Read entries from day
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First posted: 5/09-17/01

Day 1

Does Quentin Tarantino Have a New Film?
By Daniel Kraus

May 9, 2001

On the eve of the 54th Cannes International Film Festival, the biggest buzz is not surrounding the opening-night film, Moulin Rouge, or even the new, extended-length edit of Francis Ford Coppola’s past Cannes prizewinner, Apocalypse Now.

No, all the talk is about Quentin Tarantino’s new film—or lack thereof. See, there’s a big rumor that Tarantino—who hasn’t shown his face since 1997’s lackluster Jackie Brown—is going to have an unpublicized screening of a secret new film of his, an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard western entitled 40 Lashes. The rumor is quite extravagant and goes on to detail exactly how Tarantino could’ve pulled off a "secret" film—by hiding his production beneath the umbrella of his producer friend Lawrence Bender’s much bigger production, The Mexican. Tarantino could've shot the thing down in South America and used his usual crew of actors, all of whom supposedly have suspicious gaps in their employment history around that time.

There are more details. But the point is clear—Cannes is hungry for something big, something splashy. Something that it hasn’t seen since the days of Pulp Fiction and Apocalypse Now, or even since David Lynch won the Palme d'Or with his Wild at Heart. One of the hot tickets, in fact, is the new Lynch film, Mulholland Drive.

I arrived in Cannes today with my friend and assistant director, Craig Ouellette. Way back in 1997, when I was a senior at the University of Iowa, I filmed a little 16mm movie called Jefftowne. It’s a documentary about a 38-year-old man named Jeff Town who, as my synopses reads, is a "beer-loving, porno-consuming, wrestling fanatic with Down’s Syndrome." Shot with almost no knowledge of how film works (both figuratively and mechanically), this rather unassuming piece of work ended up having a sort of naive, honest charm to it.

It premiered at one of the biggest film festivals in America, the Slamdance Film Festival, and played at a bunch of smaller fests. It even won a couple of awards along the way.

But that was in 1998. Three years later, I find myself with the film in Cannes because I recently sold the rights to infamous film distributor Troma Films, the only company that didn’t run screaming from Jefftowne. Not because the film is bad but because it’s virtually unsellable. (Can YOU imagine a controversial, low-budget documentary about Down’s Syndrome selling out your local multiplex?)

Troma Films is best known for its fun, sex and blood-filled masterpieces like The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High and, most recently, Tromeo and Juliet. Although the lion’s share of Troma’s films is rather crass, there are undeniably diamonds to be found in the rough. Underground gems like Combat Shock and Bloodsucking Freaks are among the truly shocking films of our time, and recent Troma productions like Tromeo and Terror Firmer are simply very good movies. Disgusting, perhaps revolting, but also hilarious and endlessly creative. It’s taken 25 years, but Troma president Lloyd Kaufman now knows how to make a good movie.

So I’m not here to sell a film; it’s already been sold. I’m here for two reasons: first, to appear at Jefftowne’s two screenings and help Troma sell the movie to foreign shores and domestic buyers as best I can; and second, to chill out on the French Riviera.

The second reason is turning out to be more difficult than I had imagined. The place is a circus. And I mean that almost literally—an enormous carousel sits along the Croisette, which is the beach running alongside the Mediterranean. Ads for Moulin Rouge include huge replicas of elephants, stages and circus paraphernalia. Vendors sell food, photographers photograph, tattooers tattoo.

The Troma crowd, true to their image, are anti-everything, most of all establishment. They disdain ties and slacks; instead, they have died hair and skateboarding tees. They bounce down the street talking loudly and finding what they see as a good excuse to be an "ugly American"—namely, shouting out insults to any huge crowd surrounding a hotel entrance, hoping to catch a glimpse of Nicole Kidman or Johnny Depp.

People mutter "Troma freaks" as they pass; Troma is well known at the festival for creating chaos and crashing parties. Last year, a man dressed as the Toxic Avenger (who is your garden-variety mutated janitor with superhuman strength) bum-rushed Jean-Claude Van Damme’s grand entrance from a boat and challenged him to a fight. Van Damme reportedly went back inside the boat and did not re-emerge.

