The Week in Arts: Behold a natural wonder - film buffs in full flight

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I have often – OK, occasionally – wondered why film is the only art form to have "buffs". You never hear of theatre or dance or world music buffs. Television has its couch potatoes, but never anything as intellectually enticing as a buff. Yet anyone who visits their multiplex a couple of times a month expects to be referred to as a film buff.

Film buffs can be studied in their natural habitat at this time of year. The Cannes Film Festival is the meeting point for film buffs from across the world. And, with fine timing, the UK Film Council has managed to publish a report that contains chapter and verse on precisely what a film buff is, and how many species of film buff there are.

According to the UK Film Council report A Qualitative Study of Avid Cinemagoers (such a catchy title – can't wait to see the movie), you are officially a film buff if you "go to the cinema at least twice a week, attend every night of your local film festival, know your Kiarostami from your Almodovar, search the web for rare copies of films, and travel to parts of the world featured in your favourite movies". The report states that there are three types of "film avid".

The most knowledgeable are called "Summits". They tend to work in the film industry or film education. They are often interested in the business of film. Next come "Specialists". These are the most obsessive avids, frequently dismissive of films they do not deem worthy, and with a strong collector mentality. Lastly there are "Scatterguns". They enjoy film as part of a varied cultural diet. Allow me to add a fourth type, the film bureaucrat. This particular type of avid possesses the skills of advocacy needed to persuade grant-giving bodies to cough up large sums of public money for utterly unnecessary reports identifying different types of film buff. Most film bureaucrats tend to work for the UK Film Council.

There is, though, a type of film buff that the UK Film Council is too polite to list, but is always to be found at the Cannes festival. This is the film journalist. There are literally thousands of them in Cannes, and it's not a pretty sight. The British ones are actually not too bad. It's true that they tend to be rather morose. This is a result of watching movies at special screenings in the mornings, without friends or family, when the sun is shining outside. It's a psychologically damaging way to watch film.

But a dour disposition is much better than the wild and embarrassing sycophancy displayed at Cannes by film buffs from newspapers and TV stations around the world. The routine of the festival day is that each day there is a screening at 8am, a truly ludicrous time to watch a film.

This is followed by a press conference with the stars and director of the movie of the day. The press conference begins and ends with the international throng of probing questioners rushing the podium, waving their autograph books.

The questioning is of the "Why are you so wonderful?" type of interrogation. For some reason the most obsequious film writers in the world are the Lebanese. Going to the cinema in Lebanon is clearly a religious experience. But that cannot excuse a line of questioning that would never be believed if it were on screen. I still wake up screaming at the memory of a "question" I witnessed a Lebanese film critic in Cannes putting to Charlton Heston. He asked: "Mr Heston, do you know you are my father, my mother, my sister and my brother?"

Buff isn't the word.

Straight out of 'Spinal Tap'

It has to go down as one of the great lines in rock – a line that deserved to be in Spinal Tap. For a whole week Radio 1 had been plugging its Big Weekend in Maidstone, with one of the headline acts, US R&B star Usher, pictured, saying: "Hi, I'm Usher. I will see you in Maidstone, Kent." Clearly, he was reading it, for when it came to the gig itself last weekend, Usher yelled out to the audience: "Hey! How you doin', Manchester?"

I think the executives of Radio 1 and the burghers of Maidstone should show understanding here. Painful as it might be for them to accept, most American R&B stars have not actually heard of Maidstone. It doesn't loom large in rock folk lore. There are no "Live at Maidstone" albums.

Usher at least remembered he was somewhere in Britain. He remembered it was somewhere beginning with the letter M. All things considered, for a rock star with a heavy schedule and no sentimental attachment to the garden of England, Manchester wasn't a bad guess.

* The opera can throw up some memorable nights. I was present at one of the more memorable ones last Tuesday. Towards the end of the already remarkable production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House, things became more remarkable still. Lucio Gallo, the baritone singing Boccanegra, lost his voice.

This does happen occasionally, even in the best opera houses. But usually the voice deteriorates over the course of the evening. This one just went in a flash. Suddenly, Marco Vratogna, the baritone playing the villain Paolo, who had left the stage to be executed, was back. He was still in costume but with a music stand, and singing the role of his arch enemy, Boccanegra. Meanwhile, Signor Gallo continued to act the role of Boccanegra and mime the words that the executed Paolo was singing for him.

Me, I just kept reminding myself I had only had one glass of wine in the interval.

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