Nationwide student protests and strikes helped shut down the 1968 Cannes Film Festival after directors withdrew their films in solidarity.
The last time the Cannes Film Festival got called off, it wasn't a virus that did it. It was a revolution.
Fears over the spread of the coronavirus, and the respiratory illness it causes, COVID-19, led organizers on Thursday to postpone this year's Cannes International Film Festival, the first time in its 73-year-history that the world's most prestigious film fest will not take place as planned. Organizers, who had originally scheduled the 2020 festival for May 12-23 are now hoping to hold the event in late June.
But this is not the first time Cannes got canned. 52 years ago, in 1968, the festival was called off half-way through.
The 1968 festival opened as planned on May 10 with a restored version of Gone With the Wind. American actress and by then Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly, hosted the opening ceremony.
But outside of the Cannes glamor bubble, Paris, and most of France, was burning. Student protests and nationwide labor strikes saw some 3 million French workers take to the streets, effectively shutting down the country. On May 13, the French Critics Association issued a statement calling on the festival to be suspended and for those in Cannes to support the students in their “protest against the violent police repression which is an assault on the nation's cultural liberty, the secular traditions of its universities and its democratic principles.”
Initially, Cannes refused. But the new generation of French directors, the founders of the Nouvelle Vague movement that was transforming international film, took a stand. Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Lelouch and Louis Malle, the latter a member of the 1968 Cannes competition jury, demanded that the festival stop. At a press conference in Cannes May 18, Truffaut took to the stage in the Salle Jean Cocteau, flanked by Godard, Lelouch, Malle and Milos Forman, to demand Cannes shut down. Forman withdrew his film, The Fireman's Ball, from competition.
Roman Polanski, then 34 and also on the competition jury that year, was more skeptical. Leaning over to Godard during the press conference, he muttered: "Everything you say reminds me hugely of the time I was in Poland under Stalinism." Later, Polanski would note that he felt “people like Truffaut, Lelouch and Godard are like little kids playing at being revolutionaries" but never lived in "a country where these things happened seriously.”
It would take another day and a half and a few farcical scenes — including, during the screening of Spanish competition film Peppermint Frappe, where the actress Geraldine Chaplin and director Carlos Saura jumped on stage and tried to hold the curtains shut to prevent the audience from watching — before Cannes finally pulled the plug....
Merce Cunningham wasn’t concerned with labels or conventions, the kind of guy who would shrug off not just claims that he was one of best choreographers of all time, but even the claims that he was a choreographer “I’m a dancer,” he’d tell people. The modern dance pioneer helped not only bring the art form to American eyes, but also managed to shape it in his own image. Over the course of a career that spanned seven decades, he crafted his own style, built a successful dance company, and worked with other artists from every corner of the creative world Brian Eno and Radiohead, Andy Warhol and Frank Stella, and those are just the biggest of big names. In short, he’s the perfect candidate for a deep dive documentary about both the personality and his process.
Alla Kovgan’s “Cunningham,” though appropriately stunning to the eyes and often in tune with Cunningham’s unique wavelength, is not that documentary. While Kovgan, a Russian filmmaker who has made her own contributions to the world of dance through film and performances, has a clear affection and respect for Cunningham, her solo feature debut is unable to do much more than hold him at arm’s length. Not that Kovgan is totally constrained by her own interest in Cunningham and his work — her treatment of Cunningham’s dances, brought to life in fresh performances, is a highlight of the film no matter your awareness-level of his work — but the overall truncated nature of “Cunningham” keeps it from being essential.
Perhaps that’s due to Kovgan’s desire to totally step away from documentary conventions in order to tell a story that is anything but conventional. “Cunningham” is divided between two distinct modes of storytelling: archival footage laying out Cunningham’s history and trajectory, spliced into revelatory segments that feature his dances in unexpected settings with new dancers. That divide sometimes works, as archival audio and footage of Cunningham and his closest collaborators is helpful in explaining his aesthetic and aims — not always a given in films like this — before turning to dance segments that bring it to vivid life. The film was first presented in 3D, and while the new 2D presentation loses a bit of its verve, Cunningham’s genius was so great that it still bursts through the screen.
It’s when Kovgan leans too hard on her archival reserves that “Cunningham” loses its tenuous footing. While Kogan has assembled a wealth of footage, it is often needlessly gussied up into the cinematic equivalent of a scrapbook, photos and film and drawings layered over shot after shot in an unsophisticated mishmash. It’s the kind of fussy thing that Cunningham himself would have balked at, a cheap way to interpret a life that never fit...