Celebrity…so what

I live in Cannes. Have done for a while. I have just finished a novel set in a similar festival, no names, no pack drill etc.

So down to the festival I sometimes go, some years, to see the hoi mix with the polloi. Where are all the stars? Shall I be honest? Who cares. I am not interested in them, though they appear in my novel. Go figure. Privileges and the Precious Few. I’m not concerned about that in my life, I say. I like bigger things, I say.

It’s just a personal thing, no big deal. Not trying to sell anything to you, change your heart or mind, or get you upset. I mean who cares what another human thinks unless it’s someone you love, care about, live with.

Most people, as Sartre identified, are hell, wild animals to watch, arrive at an unspoken agreement with, to give room to get by or around without any anger or fuss.

So there is this word I think about sometimes, not a lot, but some. It’s no great shakes in itself, unless you use it to rate the world, to measure others by. Some think it’s right up there with the really major words: death, love, hope, life. It’s not on that level, but it’s a word that gets talked about an awful lot. And ignored by me just as much, I like to say.

The dilemma of being Harvey

I first saw Harvey in person speaking in the Variety tent in Cannes at the festival in 2000, an interesting first in-the-flesh look at a man with a huge reputation.

I sat in the tent watching Harvey W demolish an Englishman in rumpled linen questioning U.S. film business distribution techniques in Europe.

Some time later, I read Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures, a superb read and study which told me all I needed really to know about Harvey’s ways of doing business.

Then came the revelations in hotel rooms and elsewhere – in summary making for a dark chapter to end his career on. As I watched Harvey pleading for understanding, I thought: is he ripe for redemption? My take was this – barring paying out his entire fortune to his victims and starting a centre for abused women, then manning the soup tables in the new Harvey Weinstein centre for homeless people, I couldn’t see him coming back in any form. My advice then: buy an island, buy lots of books, DVDs, coconuts, pineapples, slim down, live your life, because the one you had is over. Done. Finished.

But here’s the big but thing. It’s pretty well, jump on a bandwagon time against him, isn’t it. Even if the women are/were dead right to call him out – even without all the details we know in the deepest recesses of our consciousness that the accusations are as right as they are true – but the accusations also have a bandwagon organised feel to them.

Harvey had the temerity to take on the NRA, threatening them with a film with Meryl Streep in it. So, even if Harvey admitted his guilt and really is in a bad place morally, let him have his days in court. Let’s hear his side, before we throw away the key. I know I know. I hear you. Harvey has a side? (He kills and eats his children, the man has a side? – from Deconstructing Harvey, soon for empty theatres near you)….

BUT  – if Harvey truly is sorry, wants to prove how redemptional he is, be the genuine redemption chasing Harvey, even if he is under the influence of say of some native American mysticism, peyote, best Mexican grass ever grown, he needs to come up with a genuinely creative plan to make amends. Maybe there is a road back, but it needs to be a really good plan, a plan I’d like to put that omnipresent adjective in front of it for real, a great plan.

  • That says in toto:

I, Harvey Weinstein am going to be the greatest supporter of the vulnerable and victims on planet Hollywood and elsewhere, from here on in. I am going to pay for my sins and pay out to my victims, and from here on in, I am going to make only great films, life affirming comedies, Little Miss Sunshine kind of films, great themes, great actors, ensemble casts so lots of actors can get lots of work. I am going to help everyone I can get a chance on life’s creative ladder, because I am Harvey the great redeemed one.

A cartoon filled with fantasy in other words.

Still it could work. Stranger things have happened, right? Though he will need one helluva of a writer to make it stick.

 

 

 

Another Outsider

Mother died today. This morning at 11. Having a sudden feeling suddenly all might not be well I called. The nurse told me my mother had died six hours before.

No one sent me a telegram: Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. I had been back and left my number just in case she worsened.

Flying back to see her it was winter. Getting off the plane at five in the morning I went and swam in a pool to get my head straight. Driving up into the hills I stopped at a bakery in a small shopping centre. On offer were the same rolls loaves and sweets I knew from my childhood. I ate them in the early sun under a 7am clear sky, drinking hot coffee. Then I drove on to see her at the home. The nurses were kind. You are the one abroad aren’t you? We heard of you.

The home where she lived is half a world away. The nurse on the phone said the funeral will be tomorrow or the next day. The body had been taken away.

I have been away for twenty years this time. If you add up all the years in between the times we saw each other, contact was sparse over the last thirty-five years.

