17 August, 2007
Never mind JFK, do you remember where you were when Peter Sellers died?
I was sharing a poolside table at the rooftop restaurant Le Méditerranée at the Sofitel le Méditerranée during the 1980 film festival in Cannes with theatrical agent extraordinaire, Theo Cowan.
Theo was well-known for his “Cannes outfit” of army surplus safari jackets over the kind of baggy khaki shorts known to British troops of long-past wars as Bombay Bloomers. His heavily horn-rimmed spectacles were invariably adorned with clip-on, flip-up green shades.
Theo also represented Peter Sellers.
We were well into a salade niçois and about to signal for a second bottle of excellent Domaines Ott Château De Selle Cotes de Provence Rose for the main course. The olive oil drooled over the salad leaves and the pool sparkled watery diamonds around the perfect semi-clad bodies disporting themselves on a perfect Mediterranean day.
A quiet, private lunch with the inimitable Theo was a luxury in the madness of the Cannes Film Festival.
Theo was not expecting to be called to the phone. He apologized and followed the waiter. I sat back, sipped and took in the view.
Yachts jostled cheek-by-jowl at their moorings, stern-in to the pier as is the practice in this part of the world. Beyond the yacht harbour, across the Bay of Cannes, past Palm Beach and its casino can been seen the Île Sainte Marguerite, where, according to Alexandre Dumas, the man in the iron mask was imprisoned for eleven years. The intense luminous blue of the sea leaves no doubt why this is called the Côte d’Azur.
Theo’s voice broke my reverie. “Peter has died. I am so sorry but I have to get back to London right away.”
17 August, 2007
Doubtless the accommodations for the man in the iron mask on the Île Sainte Marguerite were not in the style of the Hôtel du Cap so near and yet so far just a few kilometres across the azure water to Cap Ferrat.
However his dungeon was free of charge.
Eleven years in just a standard room at the Hôtel du Cap would have set him back €3,412,750 (A$5,808,748, US$4,567,965), not including food, beverages, laundry or tips.
And believe me, food, beverages, laundry and tips can well bring that close to double.
If he had chosen a suite or villa his bill would have cleared the national debt of many former French colonies.
It is worth noting that only fairly recently did this and many other luxury hotels in Cannes accept credit cards, previously requiring cash in settlement. They also imposed minimum stays (ten days during the film festival), charged a full booking for early departure, and demanded 50% of the reservation in advance — non-refundable. Naturellement!
17 August, 2006
As a kid there were more Saturday matinées than even the combined efforts of Peter Sellers, Danny Kaye and John Wayne could fill. That didn’t stop me from hoarding or begging the price of a train ticket, a packet of Jaffas* and a ticket to the movies for the Saturday matinée.
Sometimes what followed the cartoons and Johnny Weissmuller cliff-hangers was not the stuff of comedy fantasy or cowboy heroes. Sometimes it was a movie of an entirely different genre. These were movies made in shadows; not soft shadows as between seasons, but shadows of fate and doom or the black glint of a death-threatening revolver. They were full of men and women, good and bad, doomed by their needs, flaws and frailties – or those of others.
Of course I had never heard of such a word as “genre” then but, in my youthful innocence, I classified these as “dark films”. As much as these movies frightened me they gripped me too. I had yet to encounter Shakespeare or Sophocles and so film noir became my introduction to theatrical tragedy.
I mention this because I recently watched again after perhaps 20 years one of the icons of my “dark films”.
Rififi (Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes) is a séminal work; a seed, and sometimes an outright template, for following films noir and for heist and caper movies to the present day – be they films couleur regardless. Overblown latecomers such as Mission: Impossible and its type have never approached the breath-suspending sour-sweat tension and ultimate sadness of this original.
I was still young when I was promoting Stanley Kubrick’s release of Sparticus, not so long after Jules Dassin was forced out of America by the hysterical McCarthy House Un-American Activity Committee. Kubrick reportedly insisted similarly-accused Dalton Trumbo write and be recognised for the screenplay for Sparticus.
If you ever wanted to experience the rank fog of Gaulois butts and stale calvados, there is plenty here, as is a certain absolution and an exposition of a code de honoré – for some at least.
* A marble-shaped confection with a chocolate centre and an orange-flavoured candy coating beloved of Australian moviegoers.