"Taxi Driver" (Martin Scorsese)
The movie: Martin Scorsese's dark look at violent life of a loner Vietnam vet (Robert De Niro) who befriends a young prostitute (Jodie Foster) and becomes obsessed with a political campaign worker (Cybil Shepherd).
The reaction: Today, Cannes is known for its almost shellacked gorgeousness, but in the '70s it was a different, altogether more dangerous time. As Entertainment Weekly noted, the year before "Taxi Driver" screened at Cannes, a bomb went off in the main viewing hall on the opening day. The year after "Taxi Driver" screened, another bomb was discovered in the same hall (it was safely defused by French police). This was the atmosphere where "Taxi Driver," a singularly nihilistic and violent film, debuted. The boos are almost understandable in that context. The noteworthy aspect of "Taxi Driver"'s booing was that it occurred not only during the screenings of the film, but during the awards ceremony too (Scorsese wasn't there, he was back in the states toiling away on "New York, New York"). Even that year's jury president Tennessee Williams (!) worried that the level of violence was too much, but the sheer brilliance of "Taxi Driver" overtook him and the rest of the jury, and the film was awarded with the top prize – Palme d'Or.
After Cannes: While now considered a bona fide classic, controversy surrounded the film long after Cannes. In 1981, when John Hinckley, Jr. tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan, he cited the film as inspiration and said that he attempted the killing to impress Jodie Foster. The incident shook Scorsese to the point that he quietly vowed to not make movies again. (Thankfully, he went back on that.) The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and the American Film Institute named it the 52nd greatest American film of all time. In 1994, it was selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry.
The movie: A sweet comedy about a motel owner's son (Demetri Martin) who helps convince his town to hold the world-changing Woodstock musical festival.
The reaction: Unlike many Cannes reactions, which pour on the acidic vitriol until there's nothing left of the movie but a lumpy puddle, the response to "Taking Woodstock" was more subtle and chillier. The New York Times noted that the film "lacked the passion of Mr. Lee's finest films," while many (including Indiewire) took issue with its "messy historical fiction." The Film Review put it like this: "Remember when critics booed Sofia Coppola at the 'Marie Antoinette' screening to the point she probably wished she could chop off her own head? Well former darling Ang Lee, who once wowed with 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'Lust, Caution,' got a taste of the other side when his film 'Taking Woodstock' debuted." Besides the smattering of boos, he was also met with indifference at the press conference, where he attempted to defend the movie's "romantic" view of the late sixties as "the last piece of innocence we had." In short: the response wasn't particularly groovy, man.
After Cannes: Somewhat bafflingly, the film wasn't released to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the Woodstock Festival (and the Summer of Love) but was, instead, released at the ass-end of summer, with little fanfare or support. The critics weren't any more enthusiastic than they were at Cannes, with Melissa Anderson saying that the movie simply "recycles 60's tropes" and is "prone to the laziest, wide-eyed oversimplifications," full of "inane, occasionally borderline offensive portrayals of Jews, performance artists, trannies, Vietnam vets, squares, and freaks." Thank god someone stood up for the performance artists! In hindsight, the movie is something of a lull in Ang Lee's career; a passable, visually engaging little movie that doesn't reach the highs of his Oscar-winning "Brokeback Mountain" or "Life of Pi."
The movie: A team of renegade American GIs (led by Brad Pitt) scalp Nazis behind enemy lines in a fantastical version of World War II-era Occupied France.
The reaction: While booing was reported, it was hardly confirmed (Anne Thompson said that while it wasn't booed, it wasn't exactly rapturously loved either and called the movie a "defiantly art film"), instead a fog of indifference settled around the movie. The Hollywood Reporter at the time noted that "things we think of as being Tarantino-esque, the long stretches of wickedly funny dialogue, the humor in the violence and outside characters strutting across the screen, are largely missing." British critics summed up the divide, with The Guardian awarding it a single star and saying that it was an "armor-plated turkey," while the BBC marked it as "a glorious, silly, blood-splattered return to form." Two things to note: one, Tarantino was used to the booing. In 1994 when "Pulp Fiction" won the Palme d'Or, Tarantino was booed when he accepted the award, largely because most thought that the more deserving film that year was the final (and most devastating) film in Krzysztof Kieslowski's colors trilogy, "Red." Secondly, that version of "Inglourious Basterds" that was screened at Cannes was not the same one that was released in theaters at the end of the summer. The Cannes cut was slightly longer and, from what we understand, baggier, and Tarantino fine-tuned several major scenes when he returned to Hollywood in June.
After Cannes: What makes the reaction at Cannes so funny is how wildly discordant it was with how the film was responded to when it actually opened theatrically. While some critics repeated their disappointment (and unease with the movie's fast-and-loose interpretation of very real, very painful historical beats), the majority responded favorably. And what's more – it was a smash hit with audiences, Tarantino's biggest (until "Django Unchained"), with more than $300 million worldwide. It also racked up eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. It won in the Best Supporting Actor category for Christoph Waltz, who played "Jew hunter" Hans Landa.
Of course, many more movies have been audibly taunted at Cannes: to name but a few, there was "The Voice of the Moon," "The Idiots," "L'Avventura," "L'Eclipse," "We Own the Night," "Tropical Malady," "Palermo Shooting," "Under the Sun of Satan," "Wild at Heart," "Crash" (David Cronenberg's, of course), "The Mother and the Whore," "Seconds," "Gertrud," and "L'Argent." Most of them, of course, didn't deserve the response they got, but are there any that you would have jeered as the lights came up? Let us know in the comments section.