I watched as a Roman Catholic sister came in and said to her: I know you are a woman of great faith, would you like me to give you a blessing? My mother looked up at her with adoration in her eyes. Yes, she said. The sister took her hands in hers. I bless your eyes for all the beautiful things you have seen. I bless your nose for all the wonderful flowers you have smelled. I bless your lips for all the kind things you have said, and I bless your hands for they have held all your children.

What do you do? the sister asked bouncing a little on the vinyl floor. I write, I said. You are all creative. Then she left, coming back to confirm my telephone number. Is this still yours? Yes, I said, mine.

My mother and I used to be very close, before others made a weapon of the distance between us. I am a writer, before that a filmmaker. Not the lawyer my mother wanted me to be. So there was that in the silence between us.

The last thing she said, I hear you have not been well. Given all the laps up and down in the pool I said they would have scraped me off the bottom by now if I weren’t. She didn’t laugh, just closed her eyes, went back to that half dream, dozing morphine state.

I suppose I needed a caretaker to walk in, say, You’ve no need to justify yourself, my boy. I’ve read your file. You just lost contact with what you were once.

It was true. Or maybe I am confused as to what it was in truth. After I left the first time whenever I wrote we were two points in space inching further and further away. She looked at me with her one good eye, her beautiful mouth ruined by a stroke. You are looking well on the whole. I nodded. I keep fit. We only have one body so I guess I have to. I wondered if she was ready.

The room was oblong, purpose-built, bigger but plainer than I expected, the walls covered with my sister’s paintings. Photo albums were scattered around. Over in the corner on the floor in with some other dusty paperbacks I found a copy of my last book.

My mother liked her apple juice. I helped her drink some. She was connected to a catheter. She couldn’t get up, her life now like Bukowski’s beer sodden sadder than all the dead Christmas trees in the world. In the corridors residents pushed metal walkers.

I never saw my father’s body. I’ll never see hers. On my last day I kissed her forehead near the large cyst. I have to go to the airport, mother. I hope to see you soon. Yes, she said. No anger, no hopes and no dreams. I could  have looked up through the roof at the mass of signs in the stars and laid myself open to the benign indifference of everything, but there are no signs to be had. I left, walking the corridors, thinking: if I meet my family at the door I hope they greet me with shouts of hatred.

Narratorial Unreliability

Christian Mihai discusses his ideas on unreliable narrators, something he likes to see writers use, and a technique he says he uses himself. Still, he misses a fundamental point – all narrators, storytellers, dramatists, poets, are unreliable. From Homer, Shakespeare to Sartre, no writer tells, gets close to ‘the truth’, even if he or she is prepared to die in the process of collecting all the observable details of a factually based fiction.

Catherine Lacey

Do we trust Tolstoy’s account of Napoleon in War and Peace? Perhaps… if we are Russian.

Narrator unreliability doesn’t have to be a first person account, though the most obvious modernist exploitations of narrator unreliability in fiction use that form. The best approach – for this writer at least – is when the writer sets out to deceive us, and by convincing us that he or she has told the truth, transfers any doubt on narratorial reliability to a reader’s interpretation of the tale.

Journal de France@CANNES

Raymond Depardon and Claudeine Nougaret’s Journal de France, a quiet, inquiet, incisive and drifting study of their fifty-year collaboration and life in photo and cine-journalism.

Journal went straight through the eye to the heart, reminding me of all the driving I have done throughout France on the way to Italy, the footage I have filmed around the globe. The best art reminds of ourselves and our own lives always.

Some of the most arresting cine-images and moments were not North Africa, Venezuela or Czechoslovakia in political turmoil but the still images taken in quite places along French roads.

NormanLloyd@CANNES

Norman Lloyd’s talk in the Salle Buñuel was a lesson in theatre, film technique, Shakespeare, Renoir, Brecht, Chaplin, Welles, Hitchcock and Kazan, and how to keep your mind a steel trap well into your nineties. I don’t know if he eats nothing but blueberries but he must be doing something right.

In an age when aging (see Haneke’s Amour) is often told in tales of sad decline, this man stands out as an object lesson of hope for all. The session was one of the highlights of Cannes in 2012. Holding his audience spellbound, Lloyd, a 97 year-old veteran of acting, directing and production, took listeners through the best part of the pantheon of cinema (the first 60 years of it). What and who he didn’t know simply wasn’t worth pursuing.

