CANNES: THE UNDERSIDE - 8
DAY 8: Did you get my message? What message?
Digital technology has not solved the continuing problem of personal communication in Cannes. Pigeons might. We continue Nick Roddick’s subversive columns from the daily editions of Moving Pictures at the 2002 Cannes film festival & market, an irreverent, insightful, sometimes cynical and always entertaining take on what Cannes is really – really! – like.
It used to be, you wanted to contact someone in Cannes, you called his or her office and you left a message. Then, a couple of days later (if you were lucky) they'd call your office saying they'd got your message and why didn't you meet. You weren't there at the time, and somebody took the message - which put you back to square one. So you phoned their office again and left another message. This passed the time nicely but not much more.
You could also try the same approach with their hotel and your hotel, but the process ended up much the same because no one ever got anyone else's message. Or if they did it read "Monsieur Blckzdf called. Please to call bac." The point is, no one ever got in touch with anyone that way.
"a pleasant enough way to pass the day"
So what you did was sit in the Blue Bar and wait for them to go past, which was a pleasant enough way to pass the day and also explains why so many people still spend all their time walking up and down the Croisette like the zombies in the shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead who "vaguely remember that they used to be happy there". Anyway, they pulled down the Old Palais - which was right next door to the Blue Bar - so not so many people walked past the Blue Bar any more. Then they pulled down the Blue Bar, too, which pretty much put the kibosh on the whole thing.
Now, of course, we're way beyond that. We have our machine talk to their machine. We put our Palm Pilots in orgiastic intercourse. We text each other. And, whaddya know, it still doesn't work. The only thing that has changed is it's almost impossible to avoid the people you want to avoid, which used to be quite easy.
Nowadays, though, you can convict criminals on where they were when they made this or that mobile phone call. And, while this (to me) raises the question of why the mobile phone company is spending its money - correction: my money - on gathering this information, it's clearly bad news for criminals. And it's bad news for those of us trying to pretend we never got the message: there's an implicit threat that they can check it out. In fact, I know people in Cannes perverse enough to do just that. Fortunately, however, they don't care much about speaking to me, so they'll probably never do so.
But has this really improved communication in Cannes? Has it hell. In much the same way that the avalanche of information you can pull down from the net on anything from Turkish films to crotchless underwear has done f**k all to advance the sum of world knowledge, so the electronic overkill - the alpha waves which must be as thick in their air of Cannes as the cigarette ends on the floor of the Petit Majestic at two in the morning - has simply made us more dependent on the machines that create it without actually making it any easier for us to communicate by using them.
"to have sex with your computer"
Here's a few reasons why this is. Let's start with the Palm Pilot scenario. You acquire - or, more likely, blag a free one of these small objects of desire. You eventually (unlike me) get the little bastard to work. You teach it to have sex with your computer (worryingly, in the context, known as the 'mother' machine) and you download your entire social life onto the thing: your address book, your diary, your medical regimes, your favourite recipes, your script outlines, your coke dealer's mobile. And then, one morning, you switch it on and nothing happens. Or (which amounts to the same) you lose the little sucker. Vous voilà back in the dark ages. Or even further than that, because you ceremonially burned your filofax when you went electronic. It's not just all your eggs in one basket: it's the whole chicken-coop, too.
It's also the lamest excuse in the world: "I didn't make the meeting because my Palm Pilot's down." Imagine what this says to the person you're expecting to put $10 million into your movie.
Scenario two is the mobile phone one. There are two versions of this. The first - you rent a French one - is very simple: it doesn't work; and you still get a huge bill next week. Two, you use your own. Well, the bill is still huge. But just think of the efficiency of the communication. There you are, standing outside the Carlton. The person you are talking to is actually just across the road but, of course, you can't see them. What more natural than that your call should be from Cannes to London (where you live) and from London to Johannesburg (which is where the person you’re calling lives) and from Johannesburg to Cannes. As Dick Van Dyke would say, "It's a bloomin' miracle, Mary Poppins," How did we ever live without these things? Plus there's 20,000 new mobile phones trying to make contact on a system designed for 5,000, so the chances are, you'll never reach, er, closure.
"the wave of the future"
Scenario three is e-mail. This is very simple. You boot up your laptop. You plug it into the nearest phone line. You click on your e-mail software. Up on the screen comes 'No dialtone'. End of scenario. To know that 53 meetings, four scripts, and a birthday wish from your significant other is floating around the ether may be some consolation but I doubt it.
Scenario four is pigeons, which I suspect may be the wave of the future.
Published April 17, 2003
First published in Moving Pictures May 23, 2002
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Cannes: The Underside 9
Nick Roddick taught film and theatre at Trinity College, Dublin; the University of Manchester; and California State University, Long Beach, before becoming a journalist in the early eighties. He was Films Editor of Stills Magazine in London from 1983-4 and Editor of Cinema Papers in Australia from 1985-6. From 1987-88, he was Editor of weekly trade paper Screen International and, in 1990, founding Editor of Moving Pictures International. Since 1993, he has been Editor of Preview, a bi-monthly magazine on films in production. He is author of several books on the British and American cinema, and currently runs Split Screen, a Brighton-based publishing and consultancy company specialising in the international film and television business.
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