From the moment in Annie Hall when he led Marshall McLuhan out from behind a film hoarding in a New York cinema I have been a huge fan of Woody Allen. He is America’s best writer director of ensemble urban comedies – truly a unique filmmaker.
Watching the video of the Guardian’s group of UK film critics on their annual junket to Cannes, sitting around a half empty glass of blanche, un bicchiere di bianco, mezza affogata nell’alcol doing the Guardian’s wrap up video Cannes film festival roundup: ‘A year of Prophets and Basterds, scandals and stars’, watching them get it so completely and utterly and horribly wrong on what and who would win, with at least one expert exhibiting an ‘Oh oh I’m gedding a liddle tipthsy’ half giggle, was one of the best laughs at Cannes 2009 in a year that seemed notably spare of the real thing up on screen.
The film hardheads guarding our take and hold on the fourth dimensional art form, displayed zero-none insight into the Cannes Festival Jury’s collective mind or political process of selection. It had me wondering if they ever got out of the UK film village at all over the two weeks. They weren’t idiots, don’t get me wrong. Intelligent, personable, likable almost – they just didn’t know anymore than you or me, their comments about as good as yours or mine on any given film at any given glassy-eyed moment. I mean who really knows what’s good or not in cinema? God only knows why or how anyone wins awards at these events – what really does go on behind those draped windows? Can you imagine the jury, sorry, The Jury, sitting around seriously trying to be serious about their role. I mean it’s a junket, an annual film publicity junket in a lovely breezy May-warm part of the French Mediterranean. Time to get the sunglasses and floppy linen out and the dingly-dangly things and say words from romance languages almost as the French do…okay, simulate the French.
But after being there and getting back and seeing the Guardian get it horribly, no, miserably, wrong, I thought I’ll have a go at being a film critic too. I went and sat through Synecdoche at the Rio Cinema and here’s my review:
It was an interesting film, an interesting two hours plus of my time spent indoors on a warmish rainless spring afternoon in London. I left the cinema thinking: real life aint so bad after all.
For me Charlie Kaufman is a genius, or the closest thing to true genius that film, well, the closest thing to true genius that American film… well, there’s also Woody Allen, an influence on him and his work Kaufman said. So who’s first and who’s better? Well…See it all gets very silly, very quickly, not just the genius tagging bit but film criticism all round.
Synecdoche is an uncompromising portrait of a human being doing everything but slip down the toilet before your eyes, all written and directed by someone who wrote Being John M, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine – we are talking serious film writing ability here. But Synecdoche is tough to watch. Not impossible, not horrible or miserable, well yes it is miserable – and between Woody Allen’s division of the world, “miserable” or “horrible”, this is Kaufman’s “miserable”.
It brought Woody Allen to mind, it brought Fellini back to me, Coppola, really anyone who made a film that was a tough ask, a tough sit, at least once, in their hey or other days. Bring on the heh heh days I say, because there seems to be a moment in many famous filmmaking careers when the auteur inside says screw the audience, screw entertainment, screw the laughs I’m going to give them a piece of my art, one from the heart ART.
It also brought to mind a scene in Woody Allen’s Anything Else, David Dobel (Woody Allen) and his protege Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs) walking, nutty Dobel giving Falk some more sage advice.
DOBEL What goals.. wh-what are these goals?
FALK I want to write a novel, Dobel, a novel about man’s fate in the empty universe, no god, no hope, just human suffering and loneliness.
DOBEL Yeah well I’d stick to the jokes if I were you, that’s where the money is.
….Okay I’m a philistine, so what else is new.
– The Big Time
You’re in the south of France.
You arrive on the TGV, in a bit of a blur…
Right, where’s your place then. Christ, you hope you haven’t been conned. You walk out of the station, get lost in two minutes. How do you get lost in Cannes when you’ve been there ten times. You just do. But up the hill you go, eventually, get there, find the place…believe you me, well away from the hoy palloy.
Not bad, you think, for something off the Internet, okay, away from the action, on the other side of the train line, but it has a beautiful garden…
A bit Graham Greenish, even. But you are here to work, not to sit in a garden deck chair, sip pink gins, complain about being an Anglophone abroad all day long. You are here to take photos. You get started right away..
Get the writing tools set up…
Right then, down to the Croisette..
To do what? Gawk at the stars…
Where are the stars anyway? Up on bill boards or hiding in hotels. Maybe the key is to be a star yourself…get yourself somehow onto one of these bill boards even…but how do you do that?
You could simulate the process..
Or take a leaf out of the books of others, mix in with the media..
Wait, maybe you don’t look the part. Do you need a special pair of shoes, a hat even?
At these prices, forget it. But you know how to climb all over the competition, get head and shoulders above the crowd.
But what are you looking for anyway, or at, what do you hope to see?
Is cinema just another empty business?
Or is that all just a bit too serious.
What to do? You could dress up, give someone a laugh, at least..
Or get drunk…
…or find yourself an empty chair.
Stare at the scenery..
…yr mind all out to sea.
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It might be raining on the Cannes parade, and security out of hand, some of the films, well, but there’s still one bright note on a gray, rain-spitting Riviera first festival Friday. The bike of the film, Easy Rider, forty one years old this week, is back at the film festival that gave the film life, once more at the festival where the film and cast – Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Karen Black earned a vital critical reprieve from the Cannes film festival. In fact, Cannes put Easy Rider into orbit.
The master builder of the easy rider Captain America replica, Jack Lepler, is here with the bike as well. The secrets behind the film, the legend behind the story (what Jack “doesn’t know” he isn’t telling, not about the bike nor the original film, no how. ‘It aint worth saying nor knowing,’ he says with a wink.
So the sequel, Easy Rider II, has that bike back on the Cote D’Azur, at Cannes again.
If it weren’t for the 22nd Cannes Film festival – the festival after 1968, the year students and filmmakers with Godard and Truffaut stopped Cannes and France in its tracks – the original Easy Rider might not have seen the light of day. American distributors would not touch the film, said they were embarrassed by it. More fool them, because this game-changer budgeted at $400,000 took $60 million at the box office. Easy Rider is a large part of the reason behind independent American cinema’s regeneration of Hollywood’s power in the late 1960s, a movement that took a tired LA studio-system filled with failure and excess and lit a fire under it.
And it was Cannes that gave the story of the bike its traction, a new way its market tread. Easy Rider was a key independent production – turning a savvy creative low-budget know-how into a creative trend that saved Hollywood from a crippling decline. More power to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. More power to Easy Rider sequels.