And while some of Troma’s crew are younger kids who, due to their age, are still allowed to just "be angry," Troma’s actual employees are sharp. Behind their spiked hair and I-don’t-give-a-fuck demeanor shines a savvy intelligence. It’s not hard to be shocked when they suddenly snap up a cell phone, sounding for all the world just like a Universal Studios film rep (who, incidentally, Troma employee Doug Sakkman proudly refers to as "the enemy").

After all, these are the same kids (and although a lot of them actually ARE kids, it feels okay to label the entire Troma Team "kids;" it’s meant as a compliment, mostly) who will be up at 6:00 a.m. every morning to pass out Troma fliers to every single room in the major Cannes hotels—no matter how drunk they got last night. These are the same kids who are buying full-page color ads for Troma in the trades and who are part of Troma Films, one of the most recognizable and longest-lasting independent film companies in America.

The festival officially begins tonight. Au revoir.

Day 2

Working For Free
May 10, 2001

A large bird, perhaps a seagull, flew over our heads today and picked up a tiny pigeon. The pigeon thrashed to and fro and the seagull soared above the throngs of people waiting outside the red carpet, the pigeon wiggling helplessly in its beak.

The seagull then suddenly dropped the pigeon. The pigeon fell straight for the crowd. Luckily, it hit a tiny umbrella, bounced off and sat writhing around in a pool of its own blood, along the lovely French Croisette.

Perhaps there is some analogy I could make here.

I was chosen among the Tromophiles to meet Troma president/preacher/hero Lloyd Kaufman outside his apartment to hand him and his wife Pat (who just happens to be the New York Film Commissioner) the keys to their apartment as well as Lloyd's sleeping bag. Lloyd was in rare form—without his throngs of rabid followers he was subdued and quiet. He spoke fluid French to his friends, bidding them au revoir. He kindly congratulated me on my film, Jefftowne. We promised to meet later.

The word on the street is that the Hollywood blockbuster Shrek is incredible. My friend Craig and I have been meaning to try and score tickets to screenings, but have been unable to even make it inside of the building yet. This is primarily because we keep on running into the practically-unavoidable Troma team tearing down the riverside, dressed in huge outfits representing the most famous Troma charactersthe Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kubikiman NYPD, Dolphinman, and Mad Cowboy. There are also a few buxom babes with names like "Bulemia" and "Tro-mantis" known only as the "Tromettes".

This bizarre troupe of foam-rubber hooligans and scantily clad sirens tramp down the street, hooting and cheering. One man plays his guitar, improvising a Spanish-sounding "Troma" ballad. The Troma Team is stopped every five minutes to be interviewed by a camera crew, and they eat it up, and ask for seconds.

Troma assistant honcho Doug Sakkman doubles as the crime-fighting Sgt. Kubikiman. One moment he's sailing down the middle of the street on his skateboard, stopping buses full of tourists with the megaphoned shout "STOP IN THE NAME OF TROMA!!" The next moment, he's on his cell, setting up the next interview, gathering the appropriate number of screening cassettes, in general being a damn good employee.

One reason that Troma has such a presence here (especially for a company that is bunking 30-some people in one small apartment, and who operate out of one suite) is that, by and large, they are young people who hold almost no reverence for the Cannes Film Festival.

And perhaps they shouldn't; there's reverence to spare here. A friend of mine tells a story of going through the last-minute trouble of renting a tuxedo to simply attend one of the films, only to be turned away at the last second because he did not possess the correct caliber of tux shoes. Sacre blue!

All along the Mediterranean are hidden tents, obscuring the beachside. As the Troma Team entered one such tent for a live webcast interview, a secret world was revealed
a world of hidden bars, mini-theaters, champagne, and, yes, more cameras. This is where the elite meet, and they were disturbed to see Troma's band of sociopathic cinephiles invade their space.

But there was a problem
Dolphinman (basically, a dolphin in a raincoat) had lost one of his eyes. Big Tasty, a large man with a huge, black heavy-metal wig on, was sent back to the Surface World of Cannes to try and find the missing eyeball.

The mood was temporarily dampened, but the arrival of several new Tromettes lifted everyone's spirits, and the interview was on. Before 20 minutes had passed, the interview had devolved into a fistfight involving the Toxic Avenger and Kubikiman, rolling around in the sand, sucking down mini-bottles of champagne.

