Why the Palm d'Or has lost its shine

After
nearly 30 years covering the Cannes Film Festival, from the hedonistic
Seventies to the red tape of the Noughties, Ivan Waterman has finally
had enough

WE SAT just feet apart on a
low wall in the blazing sunshine by the festival hall. Ah, the Cannes
Film Festival in the hazy, lazy May days of 1976.

Just Jodie Foster and yours truly, a fairly green young thing
myself, hobnobbing it on La Croisette for the first time as the
showbusiness guy from the News of the World.

Jodie was in town
with rising star Robert De Niro and director Paul Schrader to promote
Taxi Driver, in which 13-year-old Foster – already a starlet from Bugsy
Malone – played the youngest prostitute in Manhattan.

Now, if
you’re from the Screws, you’re not about to delve into the esoteric
nature of Schrader’s brilliant urban essay. We wanted good
old-fashioned nittygritty lashings of sex. Could Miss Foster deliver?

What did she have to say for herself as the forbidden object of desire in this scandalously violent and sensational yarn?

She
drew a long breath and fixed me with those icy azure eyes. “Come ON!”
she drawled, almost blowing my hair back. “What 12-year-old kid doesn’t
know about hookers?”

An elderly passer-by (obviously English-speaking)n stopped and stared. I nervously tried to get a grip.

Foster, even then, took no prisoners.

Fifteen
minutes later, a Hollywood underling whisked her away to a photo call.
Of course, no film company would permit a star to have a quiet tête à
tête with a tabloid today. No way.

Next day I took myself off
along the fabulous coastline to the Hôtel du Cap at Cap d’Antibes for
an audience with the difficult Mr De Niro. Shy “Bobby” would only come
to his door for a second or three after much cajoling.

Back in the good old days

Today no reporter in his right mind would turn up for an unscheduled
interview with “Bobby”, unless they wanted to feel the wrath of a
fire-breathing PR or risk a skirmish with a security guard.

In days gone by you could stroll around the pool at Eden Roc while
the mischievous Malcolm McDowell candidly revealed how he tormented
Christopher Lee on his new thriller and mimicked Sir John Gielgud quite
brilliantly off-set while filming Caligula.

These were the days
when Victor Davis of the Express held court in Rue Saint Antoine and
forever grinning Kent Gavin of the Mirror prowled Cannes with his
longest lens at the ready. With dapper Kenelm Jenour, then the Mirror
staff man from Paris, they made a formidable duo. Would-be starlets
queued up to be interviewed and photographed.

One morning, the
ubiquitous silver-haired snapper Joe Bangay accompanied me to Cap Jean
Ferrat to seek out Oliver Reed and his girlfriend Jackie at their
villa. Hungover Olly, as always, had been up late.

“I’m off the
hooch boys, totally knackered,” he said, reappearing moments later with
a tankard, which he filled with Scotch. He threw us one of those smiles
before gulping the lot down. “You know, I’ve suddenly developed a
terrible thirst!”

Four hours later he was doing the twist on restaurant tables and we were semi-comatose from downing a crate of vino.

Movies?
You snoozed through the dullest. I was once rudely awakened by an irate
lady during the screening of Joseph Losey’s Mr Klein. Dazed, I rose to
my feet and (believing I was in the haven of the Tipperary bar in EC4)
blurted: “Whose round is it?”

Every May we behaved very badly indeed. To couch this in artistic terms, we had a right old laugh.

Mirror
editor Mike Molloy would host lunch on the beach and later we’d be off
to the Palm Beach Casino for a monster of a thrash at the expense of
MGM or Columbia.

Let’s brag. Securing a world exclusive with
actress Rebecca Broussard – the mother of Jack Nicholson’s kids – was
sheer ecstasy. But I also recall turning away Arnold Schwarzenegger,
then making his movie debut in Pumping Iron. “Sorry, we don’t do body
builders,” I announced.

Cannes then was full of charming bijou
restaurants and we had enormous expense accounts. We even stayed at the
same luxurious hotels as Barry Norman and his BBC mob!

I covered
the festival off and on until 1989 when I joined Today. Then, it was
every year (the last five as a freelance for The Mail on Sunday’s
features department). Until now.

The dream is over

By the late Eighties attitudes had changed. No longer were we our
own masters, telling executives what they could expect. Once, I phoned
“home” and enthused about my interview with Jack Lemmon.

There followed a lengthy silence before a news desk cyborg
responded: “Is Bill whatshisname from Emmerdale there… you seeing him?”

Security
guards arrived en masse along with festival bureaucrats. The hideous
new festival hall complex had to be paid for. The city became a
champagne-sipping military zone with fearsome baton-wielding CRS
security police. You couldn’t move from A to B easily without your
colour-coded security pass.

Soon, Cannes became an annual
nightmare. Back in Fleet Street, those who counted failed to comprehend
how the festival worked or believe there were few genuine “stories”.
Sure, Rob Lowe fled from his own pornographic sex, lies and videotape
scandal.

And we had Mickey Rourke’s admission that he had donated
his salary from the biblical movie Francesco to IRA fundraisers. I
still hear the fiery tone of my then editor, Ulsterman David “the
future is Orange”

Montgomery, spitting napalm from Pimlico: “I want every line, every word… let’s crucify the bastard.”

Slowly
but surely, the PRs took control, insisting on detailed interview
request forms being filled in, even though there was no chance of
success unless you were “distributor nominated”. This meant you were
wasting your time unless film companies had put your name forward for
round-table group interviews where the clot from the Macedonian Gazette
would sabotage your efforts to get a story out of Uma Thurman by
interrupting with: “Mees Turman, when do you go Macedonia?” And so on.

One-on-one chats? Forget it, unless you were a broadsheet hack or Baz Bamigboye.

Gradually,
the “rat pack”, including hardened veterans such as Hilary Bonner and
David Wigg, was disbanded, leaving a new generation of business-like
staffers to take over.

The era of spin gusted in with the
mistral. I recall Piers Morgan entering fantasyland with his tale about
Madonna being body searched for drugs at Nice Airport, hours before her
plane had landed.

Piers, alias Mr Bizarre from The Sun, eloquently justified himself: “It’s all a load of old bollocks… so what?”

But
Piers did endear himself to us by luring Michael Douglas’s duplicitous
PR into snapping him with Douglas and Sharon Stone for yet another Sun
“exclusive”.

Ironically, on the very day I decided not to board
the aircraft for this year’s festival, the Paris-based clique who know
so little about movies but everything about making money, rejected my
accreditation forms. They did me an immense favour.

Instead, I shall be umpiring for my old boys’ association and watching the Cup Final.

But Cannes is like a drug deep in your veins.

Come next January, I’ll start feeling nauseous again.

Will I give the Festival du Film one last shot? By that time, I may have the energy.

Ivan
Waterman was showbusiness editor of the News of the World and Today.
His biography of Katherine Hepburn will be published next year.

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