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"Us little girls in school uniforms used to go and play tennis and there would be this guy flashing. Everybody else would turn their face but I would wave and say Hello, cold day, isn't it?"  -Jackie Collins on her school days
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DAY 3: Forget Star Wars: the Toxic Avenger is the defining franchise of the late 20th century.
To mentally prepare you for the coming Cannes film festival in May, we continue Nick Roddick’s subversive columns from the daily editions of Moving Pictures at the 2002 Cannes film festival & market, an irreverent, insightful, sometimes cynical and always entertaining take on what Cannes is really – really! – like. 

One of the many minor joys of being own here in the days over which Cannes laboriously transforms itself from Poodle Promenade-sur-Mer into the Capital of World Cinema is to watch the big promo displays go up and try to figure out what, if anything, they are going to do. The answer, in most cases, turns out to be: Not a lot.

The Die Another Day DB5, for instance, is clearly not going to drive off its fake snow pad in front of the Carlton, nor sprout wings and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang its way into the sky. About the Minority Report thingy on the other side, though, I guess the jury is still out. Maybe, like the machine with the big question mark in The Band Wagon, it will one day whir and click into life, providing a glimpse of the future or a quick peek at Tom Cruise.

"Nothing stops the French passer-by more effectively than a flash motor"

Mind you, the Bond movie guys have shown themselves pretty smart, using a car to promote their film. Nothing stops the French passer-by more effectively than a flash motor. The Noga Hilton, bless its little marble toilets, frequently has a Lamborghini parked casually outside, as though it's owner has just dropped in for an apéritif - a porky that is revealed when the rental guy comes round to collect it at the end of the day…

Anyway, the strip of pavement in front of the Carlton is regularly jammed with girls draped across the railings in front of 007's Aston Martin while their guys snap photos, the lenses discreetly angled to frame more of the car than the insignificant other.

I could, I suppose, fill the rest of this page with musings on cars replacing stars as objects of desire. But, as Roland Barthes used to say before the baker's van came along, the reader needs to work to construct the meaning (and there's no sense in both of us doing the same job, is there?) Besides, when did you last make out on the back seat of a movie star?

One thing that strikes me this year, however. The big billboards may be back, but all of them seem to be advertising studio movies: no more Jean-Claude Van Damme peeping out from between the upper dormers of the Carlton, just a kind of reproduction Sunset Boulevard between the Palais and the Martinez, with Will and Tommy fingering their big bazookas and looking down on the rest of us.

Sure, the giant Italian fairground attraction still revolves noisily in front of the Grand Hotel, trying to persuade us that Marco Bellocchio is a commercial film-maker. But elsewhere, it's all Spider-Man and Scooby-Doo.

"the great international movie-theatre marquee"

What is more, whence the billboards, thence the business: from being the premier shopwindow for indie product, Cannes has become just another section of the great international movie-theatre marquee, promoting the same titles from Hollywood to Hanoi, Peoria to Penang.

Take the case of Troma. No one can have been peripherally connected with this business for long without having developed an enduring affection for Lloyd Kaufman and his cheesy universe. Forget Star Wars: the Toxic Avenger is the defining franchise of the late 20th century, with its recycled plots and its ability to star any actor game enough to don the make-up. You know where you are with Toxie (which is not something you can say about Woody Allen these days).

But, while you may know where you are with Troma, knowing where Troma is this year is more of a problem. Once a magnificent carbuncle on the elegant face of the Carlton - sandwiched noisily in between all those offices occupied by companies too important to so much as open their doors - the Troma people have now decamped to the inaptly named Palais Rouaze, a location so downmarket that it's actually where I'm staying. And while we're on the subject, Lloyd, haven't you read those notices in the hallway about it being formally forbidden to move the furniture after 10 o'clock at night? This ain't the Carlton, mate: there are people trying to sleep here.

But the Rouazation of Troma is, of course, only part of a trend. I don't mean to get into a diatribe against globalisation here - the number of forest felled to produce Cannes dailies makes them an inappropriate platform for environmental concern - but the same process can be observed on the streets around you.

Take a look at Cannes, the town, that approximation of real life that lies between the parties and the posters, the screenings and the sales offices. Over the past half-decade, all those little specialist shops - the confiseries and the electrical repair centres, the stationery shops and the toy boutiques - have gradually be replaced by interchangeable upmarket clothing stores and shoe shops, or else by the gradually spreading evil Davis empire, purveying retro-trash to the non-discerning tourist. About the only area in which a broad range of tastes still seems to be catered for is sex.

"Independent films? Are you crazy?"

Even the old Patisserie Rohr on the rue d'Antibes, seemingly one of the most enduring of Cannes traditions, has now become part of the Lenôtre chain, a luxury food empire whose name appears to play on the current French obsession with national patrimony.
Soon, getting anything non-labelled is going to require clandestine transactions. "An un-pasteurised cheese, sir? Wrapped in the copy of Le Monde on the chair beside you. No, no, stop! You must wait until I've left the café before you pick it up." "Handmade chocolates? That will not be easy, M'sieur. Meet me at the corner of the rue Félix Faure at midnight and I'll see what I can find"

"Independent films? Are you crazy? Keep your voice down… Someone might hear us!"

Published March 13, 2003
First published in Moving Pictures, May 18, 2002

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Nick Roddick taught film and theatre at Trinity College, Dublin; the University of Manchester; and California State University, Long Beach, before becoming a journalist in the early eighties. He was Films Editor of Stills Magazine in London from 1983-4 and Editor of Cinema Papers in Australia from 1985-6. From 1987-88, he was Editor of weekly trade paper Screen International and, in 1990, founding Editor of Moving Pictures International. Since 1993, he has been Editor of Preview, a bi-monthly magazine on films in production. He is author of several books on the British and American cinema, and currently runs Split Screen, a Brighton-based publishing and consultancy company specialising in the international film and television business.

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