It is a well-known fact that we live in a strange world, and few aspects of it are perhaps quite so strange as what happens to otherwise sane and rational people when they are placed within sniffing distance of global celebrity. And anthropologically-minded sort that I am, where better to observe this curious phenomenon first-hand than at the Cannes premiere of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie?
The voice roars over the general chatter of the crowd, coming through as loud and clear as a hippo breaking wind in a library, even through the surrounding chaotic melee. In an accent unmistakable as hailing from the isles of Albion, the launched comment is one of such acute observation and highly reasoned tenor as to make me pleased – nay, proud! – to share national stock with its issuer.
“Get a fucking move on!”
Get a fucking move on.
Get your skates on, mate. Time's a wasting, and I've got places to go, people to see, frogs to stamp on, babies to slap.
Except you haven't, have you? You, my foul-mouthed friend, are stood in a heaving throng outside the Palais des Festivals on the Boulevard de Croisette in Cannes. While a movie premiere is taking place. As surely as piss periodically streams forth from your tiny dipstick, you must be aware of the drill: Famous people walk up the red carpet. The hoi polloi, i.e. you, me and all the thousands of others who are here and pitched in constant, incessant battle for an extra quarter-inch of vantage viewing point, just stand still, trapped while appalling music blares over the PA system (Razorlight's America? Why, Cannes, with this tepid FM rock-pop you are really spoiling us), waiting for the whole stardust-sprinkled facade to burn itself out.
You might as well yell at your toaster to get a fucking move on. Or a wicker laundry basket. These things take as long as they take, and if you want to see the really big names (and by 'see', I mean 'potentially gain a second-long glimpse of their waving hand'), then waiting is as much part of the game as bad refereeing is in the Premier League.
The Palais red carpet, earlier in the week, being readied for premiering action
Fortunately this kerfuffle waaaaaaay back in the cheap seats has failed to filter through to the front-line, and Jane Fonda (for it was she who was roaming the crimson rug when my countryman made his blunter-than-blunt interjection) is still smiling. Well, I think she's smiling. A lot of grinning faces have already passed up the steps of the Grand Théâtre Lumière, but I'm not sure all of them began their existence on the skulls to which they are now affixed. Why Barbarella is here at all is not entirely apparent, although the new Pirates movie is all about the quest to locate the Fountain of Youth so perhaps she's after a route-map.
Why I am here – standing at the rear of a veritable scrum of folks who're sat on crash barriers, leaning on step ladders, and dangling from trees, all in the desperate hope of seeing some A-list skin – is almost as much of a mystery as what Hanoi Jane is doing inciting equivalent hostility in British tourists to that which she used to cook up under the hoods of right-leaning Americans.
After all, I'm not even close enough to really see any red carpet action at first-hand. Instead, I'm forced to watch it via the bumper-size video screens fastened to the side of the Palais, meaning I might as well be at home watching the whole farrago unfold on TV. Except if I was at home (or what passes for home during this sojourn to Cannes) I wouldn't be on the receiving end of a pointy elbow every five seconds from the diminutive but terrifyingly aggressive German lady stood behind me. You sharpen those bones specially for tonight, sister?
Plus, if I was actually at home I would be doing something altogether... better with my time.
What then, in the good name of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, am I doing at this Cannes premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides? (and when I say 'at', I mean it in the same sense that all those week-long camp-out nutjobs were 'at' the nuptials of Wills 'n' Kate.) Well, I'm blaming a mutually-destructive pact struck between myself and my girlfriend, who was in town for the weekend.
Under any normal circumstance, it would require the sea turning blood red and it raining rabbits and raccoons for either one of me or she to go stand in the crowd at some fancy-pants, red-rugged movie premiere. Y'see, if just one of us prostrated ourselves before the altar of celebrity in such reverential fashion, the scorn from the other would be intolerable. Ridicule would beckon, with whosoever fell prey to the allure of that scenario being as likely to live it down as yokel would be his one moment of indiscreet weakness in the presence of a particularly comely sheep:
“You did what?! What, do you love [insert name of celebrity]? Do you really, really love them? Do you want to have their babies?”
And so forth, until the sun goes boom and there's a re-run of that Big Bang thing that people are forever blathering on about.
Yet in Cannes, we somehow conspired to egg each other into wandering down to check out the Pirates shebang, all the while safely protected behind the shield of irony, of course. We knew that it was with a wryly detached air that we were observing that massed horde who had flocked to the Palais in the manner of fearful peasants making pilgrimage to a site of great religious symbolism. Having said that, how many of the folks that we would peg as c'leb-hunting crazies would reckon the same thing about themselves?
The Pirates premiere throng
Maybe crazies is a bit too strong a term. Although the behaviour of the mob is unusual to say the least. Only a tiny percentage of the multitude can see what's actually going on down the front, meaning that excitement spreads through the human chain with the same unchecked rapidity as a gossipy rumour does on Twitter. An errant sneeze from one of those stationed closest to the front can easily lead to an excited cheer rippling through the crowd, people suddenly standing a little higher on their haunches, cameras at the ready. Sometimes these tremors of excitement fizzle out to nothing. Sometimes it means an actual celebrity has arrived. This year's Cannes jury president Robert De Niro, for example...
Or one of his jurors, such as Jude Law...
I hope Bob is using his superior rank to pick on Law with suitable pettiness. Making him go get all the coffees perhaps. Or possibly using him as a human rack on which to hang his special jury president hand towel. “Is this strictly necessary?” pleads Law, as Bob flicks his sopping rag at him for the eighth time that morning. “Was Alfie strictly necessary?” replies Bob with a smirk.
Incidentally, the hierarchical systems of the Cannes Film Festival, those arcane mechanisms which dictate who gets into what screenings when, are so firmly entrenched that even the people who have tickets to the premiere, the dudes in tuxes, the gals in shiny frocks and teetering heels, find themselves inconvenienced by the movements of the stars. As Bob and his jurors roam the red carpet, posing for the photographers who're massed and ready like the archers at Agincourt, everyone else is held back by a combination of security men and panicky PRs.
But fine as RDN and his cronies are, as venerable an institution as the incongruous Jane Fonda is, the main attraction for press and punters alike is one particular star of On Stranger Tides. And sure enough, after the supporting players have all arrived – Lovejoy, the brilliantly/absurdly-named Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Geoffrey Rush, and the rest – it is time for the hour of Depp.
Sure enough, screams louder than a backfiring Millennium Falcon cut through the evening air, and you know He has arrived (and I don't mean Captain Chaos). Johnny Depp emerges from his carriage and immediately makes his way over to the waiting fans, demonstrating that he values his paying public over the paparazzi free-for-all. Aw.
Except no sooner has he reached the crowd then he could easily be forgiven for turning back, as the first fan he approaches literally screams in his face while he etches her out an autograph. It is no doubt a relief when contact with the masses is over, and he can join Penélope Cruz and the others for round after round after round of photocalls. Meanwhile, somewhere at the back of the crowd, me and my girlfriend are craning our necks every bit as much as anyone else, having been shamelessly suckered into the celebrity circus.