Greetings from Cannes. I'm here to see some movies. For the most part, I have no idea which ones.
Several years ago, not long after I started traveling the festival circuit on a regular basis, a fairly goofy but nonetheless extremely alluring idea occurred to me. Faithful Nerve readers may dimly recall this idea from my final dispatch at Cannes 2006, in which I vowed to set my absurd plan in motion the following year, which is to say now. The idea was this: I would arrive at some major festival—most likely Cannes, which has the highest signal-to-noise ratio when it comes to international auteurs—without knowing any information about the films in advance, and proceed to see them all completely cold. Friends would tell me where and when to show up; beyond that, I'd be utterly ignorant. Preconceptions would have no opportunity to take hold. In extreme cases, I might not even know who wrote and/or directed the picture until it was over—high-profile films these days frequently open with just a simple title card, reserving everything else for the closing credits. (Examples from last year: The Departed, United 93, The Prestige.)
What initially appealed to me about this idea was the element of surprise. I found it thrilling—still do, frankly—to imagine hotly anticipated films by world-class directors simply appearing in front of me, sans the weeks, months, or (in some cases) years of anticipation and speculation that usually precede them. As I mulled it over, however, it began to take on the contours of a grand, quixotic experiment. So much information is now available to the net-connected cinephile that the act of watching a movie can seem almost like an afterthought. I have friends whose reading is so extensive and omnivorous that they often know virtually every detail of a film long before they actually see it. What would it be like, I wondered, to go to the opposite extreme—to know absolutely nothing? Would I respond more openly to movies by filmmakers who've underwhelmed me in the past? Would I recognize the artistic signature of longtime favorites? Would my interaction with the work in front of me be more pure, more genuine, in the absence of whatever conscious and/or unconscious assumptions I'd usually tote in with me?
I still don't know, but I aim to find out. Several months ago, I went cold turkey on all the movie-info sites I used to browse daily, Screengrab included. Of course, it was already too late, really—to do this properly, I'd need to enter my plastic bubble a good two to three years before the fest in question, to avoid hearing about E-ticket projects as they first take shape. (I don't know, to give you one example, whether Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood is here, but I first heard about it maybe two years ago.) Even I'm not quite that obsessive. Still, while I'm aware of the existence of several pictures that might be in the lineup, it's safe to say that most of them will be arriving out of the blue. Or more accurately, out of the black: My roommate Michael Giltz, who's here writing for The Advocate, just Sharpied the hell out of my press screening schedule, concealing title and director info while leaving theater, time and running time. Now all I need to do is spend two weeks looking directly at the ground (to avoid the barrage of posters and billboards that festoon the Croisette) and listening to loud music on my iPod (to avoid accidentally overhearing conversations about upcoming films).Disclaimer the first: I'm only seeing the Competition slate tabula rasa. That's 22 films this year, which seems like more than enough for the purposes of this wack experiment. Most of the movies in the festival's other sections (including Un Certain Regard and the Directors' Fortnight) were helmed by relative unknowns; what's more, I can't possibly see all of them, so I need the freedom to be selective and follow the buzz. On the plus side, a couple of the films I'd heard about in advance—namely, Michael Moore's Sicko and Olivier Assayas' Boarding Gate—are screening Out of Competition, which increases the odds that the movies I see blind will be totally unfamiliar to me.
Disclaimer the third: Sadly, due to circumstances beyond my control (= I read something I didn't imagine would contain any Cannes info, and was proved wrong), I also now know that Wong Kar-wai's English-language debut, My Blueberry Nights, is opening the festival tomorrow. That isn't a huge letdown, since Wong's movies almost invariably premiere at Cannes; frankly, I would have been a little shocked had it been absent. But it does mean that the true craziness will have to wait for Film #2, which appears to be Name Obliterated's 113 Minutes Long And Screening At The Salle Debussy At 7pm Tomorrow Night. After that, we're talking two revelations per day on average, plus all manner of retrospective should've knowns and couldn't have foreseens. It may be the most ridiculous cinematic adventure ever attempted. I hope you'll join me.