I broke up with Summer on the train to Cannes. It was going to happen sooner or later, but it happened just as we took the train at the start of a twelve-day vacation to the south of France during one of the most famous film festivals in the world. And we would soon be in the middle of it all (hopefully), working for Troma Studios. I had gotten the green light to be a volunteer for Troma and thus sleep in their condo and we figured Summer could do the same without much trouble. She didn't want to work for Troma all day long, so we would see how strict the rules were and take it from there. I got a sense of a laid-back feeling from the "Troma Team" emails i had received. Troma was my excuse for going to Cannes - a place I had dreamed of for years, ever since I first heard of the magical-sounding film festival there. I had just missed the festival three years earlier when I came through on my ill-fated honeymoon in April of 1998.
The more I thought about it, the more excited I was to be helping out a film company. It seemed like an opportunity to work with people who were already in the industry and hell - maybe they'd like me so much they'd offer me a job or something. Or else I'd pitch them one of my movie ideas like My Pussy Has Fangs (in case you didn't know, Troma makes and distributes very entertaining and very low-budget horror flics). I must admit I had never heard of Troma before I stumbled onto their website in April. I had been searching "napster must die" on Yahoo and one of the results was an essay Lloyd Kaufman, the president of Troma, had co-authored: "Rock Nazis Must Die: I Wanna MP3 All Night and Napster Every Day." I enjoyed the essay and started browsing through the Troma film catalogue. Though The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'Em High sounded familiar, until now I had no idea these movies had anything in common. The site also featured something called Tromettes, scantily-clad lesbians frolicking in the bathtub and whatnot, and when I wandered around the site looking for more, what I found was a call for volunteers for Cannes and a spark of hope for a new adventure in my future.
Troma accepted me as a volunteer and I borrowed the time off from work to go. I just had to buy a train ticket and I was as good as there. Summer and I were together then, so I asked her if she could go too. Her schedule is tightly packed with tourist visits, etc., (she's a tour guide among other things) so I wasn't sure if she could fit it in. She literally jumped at the chance, however, and before I knew it we were on the train traveling down the map towards Something Unknown lurking just beneath the shiny veneer of Hollywood on the Riviera.
We broke up on the train and then arrived in Cannes a little dazed and confused but ready for anything. We found the Troma office in the Carleton hotel and promptly waited around for far too many hours while absolutely nothing happened except for the Troma Team digging through box after box of fake anatomy movie props in search of something called "screeners" that hadn't arrived yet. Then it was off to the condo, which seemed rather small for the dozen or so volunteers that had shown up. We were subsequently informed that at least ten more people would be arriving in the next couple of days.
That's when I met Vince and Jamie and Dan and Chris and Reuben and James Taylor and Sonia and Big Tasty. At first it was easier to remember where everyone was from - Canada, South Dakota, England, Anapolis, Germany - than their actual names. And there was Noel and Thomas, the quietish french brothers who seemed a bit out of place with this rambunctious, beer-guzzling bunch. The first night Summer and I went for a walk down to the end of the croisette where we talked and I ate a cheese sandwich. Somehow when we returned to the condo, we were able to snag the sleeper sofa in the living room (we hadn't stayed out late enough to miss the opportunity) and slept on separate sides for the first time in the year that we had been together. Our relationship was falling apart in plain sight in a fold-out bed in a room full of people in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival.
We did not talk again after that, not really. I started working for Troma with everyone else, participating in the Troma parades that went up and down the Croisette. The parades were basically traveling publicity stunts that consisted of a lot of shouting and sign-waving and a few unfortunates dressed from head to toe as characters from the Troma films: the Toxic Avenger, Mad Cowboy, Killer Condom, Sgt. Kabukiman, among others. Summer went off to see what official festival activities she could get into, and I put on a smelly, wet Dolphin Man costume that Jamie had nearly experienced heat stroke in earlier that day. The left plastic eye of the costume fell out almost immediately, as did the toothpick strategically holding open Dolphin Man's mouth. Unless the mouth was open, I couldn't see or breathe, so I wandered around the Croisette perspiring and holding my mouth open with a flipper. Water was supposed to come out of the top of my head, but when we tried it, the tube wasn't duct-taped in well enough, so most of the water went into the head of the costume instead of spraying out at the passers-by it was intended for.
It is hard to be a superhero costumed character. Luckily Dolphin Man doesn't talk, but I had trouble even just improvising dolphin noises. The interior of the costume was actually rather cool, however, with all the sweat that had been absorbed, so as long as I didn't move around too much the heat didn't really get to me. Unfortunately the costume's suspenders broke in mid-parade and as the rest of the Troma Team moved full steam ahead, my pants started to fall off (for some reason, Dolphin Man wears a bright yellow fisherman's raincoat and slicker pants). All I could do was flap my opposable thumb-less flippers helplessly in the hopes that a fellow Tromite would come to my rescue. Meanwhile, Chris was doing somersaults in his Mad Cowboy costume, running around and sniffing women's crotches in a playful I'm-only-a-loveable-cartoon-character kind of way.
