FEAR & LOATHING AT CANNES, PART 1: A MAN'S HANDSHAKE SAYS EVERYTHING
I've hit the big time now. I've finally made it. I'm in like Flint from here on out. I'm boarding a plane to France where I'll be attending the Cannes Film Festival for the first time.
No more unpaid blogging from the Cash for Gold shop. No more bottom feeding. No more sitting at the children's table waiting to eat other people's left over scraps.
A door has opened and I'm not about to just stick my foot in, I'm gonna knock it off the fucking hinges and dive on in from head to toe.
I've been sober since coming back from Yubari in February. I haven't had a sip of the sauce since I was beaten to an inch of my life by a gang of Australian hooligans and stabbed by my Japanese ex fiancé's father.
My wounds have mostly healed although the bridge to my nose is much more pronounced now.
I've done a lot of soul searching these past two months since I've turned 30 and I've come to realize a great and many thing about myself.
A flight attendant helps me place my bags into the overhead compartment and I take my seat.
I sit down and am disappointed that I already recognize my neighbor. I don't know him well, but I know him enough to know that I don't like him and I certainly don't want to spend the next 10 hours with him.
One of the biggest problems with Philadelphia is that it's a shockingly small city. No matter where you go, you're bound to run into someone you know. The anonymonity that most other major cities grant you just doesn't exist here.
The man sitting next to me is named Mike Dugal. I'm not sure if that's a real name or pseudonym but that doesn't matter. He's a writer and director. He makes horror films, bad horror films, the kind that you can only purchase directly from the filmmaker personally at a horror convention. And as far as I'm concerned, he's more of pornographer than a filmmaker. His films have the look and feel of a bad and uber cheap soft core skin flick. He mostly casts his stuff with strippers; the type with candy colored hair that are inked up with so many bad tattoos that their bodies look like my old tube television when the cable would go out.
He makes niche market torture porn shit. There's no plot or story to his films, just a series of mean spirited vignettes where his strippers lay on tables screaming while covered in fake blood.
The guy also publishes an annual calendar that fetishes sex crime victims. It's tasteless irony without wit; pictures of Betty Page wannabes lying naked splayed open like a field dressed deer on the side of a road with their panties stuffed into their mouths. It's classy stuff from a classy guy.
Beyond that, He's one of these rockabilly asshole types. He's got the big hair that's slicked back with some type of thick, shiny wax and I've only ever seen him wear the same denim mechanic's shirt with a white wife beater underneath. There must be some type of mathematical equation for determining just how big of a prick someone is by the size of their sideburns.
I've heard he's a bouncer at some skid row titty bar. It's the type of after hours club mostly known for attracting dealers and mob guys. It's where everyone goes to score at 3am.
But he's also a resident bar fly at the dive down the street from my house and he's a notorious punch drunk. Even when he's not on the clock, he has a habit of picking fights with random patrons just trying to enjoy their drinks. He's the type of asshole who starts fights with people over playing music he doesn't like on the bar's juke box. He's also the kind of asshole who'll put $20 in and force everyone in the bar to listen to Hank Williams III all night long. He's the kind of asshole who throws punches in the mosh pit at hardcore shows. This is the kind of asshole who thinks the Evil Dead remake is the best horror film of the last decade.
He's a moron and a bully.
And I know he shows up on the ScreenAnarchy boards sometimes. The idiot doesn't realize that I can track him down by the email address he's used to register with the site. He's the kind of guy who trolls sites and personally attacks bloggers for disagreeing with him.
He's threatened to kick my ass before and I'm sure he could, the guy is six foot one and barrel chested with tree stumps for forearms. This guy would decimate me.
So I called one of his films trash on ScreenAnarchy and he sent me an anonymous death threat,. And now I'm going to be stuck sitting directly next to him for the next 10 hours. This is just fantastic.
He glances at me but doesn't say anything. This doofus is such a blackout drunk that I doubt he remembers me. Or at least, I hope he doesn't remember and or recognize me. Years of Pabst and Old Crow should have pummeled most of his brain cells into remission. He has the type of permanent stupor pasted on his face that would suggest that he was probably a huffer in high school.
