After the disruptions of 1968, when the festival was shut down mid-way during the larger turmoil that engulfed France that May, Cannes was back to its old formal, elegant ways two years later, but now with a split personality; the Eurorich, in their Yves Saint-Laurent and Bentleys, still held sway and ascended the red carpet amidst the paparazzi frenzy, but there was a strong counterculture undertow in evidence everywhere: in the heady new sidebar called the Directors Fortnight, the flood of Europorn in the backstreet market, the prominence of films such as as “Woodstock” and “The Strawberry Statement” in the main festival, the black armbands worn by Americans in the wake of the Kent State shootings and the bombing of Cambodia, hippies camping out on the beaches and smoking pot under the Carlton pier, and the victory of the rowdy and irreverent Robert Altman as the winner of the Palme d’or with “M*A*S*H.”
I was there because I was obsessed. I’d been reading about Cannes ever since I was 14, when I started subscribing to Variety, the only American publication covering international film festivals in any comprehensive way in the 1960s. I began reviewing films (my first–”Belle de Jour”) for the student paper the moment I arrived at Stanford in the fall of 1968 and instantly established a bad academic habit by spending more of my first month of college at the San Francisco Film Festival than I did on campus. In 1970, I arranged to study in Britain beginning July 1, which meant I could take spring term off to realize my most important dream—to go to Cannes.
For a dozen reasons, I was a mad francophile in those days; most of my favorite movies–”Children of Paradise,” “Shoot the Piano Player,” “The Crime of M. Lange,” “Contempt,” “Bay of Angels,” “Napoleon” “My Night at Maud’s,” “L’Atalante,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “La Ronde”–were French, I compulsively studied and read the language so I could understand the films without subtitles and I became a fierce but lonely champion of the politique des auteurs at a school dominated by Paulettes. I was intoxicated by the thick romantic nectar of anything associated with the Cote d’Azur, be it fiction by Fitzgerald and Maugham, “Bonjour Tristesse,” late Renoir paintings, “To Catch A Thief,” the image of Graham Greene writing in his flat there early every morning, the Monaco Grand Prix, “Casino Royale,” photographs of Brigitte Bardot and, above all, fevered imaginings of all that had gone on among the illustrious and men and women—the beautiful and the damned—along this narrow stretch of coastline. For me, all of life—but particularly the cinema and romance—seemed automatically intensified just by taking place there.
I arrived in Paris for the first time in my life on April 21, 1970, on Pan Am overnight from New York surrounded by 300 boisterous spring break schoolgirls in the earliest days of 747 service, After staying there with French relatives, I took the train from the Gare de Lyon down to Cannes on May 2. My uncle had booked me into the Hotel Florian on the rue Commandant Andre, where my modest top floor room overlooked a school playground; the shouts and screams of the children every morning served as a reliable alarm clock. In recent years years, I’ve stayed in an apartment one block east on the rue Mace, facing the school’s front, and the same spirited clamor continues to flood my room along with the morning light all these years later.
I’d made it, I was there. Still, then as now, it’s not worth going to Cannes if you can’t get into screenings, and through slightly devious means I had managed to finagle solid accreditation. The Stanford Daily obviously wasn’t going to cut it with the festival’s formidable press office chief, Louisette Fargette. But on a generous whim, Ralph Gleason at Rolling Stone in San Francisco allowed me to use the magazine’s name on my application, even though he had no intention of running anything about Cannes (in retrospect, a short piece about the anti-war movement in Cannes, both onscreen and on the streets, might have made a good fit).
Billie Whitelaw (left) and Glenna Forster-Jones
— to be continued tomorrow —