Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cannes - Part The Last

For some inexplicable reason I thought going to Cannes was going to require a great deal of nudity. I'm really not sure why. It was just like, "Cannes? Everyone's naked there, right?" So I became uncharacteristically obsessed with the notion that I needed to be tan before I could go and be nude at what I pictured as a large, non-stop beach party with celebrities, supermodels, and furry European men in thongs, smoking cigarettes.

I should begin by pointing out that there is no natural process by which my body tans. I go directly from pasty white to cancer with no stops in between. And I've been told that both ends of the spectrum are hard to look at. So, before we left I literally went to have someone paint me a different color.

This is not a horror story about coming home to discover I'd turned orange. Just the opposite. In fact, I'll just say it. I looked AWESOME! Imagine a big, glowing, nearsighted, glass of butterscotch pudding coming at you. THAT was me.

But as you leave they warn you that the tan only lasts up to 7 days, depending on how much you shower. I said, depending on how much I shower? And the woman said, "Sure, every time you shower or sweat or forget to moisturize, you're going to lose some of the color." Thus began my effort to move very slowly through France without showering.

I'd be climbing a flight of stairs with our bags and feel a bead of sweat getting ready to run down my forehead and I'd picture it bulldozing away my precious tan paint, and I'd stop, breath deep and ask Amy where the moisturizer was. Eventually she carried most of the bags and I planned an itinerary that mostly revolved around air conditioned spaces.

Despite my efforts, there comes a point where people stop looking at your carmel skin like they want to eat it and begin looking at you like you must have a lot of cheese stashed in your pockets. What I'm saying is, even in France, there comes a point where you have to shower. And when I showered, it was like Samson going to Supercuts, my beautiful butterscotch power just running down the drain. I moisturized like I was oiling up for the championship round in a mud wrestling match, and still, by the time we actually got to La Croisette in Cannes, I was merely off white at best.

Cannes is hard to comprehend, no matter how tan you are. Imagine taking the Oscars, putting it on the beach, and then making it last eleven days. Now add a ton of yachts, cigarettes, and charge 20 Euros for a beer and you've more or less got the picture. When you have a film screening, you spend a lot of your time moving from place to place in a line of black cars. For Amy and I this also meant we spent a lot of time getting out of those cars and disappointing throngs of people who were hoping to see someone famous. You feel obligated to shout, "I'm sorry" as you exit the vehicles to people holding out a picture of Clarice Starling to be autographed.

The red carpet thing is a whole other level of ridiculous that I'm more or less at a loss to explain. Again, you're mostly just in the way of people's efforts to photograph and scream at celebrities. But when you get to the top of those steps and you turn around and look out at the sea of photographers and fans extending endlessly along the streets and into the alleys, it's such a surreal experience, I felt incredibly lucky not just to have wandered into it, but to have had my best friend next to me as I did.

After, we had dinner with the film's delegation and then took boats out to a billionaire's yacht as fireworks papered the sky. The yacht had celebrities, a helicopter, a submarine, and an open bar, all of which proved a dangerous combination. At some point I became obsessed with the idea of getting Jane Fonda to sign a bottle of hairspray, and could only be talked out of it with promises to 'go see the submarine again.'

I guess the part I sort of glossed over is the screening itself. As you probably know, the film has come out here in the states and been met with some very positive reviews, some very negative reviews, and approximately 37 paying customers, most of whom are probably related to me in some way. Based on my experiences with Lone Star and The Beaver, as far as I know all opening nights are followed by a phone call from someone the next morning who begins the conversation by saying, "Well, look, I'm not going to sugarcoat this." What I'm saying is, it has flopped.

Knowing this made the strange experience of following it to France even stranger. Add to that Mel Gibson making his first real public appearance for the film, on the red carpet, moments before we screened, and I think it was fair to say that none of us had any idea what sort of reaction we'd get. What everyone does tell you, over and over, is to be prepared as the audiences there don't hide their feelings, routinely booing and walking out when something isn't to their liking. Imagine taking a test where the instructor could shout things at you as you filled in the blanks, and you kind of get the idea.

I'll be completely honest, even as the last frames rolled I had no idea how it had gone. My only gauge had been to watch Naomi Campbell's head two rows in front of me for signs that she had nodded off. She seemed awake and alert, which I took as a good sign. I was ready to take out and ad that said "Does Not Seem To Put Supermodels To Sleep." And then the lights came up, there was applause, Jodie stood, and suddenly everyone else was on their feet as well. I've read that the standing ovation lasted ten minutes. I have no idea if that's accurate. What I can tell you is that it went on for an almost uncomfortably long time. Jodie seemed to think that maybe it was just continuing as some sort of cue for her to leave, but when she tried to take a couple steps, the festival director stopped her and said "No,", indicated the crowd, and then said, "They'll tell you when they're done." They weren't done. Not for a while.

