Between Oscar & Cannes
This April (1995) was the first time I set my foot in Cannes, a small coastal town in Southern France, with 60-70 thousand inhabitants. The entire town center can be covered during a half hour walk. The Festival Palace, located on the coast, is of ostentatious architecture. The Cannes Film Festival is held in late May and the rest of the year, life goes on as usual.
Three months later I return to this town once again. Anybody who is somebody (or wants to be somebody) in the world of cinema attends this festival. From those interested in acting to the critics, producers and filmmakers.
My first intent in writing this note was to express some of my impressions of Cannes. Now that the festival has ended, the only points which come to my mind are freely associated subjective collages. Collages which may have been intended to deal with cinema, especially the relationships between artistic and commercial cinema and the comparison between Cannes and the Oscars.
Step Two: Film Presentation
Making films is expensive, therefore the good results at the box office must be guaranteed in any way possible. The Academy Awards presentation is considered to be the most popular film event, which is broadcast live, to 70-80 countries every year. The Cannes Film Festival, shown live in 18 European countries, ranks second or third in terms of popularity and first, artistically.
The Oscar’s judges are members of the Academy and are usually older individuals with conventional and old fashioned tastes. Many are shareholders of the 3-4 leading Hollywood studios, which usually produce and release 10-12 of the nominated films. So basically these prominent judges have the job of praising themselves or their friends and colleagues. They themselves finance the movie, their old friends and acquaintances make the movies and by awarding these films, they raise the profits at the box office. But in Cannes, in contrast to the Oscars, the films presented cannot be shown anywhere else prior to the festival -except in its original country- The jury members in Cannes are changed every year. Those involved in the festival are experts in different fields of cinema from various countries who make no personal or financial profit from their votes. Academy Award winners are usually famous directors and actors who gain more fame and whose prospective fees increase if they win. Cannes award winners are either unknown individuals who achieve fame overnight or famous established filmmakers who find greater and more average audience for their films after their success in Cannes.
The Oscars is very concerned about that primary audience, but Cannes is concerned with artistic values and the aesthetics of the cinema, therefore public acceptance is not essential. -Antonioni’s La Ventura was booed in 1959, but it was still awarded the Jury’s Prize-. Someone who goes to see an Academy Award winning film sees what is expected, but a Palm D’or winner can be more unpredictable.
Oscars are basically awarded to former or current box office hits, which will become even bigger hits later on. In Cannes only those films are awarded which are considered to contribute something to cinema in terms of content and form, even if they are not popular. For a film to be a big hit, a famous star is a necessity. In Hollywood actors/actresses are usually stars. In Cannes, the directors are the stars. In the Oscars, politics (of the conservative kind) can be a factor in the awarded films. In Cannes, there usually isn’t any political consideration (in its standard sense) and if at times there are any concerns, they’re not of the conventional kind and in conformity with the system, but are considered to be advanced and progressive. Pierre Rissient, one of three people running the Cannes Film Festival, who has an intense fondness for T-shirts and sports clothes, is the only person at the Oscars ceremony who is allowed to wear informal clothes (as long as he stays off camera).
Step One: Film Production
The cost of producing films is rising annually and even worse, the chance of finding Art Film distributors is becoming slimmer. Up to six or seven years ago, there were commercial cinemas in the West which featured commercial films. (Nowadays they prefer to use the term ‘Main Stream’). These cinemas are generally large complexes, consisting of several auditoriums, showing 7-8 films daily.
The contemporary human, in any part of the world, presently spends a lot of time watching images. That is why everywhere in the world we see local imitations of the Oscar-Hollywood genres. Now one can watch Chinese, French or Italian films which, despite their native languages, are purely made on the formula of the Oscar-Hollywood genre. On any account, American independent directors and producers need to survive and continue. Europeans have the luxury of the government subsidies, but Americans are obliged to reimburse their private investors in the long run. In Oscar-type films there have been times when famous stars were not able to guarantee the box office success of the film, therefore there’s an attempt at combining stars, sex and violence as much as possible. In artistic films (of the Cannes type), they normally can’t afford the star(s), but they try to, somehow, include the second and third elements. Oscar-type films, for the most part, depict life and relations in a simplistic and artificial manner. In artistic films of the Cannes type, life and human relations are more sophisticated and the visual and cinematic aspects have a broader definition and can even consist of vagueness. The Cannes type of films don’t intend to and don’t have the power to push their rivals out of the way, but the Oscar-type want to dominate the world of cinema (and they’re not satisfied with just movies…there’re chocolates, T-shirts, video games, etc.) The Oscar-type have taken over 80-90 per cent of the world market and the Cannes type of films have a low chance of finding a spot in the remaining 10-20 per cent. The Oscar kinds of films dominate the film industry in the world. The Cannes types of films are geared towards a special minority. Television and video, with their Oscar like style, promotes Hollywood taste; the camera always moving for no apparent reason, the editor cutting life into slices, the work of make up artists and special effects department and composers becoming much more important than the script writers, and the directors. While the Oscar-type is easily digestible cinema, the Cannes type is contemplative, which is often hard to digest.
