David Lister: The Week in Arts

How to make the most of the Cannes madness

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Sir Ian had fallen into an annual Cannes trap. It is rule 31, subsection b, of the Cannes film festival that the BBC try to trap you into saying the festival is hard work. I once ducked out of being interviewed by the BBC at the last moment in Cannes when they tried to encourage me to say how upset we journalists were with the bureaucracy and how exhausting it was. Neatly placed by the cameraman with the sun-drenched Mediterranean behind me, I could imagine the reaction of genuinely hard-working and exhausted viewers in rainy Britain.

The sardonic Brit pouring a dampener on the Riviera fun and sun is a Cannes staple. It might be Sir Ian moaning about the workload or Mike Leigh moaning about the film industry or Ken Loach moaning about Tony Blair. So far we've only had two out of the three, but it's still just the first week, and anyway Mike Leigh isn't there this year.

Other Cannes staples include the visiting British arts minister who can usually be relied on to know nothing about film. A high standard for gaffe-making was set by Stephen Dorrell, the former Tory arts minister, when he visited the festival. He chose France's world-famous film festival to make a speech describing the country's iconic and beautiful actress Jeanne Moreau as "that famous Frenchman". Wars have been fought for less.

Then there are the journalists. Some 4,000 cover the festival, and roughly 3,550 of these are nauseatingly sycophantic. At the end of each day's press conference with the stars, there is a stampede from the so-called reporters for autographs. For some reason, the Lebanese are the most cringe-making. One of their number once stood up to inform Charlton Heston: "Mr Heston, you are a god in my country. You are my father, my mother, my sister and my brother."

I wonder if Ken Loach will say that of Tony Blair one year. Mind you, it can be a bit hairy trying to ask anything resembling a difficult question at Cannes. I and a colleague once tried this only to be cornered outside by the American producer Harvey Weinstein and told: "You guys should be supporting your country's film industry." He's a big man to be cornered by, and I felt I was being made an offer I couldn't refuse.

Then there's the jargon. There's a tendency among the 4,000 to show off their French to the non-linguist readers back home. Is it really necessary to mention the Croisette quite so often? It's only a street. The Times this week wrote about films competing in "Un Certain Regard". That is in fact the name of one of the lesser competitions at the festival, but this wasn't explained and I wonder if even 1 per cent of the paper's readership had a clue what it was.

The Brits in Cannes have few films to present; they hustle unrewarded, they moan, they make gaffes at the highest levels and dress appallingly. The sorry plight was summed up one year when a young female British film-maker was turned away from a red-carpet premiere even though she had a ticket. She was told it was because she was wearing leggings. The poor woman pointed at a French colleague who was also wearing leggings but was allowed in. The doorman looked at the French woman then back at the Brit, before shrugging and saying : "Oui, mais elle a du style."

The hip-hop way to a fortune

Hip-hop is a big deal, literally. The latest issue of the US music magazine Billboard details some of the product endorsement deals by hip-hop and rap stars. 50 Cent has his video games, jewellery and mineral water. Sean "Diddy" Combs has moved into fragrances. Jay-Z has clothing and luxury watches.

Queen Latifah, who is involved with everything from Wal-Mart to Pizza Hut, is described by Billboard as "a one-woman branding machine". But my favourite is the rapper Snoop Dogg, who not only has his own clothing line and shoes (Pony Line Doggy Biscuitz), but partnerships with car companies, satellite radio, video games, mobile phones, internet companies, pet products and children's toys. He has just moved into foodstuffs with a line of foot-long hot dogs.

Whatever happened to the rawness and the street cred? Mr Dogg has an answer. "Most artists only last so long in the rap game," he explains. "I thought if I had other hot commodities associated with me, there would be people still with me whether I had a hot record or not."

* What do you do when you go abroad for a cultural weekend? The first thing to do, of course, is consult a cultural guide to the city of choice. Reading these guides is like reading travel brochures. They can sometimes be more interesting and certainly more lurid than what you end up going out to see.

But I've never come across a paragraph quite so horribly memorable as this one in the cultural guide to St Petersburg that was in my hotel bedroom last weekend when I visited the city, which is home to the Mariinsky (formerly the Kirov) ballet and opera company.

It said: "Please be aware that Sunday 23rd April is the date of Hitler's birth. Unfortunately, people of Asian, African or Arab descent should be especially vigilant, as groups of skinheads may be looking for targets, particularly on this day."

Meanwhile ... have a good time at the ballet.

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