         Lloyd,  stage and film actor

It wasn’t just that he knew so many of those who were crucial to the development of 20th century cinema, it was he knew what they knew and why they knew it – and above all he could tell us how and why he knew what they knew. He understood their brilliance with exacting modesty, placing himself in the role of pupil to all of them. Yet for all intents and purposes he was their equal in collaboration, a creative confidant in so many ways; he travelled through film history with them not because of them. Lloyd’s contribution to film is real, tangible and deep. When he recounted how Hitchcock – a decidedly unpolitical man – with three words to NBC, “I want him” dissolved the McCarthy blacklist era, the entire audience in the Salle was stilled. Lloyd’s part in McCarthy’s ruination was just one anecdote in many. Politically involved and motivated throughout his career, Lloyd was a close friend to Jean Renoir, Chaplin, Welles and Hitchcock. Lloyd was at the heart of theatre and cinema for nearly fifty years. One of the best moments of the night was his recollection of the lines of Bertolt Brecht: “Since the people are displeased by the government, the people must be replaced.”  The sharpness of wit, his breadth of cinematic knowledge was stunning.

Cannes 2012: wet shoes and blurred vision

2012 brought rain, and not so many memorable filmic moments, but there were a few. Cannes at festival time is always unique, with a special experience lurking somewhere even if a downbeat mood hung over the Mediterranean resort as it did for several days. The Cannes festival  finds a way to transcend gloom whatever weather blows in.


Still, for all the ability of Cannes to transcend itself, I was left with the impression that this year will not figure among the list of the best festivals. That said, a gentleness hung in the air I liked, replacing the more manic moments I have seen in years gone by.

I was late in arriving and saw Roman Polanski present a reworked Tess on the evening of May 21. It is hard to remember what the original release in 1979 was like, but it doesn’t figure in my memory anywhere near as good as this version. Now the story seemed to make complete sense. Now we saw Hardy’s vision up on the screen. The two great adaptations of Hardy novels I have seen, Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess (of the D’Urbervilles) are epic cinematic experiences for any age and epoch.

Late in applying for accreditation as I was, film badges presented difficulties. Getting into the venues I wanted to be in was not straight-forward. One day I set out to bus from Golfe Juan to get to a screening of On the Road in Cannes. I gave myself ample time but three, then four number 200 buses from Nice went by, all full. Running to the train station I found the train for Cannes La Bocca was cancelled; train workers were on strike. Then I had to wait nearly thirty minutes for a train to Cannes itself. Show time for the film was five o’clock and that time was looming. Finally I was able to take the train as far as Cannes and then tried walking the rest of the way in the rain but had to give up. The film began while I was still two kilometres away from the cinema. There were probably no seats left in any case.

The next re-screening of Jack Kerouac’s era-defining novel was on the last day at 9 am, but as I was at a screening of the Korean, The Taste of Money, up until two am, I missed that screening as well.

I had re-read Kerouac’s novel carefully and really enjoyed it. I was looking forward to the film adaptation of it. However lukewarm the reviews, I wanted to see On the Road more than any other film. I wasn’t the only one.

I did make it to Holy Motors at 11.30 am that next morning, and left thinking, except for a couple of wild scenes, what was all the fuss about? Overall Carax’s style is manufactured shock-treatment, a director setting out to do the impossible in 2012, shock us; you can’t shock anyone in a cinema anymore, only bore or pleasantly surprise audiences. The lead actor was bravura, but as Irreversible did some years back, the film’s attempts to violate left me cold, even colder when it calmed down into quiet film parodies. I left the theatre thinking, we have been down this road before (with David Lynch, perhaps). I didn’t bother with Cosmopolis. Reading DeLillo’s book, seeing the film trailers, convinced me there were no surprises to be had in it. I wasn’t alone on that either. There were better things to do.

I saw the American Mud. Sustained irony might have helped it along, though it was easy on the eye and on the mind, that’s if you’re into 14 year old cute boys, Matthew McConaughey without his shirt, or Reese Witherspoon, if any or all of them float your boat.

I didn’t have tickets for the closing ceremony in the main auditorium, joining journalists in the cinema adjacent. I saw the event in close circuit cinema in row two. Before that I took pix of photographers running from the red carpet to the action inside. They didn’t look pleased to be pixed. Weird, photographers hating having done to them what they do ad infinitum to others.

After the awards were handed out, I stayed second row to see the late Claude Miller’s Thérèse Desqueyroux (something I didn’t regret doing). I felt more at home in that pre-modern space of 1890-1930 set cinema. Miller’s film set in 1928 rural France is beautifully realised, by a master of period cinema, just as is Polanski’s Tess set thirty-seven years earlier across the channel. Both films deal with misunderstood women who suffer injustices. Both are big, slow moving, carefully manicured epics that did nothing to unmake my festival.