Having just returned from the sixty-first annual Cannes Film Festival where, like many others, I had my hand out looking for money for my newest film (hence the paucity of posts this month–begging is a full time gig), I decided to look for some vintage Cannes material on youtube hoping to see what resemblance, if any, the current festival has to its no doubt infinitely more sedate and appropriate earlier incarnation.
And what turned up? One of the absolutely silliest pieces of film I’ve yet found posted on the good and great thing called youtube–courtesy of the invaluable Ira (TV DAYS) Gallen (I’ve grabbed some of his stuff before–particularly good are the unedited dailies of an interview with Otto Preminger which I posted sometime this past fall. Look it up, if you dare). The below appears to be from an informational film on what being at the twelfth annual Cannes Film Festival (1959) was really like. Who was it made for? Where was it shown? I’ve no idea. But after seeing it, I’m sure you’ll agree that it contains one of the great unrehearsed calamities ever captured on film. And, for that matter, one of the rare appearances together (perhaps the only one) of two of the most famous filmmakers ever to have lived.
I speak of Orson Welles and Darryl F. Zanuck, who we find seated at a table at the Eden Roc gamely (and lamely) improvising for the newsreel cameras while DFZ’s “protege” Juliette Greco looks on–back to the camera. I can’t imagine why either man agreed to the request to appear in this little Cannes-a-logue, but Welles is marvelously annoyed by the whole thing and Zanuck comes across as tongue-tied, embarrassed and possibly hungover. Welles has, it seems, been instructed by the “makers of this…(long pause)…fill-um” to ask Zanuck about the festival. That’s all–nothing more specific. His contempt for this bit of “direction” is voiced loudly and clearly–and strangely wasn’t edited out of the final product. (Perhaps the makers of the film didn’t speak English?) Welles huffs and puffs that he was given an award at the festival a few years earlier for “The Third Man”…and then makes reference to the “hisses and boos” that greeted him. Did he forget about his Golden Palm for “Othello”? Or was “Othello” such an unheard of thing in America that he thought it better to simply not mention it. Welles rather delightfully breaks the so-called wall by agreeing to participate and then commenting on the ludicrousness of what they’re doing in a way that looks ahead to the infamous recordings from the seventies of him reading voiceovers for fast food and ripping the “creatives” in the booth to shreds for the quality of the copy. One gets the feeling that Welles on a slow-boil headed toward a rage was Welles at his darkest and funniest–he truly enjoyed sizing up the lameness of a given situation and the injustice of his having been subjected to it. Finally, seeing that there is no saving himself and that the hopeless Zanuck isn’t up to carrying the ball for even a short play, Welles says to Greco “What do you think, Juliette?” Her response? A simple, timeless, classic dumb actress response: “I don’t think anything.”
The segment ends and, just when you think things can’t get worse…things go rapidly downhill. A boring interview with the then sort of up and coming actress Dawn Addams who manages to answer no questions, address nothing about what she’s doing there, and looks and acts as if she’s talking to somebody underwater. Then a ludicrous interview with Jean Cocteau, who the lame French interviewer refers to as “one of the most bright Frenchman”. It’s interesting seeing Cocteau–I’m not sure I ever have before though I recognized his distinctive voice from his voiceovers in his movies–but one feels that he, like Welles, is unsure of what’s expected of him and thus immensely relieved when it’s over. His farewell–“thank you and excuse me”–says it all. A desultory beach striptease act by a now deservedly forgotten starlet completes this segment of this truly odd look at the Cannes of the past.
And what about that past? Was the Cannes of the past truly so different than the Cannes of the future? Only in that it appears an even sillier event than it has become. Indeed, the current festival at least carries the gravity of big business and dealmaking. The view we get here of Cannes is in black and white and feels decidedly chic–but ultimately small. Zanuck and Welles were, let’s face it, each at career low points and neither Juliette Grecco or Dawn Addams feel remotely important enough to warrant their appearances. Indeed, the whole thing has something of the air of a silly, slightly decadent country party at which some unemployed celebrities drop by for the free food and booze. Maybe it hasn’t changed that much after all.