Credit crunch dampens fests usual hoopla

The global credit crunch has taken its toll in many areas, but Cannes-goers this year have discovered that one of the victims of cutbacks is old-fashioned vulgar hoopla.

Though the key players are here (albeit for generally shorter stints), the Croisette is less crowded than it had been in recent years. A lot of the fringe players that were throwing around money have disappeared. They join a long line of names from the distant past that were once fest regulars but have become misty memories: Avco, Carolco, Golan-Globus, Cannon, Hemdale, Alliance Atlantis, Artisan, New World, Largo and Condor.

Even companies that are still around, like New Line, have scaled back on their productions — and their tubthumping. So too have big-name sponsors like jewelry brand Chopard, which reduced a once-hefty presence at the Carlton to just a few signs in the lobby this year.

“About one-third of the companies that bought billboards last year won’t buy any this year,” says Peter Flower, managing director of Fair Set Organization, which builds and installs the billboards at the four major hotels — the Majestic, Martinez, Carlton and Palais Stephanie. “Some companies will just go from bigtime billboards to nothing.”

As people tighten their purse-strings, Cannes has become marked by private parties, cordial meetings and even a few big events. But a glut of nightly over-the-top bashes from the nouveau would-be riche? Mais non!

Another sign of the changing economy: As usual, the bay is always filled with yachts, but gone are the days when that fleet included a floating brothel. (And where is Bernie Madoff‘s yacht, which once was docked near the Hotel du Cap?)

Bayside stunts are gone. Arguably the most memorable sight in the Mediterranean was the giant-sized, inflatable Arnold Schwarzenegger to publicize “Last Action Hero.” The Arnie-blimp floated for a short time before springing a leak, and then ignominiously began to sag before being hauled to shore.

In more recent years, Jerry Seinfeld was suspended in a bee costume near the shore to publicize “Bee Movie,” and Jack Black rode a giant fake shark, then dove into the water, for “Shark Tale.”

And the party scene has changed. The annual MTV party was always a hot ticket, but those days are over.

In 2001, New Line set the bar for lavish Cannes fetes with its multimillion-dollar party for “The Lord of the Rings.” The company wanted to show the trilogy’s overseas investors 20 minutes of footage, more than six months in advance of the first pic’s debut. So after the in-town screening, hundreds of guests were bussed to a chateau in the Riviera hills, where they feasted on a huge banquet and endless drinks amid a splashy re-creation of Middle Earth.

But the real vulgar hoopla came from the indies. As a publicity stunt, one film company brought an asbestos-suited person to the beach then set the stuntman ablaze. After the flames were extinguished, the person emerging from the asbestos suit was a busty blonde in a bikini, who then dropped her top for the grateful photographers.

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is hoopla.

Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report.

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