FILM / Rushes

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The Independent Culture
Each year Festival Directors gripe that there just aren't enough top- class movies to fill their programmes; each year, one hears rumours of an unseemly last-minute scramble to fill those gaping competition slots. So it's surprising to learn that Gilles Jacob, the Director of the Cannes Film Festival, has created a new sidebar section devoted to 'Masters' - directors too venerable and important to soil their hands in the competitive section. The Masters anointed so far are Kurosawa and Greenaway, and, possibly, Godard and Woody Allen.

Initial response has been less than enthusiastic - and not just from grumpy critics contemplating yet more films to detain them from Cannes' watering holes. One industry insider, who asked not to be named, said, 'I feel it's almost like a cop-out for Gilles Jacob. He can't offend certain directors, but at the same time he obviously doesn't think their new films are worthy of being in competition.' Others fear that it will create confusion (why are Wim Wenders and the Taviani Brothers, all former Golden Palm winners, showing their new films in competition rather than as Masters?).

Oscar Moore, the editor of Screen International, believes that 'the idea is to create some kind of elite club - to make Cannes even more supreme than ever'. This view sees the new section as a cynical bid to scoop up even more films from the Festival's main rival for the cream of art-house cinema, Venice. The latter already has problems - its current Director, Gillo Pontecorvo, is appointed on a caretaker basis, and the choice of a permanent successor for this politically sensitive post looks like a hot potato in the light of the scandals rocking the Italian establishment.

So being elected a Master is a dubious privilege and some directors don't appear too keen on the idea of effectively being put out to grass, although Ken Loach, whose Raining Stones is being considered for both sections, reckons it would be a positive relief. 'The good thing is that your film can be shown and talked about without the elbowing that goes on in competition. It's not a pleasant experience to see yourself like a jockey in a race.'

The full list of competing films won't be announced until 22 April, but Rushes hears that it will almost certainly include Frauds, an Australian comedy starring Phil Collins, and new movies by Kenneth Branagh (Much Ado About Nothing), Chen Kaige (Farewell to My Concubine), Joel Schumacher (Falling Down) and Jane Campion (The Piano). And Steven Soderbergh, who, back in the mists of time (1989) won the Golden Palm for his first film sex, lies and videotape, but whose second movie, Kafka, sunk without trace (it was never released in Britain), is bouncing back with something called King of the Hill.

Clint Eastwood's Oscars last week may have come a little late to boost Unforgiven's box-office revenue, although Warners has relaunched the film in UK cinemas, and the four statuettes should have a substantial impact on its video career. But it may have a more intriguing long-term impact in triggering off, as it were, the revival of a moribund genre. Almost every Hollywood studio is preparing an 'oater' according to Daily Variety this week. There are several Wyatt Earp projects, one starring Kevin Costner, another with Kurt Russell. There are two Pancho Villa films, one at Paramount, to be directed by Ridley Scott, and another at Tri-Star. Even Al Pacino, one of the cinema's unlikeliest gunslingers, may be saddling up. All this seems like dismal news for Hollywood's actresses who, you recall, protested at this year's Academy Awards ceremony at the paucity of roles for them. But wait: it won't only be the chaps wearing chaps. At least three 'female westerns' are in pre-production. And yes, one of them will be called Guns and Roses.

The good news is that Brixton's popular Ritzy cinema is to become the UK's largest art-house multiplex. And the bad news? Well, it was hard to find any in the press pack, which scored 15 on a political-correctness scale of one to 10. Carping voices wondering whether the Ritzy's distinctive Edwardian facade will become a naff neon eyesore are silenced with assurances that original features like the cinema's 'writhing cherubs' will writhe intact.

Eighty per cent of the staff must live locally. And you will be relieved to hear that, among the substances banned from the conversion work are: expanded polystyrene foams, phenolic foams, urea formaldehyde foam cavity insulation, standard coolant R-22 and timber products that are not from managed and regulated sustainable sources. In short there will be nothing to blight the conscience of public-spirited film buffs. Junk food and the new Joel Silver flick will be out of the question, Rushes supposes.