No book could ever fully capture the beautiful, ugly, inexplicable madness of the Cannes Film Festival – but that didn’t stop a handful of people from trying. Be here THR‘s executive editor (awards) and resident movie book bibliophile’s picks for the top five.
1. Two weeks in the midday sun: a notebook from CannesThrough Roger Everett (1987)
This thin travelogue of the Chicago Sun Timeslongtime film critic, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and died in 2013, describes his experience covering the 1987 edition, having been there many times before. It lightheartedly profiles real festival characters like the publicist Renee Furstthe schlock showman Menahem Golan and the gambler Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter – all gone now – and charmingly illustrates how much some things have changed (journalists no longer file reports by telex when they have the time, preferring to post multiple online messages daily) and others have not (jet lag and sleep deprivation, the main hotels and hotspots, striving to get into movies and parties, etc.). Two thumbs up.
2. Hollywood on the Riviera: The Inside Story of the Cannes Film FestivalThrough Cari Beauchamp And Henry Behar (1992)
Written by two experienced journalists with a long history in the festival and based on more than 100 interviews with festival insiders (from the end of New York Times movie reviewer Vincent Canby to Columbia professor/fest translator Annette Insdorf), this juicy tome breaks down every aspect of a party that people attend “to see and be seen, buy and be bought, sell and be sold, judge and be judged, promote and promote become.” It’s about the origins of the party (first held in 1939 but canceled after opening night, when Germany invaded Poland); history of bawdy incidents (from starlets taking their tops off to James Woods and a female journalist in a hotel room); and gossip (writer Henry Miller would have been asked to sit on the jury in 1960, when the invitation was actually intended for a playwright Arthur Miller).
3. Hype and gloryThrough William Goldman (1990)
The legendary screenwriter of films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid And All the president’s men and author of the essential movie book Adventures in screen tradingwho died in 2018, here gives a humorous account of his role as a juror at the Cannes Film Festival and a juror at the Miss America pageant – what he calls “the quintessential European and American pop culture events” – in the same year, 1988 He muses on the participants on the Croisette and in Atlantic City, talks about how they were judged by himself and others and, perhaps most funnily, also discusses what was happening in his own life during that time, from an unfolding divorce to an assortment of health issues. The New York Times called it a “strangely endearing little book”, while the Los Angeles Times wrote that Goldman’s “writing glows and shimmers”.
4. Citizen Cannes: The man behind the Cannes Film FestivalThrough Gilles Jacob (2011)
No one has ever written about Cannes from a more insider’s perspective than Jacob, now 92, who became the festival’s general delegate in 1978 and president in 2001, a capacity he held through 2014. In this memoir, he writes extensively about the festival – how he courted Hollywood to play a more prominent role in the proceedings, created the Un Certain Regard sidebar and the Camera d’Or award for the best debuting filmmaker, treated temperamental talent like the 1991 jury president Roman Polansky and portrayed the current festival director Thierry Fremaux – but also about his lesser-known personal journey. A Jewish child who was rescued by a Catholic seminary during World War II. He was a film critic before getting involved in the party. He followed this memoir with another volume about the party, the 800 pages A dictionary for Cannes loverspublished in 2018.
5. Cannes cinemaThrough Serge Toubiana And Gilles Traverso (2011)
This beautiful coffee table book offers a lavish visual history of the party like no other. It features some 600 photos taken during the party by three generations of Traverso family photographers – most in stunning black and white – with subjects of the usually candid photos ranging from Louis Lumiereone of the pioneers of the film art form, to stars of the Golden Age Bridget Bardot And Sophia Lorento 21st century A-listers like Quentin Tarantino And Uma Thurman. The former Cahiers du Cinema editor-in-chief and Cinematheque Francaise director Toubiana meanwhile provides colorful captions.