Cannes, France -- Walking back to my hotel last night after the Japanese film The Mourning Forest, I was crossing Les Allees de Liberte -- basically a packed sand piazza with plane trees where the bocce players gather between the Marina and some restaurants -- when I had the unexpected experience of hearing badly played Ennio Morricone music drifting through the night air. A town band concert!
As someone who admires the purity of the true amateur, it was sort of enjoyable to hear them play.
On the other hand, you'll never appreciate how difficult Morricone's music is to play until you've heard it played by musicians whose reach exceeds their grasp. They were playing a suite of excerpts from the great spaghetti westerns, and after an ugly attempt to get through the great swelling romantic theme of Once Upon A Time In The West. Remember the scene where Claudia Cardinale has just arrived and the camera cranes up from the Cinecitta train station with its Italian extras gesturing like they're, well, in Rome, and then up past the roof of the station into the clear air and mythic landscapes of John Ford's Monument Valley, and the theme just keeps rising, telling us everything that Leone and Morricone feel about that landscape? This town band was trying to play that music. Then they couldn’t quite reach Morricone's most famous theme, the opening music to The Good The Bad And The Ugly, even with the vocal theme transcribed down an octave and given to the trumpets.
But it wasn't an unenjoyable experience, indeed, it was rather more dramatic than watching the young health care provider in The Mourning Forest chase her aged charge through beautiful manicured bushes as he tried to find his dead wife. I'm thinking, they're cheating this -- her legs are 50 years younger than his and she should be able to just run him down while he's trying to escape. There was more drama wondering if the French horns -- or, as they call them here, horns -- were going to hit their entrance at anything other than half a tone flat. (They didn't.)
Almost done -- The first huge exodus has taken place. Walking through the Market in the Riviera Friday, it looked like every sales agent, government film rep and buyer had just been raptured up out of the building, leaving behind a tatter of posters. Press has thinned considerably -- last couple of nights, at the press screenings in the Debussy, they've let us blue cards sit downstairs with the quality folks. Two more days and it's 'bye-bye New Jersey, I become airborne.'
Nick of time, too. Another couple of days and the hill to my hotel will kill me. If the carbs and butter don't, of course. On the other hand, I've made it through Cannes without smoking (72 days and yes, I'm counting), and if I can get through Cannes without smoking, I may actually beat this thing. Not that there haven't been temptations in a town where people smoke almost everywhere.
Dining with directors, or the dangers of interviews -- Interviewing is an industrial process. Whatever most writers tell you about their Cannes interviews, the leisurely one on one interview is gone. Maybe if you’re Vanity Fair or the New York Times you’re a one on one. At lunch today at the Carlton Terrace, we in the press, at least five of us from Toronto, met with James Gray, Joaquin Phoenix, Eva Mendes and Robert Duvall over smoked salmon, salade Nicoise, a little filet de boeuf, and, for director James Gray, a hamburger and French fries – or, as they call them here, fries. “I’ve been here three days and it’s nothing but fish cooked in butter. It’s delicious, but…” Then the waiter asks if he wants ketchup, “of course. I’m an American.” I detect no irony in that statement.
If you see interviews with Gray or Denys Arcand in the dailies, and they have remarkably similar quotes, it’s because the Toronto dailies were basically trapped at the same table. It’s not quite the same as just going to the press conference – it is more intimate, and bread was broken, but it’s the Cannes assembly line – for a film that won’t open until October.
That’s not, of course, the danger in interviewing directors – actors to a lesser extent. But most directors are, by the nature of their work, natural seducers. They persuade people to put up millions of dollars, talk nervous actresses into doing nude scenes, and if they’re smart, and most of them are, they can, through the canny use of the interview and press conference, control the talking points of reviews of their films. (Remember all the reviews of Zodiac that referenced All The President’s Men? That idea was planted during the junket – almost everyone interviewed was on message with that comparison.
For a fascinating example of someone going off-message, check this quote from the Death-Proof press conference from Kurt Russell -- "There will be no movies made in the next 5 years like Planet Terror and Death Proof. These two movies are going to go off with a life of their own, but my prediction is that 20 years from now, you’ll want the Grindhouse experience. You won’t want them separately. For the full effect, the other experience is something bizarre that I’ve never experienced before and I like the short version.”
I don’t think that we are particularly corrupt or malleable (neither are we stainless paragons of virtue), but, especially in the festival context, where the movies come at us one after the other, most of us are willing to take the occasional tip from the director on what his film is about, even though history has proven over and over again that we should trust the tale, not the teller. Oh, so the film’s about loyalty, got it. I can work with that. Or it’s about redemption, or it’s about whatever. (I was fascinated by how quickly we fell in line on the Ang Lee James Shamus line on Brokeback Mountain – It’s not a gay love story, it’s just a love story. Gay culture critic Gary Indiana was having none of that, as you can see by his Village Voice review.
Those are two reasons I don’t do a lot of interviews anymore. I’m also, in the compressed time, assembly line approach, not very good at it – my most memorable interviews were conversations, and often had nothing to do with the film being promoted at that time.
CLOSING NIGHT – Alliance Atlantis is on about the third or fourth English language title for Denys Arcand’s latest film, L’age des tenebres, which is literally Age of Darkness or Dark Age, which, in English, is apparently “too dark”. The posters at the press lunch announced Days of Ignorance, which is also wrong, though no one has said that they thought that title was “too stupid.”
It’s currently Days of Darkness, the story of a Quebec civil servant (Marc Labreche) whose workaholic wife leaves him and who goes to work every day in the gray horror of the Olympic Stadium, which is now Quebec government offices, and retreats into fantasy, which generally involve Diane Kruger or a pretty journalist interviewing him and then demanding sex. (The perfection of these sequences are the banality of the fantasies.)
When it’s funny, it’s very funny, when it’s not, it drags – You could take fifteen minutes out of the picture easily – SPOLIER WARNING! - cut the ending with the shot where fantasy Diane Kruger leaves the hero – it’s a great last shot, and ends the film cleanly. The five minutes that follow is just tidying up.
Arcand told the lunch that this is his penultimate film. One more and then he’s going to retire and play golf – “I’m almost seventy, and it takes too much energy to make a film. Everyone says ‘artists don’t retire” and I say ‘what about Shakespeare?’ Went to Stratford and not so much as a letter in his last twelve years”