Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cannes Do

Another year, another Cannes Film Festival. This granddaddy (or grand-père, if you will) of film festivals dates back to 1946. Held in a resort town that hugs the French Riviera, it has always had a schizophrenic reputation. At Cannes, art meets commerce, and the glamour of Hollywood collides with anti-Hollywood sentiment. The dress code runs to similar extremes. For official screenings at the Palais, you won’t be admitted without a tuxedo (if you’re male) or a ball gown (if you’re female). A few paces down the Croisette, bare-breasted starlets sun themselves on the sand.

There are lots of ways to make an impression at Cannes. Throw a party on a yacht! Plaster your face on banners the size of buildings! Parade around town, as the wacky folks at Troma like to do, in weird get-ups! (They bring along honeydew melons for demonstrating head-crushing effects, and make sure their Toxic Avenger character comes to Cannes equipped with his own “Toxedo.”) Meanwhile, the film distribution people are too busy to have fun. They’re holed up in their hotel suites, desperately trying to play let’s-make-a-deal.

This year’s festival will include a new documentary, Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. It chronicles Roger’s contribution to the film industry through interviews with many of his famous alumni. Director Alex Stapleton tells me my Corman biography was her inspiration. Though she interviewed me at length for her film, you won’t find me on screen. (More of that later.) Still, this is an exciting moment for a smart young filmmaker, and I certainly wish her well.

My favorite Cannes story comes from director Larry Peerce. Back in 1964, he made a gutsy little indie drama called One Potato, Two Potato, which explored in depth the fall-out from an interracial marriage. Hollywood, of course, wouldn’t touch it. (This was three years before Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner put an upbeat Technicolor gloss on the notion of a black-white courtship.) Desperate to sell his film, Peerce managed to pull some strings and get it into the main festival. He described for me what it’s like to have your movie in competition at Cannes: “You sit in a box – the filmmakers sit in a box – and at the end of the film they throw a spotlight on you, you stand up, and they give you whatever they feel they want to give you. If they don’t like you, it can be one of the most horrifying experiences of your life.”

The movie that preceded his was met with whistles and catcalls. One Potato, Two Potato was far luckier: when it reached its heartbreaking conclusion, the audience began to cheer. Next came a Palme d’Or nomination for Peerce, followed by lots of worldwide sales and an American distribution deal. Ultimately, the film’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. Not bad for a little movie that had to go to France to be discovered by American audiences.


  1. I got to work with Larry Peerce twice on two different TV movies - Holy Joe was one and the other was A Burning Passion: The Margaret Mitchell Story. For the latter I got to handle Shannen Doherty as the PA running first team. Mr. Peerce and I got along very well - and I was very proud at the film's wrap when he made a point to come see me and commend me for my handling of Ms. Doherty. He said I did as well with her as anyone could, and amazingly, she even liked me! A great guy, Larry Peerce!

    1. The time I spent talking to Larry Peerce was sheer pleasure. He's a true gentleman of the old school Interesting bit of trivia: his father was the famous operatic tenor Jan Peerce. He and his wife were very supportive of Larry's movie career, and became his first backers. Do you happen to know a Larry Peerce film called "The Incident"? It's a strong, tough film that deserves its own blog post. Do remind me!