David Lister: The Week in Arts

Groundhog Day is always showing in Cannes
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I last went to the Cannes film festival a few years ago. Woody Allen was premiering a new movie. It was rather good. The plot was about a film director who went blind halfway through making a film. Consequently, half of the film was drivel and flopped everywhere except in France, where it was hailed as a masterpiece. This was a cheeky and mischievous concept to show at a French festival. I interviewed Allen afterwards, but it's a rule of the perverse and bumptious world of film PR that the interview cannot be published until the film is released in Britain. That one never has been.

I last went to the Cannes film festival a few years ago. Woody Allen was premiering a new movie. It was rather good. The plot was about a film director who went blind halfway through making a film. Consequently, half of the film was drivel and flopped everywhere except in France, where it was hailed as a masterpiece. This was a cheeky and mischievous concept to show at a French festival. I interviewed Allen afterwards, but it's a rule of the perverse and bumptious world of film PR that the interview cannot be published until the film is released in Britain. That one never has been.

But in a way, it was a comforting routine. Cannes is a movie itself. And the movie is Groundhog Day. There are certain staples of the festival that occur every year. One is a critically hailed Woody Allen film, which then struggles for a release. Sure enough, this week there was a critically hailed Woody Allen film.

Then there is the lament of the fading beauty that actresses over 40 are unfairly deprived of parts by Hollywood. This year it was Charlotte Rampling. When I last went it was Rosanna Arquette. The time before it was Holly Hunter. In 20 years' time it will be Scarlett Johansson. There will always be an audience for it.

Another Cannes staple is the lack of British films, an omission usually more than compensated for by a performance of a British government minister. The sun, sea and crowds tend to give our visiting ministers a sense of euphoria or perhaps just heatstroke. Labour's Chris Smith once announced that he intended all British multiplexes always to show at least one British film. Guess what, it never happened.

But no minister will ever top Stephen Dorrell when he was heritage secretary in John Major's government: at the centre of French film, he paid tribute to Jeanne Moreau - "that great Frenchman". Hundred years' wars have been fought for less.

Each day there is a press conference with movie stars and directors. At the end of each one, do the assembled writers try to get in one final sceptical, investigative question? No, they rush up to the platform with autograph books. It's not first with the news that wins awards in Cannes reporting. It's first with the signature.

And then of course, there are the journalists. Three thousand of them. And 2,500 are screaming sycophants. One journalist from Lebanon once began a question to Charlton Heston: "Mr Heston, you are a god in my country; you are my father, my mother, my sister and my brother." Tony Blair would love a press corps as probing as the world's film writers.

Somewhere beneath all this is the Cannes film festival, a daily round of high-quality film premieres from around the world. But who wants to report on foreign-language films with no famous names and all those forty-something actresses in them?

Best to stick to the tried and tested formula. This week we've already had the Woody Allen film, the Charlotte Rampling moment, the soul searching over the lack of British films and the daily round of journalistic hero worship. Now we just need Tessa Jowell to fly in and pay homage to that great Frenchman, Brigitte Jones.

Mess with Orwell at your peril

The Royal Opera's production of 1984 clearly has a classic text for its libretto. As every GCSE student knows, the telescreens in George Orwell's novel tell the populace that Oceania is at war with Eurasia and has always been at war with Eurasia, until one day informing them that Oceania is at war with Eastasia and has always been at war with Eastasia.

Lorin Maazel, the composer, and his team alter this by one word. Jeremy Irons, who voices the words on the telescreen (for some reason with an American accent), reads out: "Yes, Oceania is at war with Eastasia and has always been at war with Eastasia." That one word "yes" is crass. It admits to acknowledging doubt among the populace that this enemy has not always been the enemy. That is something that neither Big Brother nor George Orwell would have done.

I have no particular objection to Lorin Maazel spending £500,000 on a vanity project, nor to the Royal Opera House staging it. I do object to them messing with Orwell and missing the point.

¿ An exhibition on 1960s psychedelic art is shortly to open at Tate Liverpool. It will include a section on the light shows and theatre surrounding rock concerts of the time. Previewing it, Tate Etc, the magazine of the Tate empire, talks to various movers and groovers from the time. I do rather like the quote from Mary Woronov who, with Gerard Malanga, were the dancers in Velvet Underground's live show.

Ms Woronov says: "We did stuff like miming shooting up heroin with gigantic plastic needles. He got the strobe light and gave me the costume, bought me my whip and my first pair of leather pants - you know, just your basic S&M stuff. We always wore leather boots and carried whips."

It's almost a pity that this sense of theatre disappeared from rock concerts. Mind you, it didn't go down that well at the time. Velvet Underground were known to walk off in the middle of a set. And if you can't even keep the band entertained ...

Comments