This brouhaha is interrupted by disturbing news. One of the Troma characters—someone called, ominously, "Big Gay Ben"—has been arrested for wearing a thong outside the ritzy Carlton Hotel, where Troma is headquartered. Despite the fact that there are people wearing a lot less on the beach across the road, there is no doubt that some people have been waiting for their chance to throw out these people who wear superhero suits instead of tuxedos.

Interestingly, two butt-naked men (NOT Tromites) streaked in front of the Carlton only a few hours ago. It was barely noticed.

Scott from Troma told me that they tried to sell two movies today to Showtime; Jefftowne was one of them. Showtime passed, perhaps because of the low sound quality of the screener. It's true; my sound has never been particularly good. Then again, often the cameraman (myself) was also holding the sound recorder and the boom mic.

After watching the gory and mostly plot-free Troma entry Parts of the Family at the glitzy Palais theater, the difference between my art-house Jefftowne and the regular in-your-face Troma fare is all the more evident. Still, these two strange bedfellows make a rather satisfying team; it's a step in a new direction for Troma, and hopefully their fans will accept that step.

Chances are they will, for what a strange alternative Troma presents to the crowds perennially glued to their strategic positions alongside the red carpets. "What are you doing???" Kubikiman asks them. "You're waiting for a movie star to walk down a carpet for eight seconds. And they're not even going to see you!"

What is most striking about Troma is that it is all about WORKING FOR FREE. "Free" is a word rarely used in Cannes; it is a word I will probably never bother to learn in French. But Troma fans from all over the globe have converged here to put on sweaty foam rubber suits and parade down the street and hand out fliers. They are here to promote true independence. They are here to HELP.

As one interviewer commented to the characters, "It must be tough being independent in a country ruled by George Bush.

Day 3:

The End?
May 11, 2001

At the Palais (the real big building that all the movies show in) there is a large video monitor that plays live footage of incoming people as they promenade down the red carpet—just in case you can't see. (And chances are you can't—in the grand old tradition of big, sweaty crowds, the first five rows are reserved for screaming 10 to 16-year-old girls with cameras.)

Directly across from this live-broadcast screen is a different screen; just as large, this one continually plays interviews, film clips, and the kind of frustratingly well-edited, rock-em-sock-em montages that you see every night on E! You are bound to see just about anything on this screen.

On this monitor, around six p.m., a Troma presentation began. It was about ten minutes of Troma stuff, mostly comprised of an interview with president/director Lloyd Kaufman and clips from the sure-fire-hit Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Part 4. (In case you're interested, "Part 3" was titled The Last Temptation of Toxie and the upcoming "Part 5" is titled Saving Private Toxie. These movies are made for astonishing prices [in the region of $400,000]) and recoup big bucks every time.)

From my spot on the cement, I could simultaneously watch the Troma screen as well as Red Carpet Cam, which currently was welcoming the A-list to Apocalypse Now Redux, Francis Coppola's new version of his 1979 masterpiece, which he has extended by 53 minutes.

The most startling juxtaposition wasn't the one of Big Hollywood and Independent Renegades, it was the soundtrack of the whole mess; The Doors' "The End" blared from the Palais, over and over, as tuxedoed men escorted sequined women up the scarlet steps.

Jim Morrison was the new soundtrack for the pinnacle of Hollywood excess.

Jim Morrison was ALSO the (unintentional) soundtrack for the Troma footage, drowning out Kaufman's interview and film clips. Over the crazed, apocalyptic images of superhero/human copulation, slimy eyeball-gougings, and general gooey mayhem, "The End" seemed pleasingly appropriate.

People are getting tired. This is not just a reflection of my own state of mind (I could go on like this for months. No, really. I'm a machine.), but the impression I get of the patience level of the crowds, the concierges, and most of all the police trying to reign in a pretty little mountain city that is bursting at the seams.

Many take refuge in small cafes, bars, and hotel rooms. French TV plays a surprising number of uninterrupted, feature-length films. Being American, the only French films that I ever get a chance to see are the supposed best of the best. So, naturally, I assume these films on TV are landmark opuses. But I'm told they mostly suck.

The same statement could be said for the Cannes festival and markets as well as, I suppose entertainment in general. You can not walk two feet here without a TV, a movie screen, a billboard, or a parade of demented foam superheroes pushing their product in your face, and demanding you pay attention.

And yes, most of these flicks suck. But there's undoubtedly something for everyone, although finding it would probably be thoroughly unpleasant.