So look, I don't really know how to explain the intersection of all the good and bad that surrounds the movie. You could love it or hate it and I wouldn't argue with you either way. The bottom line is I'm back to being the same sickly pale I've always been, I probably won't ever see another red carpet, and it seems unlikely that the movie will ever be considered a success. But given that it began as a story I just wanted to scratch out before I had kids and needed to get a real job, and three years later landed my wife and I a front row seat as people applauded for it in the south of France, I'll probably have trouble seeing it as anything else.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cannes - Part The First

As I walked around the Louvre, surrounded by the world's largest (is it? Let's just assume it is) collection of fine art, the one thought that kept recurring to me was, "Hey, my penis is about the same size as all the penis' on these statues!" There's a not insignificant degree of validation that comes with discovering you're in the neighborhood of Greek gods (are they Greek? Let's assume they are) and other representations of the ideal human form. This turns out to be a hard thought to share. For instance, if your wife is in a crowd reverently staring at the Mona Lisa and you say, "Did you see the dicks on all these statues?", she probably won't share your enthusiasm. Also, if you were wondering what you could say to get a bunch of people to turn away from the Mona Lisa, try the above.

If you told me that the only thing I'd get out of a trip to Cannes was anatomical validation I'd have totally signed up. The fact that it actually ended up being near the bottom of my list of highlights means the journey honestly exceeded my wildest expectations. Let's briefly relive it together:

As I've stated countless times, I'm what they call, the parsimonious type. If I could mail myself from one place to another, I would do all my travel in cardboard boxes. But through some combination of contractual obligation and good will, Amy and I were sent to France first class. Not just first class, but like Silly Crazy Ridiculous First class. Like where someone meets you the second you step into the airport and guides you through back doors and around lines and onto the plane. Where the plane has beds and tables and duvets, as in, "sir, would you like to change into these pajamas while I get out your duvet?". There's a few ways to reveal that this is your first, and likely only, experience of this kind. One is to constantly ask if you can keep things, as in, "Can I keep these pajamas? Can I keep that duvet? Who gets this glass when I'm done with it?" Another is to constantly take pictures of yourself and your wife as all this is going on. "Honey, get over by that ottoman thing and smile."

What's really amazing is how quickly you adapt. On they way there we thought it was absurd that someone needed to meet us on the tarmac and guide us from one plane to another. We're adults for crying out loud. We know how to change planes. But on the way back they'd take us to the lounge and tell us where our gate was and we were like, "You mean we just have to WALK to the gate? By OURSELVES?!" I completely understand how people who spend their lives in this bubble quickly fall out of touch with reality. You should be required to do something to ground yourself the minute you arrive at your destination before reentering society, like chop down a tree or unclog a drain.

We went to Paris for a few days first, but I'm sure you don't want to hear about the museums and the riverboats and the churches and neighborhoods and the Eiffel Tower. You want to hear about how the French people were AWFUL to us pour Americans. But honestly, despite being as yokel and unsophisticated as anyone to ever make the trip, people were unbelievably nice to us. Nice in the way you'd be nice to a not very bright puppy that might wander into traffic if you turned your back for even a second. They were our loving, protecting, smoking guardians. Because no matter how nice the French are, they're going to smoke on you.

There were two tiny exceptions. One, after waiting in line for the Eiffel Tower for like an hour, they closed the top of it. The lady took our money, gave us tickets, and then told us it was closed. I said, I don't understand. We can't go up? Why are you giving us tickets? She said we could still go to the first level. I said, well, if we can't go to the top I'd rather not go. This was apparently like telling her that I'd like to vomit in her pants (just FYI, I worked on that one for like five minutes and that's the best I came up with. I thought, vomit in... her eyes? Her mouth? Ear? Why the head, why do I have to vomit somewhere on her head? Why do I have to vomit at all? Isn't there some other horrible and insulting thing to do? But if I scrap vomiting, where does that leave me? I'm back to the drawing board without vomiting. Let's just vomit in her pants and be done with it!). So she took back our tickets, got money out of her register, and literally THREW it us. This is the sort of grounding event that will remind you you're only royalty at the airport.

The other minor incident was heading to the train station very early one morning we got on a metro train that seemed to be conveniently waiting for us as we went down the stairs. We put down our luggage and waited patiently. Then the doors closed but the train didn't move. And then the power went out. We thought, this is... odd, but didn't particularly worry about it. And then a police officer with a police dog came walking down the stairs and noticed us on this train and RAN to the doors SHOUTING and began to try to pry them apart as if he were trying to save us from some horrible fate that our American brains could not even fathom (like, say, someone vomiting in our pants). So I got freaked out and went to the door and tried to help him pry them open, but with no power they were stuck. Then another train pulls into the station, the train we should have been waiting for all along, and apparently the train this police officer was also waiting for. So he looked at us, trapped on a subway, then looked at his train, and said, I'm so sorry, and ran across the station with his dog and jumped on the other train. As it left the station, car after car of people just stared at us, identical, 'ah, that's a real shame' expressions on all their faces.

When the other train left it got very quiet again, and so we started to yell and look for buttons and other ways to make our situation much better or much worse, when an old French man who looked like he'd been ordered out of a stereotype catalog, right down to the hunched gait, the dapper clothes, and the baguette, comes walking along side the train. I moved to the windows and walked along side him saying, "Sir, sir, can you help us? We're apparently trapped on this train bound for incineration and if you could just maybe tell someone that we're-" And then he stopped, looked up at us and very slowly just shrugged his shoulders, and carried on. When an old man shrugs at you when you're begging for help, there's really not much else you can say. And that's when the power came on, the train started to go, and after a lengthy trip through the innards of the Parisien home for out of service trains, Amy, myself, and our bags full of pilfered hotel slippers, eventually got to Cannes.

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