The first indication that things at Cannes weren’t going to be quite as I imagined them to be – red carpet and champagne, rinse and repeat – was the crush trying to get on the express bus from the Nice airport. The bus was 20 minutes late in arriving from Cannes, and there was a lot of jockeying going on, which is a nice way of saying butting in line, except there were no real lines, not to mention not enough seats. As the harried driver pulled away a woman in the back began yelling for him to stop, exclaiming, “You didn’t take my husband or my bags. I need both.” The driver stopped and the woman exited to general laughter.
The driver did not seem entirely amused, however, and drove the highway and then down the narrow, winding streets of Cannes as if directed by Paul Greengrass. In fact, I am inclined to believe that Mr. Greengrass is the honorary traffic coordinator in Cannes, all scooters and mini-Coopers and high-rpm downshifting along streets like the Impasse Marceau or the Rue du Chateauneuf, both of which are about twelve feet long. I swear Matt Damon passed me several times late at night, in the rain, in a blur of grinding gears, a beautiful, doomed German girl in the seat next to him.
Alas, speed itself is almost completely missing at the festival itself. The truth is, or seems to be at least, that while the image of Cannes is the ubiquitous stars strolling the red carpet, that image is brought to you by more than 4500 journalists of a decidedly less glamorous bent who spend much of their day in lines. The colored badge system, with blue being on the low end, pink on the high (with variations), helps of course if you have the latter. There are actually separate lines, with pinks getting first choice to seats, and the blues getting in only after all pinks are in. If you have a little white or yellow circle on your pink badge, you are a kind of royalty who can waltz into the Debussy at the last second without being frisked. This is extremely annoying if you are a blue, and very gratifying in a schadenfreude sort of way if you are a pink. Either way, you are grateful to be able to sit down, if and when.
But even queuing up in the pink line an hour ahead of time didn’t help get me into the "Great Gatsby" press conference, which I guess you can chalk up to the Leo effect. (It also didn’t help that, as the Hollywood Reporter reported, the entire first row was weirdly taken up by Warner Bros. executives. How gauche.)
Leo was backed by his good friend Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan et al, and of course director Baz Luhrmann, sporting his white Tintin coif. The most interesting thing he said was insisting on how much fidelity to Fitzgerald’s book he and DiCaprio and the entire cast had insisted, even down to using such Fitzgerald experts as James West – or Professor James West as Luhrmann insisted on calling him – as consultants. And Mulligan confirmed that Luhrmann gave her six books to read. This level of research strikes me as a bit strange given the stylistic license taken simultaneously; on more than one occasion the film seems more Dick Tracy than Scott Fitzgerald.
Roger Ebert’s widow Chaz asked Luhrmann about the African-American characters in the film, definitely there but sparingly so. Luhrmann went on a bit describing how he and his musical team feel that the music is one of the film’s stars, and that just as Fitzgerald used jazz because it was “right here, right now,” so did Luhrmann et al use hiphop because it too is right here, right now. The inference is that this is an African-American presence in and of itself. Fair though perhaps not fair enough, but that is no doubt one of the reasons the film is doing so well at the box office – Luhrmann has managed to make this American Hamlet appeal to the kids.
Fidelity? You can admire these actors for their sense of responsibility here, and for their performances. If Fitzgerald set out to write the great American novel, DiCaprio carries his torch. But I don’t like the way the film accentuates everything – Fitzgerald’s words as enunciated by Maguire or flying around the screen like cheesy snowflakes, the absurdly regal parties that not even John Jacob Astor could have afforded, the oversized and over-revved and over-steered cars, the noise, the glitz, a butler in every nook. We are in an age of visual arts showmen – Jeff Koons, Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor to name just a few – and Luhrman is their brother in arms.