Aisling O'Connor: Even glitzy Cannes is feeling the pinch as miserable recession reins in Hollywood's big spenders
ALL that glistens is gold – or blue as is the case of the 'Azurienne' waters of the French Riviera. The Cannes Film Festival is still the premier event of its kind in terms of prestige, but in the cold light of global culture and economy in flux, is the old girl losing her sparkle?
The cultural festival is placed nicely in mid-May, just as awards season fatigue has truly worn off. But this much-hyped and exclusive week of premieres, parties and paparazzi is not what it was.
The Riviera of legend is Scott and Zelda, Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, Brigitte Bardot and Club 55. A string of winter resorts that became popular with dollar-strong ex-pat Americans after World War One went on to become synonymous with fame, fortune and fashion. These days, however, the average John-Joe and Laura-Lynn can jet into the blue coast with low-cost airline, Ryanair.
This widespread accessibility has made the south of France coast a hit holiday destination, but in turn the exclusivity has dwindled. Do we still look at the Cannes Film Festival with the same awe, now we can all high-tail it there for a song?
Though the Venice Film Festival is older, it doesn't compare in glamour to its French sister. But the Italian festival and those in Toronto, Berlin and Sundance are rising in profile year-on-year. In addition to the flurry of festivals, there is the fashion and celebrity bombardment during awards season, and red-carpet events that are now as regular as the six o'clock news.
Cannes premieres are swiftly becoming just another series of red carpets.
The downturn in economies globally has also had a knock-on effect on the star-stock at Cannes. Only a decade ago one would find Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston (with then husband Brad Pitt) at the same roaring party as Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, and Mick Jagger. According to the Riviera-resident celebrity editor of Bohomoth.com, Jenny Paul, Hollywood budgets are now tight.
"There was a great party, with wall-to-wall A-listers with their guard down. Will Smith was doing a human beat box, Uma Thurman was sitting on Mick Jagger's lap, George Clooney and Matt Damon were drinking vodka on the rocks at the bar, and loudly planning a late-night poker game as fireworks went off into the night sky across the sea.
"Now the parties are largely a limp shadow of their former selves because the financial climate has changed so much."
The game would appear to have changed now that the excesses of the last decade have taken their toll. Cannes is no longer a working holiday for A-listers – it's just work.
Paul says of the quick turnaround: "Many of the A-list will fly in, do the premiere and fly out and it's rumoured that the principle celebrities this year are staying a night or two rather than three or four." However the festival guaranteed itself a constant top-flight presence by booking Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman as the lady-face of the Cannes jury, alongside Steven Spielberg.
This year Cannes organisers locked down Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby' to open the festival. Normally the opening movie is an exclusive world premiere and included in the competition. Although this movie fits neither category, its high profile and glamorous cast was a good fit to combat the declining lustre of the iconic festival.
Wednesday's opening ceremony pulled out all the stops to reignite the public's interest in Cannes – 'Gatsby' cast members Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, and a rent-a-crowd in the form of Solange Knowles, Cindy Crawford and Julianne Moore. But the presence of David Hasselhoff, and under-the-radar Bond Girl Naomie Harris would suggest a making up of the numbers.
The lavish '20s-themed shindig following the gala with Leo and Nicole roped off in a VVIP section kept the celebs and hangers-on swinging until a relatively tame 4am. The air of irresponsibility, commonly associated with the 1920s, and indeed the Riviera, seemed to be missing from proceedings.
So is Cannes losing its lustre in tough times or is it immune to ravaging recession and celebrity over-exposure? The festival is still in the early days of a run just shy of a fortnight, so it has yet to be determined if 'The Great Gatsby' managed to save this grande dame of events from the great recession.