Between the Oscars and Cannes:
Nowadays there are no longer two completely different and distinguishable poles in the world of cinema. This is due to the combination of the two kinds of cinemas (commercial and artistic) in the mid-80s, to form a new genre of cinema simply called “Mainstream Art House”. Mainstream Art House means reaching a synthesis and hence the production of digestible artistic films. There are new theater establishments emerging in the West. Even some of the owners of those cinema complexes, which show Hollywood films, started building some suburban Mainstream Art House cinemas. On the other hand, some of the owners of small art houses have done so well in recent years that they’ve gone on to buy a second and third theater as well as starting movie memorabilia stores and cafes. Some American and European artistic films which have had good box office returns, have helped in the establishment of this new kind of cinema, such as Paris Texas, Wings of Desire, Jesus of Montreal, Piano, Pulp Fiction and the works of Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley, David Lynch, Kieslowski…Formerly, independent directors and producers intended to make low budget films outside the Hollywood system, but now many want to make a successful independent film in order to pave their way to Hollywood.
Looking at the top selling films of the world, in the seventies, films generally had tragic endings (Bonnie & Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Midnight Cowboy, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and…). Most of the intellectuals and leftists of the 60s or 70s turned 40 or more years of age these days and they’ve mostly mellowed down. The fall of Communism in the early 90s diminished the hope of the small minority who still counted on an alternative lifestyle. The wall in Germany collapses. Unemployment, immigration and racial tensions are at a peak, the true perspectives of environmental problems emerge and the Japanese outdo the Americans and become the largest producers and consumers of goods and the economic crises begin. It seems that capitalism is not the solution either. In the midst of this chaos, who’d want to watch the slow and heavy films of Antonioni and Tarkovsky?
Socio-economic problems are increasing throughout the world. If a filmmaker from the 60s or 70s wants to make a film nowadays, (s)he must try to entertain the audience in the midst of what (s)he has to say. Art film lovers need to be entertained too...
Cannes is no longer interested on the aesthetic aspects of cinema. They only want to award those films popular among its own audience and critics, thereby justifying the correctness of their choice to the politicians who give money to these festivals. If you are still after the old Cannes, you should check out some films in the non-official sections or those films which normally win the minor prizes. Cannes is no longer after creating new environments or ideas for the development of the cinematic language. Whenever it sees new sparks or potential, it claims it as its own new discovery. What’s more is that some Cannes winners were already known worldwide and had received awards. As a matter of fact, Kiarostami’s Where is the Friend’s House? and Close Up were rejected in Cannes. Actually, Locarno discovered Kiarostami to begin with, or Makhmalbaf finally made it to Cannes with his thirteenth film- Salaam Cinema- -He was introduced to the world eleven years before with The Peddler, by Sheila Whitaker, when she was the director of the London Film Festival- But since Cannes is the number one art film festival in the world, the Kiarostamis and Makhmalbafs are reluctant to give their new films to the other festivals. So in this way, wherever Cannes falls behind other festivals in the discovery of new filmmakers, it can catch up to where it should be by giving significant awards, even wiping out the memory of older less significant awards from the minds of filmmakers and the film lovers.
In my opinion, this is why this “Mainstream Art House” cinema, as compared to Art House and Mainstream cinema, despite its charm, has one major problem and that is its pretension and its imitation of artistic films. Cannes is supposed to look after the artistic cinema, but presently -this is not taking into account the few exceptions- its awards, especially the main awards, go to films, which aside from having artistic values, also have commercial potentials. Therefore, they not only consider the audience, but also, if a film is not applauded by them for at least 5-10 minutes and the press are not in consensus; it is unlikely to receive any awards. Those days are long gone when Antonioni is booed for La Ventura -1959- and yet Cannes boldly and confidently awards him the Jury’s Prize. Maybe one of the reasons for this change in position is that today the range of success for everything is measured in cash. The governments are penniless. Unemployment, racism, as well as other social problems are at a height in Europe. If the French government feels that the Cannes Film Festival, with its multi-million franc budget, lacks popularity (and as a result significance), they will question its administrators and cut a portion or its entire budget. These days credibility is equal to the popularity. It’s true that the Cannes audience is made up of journalists and those in the movie business, but these are people who need public approval for their opinions to preserve their positions. It can’t be done alone.
The Oscars have also changed in recent years and lost credibility by awarding big budget studio films, but at the same time inevitably showing tendencies towards Cannes. Someday these two will resemble one another more than the acceptable range. Please don’t be fooled by the T-shirt Pierre Rissient wears at the Oscars ceremony.
I don’t know what kind of films or cinema we would have had without the Oscars or Cannes. In any case, the Oscars, as a representative of well made commercial cinema, have at times awarded significant (Mainstream) Art House films, while Cannes, as a representative of Art House cinema, has awarded clever commercial or semi-artistic films from time to time.
With every year that goes by, there is greater similarity between subjects, characters, cinematography, music, acting and other aesthetic aspects of commercial and artistic films. This new combination of art and commercialism is gaining ground in the world. On the whole, day by day, everything is becoming more stereotypical and similar and that goes for the people too.