Hammond On Cannes: Elizabeth Taylor's Memory Lives On At Festival As 'Cleopatra' Premieres And AIDS Event Hits 20th Anniversary

There are lots of stars in Cannes this year but I don’t think any of them are shining brighter at the festival than one who is no longer with us. Elizabeth Taylor may have died over two years ago at the age of 79 but she lives on, not only on the big and small screens where her many films still play, but also for all the amazing charitable work she did in her lifetime, particularly her fight against AIDS. Tomorrow night amFAR will certainly be remembering her at the 20th anniversary of Cinema Against AIDS, the signature event set during the Cannes Festival she helped start. And Tuesday night 20th Century Fox World Premiered its meticulous 2K digital restoration (it took nine months to complete) of the 1963 film, Cleopatra, infamous for the torrid off-screen love affair between its stars Taylor and Richard Burton.

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On the occasion of its 50th anniversary the studio pulled out all the stops with a black tie premiere of the four-hour movie (that ironically almost bankrupted the studio), followed by a lavish party sponsored by Bulgari, the jeweler who supplied Taylor with so many of the baubles she was famous for collecting.  In fact, as you entered the party on the J.W. Marriott rooftop it was hard to avoid them displayed in special glass cabinets. Included was the platinum and emerald necklace her  co-star Burton gave her for their engagement in 1962. Host (and Bulgari spokesperson) Jessica Chastain actually wore it to introduce the film before taking it off and giving it back to Bulgari. She is the only person to have worn it other than Liz on her wedding day (or one of her wedding days). Also Fox brought in several original Cleopatra costumes. Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos was there to help intro the film and told me later that the financial toll the film took on the studio has been overblown. “It turned a profit after three years,” he says although the movie’s cost was astronomical and ran off the rails. I asked Fox President of Post-Production Ted Gagliano about the story that director Joseph Mankiewicz actually had a six-hour cut and that two never-before seen hours of the film are somewhere in the Fox vaults. He says he has heard this as well but thinks it’s another in the long line of Cleopatra myths since they searched high and low and found nothing. One of the guests at the premiere, director and film nerd Alexander Payne told me after seeing the film again he wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn there was an even longer cut. “But who really needs to see a six-hour version?” he asked. Both Payne and his guest Laura Dern (whose father Bruce Dern stars in Payne’s Cannes entry, Nebraska, which premieres here Thursday) said they loved seeing the film in all its restored glory.

Very powerful – and loud – fireworks set off by the Chinese delegation while the film was playing spoiled the mood inside and made such an impact some nervous audience members thought a bomb had gone off. “It turned out it was just Liz and Dick setting off more fireworks, just like they did in 1962 on the set,” cracked Ann Gianopulos.

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Taylor’s legacy is large and will also certainly be remembered as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of amFAR’s annual Cinema Against AIDS Thursday at Hotel Du Cap which will include appearances from several Cannes jury members including Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz along with Leonardo Di Caprio, among other notables, to auction off extravagant items. A fashion show and performances from the likes of Duran Duran and Oscar show sensation Shirley Bassey will also be part of the action. Harvey Weinstein who is hosting with Kenneth Cole and has been involved for all 20 years says they made $10 million last year and hope to top it this year. “But let me give full credit to the people who deserve it most – Dr Mathilde Krim, Elizabeth Taylor and Sharon Stone who were the first hosts of the event. Dr. Krim started it with Elizabeth at Moulin De Mougins, a nice little restaurant,  for 100 people. You couldn’t even see anybody when they spoke and the auction grew out of that. No one had any idea we’d be making $10 million in one evening,” he said. Certainly the memory of Taylor and those early days will not be forgotten as her impact on Cannes continues to be just as strong this year as it ever was.

