The 67th Cannes film festival starts today, with films by Jean-Luc Godard, Ken Loach and David Cronenberg among the official selection. It's a great line-up, but how does it compare to the movies of 47 years ago, when Cannes was at its glitzy, glamorous, hedonistic height? Alongside Blow Up by Michelangelo Antonioni and You're a Big Boy Now by Francis Ford Coppola, Cannes' organisers had planned to show Chelsea Girls. Directed by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, the experimental film had been shot largely in New York's Chelsea Hotel the previous year.
Warhol had been invited by festival director Louis Marquerelle who’d read rave reviews of the film. However, Marquerelle got a rather bad case of cold feet at the last minute – nervous about the language used in the film and a rumoured 10-minute scene featuring a naked man. He was already spooked by the inclusion of the film version of James Joyce's Ulysses which also featured some choice language. Co-director Paul Morrissey takes up the story:
“We had the print of Chelsea Girls with us when we got to London. We'd taken it to Cannes to show at the film festival, and there were so many reels and it was so expensive that we'd taken it in our luggage. Andy had paid for seven or eight people to go. Some were in the film, some were friends of others. There was a whole bunch of us: Nico and Eric (Emerson), Susan Bottomly and someone else. But they never screened it. They had announced it, it was part of the programme, but they hadn't given it a date. They didn't know how to screen the film. They needed two projectors and two screens, and I had to try and show them how to do it. Then they were afraid there'd be some scandal because of 10 seconds of male nudity, which they'd heard about but never seen. They never screened it. They refused to show it. The first time ever that an invited film was never screened.”
Part of Warhol's concept for the film was that it would be unlike watching a regular movie. This was because the two projectors could never achieve exact synchronization from viewing to viewing. So despite specific instructions of where individual sequences would be played during the running time, each viewing of the film would, in reality, be a unique viewing experience. Warhol and co flew from Cannes to Paris and then on to London where the film became an instant hit largely due to John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s patronage – McCartney stumped up the projectors needed to screen the film at numerous underground screenings during the summer of love.
We’ve put together a gallery of classic images above from the Cannes Film Festival back in the day – all of which are available in our wonderful photo book, Cannes Cinema. It’s in the store now along with Citizen Cannes, a very revealing memoir by Gilles Jacob who was for many years the president of the festival.
For a richer understanding of Warhol, consider our new Phaidon Focus book dediacted to the artist, as well as our catalogue raisonné, volume four of which can be pre-ordered now.