Pretty soon Reuben (a.k.a. Big Gay Ben from the group Dingleberry Dynasty) got arrested for not having enough clothes on (this was after we had seen two men streaking down the Croisette earlier in a publicity stunt that drew a large crowd, but no handcuffs). Reuben made the mistake of stripping down to his trademark g-string with the guy from MTV France whilst the police watched disapprovingly. That was enough for him to be arrested and given a free ride to the police station Starsky and Hutch-style at niniety miles an hour the wrong way through traffic. Summer was with him to help out and translate, and when they got to the station the arresting officer was chewed out by the chief for wasting everyone's time.
On Thursday Darren (the avid Cheers fan who worked in a London poster shop) showed up, drinking beers out of a bottle through a straw (you get drunk faster that way, he assured us). The trick seemed to work and later, when he'd gotten enough alcohol in him, Darren was to transform into the resurrected, french-talking ghost of Tupac Shakur. That was around the time Doug (the Troma ringleader for the whole Cannes operation) tried to take a group picture of everyone while Big Tasty was falling out of his jock strap, and we all ended up breaking the fold-out bed.
Summer scored a white pass and subsequently got to see some movies in competition, including the Palm d'Or-winning film, Nanni Morretti's The Son's Room. In dramatic contrast, I got to see Dario Argento's not-in-competition killer-dwarf-is-the-lead-suspect suspense movie Sleepless (in which I dozed off for a few minutes). I also attended the free outdoor showing of Apocalypse Now Redux during which, exhausted, i took a good long nap. All in all, I never did see a movie from beginning to end the entire time I was in Cannes. I was either too tired or the screenings were too restricted, and I was not in the mood to go around begging big shots for passes and/or tickets. For me it was a case of movies, movies everywhere and not a drop to drink. As for star sightings, my pickings were equally limited: I saw Roger Ebert (who Summer would later get a picture with at a private party), one of the actresses from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and that funny-looking guy from Amelie Poulain and Delicatessen. That's it. The people around me were talking about meeting Billy Bob Thornton, Andie McDowell, Quentin Tarentino, and various other name-brand celebrities. Meanwhile, the closest I could get to a star seemed to be smirky Steve Kmetko.
Maybe I'm bitter because - far from bonding with the Troma staff - I didn't even get a lousy Troma t-shirt (I was Dolphin Man when Doug handed out the last of the shirts, and so I didn't have any hands, or any place to put a shirt). Maybe I'm bitter because I felt separated from the group by my age, my relatively conservative drinking habits, my desire to be alone. After months of cold and clouds and rain in Paris, the sunlight of Cannes seemed a welcome blessing, but the very first day that I decided to sit on the beach I acquired a massive sunburn that forced me to sulk in the shade for the rest of the festival. To add insult to injury, I was psychologically abused by the over-zealous Carlton security guards on a regular basis, to the point that I dreaded going to the Troma office for fear that the security there would expand their growing list of intimidation tactics to include anal cavity searches. Maybe they were upset that members of the Troma team had been vomiting fake blood on their carpet and stealing the giant stand-up Baby Geniuses 2 displays from the lobby.
Each day I would wake up in a sea of inebriated forms and week-old debris and feel a strong desire to escape this, the truly most bizarre extended experience of my life. I got up before everyone else and would walk to the opposite end of the Croisette in subconcious defiance of my situation. Stopping in the Noga Hilton became a daily ritual as I would sit in the lobby there and read the daily festival magazines. The movies this year were a disappointment, they all said; Coppola's "new and improved" (watered down) three-hour-plus version of a movie made over twenty years ago was better than all the films in competition combined.
One night, after the group I was with got sprayed with mace by street punks, I found myself walking through the streets of Cannes with Jamie, the over-the-top South Dakota redneck who was trying to start fights with the locals. He was complaining at the top of his lungs that french people should know more English, and that he would slug the next person he met that didn't know any English. "You live on this planet fifty, sixty years, and you should know some fucking English, at least enough English to tell me in English that you don't know any English! Is that too much to ask?" I honestly feared for my life and did the best I could to steer Jamie away from the darker streets where we were bound to be killed by french nationalists. I did not at all feel like risking my life simply because my inebriated friend couldn't find a late-night hamburger joint.
The high point of the entire trip turned out to be a brief moment during the Troma Beach Party when the DJ played "Got Your Money" and I was surrounded, dancing, by people I didn't know, people who didn't speak English and didn't need to. I danced to the fact that this nightmarish festival wasn't going to last forever, and in a few days I would be home again. I danced to the fact that the night was warm, and I was alive and free. The music was good and I felt young, almost young enough to be happy again. And then Doug sprayed fake blood on the crowd.
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