CANNES — For 11 days each year, this town is the world’s center of entertainment.
No, we’re not talking about films: Who wants to sit through some two-hour meditation on a Ukranian child and her lost goldfish? And we’re not talking about music (Cannes’ most sophisticated music venue is the karaoke club across from the Lebanese restaurant). And TV? It’s great, if you like German cop shows and “France’s Funniest Home Videos.”
No, the thing that establishes Cannes as a world-class showbiz venue is the fact that, for nearly two weeks in May, this place has more street performers per square foot than anywhere else in the world.
Probably the most remarkable entertainers here this year are a 7-foot-tall man, dressed in shorts and tank top, who dances to beats from a boom box while his tiny partner, who roughly reaches the giant’s kneecaps, performs headstands.
Well, “dances” may be too kind a term. The tall man bends his knees and wags his head in rhythm to the music. Well, “in rhythm” may be too kind a term, but he gives it the ol’ college try. And in truth, his partner’s headstands are not that amazing, since his head is already so close to the ground. Still, it’s not something you see every day.
All along the Croisette — the crescent-shaped walkway that fronts the beach — are such spectacles as flaming-baton twirlers, a troupe of teens performing “le dancing de break,” and troubadours singing songs like “American Pie” that they seem to have learned phonetically.
But, the piece de resistance — and believe me, you will feel resistance — is a form of entertainment that is distinctly French, in which a person dresses up elaborately and stands frozen for hours at a time.
There are people garbed as birds, robots, gold statues, bronze statues and marble statues.
When we say “costumes,” we’re not talking Woolworth’s Halloween stuff. We’re talking getups that Julie Taymor would be proud to call her own. These people evidently spend months creating costumes, hours dressing up, and then go down to the Croisette where they relax after all their hard work by not moving.
On the talent scale, they fall somewhat below banjo-players and people who can guess your weight, but onlookers seem eager to give them money.
Meanwhile, an elderly clown strolls around, pulling a life-size stuffed gorilla on roller skates. He walks up behind people in the midst of conversation, scares them with the gorilla by shouting “Boo!” (or, since this is France, “Bieu!”), and then asks them for donations.
And while Cannes is a clown-o-rama and a mime-a-palooza, there are endless other street spectacles. Thanks to hardworking publicists, each day brings new film-touting events.
On Monday, busty American actress Stacy Burke, almost immobile in fire-proof clothing, was covered in French rubber cement and set on fire to tout Quantum Entertainment’s “Doomsdayer 2.”
Burke then emerged from the clothes to reveal her green string bikini, frolicking in the surf for the benefit of the photographers. That’s one way to fire up the publicity machine.
To publicize the pic “Bunuel and King Solomon’s Table,” a group of 20 men in purple priest vestments marched along while banging drums. However, the REAL Bunuel/surreal moment came when the faux monks stopped suddenly, lit cigarettes and argued about where they want to march next.
Of course there is the inevitable parade of Troma characters (Sgt. Kabuki-Man, Killer Condom) along with events like the re-enactment of scenes from the film “Bug Wars” (“Come see!” exhorts the handwritten note on the press release. “Beautiful women, giant alien insects, water pistols!”)
All of this excitement is easily explained mathematically. The film festival (now in its 53rd year) inspired the market, and both of those drew celebs, which attracted crowds of tourists. With so many people in one setting, street performers recognized this as the Croisette to Eldorado.
Similarly jamming the sidewalks — aside from industryites on cell phones, slack-jawed tourists, and Cannes residents walking their poodles — are endless vendors. They offer everything from “pralines de qualite” to Pokemon posters to home-made jewelry that would add a touch of glamour to any garage sale.
The result of all this is foot-traffic gridlock 24 hours a day as fast-moving people try to navigate a path on the sidewalk, or the Croisette, or the middle of the street that separates them, constantly bumping into each other without apology, because, frankly who’s got time?
If films are the heart of the Cannes Festival, the street life is its pancreas. But judging by the results this year, it’s time for a transplant.