Legends of “New Hollywood” Return to Cannes Film Festival

The tagline for the 2024 Cannes Film Festival should probably be “Back to the Future.” Indeed, four Hollywood legends who first established themselves in the 1970s as part of the “New Hollywood,” and haven’t been back to festival in decades, are front and center on the Croisette this year.

At the fest’s opening ceremony on Tuesday night, two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep was presented with an honorary Palme d’Or, 35 years after her only prior visit to the fest. In 1989, she came with Fred Schepisi’s A Cry in the Dark, which had opened in the U.S. in late 1988, landing her a best actress Oscar nom, but bombing at the box office. Streep’s presence at the fest was strategic: She reportedly only came because she wanted to try to boost the film’s profile ahead of its European release, and the fest reportedly only accepted the film because she agreed to come with it.

Once on the ground, Streep was the center of attention to an extreme degree — her photo call was overwhelming (“I’ve never had to encounter anything like that,” she said) and her press conference was nerve-wracking (she was observed to be trembling under the table). She wound up being awarded the fest’s best actress prize, but to the disappointment of festival attendees, she had already left town by the time of the closing ceremony, leaving Jack Palance to collect her prize for her, which resulted in voluminous boos from those who were disappointed not to see her.

Streep, now 74, received a much warmer reception this week.

Francis Ford Coppola, 85, will be at the fest to premiere his sci-fi drama Megalopolis, the first film he has directed in 13 years. The legendary helmer of the Godfather films has a lot on the line with this VFX-heavy production starring Adam Driver and Aubrey Plaza: he reportedly spent $120 million of his own money to get it made, and the buzz heading into the fest, on the basis of an L.A. screening he held for industry insiders, is skeptical about its commercial prospects.

Coppola made his first trip to the fest in 1967, when his UCLA thesis film You’re a Big Boy Now was accepted into the competition. He returned with 1974’s The Conversation, which took home the Palme d’Or; in 1996 to preside over the jury (he had previously been set to do so in 1989, but pulled out at the last minute); in 2001 to screen, out of competition, Apocalypse Now: Redux; and in 2009 to screen Tetro as part of the Directors’ Fortnight section.

But it’s been 45 years since he last had a project in competition — namely, Apocalypse Now — and his fest experience that year is now the stuff of legend. United Artists, the $31 million film’s U.S. distributor, was vehemently opposed to him bringing it to the fest, not only because its theatrical release date wasn’t until August, but also because it wasn’t even finished following a famously chaotic shoot in the Philippines. But UA had no claim over the film outside of the States, and therefore could not prevent Coppola from entering a “work-in-progress” cut.

The filmmaker’s behavior in the run-up to the premiere undoubtedly further shook the distributor’s confidence. At the film’s press conference, which drew more than 1,000 members of the media, Coppola struck many as a bit unhinged. He asserted, “My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.” And he slammed the press for the way it covered the problems he encountered during production, declaring, to scattered boos, “American journalism is the most decadent, most unethical, most lying profession you can encounter. There wasn’t a truthful thing written about it in four years.” (Much of the rest of the time he spent at the fest, he sequestered himself on a rented yacht cooking for family and friends.)

But then came Apocalypse Now’s official screening, at which it played through the roof, to the surprise of even some who worked on it, and it wound up winning the Palme d’Or (in a tie with The Tin Drum).

Meanwhile, Paul Schrader, 77, hasn’t had a film in competition since 1988’s Patty Hearst. (In recent years, he has instead unveiled his works at Venice.) His one film in competition at Cannes prior to that was 1985’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, on which Coppola and George Lucas served as executive producers, and for which the Cannes jury awarded him a prize for best artistic contribution.

That year, Schrader’s wife Mary Beth Hurt was seen shopping for clothes for their infant daughter — who is now 40, as Schrader returns to the competition with Oh, Canada, a drama starring Richard Gere (with whom he first worked on 1980’s American Gigolo), Uma Thurman and Jacob Elordi. The film premieres Friday.

And then there’s Lucas, who turned 80 on Tuesday, and whose last appearance at the fest was in 2005 when he screened, out of competition, Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, the sixth and final film in the franchise that he helmed. The fifth, Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones, had screened out of competition three years earlier.

Lucas’ history with the fest goes back to 1971, when his feature debut, THX 1138, premiered as part of the Directors’ Fortnight section. He returned several times as a producer — Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, which he and Coppola executive produced, was awarded the Palme in 1980 (in a tie with All That Jazz); and Ron Howard’s Willow, which he EP’d and which was based on a story he wrote, screened out of competition in 1988 as the closing night film.

This year, during the closing ceremony on May 25, Lucas will be on hand to collect an honorary Palme d’Or. 


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