How anyone ever gets any work done here I will never know.

Day 4:

Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Troma head of marketing Doug Sakkman (aka Sgt. Kubikiman NYPD), has endured so much fake blood in the last several days that when, last night, he smashed himself into a glass door and cut his head right above his eye and sat bleeding in the hotel lounge, the concierges thought they had a dying man on their hands: there was blood everywhere.

Sakkman's continual marketing tricks have at least proven the worth of the much-deplored cell-phone—after spitting fake blood (on the hotel wall or on the dog of a much-hated Warner Brothers exec, depending on the version you hear), Sakkman was banned by the hotel. Realizing that this is probably in part due to the fact that Sakkman is dripping with gore, Troma president Lloyd Kaufman orders him to take a shower, which is not an easy task in the ever-worsening condition at the Troma pad (which Kaufman calls "the REAL Real World").

In fact, cellphone usage is UP today because every single internet outpost in Cannes has gone bye-bye due to a massive overload crisis of some kind; it is humorously reminiscent of the Great Cell-Phone Crisis of 1999 at the Sundance Film Festival, where everyone went a full 36 hours without the support of their trusty cellulars.

Kaufman is probably happy about it—as he preaches to a visiting group of 15 college students, "AOL-Time Warner invented the blacklist! They are one of the devil-worshipping conglomerates who make movies for millions and so have to make something that everyone likes. It's like baby-food—yeah, you can live on it, but its boring."

"The way of Troma is based on an old saying," continues Kaufman. "You must destroy in order to create. In this case, you must destroy Time-Warner."

Indeed, it does seem as if Cannes is making it more difficult for lower-budget companies to advertise their films—TV crews are no longer allowed in the hallways (larger companies have big suites to put them in), and fliers are no longer allowed to be slid under hotel doors. The only avenue left is the 4,000-dollar-a-page Variety and Hollywood Reporter ads (these are Kaufman's figures).

So, Troma simply raises a ruckus and dubs it "promotion." In addition to the daily parades down the Croisette, Troma stages "meltdowns" (a large group of Tromites all foaming green liquid from their mouths) during large hotel lobby events, and uses situations like Sakkman's infamous blood-spitting to shout the word "Troma" to onlookers. "Was there a camera there?" Kaufman
always inquires hopefully when informed of the latest gruesome display of civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, on the Riviera, other companies are ripping pages from the Troma textbook of self-promotion, by using the oldest sure-fire trick in the book—nudity. An adult entertainment group stops traffic for FIVE HOURS as reporters swarm around a naked woman on a motorcycle. Almost every day in the trades is a picture of a naked person performing some ridiculous
stunt. And almost every one of these stunts works.

By far the biggest disappointment of the day is the first screening of my film Jefftowne, done in the Troma hotel suite. Not only is the joint decidedly NOT bustling with buyers (documentaries are generally considered box-office poison), but the screener tape has suddenly disappeared. The Troma Team looks everywhere to no avail.

It is never found and the screening is cancelled.

Day 5:

Out of Tickets
Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Things seem to be falling apart little by little for the Troma crew; the de facto blacklisting of resident provocateur/Marketing Manager/costumed being-of-superhuman-strength Doug Sakkman from local hot-spots, has had, in my opinion, a distinct effect. The volunteers, beleaguered by days of replacing alcohol for sleep, are more rag-tag than ever before. Is there a parade today? Are we supposed to be flyer-ing the Croisette or hanging with Troma president Lloyd Kaufman to be used as background in a BBC interview? Nobody knows the answers to these questions.

Adding to the surreal post-battle feel of the paper-littered office is the constant skulking presence of several camera crews. There are at least three crews doing documentaries on Troma, not to mention the many TV stations that drop by constantly.

For possibly the first time in many of the Troma Team's lives (mine included) we are the possessors of the hottest ticket in town—tonight's Troma Dance party on the beach. The annual bash, which promises downright jiggy superheroes and jiggling, blood-splattered damsels, has every bloke on the block stopping by Troma's office. But the official line is: "We're all out of tickets."

The truth of the matter is that I have about 40 tickets in my pocket right now. But the idea is to create demand by NOT handing them out; not that it matters anyway—it's going to be a madhouse, and I'm getting in. Dammit.

