Hello, Darling, mwah-mwah! Ciao bella, mwah-mwah! Welcome to the air-kissing Olympics.
Everywhere you look at the Venice Film Festival somebody is being greeted, farewelled,
stroked, smooched and shmoozed with a Double Bay Headbut (itís the opposite of a
Liverpool kiss but with as much genuine affection).
"The streets are thick with Armani, Versace and
The streets are thick with Armani, Versace and Valentino as immaculately dressed hunks
and elegant divas paw and peck each other Ö and thatís just the Italian journos.
In fact, the current trend for stars to dress down means the scruff next to you in the
queue for the gents is more likely to be a star than the guy in the thousand buck suit and
designer shades Ė heís the doorman.
Yes, the film world has made its annual migration to Venice or, to be more precise,
Lido, a salami-thin streak of an island 20 minutes by boat from St Marco Square and the
Rialto Bridge. Most of the place looks a bit like an Aussie seaside suburb like Sorrento
or Coogee, maybe, before the bulldozers moved in. But on the glitsy strip between the
Salon Des Bains and Excelsior hotels, itís pure Hollywood.
While mobs of star-struck fans look on, palefaced reviewers emerge blinking into
brilliant sunshine after their umpteenth screening Ė the movies start at 8 am and
finish about 2 am the next day Ė and rush off to another press conference, another
"round table", another piadini and aqua minerale, con gas, per favore.
The round tables are interesting. Laughingly called interviews, you can find yourself
with as many as a dozen other journos from different countries, sitting round a besieged
star who may be enthused about their new movie or may only be fulfilling their contractual
obligations. In maybe only twenty minutes you have to squeeze your questions in between a
local pop mag writer who canít tell the difference between celluloid and cellulite
and a black-clad post-modernist with an intense goatee asking Cameron Diaz about the
subliminal opera motif in My Best Friendís Wedding.
"fortune favours the brave"
This is one area where fortune favours the brave, or at least the brash, and aggressive
loudmouths (like yours truly) can verbally elbow their way in and get their question
answered before the others realise the session has started. But this does occasionally
have its down side.
Mike Leigh, the grumpily egalitarian director of Secrets And Lies and one of this
yearís surprise hits, Topsy Turvy, told me to shut up and let somebody else ask a
question. At the other extreme, John Malkovich fixed me with his intense, brain-numbing
stare and for a terrifying five minutes Ė OK, it may only have been five seconds
Ė it was just him and me, chatting, with an audience of six reporters relieved that
he hadnít picked on them.
The worst session so far was with JMís Being John Malkovich co-star Cameron Diaz
and director Spike Jonze. First of all, they got back late from lunch, then they
reorganised us into bigger groups with less time so the stars wouldnít have to stay
late (poor things) then they spent the whole afternoon having a whale of a time at their
"How tough can life be?"
I was in the first group where we managed, just, to stop it descending into farce.
Jonze was filming everybody and he and Diaz were answering each otherís questions
"hilariously". But thatís what happens when you have the hottest movie with
the biggest stars in town; you can do what you want. In my group we did the unforgivable
and talked over the top of them to force them to answer the questions. Apparently, by the
time the fourth group sat down with them, the whole thing had unravelled completely and
the exercise was pointless. And they wonder why journalists are always trying to put them
down. Next time, Spike and Cam, you get a smack.
I know, I know Ö interviewing Cameron Diaz in Venice? How tough can life be? But
itís not as if she asked me out on a date. And while I was interview number one for
her, she was interview number 127 that MORNING for me.
All right, I exaggerate. But itís not all sucking up to spunky celebs. Malkovich
was hard work, Dervla (Ballykissangel) Kirwan was charming but reserved, Mike Leigh was
rude but brilliantly insightful, actors Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner (Gilbert and
Sullivan in Topsy Turvy) were entertaining, Aussie director Stephan Elliott was
frighteningly indiscreet, Boys Donít Cry director Kimberley Peirce was surprisingly
charming when I didnít know who she was or what her excellent movie was about and the
bitch in Fox publicity who doesnít like Australians is in for a surprise when I pass
the message on to her boss.
"a fascinating first week"
But itís been a fascinating first week. Tom and Nicole came and went, leaving Eyes
Wide Shut and a lasting impression that Nicoleís stature is growing both as a person
and an actor. Woody Allen didnít come (he never does) but his new pic Sweet And
Lowdown did and received a huge ovation. Actually, Woodyís name on the opening
credits was enough to get the crowd cheering and clapping; they love him in Europe. And
Sweet And Lowdown is a gem of a movie so it was well deserved.
In between Tom and Nicís departure and Woodyís non-arrival, Topsy Turvy, Mike
Leighís surprising backstage look at Gilbert and Sullivan won raves, as did Boys
Donít Cry, the true story of a troubled teenage girl who decides sheís a boy
(NOT a lesbian) and suffers horribly as a consequence. Being John Malkovich Ė the
bizarre tale of a puppeteer who finds a portal into the actorís brain and takes over
his life Ė was the best movie to be shown. Sadly, Holy Smoke, Jane Campionís
story of religious cults and a self-righteous rescue mission, staring Kate Winslet and
Harvey Keitel, was one of the most disappointing.
Stephan Elliottís polished, sexy thriller, Eye Of The Beholder will do nothing to
ease the pressures on him to take the money and "go Hollywood". Aussie actress
Gosia Dobrowolskaís decision to take the script and "go Poland" has paid
off with a compelling performance in actor-director Jerzy Stuhlís A Week In A Life Of
There were a lot of "soft" films around. Mike Winterbottomís Irish
comedy romance With Or Without You, starring Dervla Kirwan and Christopher Eccleston, was
a pleasant slice of whimsy while Meryl Streepís violin teacher in the ghetto biopic
Music Of The Heart was as earnest, uplifting and, ultimately, cloying and sugary as its
title suggested it might be. Lasse Haalstromís film of John Irvingís The Cider
House Rules, starring Michael Caine, was visually sumptuous but emotionally disconnected
and failed to match the strength of the novel.
"Thereís a buzz of anticipation"
With stars, publicists and increasingly frazzled looking journalists still milling
around the terrace at the Excelsior (coffee nine, count them, nine dollars, grazie)
the rest of the week is a race to see the films youíve written off but which others
rate. Thereís a buzz of anticipation with Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas
(down, ladies) bringing his directorial debut Crazy In Alabama to town, as well as the
arrival of Brad Pitt (pic) in The Fight Club and Kiwi director Alison MacLeanís competition
entry Jesusí Son.
Otherwise, itís been so far, so good. To date Iíve only once found myself in
the wrong cinema looking at the wrong film with zero minutes to get to where I should have
been when the titles started to roll.
Must dash; Iíve got another press conference in a minute, then a screening. Ciao,
darlings, mwah-mwah! Waiter, get me a gondola!