Tangerine dream helps save face

First Night 40th London Film Festival
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The Independent Online
The 40th London Film Festival opened last night with a Hollywood movie which goes on general release next week anyway.

If that seems something of a cop-out, then it could have been worse. The printed brochure has no film listed at all for the gala first night, whose second feature was a meal at the Cafe Royal for the cream of the British film industry.

The last-minute nature of the first-night arrangements and a grateful nod to Hollywood rather than homegrown talent was not exactly the most fitting tribute to the cream of the British film industry nor to Sheila Whitaker, the London Film Festival director for 10 years, and whose last festival this is. But the assembled cream put a brave face on it, with pre-movie speeches from Whitaker, the head of the BFI, Wilf Stevenson, and producer Jeremy Thomas toasting the health of the festival.

And of course there was the big compensation of the appearance in the flesh of one of the film's stars, the 50-year-old but eternally youthful Goldie Hawn. Emphasising her rarity value as a Los Angeles resident devoid of face-or-anything-else-lifts, she said in an interview this week: "My face is my face. My body is my body. I have been blessed," adding with what sounded like an out-take from a self-esteem course brochure "I adore myself, I honour myself every day." In the film, by contrast, she played a fading actress with absurd collagen implants. She, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler were women getting their own backs on husbands who had traded them in for younger models.

It was anti-climatic after the opening of the festival, Hawn came on to the stage of the Odeon Leicester Square in a low cut, floor-length, tangerine dress. Somewhat diluting whatever message the film may have had, she said: "Guys, don't be upset. We don't hate you. We love you, or we wouldn't be talking about you all the time."

The glitz did not entirely alleviate the feeling that there should have been a British film to open this major British film festival. But tomorrow it premieres Crash, based on JG Ballard's novel, directed by David Cronenburg. The film, which caused outrage at the Cannes Festival, explores sexual passion provoked by traumatic car accidents, and has been condemned as pornography. So we might be looking back to Goldie Hawn and friends with more than the usual gratitude.

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