Here We Are Now, Entertain Us... Because We Have Stories To File
By Grant Rosenberg

So you give the kid a key to the candy store, then a schedule of which bins will be open at which times, some conflicting, and all potentially good and possibly great candy, but you make him choose. Worse yet, you force him to organize in advance. Of course there isn’t much sympathy one can arouse by complaining that he has to forgo a movie or two and a press conference in order to see Attack of the Clones in all its digitally projected glory in one of greatest theaters in the world–allowing it many flaws but also its successes to be magnified. And after all, how can he resist, even though the film opens a day later? And thus you have the Festival de Cannes. Is it a glorified PR event? Yes. Is it an opportunity for film lovers to go gaga at the prospect of seeing big Hollywood films and everything else from everywhere else? Yes. Is it an occasion for sanctimonious, bitter journalists to rail against the class system of it all, the Studio 54 "Pick me" hierarchy rules of beauty and power and yet still play the game by its rules? Damn straight.

There are two kinds of journalism; that which reports information that nobody knows, and that which is just another take on information accessible to many, and the writer or reporter approaches it differently in each context. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 journalists are at Cannes, and despite all the talk in the last few years of media mergers, conglomerations and consolidations, you wouldn’t know it from the sheer number of people here solely to tell other people that this event is happening. Most events take place in one large building, which means that we are surrounded by other writers, reporters and camera people at all times, even in the well-equipped cubicles of the little press hall with its Internet access, phones, fax, etc. As I type, an Italian woman is next to me, fingers on her keyboard, a Chesterfield hanging from her lips, periodically barking on her phone. What with the smoking and the group of deadline-conscious writers pacing around and typing quickly while trying not to spill coffee on the keys, it is a 1940's New York City updated, and just as self-conscious. It’s fascinating to watch this urgency, each of us with different deadlines and different reports on the same events, the same films. Each day, everyone turns to the pages of Variety or the Boston Globe or Le Monde, et al, to see how those people cover what everyone is seeing, beginning with the opening night of Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending.

Woody can do no wrong on this continent, and he is celebrated and hailed even as the film finds itself not quite inventive or as vigorous as his previous films. He seems to be too aware of this, and the references in the film to how poorly his fictional filmmaker alter ego’s films are received in the U.S. and so highly regarded in France brought the house down–and in a strange way sort of meekly neutralizes the commentary by American critics if they don’t like it.


Weeks ago when the Cannes lineup was announced, a reporter asked if the rumors about a midnight screening of Attack of the Clones were true. Gilles Jacob, the president of the festival was quite coy and did not say. Back in May of 1999, when Phantom Menace was released in the United States, there were requests for the film to be shown in Cannes. It seems to be requested for several reasons; one, to add to the prestige of Cannes by getting a first look (days before its U.S. release) and also, it seemed, to allow the American film industry people to see it without having to wait until their return home after the festival. It was unfortunate for the French attendees in particular, as the film didn’t open here until October of that year (though earlier in other European countries, prompting travel companies like the Chunnel train EuroStar to come up with gimmicks such as a trip to London to see the film). But this time, where the film opens worldwide days after its U.S. release, not only were the rumors true, the film played twice with a separate press screening and Lucas himself giving an oddly under-attended press conference afterward. He said it was important for him to bring it here to sing the praises of digital projection in Europe. The film was well-received–save for the parts that make us laugh out loud, embarrassed for what Mr. Lucas has put in screen. When it is bad it is really bad but when it is rousing, it is quite effective, as Dan Kraus has written in his review. Projected digitally, the film did seem quite clear and crisp and there is not a reel change maker in the corner of the screen nor any pops on the soundtrack. In theory this sounds nice, just as does the fact that a digitally-projected movie (for which there are only 100 cinemas equipped worldwide) doesn’t degrade in quality as conventional film stock does over time. But it is true as one journalist stated to Lucas that part of the "soul" is gone, that it looks just a little bit… off, as if something is missing despite how great it all looks. I was pleased with a mobile Yoda, and like many, found his most prominent scene to be the most delightful in the film because frankly we have been waiting since 1980 to see how the little booger could be such a bad-ass Jedi. And yet the puppet, more human Yoda we know is gone, replaced by a completely digital one with perhaps less personality. Thus the tradeoff. Neil Young once said–perhaps not the first–that with CDs, raising the volume makes the music louder, and with vinyl records, raising the volume makes the music fuller. Lucas had a different take; he defended it by saying that it was equivalent to the evolution of painting.

"All art is technological. When painting went from frescoes to oil paint is kind of like what going from the photo-chemical process to digital is like. Frescoe was a very demanding medium and you needed to have a lot of people there mixing colors, experts to make sure it would dry the right way. When you painted it, you had to paint it in a very short amount of time, couldn’t change your mind. It was very exacting to do this on the wall of some cave or building. With oil, you could go out in the sunlight, change colors, paint over things. It really completely changed the vision of the artists in terms of the fact that they were able to do so much more and be more flexible. There are movements in art such as the impressionists that possibly would not have happened if the artists weren’t allowed to go outside and see how light played against things. And this is a new technology that allows you to have more flexibility with the art form."

When he was asked to respond to Ewan McGregor’s recent comments to FilmFour that Phantom Menace was disappointing and dull, Lucas seemed a bit disingenuous in saying that McGregor was surely referring not to the quality of the final product but to the process of shooting the film. Because there is so much blue screen work, it is less interesting for actors, Lucas reasoned. I don’t think many at the press conference believed that this was McGregor’s intended meaning. And though there was very little discussion about the film itself in terms of writing and plot, Lucas did defend the wooden acting by claiming that it is deliberate, a throwback to the styles of early film serials that were the genesis for the Star Wars saga. Likewise, that doesn’t seem to account for the poor performances of his actors and the silly writing, since he surely knows that we are laughing at what he does not intend to be funny. An homage that makes us groan surely isn’t desirable. Lucas also said that after he finishes Episode III he will go back to some of the many projects that have been sitting on shelves for the last thirty years, things that many would consider a big departure for him. "Most of my friends and people like Francis Ford Coppola keeps saying to everybody that my career was hijacked by Star Wars, that the world lost an interesting filmmaker."


One of the great advantages at Cannes is to be able to see French films. Though its cinema is a great reason to be in France, despite months in Paris, my French isn’t good enough to see films in that language yet. Here, the films have English subtitles, and I attended a screening of Dix-Sept Fois Cecile Cassard, [Seventeen Times Cecile Cassard] directed by Christian Honore. It is a frustrating, angry and sad film about a woman that leaves her young child after her husband’s death. I think the film gets it right; the balance between a linear and slightly non-linear narrative, dreamlike that comes into tangible focus just when it might become obtuse. It is a match of art and commercial appeal (by French standards) that is enriching. By the end of the film, at least a third of the attendees had walked out.