I try to ignore him. I put my iPod earplugs in, open my lap top, and get to work with my festival planning.
It isn't until a few hours into the flight that I realize he's staring at me. I catch the look in his eyes, the gleam of a crazy man contemplating something crazy.
He's made a lot of trips to the bathroom and there's no telling what he's been doing in there. I should know; I've done it myself.
He's breathing awfully hard while looking at me and I doubt it's because he thinks I'm cute.
Is it because he knows who I am now? Or is it because he was snorting crystal meth that he was storing up his asshole in the men's room?
Either way, I need to nip this in the bud. I hit pause on my iPod and try introducing myself.
He just stares at me and rejects my gesture for a handshake, total class A asshole, fucking rockabilly guys.
I give him my name. It takes a moment, but I can see the light bulb turn on in his head though it's a dim bulb at best. He's put it together. He knows who I am now.
I almost want him to call me a faggot to my face right here and now like he has on the ScreenAnarchy boards but he doesn't, he just stares at me, silently judging me. I don't pull my hand away. I want him to shake it. I want him to know I'm not afraid of him. I have no doubt I would lose in a fight with him but that's not what matters.
We stare each other down for a solid minute before I assure him that my hand is clean.
He finally reaches out and grabs it.
His grip is fierce. This fucker is strong. It feels like he's got my hand in a vice and he's turning the crank. I think he's trying to break the bones in my fingers. I can handle pain. Whatever this guy wants to throw at me, I'll take it.
The whole encounter is like something straight out of a Samuel Fuller film. But Mike is no man's man. I can smell it on his breath, blood, a woman's blood. I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Dugal has murdered before. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets his kicks jerking off on the dead bodies of the strippers he hires for his shitty films.
And this raises a very important question.
Just what the hell business does this guy have at the Cannes Film Festival?
So I ask, "What are you doing at Cannes?"
He gives me a look that tells me he wants me to fuck off but he knows this has the potential to be one hell of a long airplane ride so he humors me just a little.
"I'm trying to sell my new feature."
"Is it that one you showed at the Trocedero the other month with the killer who's dressed kinda like a Klansman and goes around crucifying all those amateur black porn actress posing as underage runaways on wooden crosses and then lights them on fire in church parking lots?"
I have no doubt that Mike is fantasizing about kicking my ass right now as he answers me."He wasn't a fucking Klansman, and that's not my newest feature."
I ask him the title of his new film.
"It's called Evil Dead Whore Asylum."
We spend the rest of the flight in silence.
I go back to listening to my iPod and type away on my ThinkPad.
During the trip, I catch Mike drawing in a notebook filled with doodles of naked women being stabbed with all manner of garden tools and kitchen appliances. I think he catches me writing up a description of our conversation.
I think I hear him mutter, "faggot blogger" under his breath.
CHAPTER 2: THE GLAMOROUS LIFE OF A FILM BLOGGER
Although my plane landed at the Nice airport at 6:20AM, the bus ride into Cannes means I don't make my back to the room where I'll be staying until 10am.
I had hoped to be at the Team ScreenAnarchy base before 8 so I that I could have crashed for a few hours before starting my day, but it already looks like I'll going through another festival with no sleep.
My editor told me that he had rented a house for all of the writers during the festival. The address that I was given is nestled with in the cramped old city quarter of Le Suquet, one of the oldest areas of the French Riveria. Le Suquet had originally been the residential area for fishermen nearly 400 years ago.
Although the architecture is pure old world European, the seemingly infinite narrow cobblestone alleys that twist and wind their way through this area remind me much of a Tokyo suburb. There's no rhyme or reason to the town's layout. It's as if god had taken a drunken piss and someone decided to lay the design for the city's street ways out of it.
I've already spent three hours of my morning tirelessly wandering the cramped and chaotic pathways in a seemingly futile attempt to find my place of residence for the next six days.
And this being France and all, finding a hospital local to help me with directions proves also proves to be an exercise in futility.