  1. Love Elizabeth Taylor.I believe her memory will always be a part of me as a huge fan of this elegant & classy lady. Elizabeth truly was one of the most stunningly beautiful women to have honored all of us with her presence. When I say beauty-I mean absolute BEAUTY!!! The woman was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. When comparing the era of Liz to the modern era-few(if any) actresses match up to Elizabeth Taylor. She truly was an absolute jewel. Of course,her memory & legacy will always live on-the woman was a legend. At the risk of repeating myself-Elizabeth Taylor was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. A very kind woman who helped many people. In my heart,I shall always remember Elizabeth. It is a testament to her legacy that years after her parting she is still being honored as she deserves to be. Noone will ever replace Elizabeth Taylor-she truly was one of a kind. Thank you for this article Pete.It is appreciated greatly.

  2. Saw the director, Mankiewicz, tell Dick Cavett years ago about the several hours of cut footage– and he particulary noted that much of it was deleted material regarding Burton’s performance and regretted much of the cut footage.

  3. Being a 25 year employee of 20th Century-Fox, not to mention knowing more than a little about its history… CLEOPATRA has a good many myths about it, including how it caused Fox to sell off its precious studio backlot for development. Fact is, Fox had already decided that whilst the movie was still in pre-production.

    CLEOPATRA because of the massive length of the story, was originally envisioned by director Joseph Mankiewicz, who took over the movie, to be two movies. It was an idea back then well ahead of its time. CLEOPATRA had basically shot so much footage, it could have been released as two separate movies, parts 1 and 2. It was studio founder Darryl F. Zanuck who personally oversaw the editing after firing Mankiewicz, and it was he who butchered the editing. Zanuck’s real attention was in getting his own personal production of THE LONGEST DAY to get the splashy release. It became real political, an ego trip that saw CLEOPATRA’s cut footage, reels and reels of it destroyed. That’s why you can search all you want, it was Zanuck who personally wanted the footage destroyed, and not simply stored. Maybe some bright individual back then managed to disobey that order, but somehow I think not.

    Fox has made even bigger mistakes, like negotiating away to Lucas, the sequel and merchandising rights to STAR WARS!

    1. That’s great Graham, but almost all the information you provided in your comment can be gleaned from Wikipedia and elsewhere on the net. I would have thought someone who had been employed by 20th Century Fox for 25 years would be able to provide even one new fact, but perhaps you weren’t “In the know” – definitely not an insider…

  4. Attended the screening of CLEOPATRA last night @ Arclight and the restoration is breathtaking. I was too young to see the movie on its original release and by the time I saw it in revival houses the prints had turned pink. The movie? Pretty damn long! But Ms. Taylor is charming and gorgeous and the essence of a classic movie star. More than that, though, I will forever be grateful for her work fighting AIDS, especially at a time when everyone was running from it. She is and always will be a hero to millions. Her impact can never be underestimated.

  5. I saw Cleopatra when it was first released. I was on my honeymoon. I have seen it many times on the small screen. I watched it again last night in all it’s glory at the theatre. Truly it is eye candy. The color and scope are surpassed by very few if any of today’s offerings. Elizabeth Tayor’s beauty is so heart- stopping. And to think all those crowds are real people not make- believe. Check your local theaters. Don’t miss this chance to see it.

  6. I am going to see it Sunday at Festival Bay in Orlando. Very excited to finally get to see it on the big screen!

  7. I saw the film when I was 15 years old when it was released. It was shown at a newly built theater named the Capri in the Hillcrest area of San Diego. The theater had an Egyptian revival style exterior and Cleopatra was the first film shown there. Above the theater roof was a giant billboard of the famous illustration advertising the film which could be seen for quite a distance around the area. At the film showing they had female ushers dressed in egyptian handmaiden costumes, you could purchase a brochure detailing the filming and the film was shown by reservations only. Today the theater is gone but the theater facade remains as part of a condominium complex…I’m decrepit…lol…and Elizabeth Taylor…like Cleopatra…is a legend

  8. There will never be another woman as beautiful outside as well inside as Elizabeth Taylor.she had her times as we all have as humans but she more than made up for them.she did alot of charities for aids and work when others shunned it.her heart was bigger for those suffering to get a cure than any fear of this terrible disease.i love all her movies and respect her memory to the .most highest.MAY GOD BLESS YOU IN HEAVEN ELIZABETH.YOU DID OUR LORD PROUD.

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