Why Am I Having Breakfast With These People?
Roll out of bed at the luxurious hour of 8:10. The morning press screening is Zodiac, which I saw months ago, but I do have a breakfast thing at Relativity Media. Which is, in essence, a chance to have breakfast at the Majestic Hotel down by the Palais and affirm my existence for DDA, the European publicity company which has spent years studiously ignoring me.
And about three minutes into this event, I realize that DDA still has no idea who I am, otherwise they wouldn't have invited me. This is a business announcement, all about funding partners and production slates and business models. This is a breakfast for trade reporters.
Trade reporters write about the business of movies – they can actually parse Variety, the more numbers the better, and when they see those photo spreads from parties at Cannes, they can identify the people in them without reading the captions. They may not be able to talk about Wong Kar Wai's camera style, but they know, to the dollar, how much In The Mood For Love grossed in its opening weekend in Belgium.
I was an exceedingly mediocre trade reporter once, from late 1980 to early 1985, when I wrote for the late and lamented Cinema Canada and the still with us English paper, Screen International.
Which brings us to today's topic – The Five Journalists You Meet At Cannes.
Yes, I know that's not what I wrote yesterday, but the five directors piece isn't finished, and I've run into some structural issues. This conversational breezy style isn't as easy as it looks, you know.
1) The Trade Reporter – A fascinating breed. When I was on Moving Pictures International's Critics Jury back in the 90s, the hive of reporters at MPI would all get on my nerves, because, working for a daily, they all had pink press cards, which give them better access than my blue card.
But none of them ever used the card. I knew MPI reporters, and Screen reporters, who would come to the Cannes Film Festival, be here for two weeks, and never see a movie.
It's not that they don't like movies, it's that they're spending all their time tracking down details of deals, and visiting their national film delegations, and going to events like the ones I attended this morning, where they actually ask intelligent questions about budgets and sales agents and "who's handling the video rights?" while people like me are wondering "Are there any more of those little pastries with the apple jam inside?"
2) The Old Guard Critics – I've been coming to Cannes for 22 years – this is my 19th Cannes Film Festival. There are some circles in which this makes me "the kid". The British film critic David Robinson – former editor of Sight And Sound and Charlie Chaplin's biographer – has been coming to Cannes since 1958. There are a surprising number of critics who have been coming to Cannes since the 1960s.
When they drop names, you should pay attention. The guy who says something about "Michelangelo" may have written the English subtitles for Antonioni's Eclipse. The guy who says "then Luis said" may well have been Bunuel's biographer. It's not often mentioned, but at film festivals, the press becomes the institutional memory. These guys don't just remember the old Palais de Festivals – hell, I remember the old Palais – though between my first and second visits they tore it down and built a Hilton – they remember arguments held in its lobby in 1963
3) The Celebutantes – Paparazzi who talk. The TV crowd can be easily recognized by their possession of the evenest tans, shiniest teeth and nicest wardrobes of anyone wearing a press badge. Also they are the only people with press badges who trail an entourage. Or cables. The nicest thing about them is that they almost never contribute to the crowding in the screening rooms. The second nicest thing about them is that if you should inadvertently become conversationally engaged with one of them, they will leave and ignore you upon realizing that you aren't a celebrity. Mostly harmless.
4) Me. Well, people like me. Baby boomer critics who grew up wanting to be Andrew Sarris or Pauline Kael and turned out to be, well, me. Or Owen Gleiberman. We look at the Old Guard critics and on the one hand we'd like to be them. The ancient mariners of Cannes. On the other hand, we are terrified to turn into them as in "damn, do I want to be coming to Cannes when I'm 70, reminiscing about having lunch with Steven Soderbergh in 1989?" Will there even be film festivals when I'm 70?
Permanently resentful of having missed out on the New Wave, the Prague Spring and the New German Cinema of the 60s, we are constantly on the look out for our own discoveries, and are thus prone to spring upon the world fun things like "The New Iranian Cinema". Sorry about that. It will happen again. Oh yes, it will.
5) The Angry Gen-Xers – Somehow they've found themselves working for a paper that doesn't have a boomer critic gumming up the line of succession – By God, we lucked into our jobs at the right time, and they'll have to carry us out before we leave – and they are the youngest people to be taken seriously at Cannes.
Kind of nettlesome, and just about the only critics who can convincingly bring off an anti-establishment pose. (Believe me, that's a tough pose to pull off when you're bitching about not getting invited to the Dreamworks party and trying to remember to take your blood pressure medication.) Who's to say they're wrong? Maybe the future is digital ‘zines and YouTube. But if it is, why are they here?
Tomorrow – Some movie reviews. Hey, that's why I'm here.