I've only been to France once before while pack backing across Europe when I was 18, and even then, I had come to the conclusion that I wasted my time taking French in high school rather than learning something practical like Spanish or Mandarin. Even at an intermediate skill level with the language, the French refuse to acknowledge you if you're an American.
It takes the aid of an elderly British couple on holiday to finally get back on the right track.
I finally find the small house that my editor has rented out. Only it's not so much a house as a small flat on the third floor of a small triplex with a French bistro called Café Gavroche located at the bottom.
It takes another half hour of studying and examining the building before I discover that there isn't a separate entrance to my flat. In order to get to my room, I have to get the delightfully surly and annoyed host of the restaurant downstairs to escort me through the bustling eatery, past the kitchen, in order to reach an intimidating spiral staircase that I'm already terrified of climbing at 3am drunk on a heavy festival bender.
I finally arrive at the small living space to find a single, mostly barren room that I'm gauging might be 600 square feet in size. I see three recently occupied cots and two sleeping bags already set up in the room.
So, I now know that I'll be sharing this sleeping space with at least five other writers.
Whatever hopes I might have had of bringing back any women for a late night romp have just been squelched.
I'm already figuring that I'm going to have to be extra resourceful and find my way into someone's bed elsewhere.
My editor and four other writers are already in the room when I arrive. The three who are awake look like they've only been conscious for a few minutes. Their eyes still carry that groggy post sleep haze.
Add jet lag and the possibility of a hangover and you've got a heady concoction that'll make anyone look like a zombie crashing from a heavy meth bender.
I nearly trip over the forth writer sill lying on the floor wrapped up in his sleeping bag.
This certainly isn't an ideal way to finally meet your editor and co-writers with any intention of making a strong first impression.
There's a lackluster round of introductions with mumbled greetings, weak handshakes, and a general annoyance with my presence so early in the morning.
I already feel uncomfortable and am unsure what the most appropriate route of action is. There's no other room for me to disappear to while everyone composes themselves and I haven't even begun to unpack and have no desire to carry my luggage back down the spiral staircase into the Café Gavroche's kitchen. I'm stuck here with 4 half awake, half naked men who I don't know yet but will be working with throughout the rest of the week.
I decide the best course of action is my usual course of action.
I open one of my suitcases and retrieve an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels. It's important to always come prepared.
I screw the notch off and pass the bottle over to my editor who's still wearing his boxers and a white tank top and is now fishing for a toothbrush out of a backpack on top of his cot.
As I hand him the bottle I tell him, "It's the best cure for jet lag. "
I register the worry in his glance at me as I press on, "it tastes better before you brush your teeth and it works better than Listerine."
He reluctantly accepts the bottle and takes a hearty swig. I follow his lead and do the same.
My editor waits for the fire to quell in his chest before he speaks again.
"And I assumed the whole crazy alcoholic writer thing was just a shtick."
I answer, "Sometimes."
"Should I be worried about the trouble you'll be getting into out here?"
"Isn't that why you brought me here? I am the resident geek show am I not?"
He takes the bottle from me again and rips another hit.
Within a half hour, the entire handle of whiskey has been emptied by all five of us.
I'm a terrible influence.
With everyone now awake and already lit we begin to plan our festival schedules. It's practically a political negotiation as we determine who will be seeing and reviewing what films. It's counterproductive to have redundant coverage.
It's kind of like that scene in Reservoir Dogs where all of the gang members are given their code names by their boss. Our editor has the final word on who's getting to see and write about which hotly anticipated new film. Some are luckier than others.
When it's my turn to receive my writing assignments, I drop an A-bomb and tell my editor that I'm not interested in the film festival.
"Then what the hell did I fly you out here for?"
"It wasn't to stick me in a theater to watch movies."
"I'm here for the film market. You flew me out here to let me off my leash and explore all of the wheeling and dealing behind the festival. "
"So when do I start?"
My editor gives a time and yet another address that's probably going to take me half a day to find.
He tells me he'll meet me there and personally walk me over to the market hall.
Cannes, here I come.