Monday, November 8, 2010

French Entertainment, Celebrities & Reality TV

Posted by Claudia Chmarzewski

Chris Drake, "Radical Chic"

First Cannes Film Festival (1946).

The Cannes film festival, now around for 60 years, has been known for "frequently serving as a lightening rod for expressions of political and aesthetic radicalism." As Drake remarks in his article concerning important moments in the festival's chronology, "Cannes has always been a political affair," especially that it rose during the pre-war years and as an attempt against the famous film festival of Venice. Drake introduces how the location of Cannes on the Côte d'Azur allowed for an association with the "regional avant-garde" artists, including influential figures such as Picasso, Renoir, Monet, and Cocteau. The new energy at the start of the festival, however, sometimes manifested itself in forms of scandal and uprising. At the fourth festival in 1951, Jean Isodore Golstein led the shock troops of the Parisian avant-garde, uninvited, in the shape of Lettrists to the festival to screen his anti-cinema piece, Traité de Bave et d'Éternité, otherwise known as Venom & Eternity. Not only did this result in audience hostility but also influenced Debord to return to Cannes the following year with a "Lettrist commando team," leading to many arrests.

After the Traité screening in Cannes. (Third from the right: Isou. Third from the left: Debord.)

Drake continues to refer to the scandal and controversy created by the enfants terribles. One in particular, Francois Truffault, who challenged the French film industry and critically attacked the festival, was banned in 1958. However, this only lasted until he won the Best Director prize the following year for his 400 Blows, being accepted into "the Cannes family." Scandalous films such as Jean Eustache's La Maman et la Putain during the 1973 awards "were selected as responses to the social upheavals of May '68 and reflective of increased pornography in the festival." As Drake notes however, the bourgeoisie of the Croisette, a prominent road in Cannes, has loved to be continually shocked by scandals.

Scene from La Maman et la Putain.

The author makes a reference to the year 1968, when Cannes gave rise to the "champagne socialist" and when France was caught up in strikes and demonstrations. This year, Truffault, Godard, and Louis Malle led other film-makers to shut down the festival. The events of May '68, however, led to the democratization of the festival, allowing it to become more open to world cinema through the creation of Quinzaine des Realisateurs (Directors' Fortnight). Drake describes how 1968 changed the selection process of films for the festival, which stopped competitor countries from nominating titles, giving the responsibility to the festival itself. The response of "third cinema" to post-colonial liberation struggles and life under dictatorial regimes was also a result. For example, Palme d'Or winning movie Chronicle of the Years of Fire in 1975 directed by Algerian Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina, gave an account of Algerian nationalist struggle. The radicalism of the 1960s, therefore, in many ways had a huge impact on the defense of human rights.

Bob Hawkins, "Cannes' Early Days: Fest Was 'Sheer Buff Heaven'" (Variety)

With the Venice film festival at the top of its game, Cannes emerged in an attempt to "lure attention away" from it and to increase tourism while provoking a glorious image of France. Initially held during the same time as the film festival at Venice, it took place in Cannes' gambling casino until the first Palais was established in 1949. The confrontation between the Cannes and Venice festivals simmered down when it was decided in 1954 that Cannes would move to an April-May spring slot. The article refers to Variety being there with reps from the very beginning and notes how Cannes was not the booming crowded hot spot it is now, describing "the then narrow, two-lane Croisette" and "the near-empty (and restaurants-less) beaches."

Le Palais du Festival upon its establishment in 1949.

The "early days" of Cannes, the days when there would be a showing of one or two films a day, when you could be in the company of accessible stars and directors, began to disappear as Cannes grew. Internationally, many foreign countries began to be noted for their filmmaking abilities. To mention a couple, Japan's 1954 Gates of Hell, a movie by a Teinosuke Kinugasa, and Polish director Andrzej Wajda's 1957 Kanal, which inspired Roman Polanski to see what was going on in Cannes, are among many countries that revealed their talents. In France at the time, the hot focus was mostly around New Wave at the time. Cannes "happenings" began to become a huge aspect of the festival, for example when Simone Sylva, a British starlet, "whipped off her bra and a surprised Robert Mitchum." Many celebrities started appearing in the Cannes spotlight, such as Brigitte Bardot and Grace Kelly. Eventually, Cannes kept increasing substantially into what it is today, on account of the money brought by the film market and the increased screenings of films. The article concludes with a certain nostalgia, or "loss," of the early days.

Penelope Houstin, "The Day They Killed the Fest" (Variety)

On May 18, 1968, Francois Truffault and Jean-Luc Godord presided over the press conference that took place in response to the student and worker riots. They came to the decision to stop the festival immediately in order to show solidarity with with those participating in the strikes, which consisted of the promise made by French filmmakers to withdraw their films. However, "there was an argument that a major international occasion had an obligation to continue," since most filmmakers still wanted a screening for their movies, and there was also the question of how much damage the festival was risking to its reputation.

Employees of the French film industry take to protest (1968).

At the moment that Carlos Saura's film Peppermint Frappe was due for screening, protestors prevented the curtains from going up by clinging onto them. Therefore, it was officially decided that there would be no further screenings. One particular image in the article depicts the doormen of the Palais watching people barge through the doors marked "Jury" and put feet on the seats. By the end of the night, the journalists questioned whether what they witnessed throughout the day was in fact a revolution. A year after, the intention was to enlarge the festival, with more films and more selections than before, "to avoid possible charges of elitism and dissent from filmmakers who might feel left out."

"God may have created Bardot, but has she finally fallen from grace?"

In 1950, Brigitte Bardot made the cover of Elle magazine, luring the eye of film director Roger Vadim. Although her debut in the film Le Trou Normand did not launch her career, she finally got the attention Vadim sought out for her in a film her directed himself, And God Created Woman, in which Bardot plays a teenage orphan in St. Tropez whose hobbies include "topless sunbathing and flirting with chaps." Compared to her role in Le Trou Normand, that in And God Created Woman downplays any of her previous innocence and plays up her sexuality.

Brigitte Bardot and Roger Pierre in Le Trou Normand.

Brigitte Bardot in mambo scene from And God Created Woman.

Bardot's curvaceous figure appealed to the Hollywood style, and "by 1960 she and Marilyn Monroe (that other great wiggler) were the most celebrated pin-ups of their day." She was also known as a singer, especially for her numerous hits with Serge Gainsbourg in the 1960s. Upon her retirement from "bombshell duties" in 1973, she turned instead "to (highly visible) political activism."

Brigitte Bardot: Before and After.

The marked celebration of her 75th birthday resulted in tribute-like photographic exhibitions from her "pouty heyday." It was mainly after "And God Created Woman" that she became "the embodiment of French minxiness." Her movie career also included Le Mepris (Contempt) with Jean-Luc Godard and Vie Privee (A Very Private Affair). But what is Bardot now? The article describes how "she was the timeless sex kitten, the much-married lapsed Catholic that brought men to destruction." After her retirement, she became an avid supporter of animal rights, including campaigning against the serving of horse meat in French restaurants. She also established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals, and by auctioning off her jewelry, funded it with three million francs. In inclusion to her political activism within the realm of animal rights, she has also been known to be fined and convicted of "inciting racial hatred" against France's Muslim immigrants. Despite all this, it is hard to think of Bardot and not see her as she once was, "the insolence of youth, the siren call of freedom, the triumph of sexiness sans frontieres."

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