The 71st Annual Cannes Film Festival is in full swing and I just spend 11 straight hours in theatre seats catching it all.
Christopher Nolan sat for a two hour “Rendez-Vous” , or what used to be called a master class Saturday afternoon at the Bunuel theatre
which was , to put it mildly, a mob scene. You would think Nolan was some kind of rock star considering the lines that stretched across three sets of stairs and three floors just to get to the entrance. Fortunately Warner Bros supplied me with a primo ticket so I was able to fight my way through the crowd and got in . Others in the massive turnaway crowd weren’t as lucky. Having done several interviews with Nolan during the past awards season for Dunkirk, and in previous seasons, I know him pretty well and ran into him just after he landed in Cannes at the Du Cap Hotel’s Lionsgate party last night. He told me this is the first time he has ever been to the Cannes Film Festival and clearly Thierry Fremaux is lucky to have snagged him. “I came all this way and I run into you,” he laughed while assuring me his appearance at the Bunuel would be in English, not French, as so many of the film events I have attended so far have strictly stuck to favored local language . In French I only understand directions on how to get to the library from when I took it in High School.
Nolan is here to launch the Warner Bros 50th anniversary release of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 1968 classic , 2001: A Space Odyssey. The new “unrestored” version as Nolan says he likes to call it, has been brought back to the exact way audiences first saw it at its premiere, all 70mm film elements intact, but defiantly not “digitalized” . Interestingly when this version first premiered in 1968 there were reportedly 241 walkouts at the gala first showing including Rock Hudson who famously said, “will somebody please tell me what the hell this was all about?” Although it did win for Visual Effects, it was only nominated for four Oscars , the most visible being Best Original Screenplay where it lost to Mel Brooks and The Producers. At last month’s TCM Classic Film Festival which The Producers opened, Brooks said he called Kubrick (and another nominee, Gille Pontecorvo’s much lauded Battle Of Algiers) to apologize for winning. In retrospect it has stood the test of time probably better than any of the 1968 Best Picture nominees (of which it was not one) including winner Oliver.
This kind of information wasn’t provided at Saturday’s session, but Nolan , in his signature low key style, offered indeed a master’s class in the art of filmmaking from one of the most
successful and admired practicers of the craft. Before he came out , Cannes Film Fest Artistic Director Fremaux introduced 2001 co-star Keir Dullea and Katharina Kubrick who both took bows in the front row. Nolan told the story about being transfixed as a child when his dad took him to see the film for the first time in Leicester Square. “I first realized that films could do anything, ” he said adding that when the studio was putting together a seven film box set of his films in the new 4K UHD HDR format in which the movies are transferred using projection from 70MM and 35MM film reels, he was shown an answer print of the original 2001 , and that’s where the idea to bring it back to its original film incarnation came about for the 50th. It will be released in theatres next Friday. Nolan said the original negative looked fantastic, and that although the more often currently used process involving digitization restorations is fine, this kind of reproduction cannot be beat. Cannes audiences will find out Sunday evening what it was like in ’68, even if Rock Hudson was confused.
Nolan is a fervrent defender of film, and for Dunkirk got Warner Bros to snap up all the 70MM film projectors in existence, leading to a 70MM film release of the Oscar winning movie on about 178 prints to be exhibited. “The original analog format is the best connection for the audience,” Nolan said convincingly in an age that doesn’t seem to appreciate what came before. “At the end of the day it is about feeling and emotion and the most immersive and emotionally involving experience as a way for drawing the audience in.” He first got into the format when he was just 16 after seeing 40 minute shorts projected in IMAX in museums , and felt the size, clarity and images were the future of film. He started using IMAX on Batman Begins in terms of blowing up the film to that format, and then on Dark Knight actually used IMAX cameras for some scenes. About 70% of Dunkirk was shot that way.
Throughout the course of the two hours he talked about all his films in detail that would be valuable to any film student wanting to see how it should be done. Ironically Nolan didn’t go the traditional route for directors these days. He learned on the job. “Just to be clear I didn’t go to film school because I couldn’t get into film school, ” he laughed. And in case you wondered if he might be ripe to direct a James Bond film someday as has been rumored in the past, Nolan said he has been there already in a way. “For the Dark Knight films we mercilessly pillaged from James Bond films for the Bruce Wayne scenes,” he said indicating Morgan Freeman’s character was a direct relative to the Bond series.
No film clips were shown in the Nolan presentation but I got my share of the moving image in a lot of different ways Saturday including the international debut of the sensational HBO documentary on Jane Fonda which first premiered in Sundance. called Jane Fonda In Five Acts. Fonda , and producer /director Susan Lacy were on hand to briefly introduce the two hour and 13 minute film to the packed audience that crowded the Bunuel Theatre as soon as Nolan’s following cleared out. In intro’ing the movie Fonda , who is interviewed non-stop about her life and career , said it was a lot of fun to make. It was a perfect choice for Cannes as a big chunk of Fonda’s life and career was in France when married to director Roger Vadim. “It has a lot of concepts and issues that are universal and will touch and inspire all of you,” she told the audience. Lacy has incorporated generous helpings of home movies, news footage, interviews with friends and family, and film clips to help illustrate the remarkable life journey of this two-time Oscar winner who says her life has mostly been defined by whichever husband she had at the time, and it is a fascinating revelation to see how it all ties into her self-admission of a need to please her famous father, Henry Fonda. The film is truthful, raw, compelling, and honest as it examines each of the five acts for this now 80 year old star who is busier than ever. In fact she is shooting
the new season of her Netflix comedy series, Grace And Frankie just as her terrific new film , Book Club (May 18) reinforces her gift for comedy in a movie that turns its back on negativity about aging, something the ageless Fonda should never be bothered with. The HBO film also exhaustively examines her need to be an activist on many issues. In fact her son Troy Garrity is hilarious in describing his life growing up as the son of Fonda and political organizer Tom Hayden. “We had holidays in conflict zones. My birthdays were fundraisers,” he lamented good naturedly. When she came out for to rousing applause after the screening it was the world that was still on Jane Fonda’s mind. “We are facing terrible, terrible crises right now. We have to stay strong, we have to love each other, we have to stay united. We have to believe that democracy and freedom are possible, and we have to stand up to tyrants. It’s going to be very hard,” she said.
Finally , talk about timely. The Cannes Fest latched on to a hot number with its Out Of Competition Official Selection, The Spy Gone North which I caught this morning. In light of the historic talks about to happen between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, this 90’s set thriller deals with movement towards potential reunification between the two Koreas when a South Korea spy goes undercover as an ad sales executive in order to punk the North and uncover their secretive nuclear weapons program. The acting by the two leads Hwang Jung-min as the spy know as “Black Venus” , and Lee Sung-min as the Director of North Korea’s External Economic Council are both brilliant , as is the actor playing then-North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il ,portrayed chillingly and dead-on in the film from writer/director Yoon Jong-Bin who ought to be snapped up by Hollywood after this cool, provocative , and perfectly timed thriller that once again reminds us how Cannes can often find itself in the center of world events, however inadvertently.