Cannes Kickoff -- Nichols, Scorsese, Troma, and Pamela Lee
by Stephen Garrett
Et le festival commence: with a half-century of celebration behind it,
Cannes began the 51st Festival International du Film last night
with "Primary Colors", Mike Nichol's grandstanding examination of
contemporary American politics which brought appearances by its stars
John Travolta and Emma Thompson for the first taste of what promises
to be a celebrity-packed fortnight of tous les films sous le soleil.
Earlier in the day at the film's press conference, Travolta defended his
portrayal of presidential hopeful Jack Stanton as being much more than
just a Clintonesque caricature. "It was fun to reflect on Carter, Kennedy,
and Reagan," said Travolta, "but it was a composite character." Novelist
and political journalist Joe Klein further elaborated on Mike Nichol's
adaptation of his book by illustrating the moral complexity of his
political characters in terms of meat: "It's like a great steak: there's
fat, there's muscle -- and it's all mixed in."
But Nichols provided one of the most insightful comments when asked
about the movie's late-night moment at a Krispy Kreme store in which
Stanton munches down donuts and talks turkey with the man at the counter.
"That's the scene that I saw exactly the way it appears in the movie," he
said of the encounter, which begins with a bravado one-shot slow-zoom
from a hotel window, across the street, through the storefront window
and all the way to a medium shot of Stanton inside. "It's how I knew I
could make the film. It's the heart of the movie perhaps because it's the
heart of the book."
Americans are heavy on the scale this year, not only with Nichol's
"Primary Colors" opening the festival but this summer's mega-movie
"Godzilla" slamming its foot down as the closing night film ("He's longer
than the Carlton Hotel, "screams the most recent size-wise billboard that
frames the top of Cannes' most-prestigious in-town address). In addition
are in-competition films from stateside helmers like Terry Gilliam ("Fear
and Loathing in Las Vegas"), John Boorman ("The General)", Hal Hartley ("Henry
Fool"), Lodge Kerrigan ("Claire Dolan"), Todd Haynes ("Velvet Goldmine"), and
special out-of-competition screenings from Alex Proyas ("Dark City"), and
John Landis ("Blues Brothers 2000"). In Cannes' Un Certain Regard selection
are more Americans like Paul Auster ("Lulu on the Bridge"), Jake Kasden
("Zero Effect"), Stanley Tucci ("The Imposters"), and Robert Duvall ("The
Apostle"). And in the Director's Fortnight sidebar series is Todd Solondz
with "Happiness", his follow-up to 1995's Welcome to the Dollhouse.
General opinion on the Croisette this week holds that festival president
Gilles Jacob's selection, drawn from over 35 countries around the world, is
among the strongest, with past festival favorites bringing new product like
Ken Loach ("My Name is Joe"), Nanni Moretti ("Aprile"), Lars Von Trier ("The
Idiots"), John Turturro ("Illuminata"), Theo Angelopoulos ("Forever And a Day"),
Shohei Imamura ("Kenzo Sensei"), Roland Joffe ("Goodbye Lover") and Ingmar
Bergman ("In the Presence of a Clown").
President of the jury at Cannes this year is Martin Scorsese, who leads a
nine-member group of international personalities, from fellow Americans
Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder; steamy actresses like sexy Swede Lena
Olin and Franco-Italo love child Chiara Mastoianni (daughter of Catherine
Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni); acclaimed auteurs like China's Chen Kaige
("Temptress Moon") and Britain's Michael Winterbottom ("Welcome to Sarajevo");
and cultural wild card MC Solaar, a French music rappeur.
"We all know that films are a business," said Scorsese at a conference
introducing the jury members to the public. "But there can't be a business
without art. The great thing is that you have to be obsessed to make a
movie and that cuts through the business." Scorsese also tipped his chapeau
to the French when responding to a question about his own cinematic
influences." In terms of my films, I owe France a great debt," he said,
and cited Les Enfants du Paradis as one of the first French films that as
a teenager had the most impact on him. When asked about how his career
changed when he won the Palme d'Or in 1976 for "Taxi Driver", Scorsese
explained that the effect was both positive and negative. "I wasn't ready,"
he replied. "And I became too confident." His follow-up film was 1977's
revisionist musical "New York, New York".
Although the festival has just begun, controversy can't be too far
behind, with reports that Lars Von Trier's film includes 20 seconds of X-rated
hardcore lovemaking -- not a problem in Denmark, where pornographic
laws are virtually nonexistant, but certainly guaranteed to raise eyebrows
even on the topless beaches of the Riviera. And the erotic film community,
which hands out its own awards here in Cannes every year , have announced
that the 1998 "Hot d'Or" will go to Pamela Anderson Lee for her gritty
performance in the neorealist Pam and Tommy Lee: Hardcore and Uncensored,
one of the hottest videos on sale in Europe. By the way, the "Cannes You Dig
It?" Film Festival (co-sponsored by shock-schock film distributor Troma)
will take place any day, with screenings of Trey Parker's "Cannibal! The
Musical" to spearhead Troma's own impressive slate of films like "Plutonium
Baby", "Buttcrack", and D"ecampitated: "Where Your Sleeping Bag Becomes a
Body Bag". Nothing mixes business and art quite like the Cannes Film Festival.