Croissants and decaff with reptile man; CANNES FESTIVAL

'I'm handsome, good-looking and I wanna career, I wanna haircut, I wanna go to Palm Springs. I want ejaculations just like anyone else.' Sheila Johnston takes breakfast with Tony Curtis before battling her way to the next round of screenings

As I loiter in the lobby of one of the larger hotels, my eye is caught by a sign announcing "press breakfast with Tony Curtis". I have a fair suspicion of what this is in aid of. One of the more extraordinary sights in this town full of strange spectacles is, after all, a life-size cardboard cut-out of Curtis bulging out of a pea-green lycra catsuit with gold lame jockstrap and sequinned cape. He is promoting a flick called The Continued Adventures of Reptile Man and His Faithful Sidekick Tadpole. Why not look in?

It is 10.15am but the room is empty; an anxious press flunkie explains that the guest of honour is caught in traffic but should arrive any second. The invited hacks have all long-since departed and I, a shameless gatecrasher, am more than welcome to break croissants with Tony. I hesitate briefly because Reptile Man (budget $6m) might not be a cinematic masterpiece. In fact, although the film has been snapped up by Turkey,Thailand and Brazil, it hasn't started shooting yet and the ads, on close inspection, bear the tell-tale disclaimer in microscopic print, "credits not contractual". But the prospect of a tete-a-tete with Tony Curtis is too tempting to pass up in Cannes, where an "exclusive" interview with the most minor celebrity means, as likely as not, 15 minutes shared with a dozen other journalists - none of whom have English as their first or even second language.

A flurry of excitement; a big booming voice; a cotton-candy pompadour; our guest has arrived. He plops himself in the seat directly opposite me and orders a decaff ("I don't wanna get more hyper than I already am"). At his right hand, a small, intense man introduces himself as Reptile's writer-director and cuts to the chase; his picture will be the tale of a fading star "with an ego the size of Montana", whose only claim to fame is as the pea-green superhero in a tacky TV show. It is, he says, the story of Tony Curtis's life. It will be funny and poignant. It will be the new Sunset Boulevard.

Tony is keen to tell me how thrilled he is to be involved in this exciting new venture. "I'm gonna have my own dress designer. I'm gonna wear mini- skirts. I'm gonna have a 20ft tongue that I attack my enemies with... and," he leers confidentially across the table "do all sorts of other things with." One or two other reporters have trickled in by now, but I note to my extreme discomfiture that I'm the only woman. The Curtis eye-contact is blinding.

"When I was 27," he booms on, "Hollywood was much more laid back, y'know what I mean? I told myself, 'I'm handsome, good-looking and I wanna career, I wanna haircut, I wanna go to Palm Springs. I want ejaculations just like anyone else.' " I bend busily over my notebook. "Then it got very hard to find film material if you weren't in the vortex, in the loop. I had six kids and I had to say, 'I can't wait to play Cockroach Girl'.

"I don't think of this as a movie. I don't act on the screen, I be on the screen. Hamlet said it, 'To be or not to be.' Remember Being There with Peter Sellers? What a picture!" On his right, Tadpole is getting fidgety. "Shall we get back to Reptile Man?" he pipes up. "We've had people coming out of the woodwork to work on this movie. Some really top-notch people."

I edge quickly towards the door as Curtis's voice echoes after me. "From his mouth to God's ear, y'know what I mean. I like to see this picture as a male version of Sunset Boulevard..."

The morning screening is Kids, which proves to be quintessential Cannes experience. The Romanian and Japanese films had been sparsely attended; scarcely 50 people turned up for the late-night show of the African entry. But Kids is about drugs, HIV-positive teenagers, underage sex. It is having a little trouble with the censor. More to the point, it is American - the first American movie, indeed, to play in competition. Everybody wants to see it. Consequently it has been scheduled in the smallest auditorium in the Palais.

Thanks to Tony Curtis, I am late, and the scrum before the door is turning ugly. People are waving their badges in the air. An Italian critic is yelling: "This is not a private screening! Let me in!" Someone else mutters: "So this is why they call them press screenings." I'm about to slope off when I notice someone with a yellow dot on his badge being ushered through the throng. Yellow dots are for the privileged - writers working for daily papers. I have a yellow dot! Elbows akimbo I shove my way through. Kids turns out to be dismal: the characters shallow, the narrative rambling, the film-making rudimentary. Although the director, Larry Clarke, is a photographer of some repute, there's not a memorable image in it. Some people reckon it's the best thing they've seen so far.

To lunch with Michael Kuhn, the self-styled big cheese at PolyGram, whose thoughts on being a new mogul in town appeared in these pages last week. Thanks to Kids, I am late, arriving with another veteran of the morning's skirmishes who has a large rip in his shirt. We are in time, however, to hear Kuhn give a speech outlining the company's new projects - which include a musical remake of Whistle Down the Wind with a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and a screenplay by the woman who wrote 91/2 Weeks. Then, while we were digesting this, he lobs in a complaint that Channel 4 put "tuppence ha'penny" into Four Weddings and a Funeral and then grumbled when they got only pounds 5m back. The next morning's headlines in the local trade papers flash before our eyes: "Kuhn to Channel 4: Screw you".

Later Kuhn talks, too, of Carrington, and of how to get America to see it. Jonathan Pryce is best known there right now for a series of television ads, and he speculates on the impact of pitching Carrington as the movie that stars the guy from the Honda commercials. It could be a smart move; this, after all, is the town where Sir Ian McKellen's forthcoming film version of Richard III is being pre-sold with the copyline "He came on earth to make this world a hell."

Any film that doesn't fit some kind of template may expect a rough ride: Terence Davies's beautiful The Neon Bible met with catcalls and hissing at the press screening. And some have felt that, despite a different setting - the American South in the Forties - the film is too close a reworking of its director's established themes: a brutal father, an oppressively religious community, a sensitive boy coming of age in a matriarchal family (although it seems perverse to berate a film-maker for having strong personal obsessions). This is a very delicate film, slow and elliptical, almost a tone poem; it looks sensational (very different, actually, from either Davies's early trilogy or Distant Voices, Still Lives) and displays cinema craft of a high order. He shouldn't lose heart; booing is at least a sign that the audience is still present, awake and emotionally provoked (which has by no means been the case with many films seen this year). And he's in good company; Antonioni has been given the bum's rush here, as was Jane Campion for Sweetie. A couple of years later, with The Piano, she was the toast of Cannes.

Out of competition, two films have found favour: Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects a clever, intricate film noir, and Gus van Sant's To Die For, a black satire about the vacuity of American television and a bitchy, ambitious woman's bid for fame at any price. It's something of a one-joke movie and surprisingly conventional for Van Sant (perhaps he's drawing in his horns after the grand disaster of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues), but polished and funny with a knockout comic performance from Nicole Kidman.

Zhang Yimou's Shanghai Triad starts off like a Chinese Godfather - a young boy enters the family business, the mafia that ran Shanghai in the Thirties - and suddenly switches midway to an intimate drama of betrayal, as Gong Li's gangster's moll finds herself a pawn in a power struggle between the capo and his henchman. This is an ornate, good-looking film, but feels at the end a little mechanical.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor