Celebs and stars gather on French Riviera

Cannes-do spirit: the great and the good of the film world descend on the red carpet.

The Cannes Festival just opened with Woody Allen’s new film. Yet, as ever, the media focused less on the art and more on who was there. Why are we so fascinated by celebrities?

In the sunny French coastal city of Cannes, the beaches are filling up. The red carpets are out, and the paparazzi are ready. The greatest film event of them all is back.

The Cannes Festival has a special prestige in the cinema world. This is where the hottest films of the coming year are premiered, to cheers or jeers. Careers are made here, and sometimes broken. Behind the scenes, film-makers meet the press and industry bigwigs strike deals.

As ever, this year’s programme is packed with exciting titles. Yet this is only part of the story. To most, the name ‘Cannes’ does not evoke this great documentary or that heart-breaking war drama. Instead, they think of George Lucas posing with stormtroopers, or Brigitte Bardot in a bikini, or even Borat in a mankini. For the festival is as much about the people as the films – or maybe more.

Cannes is highly exclusive. Attendance is by invitation only. Every year, some of the biggest names in showbiz turn up, from Brad Pitt to Jennifer Lawrence. By day, they parade for the cameras in fashionable clothes; after dark, they head to extravagant parties. No wonder the festival gets more media coverage than any other cultural event in the world.

It is often said that we are living in the age of the celebrity. We are now more interested in what famous people do in private than in their work. You may know that Brad Pitt is married to Angelina Jolie, but can you name his character’s wife in World War Z?

Not only that: thanks to new media and technologies, there are more opportunities to become famous than ever before. Anyone with a YouTube account can, in theory, start a show and pick up a million followers. Meanwhile, reality TV programmes create celebrities who are famous simply for being famous.

This year, as ever, the media coverage of Cannes will focus on who has shown up and how they look. As long as people are more interested in superstars than arthouse cinema, this will remain the case. Why do we find celebrity culture so interesting?

Eternal starshine

Easy, say some: envy. As a species, we are hardwired to follow leaders, whether they are monarchs, religious figures or indeed celebs. When we observe the rich and famous, we are analysing them for clues to the success: their clothes, say, or the way they speak. Whether consciously or not, we wish to join them.

Some famous people may be role models, admit others. But overall, the world of celebrities is a freak show, as surreal and dramatic as a Star Wars film. Whether it’s Borat making a fool of himself in a mankini or a contestant having a meltdown on Big Brother, we watch for entertainment. And perhaps to feel a little better about ourselves.

You Decide

  1. Which famous person do you respect the most? Why?
  2. To what extent are celebrities entitled to privacy?

Activities

  1. Think of the celebrity that you would most like to interview. Come up with five questions to ask them.
  2. Write a one-page answer to the question: ‘Is celebrity culture the new religion?’

Some People Say...

“It’s better for the whole world to know you than never to be known at all.”

Marilyn Monroe

What do you think?

Q & A

Celebs, schmelebs. Why do I have to care about their lives?
You don’t. The amount of coverage they get in the media can be very off-putting. That said, some celebrities put their fame to interesting use: take Emma Watson, who campaigns for women’s rights, or Eddie Izzard, who ran 43 marathons in a row for charity.
I want to go to Cannes. Can I?
Unless you’re a journalist or you work in the film industry, your chances are slim. Only a handful of screenings are open to the public, none of them part of the main competition.
Isn’t that a bit snobbish?
Cannes is often criticised for its elitism. In 1958, famous director and critic François Truffaut was banned from the festival after making this exact point. This is also true of its choice of films, which are overwhelmingly made by white males.

Word Watch

Cannes Festival
Founded in 1946, Cannes shows dozens of new films from all around the world every year. Those that win its top prize, the Palme d’Or, are pretty much guaranteed a large audience upon release.
Brigitte Bardot
A French actress famed for her beauty. In 1953, she paid her first visit to Cannes, aged 19. Her photo shoot in a bikini – then a little-known fashion item – has gone down in history.
Mankini
A one-piece men’s swimsuit which somewhat resembles a bikini. Sacha Baron Cohen caused a stir when, in the guise of his fictional character Borat, he posed in a bright green mankini during the 2006 Cannes Festival.
More media coverage
Outside of cultural events, only the Olympics are said to get more coverage than Cannes.
World War Z
A film about a zombie apocalypse, released in 2013. Pitt co-produced and starred in the movie. For the record, the wife’s name is Karen.
Religious figures
Celebrities are often compared to cult leaders. For example, the musical Jesus Christ Superstar depicts the Messiah as a kind of proto-rock star.

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