The Cannes Film Festival turns 60 this week and that’s reason enough to celebrate all things fabulous and French, so I plan on doing just that throughout the next week until the festival wraps up.
I haven’t come across many books written about the early days of Cannes but I can recommend Cannes – Fifty Years of Sun, Sex & Celluloid: Behind the Scenes at the World’s Most Famous Film Festival compiled by the editors of Variety. This thin cheap large-format paperback book only has 96 pages and it’s put together like some scrapbook that you might come across in a film critics old file cabinet. It contains lots of great black and white photos of directors and actors, plus news clippings and articles about the festival written by various journalists and critics between 1946 and 1996. This is not an in-depth look at the history of Cannes, but if you’re looking for some quick and interesting reading about the film festival with lots if pretty pics, the book is definitely worth picking up.
Here’s a few examples of the writing you can find in Cannes – Fifty Years of Sun, Sex & Celluloid: Behind the Scenes at the World’s Most Famous Film Festival:
Employees of the French film industry take to the streets in protest (1968)
Barricade ’68: The Day They Seized the Celluloid
by Penelope Houston (Sight & Sound)
“May 18, 1968 – The day the brakes were slammed on the 21st Cannes Film Festival. In Paris, the students had carried their grievances from their suburban campuses onto the city streets. The barricades went up and riot police moved in. A rather frail alliance between students and workers brought waves of strikes. For a few days, it seemed that France really might be balancing on the edge of revolution. And in Cannes, predictably, they launched their revolution with a press conference.
François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard presided over the conference on the morning of May 18. These were filmmakers who had been most active three months earlier in the battle of the Cinematheque Francaise, when Arts Minister Andre Malraux sacked Henri Langlois, the powerfully charismatic founder and head of the Cinematheque. Langlois was reinstated, though with reduced powers, after a protest that involved the French film community, filmmakers from around the world, the major American companies and an interesting sprinkling of left-wingers. Journalists expected Truffaut and Godard to use the publicity spotlight of Cannes and the impetus of the Cinematheque triumph to press their grievances against the Gaullist film establishment. They were in for a shock.
Truffaut and Godard called an immediate halt to the festival, to show solidarity with students and workers and as a response to the national crisis. The occasion was well-timed. Jurors Louis Malle, Roman Polanski and Monica Vitti were on hand to announce their own resignations. French filmmakers promised to withdraw their films; others, including Milos Forman and Carlos Saura, joined them. Still others jumped up to say they would have withdrawn their films if they had been in competition, which unfortunately they were not. I bumped into Richard Lester, hurrying to record his protest. This being the year of flower power and gurus, the British director was wearing what at first looked like a white frock, but what in fact was an Indian-style tunic. Somehow, this rig seemed to fit the surrealism of the day.”
Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford at Cannes promoting Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
May 12, 1972 – Sunshine, Darkness, Nixon, Schizophrenia.
by Charles Champlin (L. A. Times)
“There is something bizarre and conceivably lunatic about coming to the sun-bleached shores of the Mediterranean with a total commitment to darkness
Along the Criosette, the local ladies are airing the local poodles and the international wanderers, vagabonds in jeans, already have spread displays of brass and silver jewelry, leather work and watercolors on the sidewalks. At the outdoor cafe alongside the Palais, the day’s debut has already begun over cups of coffee the color and texture of the Mississippi in flood tide.
The cinema is packed but even the early arrivals sit down front. Godard and the New Wave critics made it an article of faith that film should be a total, enveloping and developing experience, seen from as close up as vertebrae and eyeballs will allow.
Into the sunshine again briefly for lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes. A salade Nicoise and some eau minerale, in a desperate move to prevent the festival from becoming a total caloric disaster.
Back into the darkness again. The stage of the Palais theater has been set with artificial grass and flowers arranged to spell out XXV, this being the 25th festival, though it is the 26th year (1968 was a no-show). The plastic plants have an eerie glow in the dim light, hinting that nothing real any longer exists anywhere. There is a kind of urgent rustling of newspapers; half the waiting audience is reading accounts of the Nixon speech. The feelings of unreality are deepened.
The movie is Robert Altman’s Images, the Irish entry in festival mostly because it was filmed there. Susannah York plays a children’s author in advanced stages of paranoid schizophrenia, hearing voices, seeing dead lovers and being bedeviled by glimpses of her own accusing self. It is a dazzling piece of moviemaking and mood-spinning.”
There’s some great old clips from Cannes floating around Youtube that I highly recommend giving a look:
More vintage clips from Cannes can be found at the wonderful TSR Archives site.