple that she had inadvertently helped create in the press. An incomplete remark that led some people to believe she’d been involved in several sexual relationships with women. Carol took nearly 15 years to get made and should break open an important dialogue about living an honest life. That was what Phyllis Nagy later told me at the after party. Live honestly, even if not loudly.
The Carol party was a way for those who attended the premiere to spend some time with the filmmakers and stars. Ed Lachman was there. Sandy Powell was there. Todd Haynes, Blanchett and Mara were all there. Harvey Weinstein and Peggy Siegel were there. I spent the night talking with and drinking with Patrick Heidmann and Steve Pond. At one point I told Pete Hammond I was going to follow him around with a camera but after a couple of drinks that concept collapsed. At one point Anne Thompson joined our conversation and the talk turned to Oscars. She has a lot of confidence in Mad Max: Fury Road, more than any other mainstream film so far this year. We debated whether or not Academy members were going to go for Carol. But it’s too soon to talk about that here. Way too soon.
Patrick, Anne and I finally made it out around midnight. Cannes was still wildly alive with diners and party-goers. We dropped Anne off at her hotel, then Patrick, and I was the last back to my room.
The following day would be Mad Men Day. I knew that over the next 24 hours everyone who wanted to see the finale, nearly everywhere around globe, would find a way to do so. Since I knew of no good options I tried not to think about it. I saw a couple of films, bought some strawberries and headed back to my flat for a long nap. After asking people on Twitter whether it would be possible to see it anywhere online, Ryan Adams came through once again. If all went according to plan, I would be able to see it by the next morning, just after it aired in the states (already Monday morning in France, still Sunday evening in the USA). A text from my daughter woke me up at 5am. She’d gotten locked out of iTunes using the incorrect password. I fixed that for her. Right after that Ryan emailed to tell me that he had found a source, and Mad Men was indeed ready for me to watch.
I find I don’t give enough credit to Ryan for always being there and making sure things get online, cleaning up my shitty grammar and typos, and finding ways to do the impossible. I would have stopped coming to this festival long ago if not for his support.
I made myself a bowl of coffee, relieved that I had no hangover to speak of, and settled in for the goodbye to this beloved series like a full-fledged member of the pop culture community, someone who would be able share my thoughts on Twitter without feeling left out. I belonged!
The farewell episode of Mad Men itself was a satisfying way to conclude the stories of so many characters we’ve grown to know so much about. How strange to care about characters as if you knew them — but this show has had such an impact because it was never simply about fictional characters in the show. Each character seemed to represent someone we knew in real life, maybe a family member, maybe someone from our youth, maybe a past we never got to taste but longed for. Whatever it was, we said goodbye to it all last night.
That Matthew Weiner chose to end the show with a refrain on advertising proved he never dropped the ball. He stuck with what the show was about to the bitter end. Advertising has shaped and influenced our lives in ways we can’t even comprehend. That the peace-out “me” movement of the 1970s was turned into a coke commercial tells you all you need to know about how much of our lives and ourselves are for sale. Most people walk around with some kind of advertisement emblazoned on them, not to mention seeing ads everywhere. Mad Men was about so many things but its beginning and its end was about one thing: advertising and the people who built empires on a lie that things and products will not only bring us happiness, they can fill a void where natural happiness is absent.
Of course, true happiness is found, as Mad Men also emphatically demonstrated, in timeless things like fulfilling work, happy kids, great relationships. You can’t buy your way into it. We build our little lives, temporary monuments to stability, in the hope that everything will turn out okay. Though sometimes cracks appear in the foundation. While walking home from the Carol party with Patrick he was telling me that he and his husband would like to adopt a baby but that the laws of Germany don’t yet allow for that. As Blanchett said, we still live in conservative times and anyone who thinks otherwise is being foolish. Maybe the laws will change soon enough. Maybe they won’t. It’s saddening when happiness is more accessible to some than to others.
Last night I heard the gentle waves free of human bodies as I unbolted my door, walked down my dark hallways and locked myself away from the still-awake city. Another day in the can. My head hit the pillow almost immediately and I was Don Draper splayed out on the sheets. Out cold.