Jefftowne had its official Cannes premiere at 3:30 at the Palais theater. The small theater was three-quarters full, and the response was good. It is hard to say for sure, but I suspect few of these attendees were "buyers."

Still, my job here is almost done. I've promoted, I've supported, and I've watched my movie on a theater screen for what might've been the 40th time. And now, Jefftowne is just another film that played at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.

Another film lost among the hundreds showing here, films with titles like: Barbecue: A Love Story, Chaos and Cadavers, Girls Who Bend Their Legs, Repli-Kate, Shit Happens, Elvis is Alive, I Swear I Saw Him Eating Ding Dongs Outside the Piggly Wiggly's, and my personal favorite, Chronically Unfeasable.

Most of these films you will never see.

And that is okay.

Day 6:

The Haves and Have-Nots
May 17, 2001

And now here is the truth:

There are not always happy endings. The glitz of E! Entertainment TV and the media myth of the endless entertainment industry party can only survive so far. And the later the night gets, the more clear the distinctions between the haves and the have-nots become; it is as if during the day the sunlight blinds the borders.

The TromaDance party is indeed the hot ticket of the evening. People wait for hours and hours to get in; most do not succeed. On the inside, however, it is like many parties you might attend any evening in LA, except with free booze.

As the evening kicks off, I record the intro to my upcoming Jefftowne DVD with Troma president Lloyd Kaufman and a couple buxom Tromettes. Soon after, the music starts pumping and the alcohol starts flowing freely.

Events that are losing their luster by this point continue—men in thongs jumping off the pier and swimming to shore; women with only tiny Troma stickers over their nipples posing for photograph after photograph; a few drunken, shoving fights. And dozens of TV cameras recording it all for posterity, to be used in entertainment programming for the next 11 months.

But when the party ends early (Troma, being a relatively low-budget company, has rented the only space on the Riviera beach that closes at 1 a.m.), the Troma Team is removed from their brief stint as the envy of Cannes, and returned to their collective pariah status.

The state of the tiny Troma Team apartment, where some 30 volunteers and employees are crashing, is ungodly. Beer bottles, dirty socks, superhero costumes, stolen movie posters, and particles of unidentifiable crud cover every inch of the hard tile floor. A guy known to the Tromites as 'Tupac' (several nights ago he was so drunk that he believed that he was the reincarnation of Tupac Shakur) is passed out again in the hallway, and is dragged to the floor, where his weary friends quietly clear a space for him to sleep, without having to speak a word.

There is also a guy passed out on the floor that no one has ever seen before. But when he begins to throw up, the Troma Team hooks a plastic bag around the man's ears, and sees to it that he's okay.

The bathroom is so dirty that you can not even open the door because of the piles.

For the first time, as I speak to these people, I understand that each member of the Troma Team is a person that you wouldn't give a second glance to in the real world. They have jobs and mortgages and apartments and wives and children and cars and parents who they call every other day to make sure they're doing okay.

But they suffer that nagging itch so common within the human condition—they are compelled to CREATE. They are compelled to make art. They are compelled to suffer to create things that few people will ever appreciate or understand. They do not do these things for their health—that is perfectly clear. And they do not do these things for fame or fortune.

They do them because they CANNOT HELP THEMSELVES.

When the lights go down in Cannes, there are those in tuxes with smiling women on their arms who are picked up by long cars and taken to their private suits.

And there are those who are not.

But with everyone—through the booze and the drugs and the haze of moving so fast from event to event, and from new face to face—there is a sort of unspoken sadness, a sense of being lost, and using their self-destructive urge to create their art to help create some borders between themselves and other humans.

And when the denizens of the Cannes Film Festival finally do sleep, it is the sleep of any person anywhere, rich or poor, famous or obscure—a sleep filled with hopeful sadness and hesitant joy.

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Women Filmmakers

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54th Cannes Film Festival
Roger Ebert's 3rd Overlooked Film Festival/David Urrutia Interview

Eudora Welty
Grand Dad Terry
Kalle Lasn

Mad Max
Gregory Corso
Christopher Hitchens

Eric Bogosian

Venice Biennale
Anais Nin

Robert Goulet
Karma Is on My Side
The Artist Not at All Known as Prince
Online Band-aid
Merle Haggard
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Marijuana as Medicine
Footnotes From the Book of Job
Great Generation Hoax
Overnight in Terre Haute
Abbie Hoffman