CANNES, France — As the Cannes Film Festival gets rolling in a mad rush of parties and premieres, the pending arrival of a muscle-bound movie star is generating more buzz than the films competing for the prestigious grand prize.
Arnold Schwarzenegger will touch down on this tiny hamlet of hype for 24 hours Saturday to promote "The Last Action Hero," which Columbia Pictures is releasing domestically June 18. During the nonstop gabfest, he will be interviewed by most of the world's major publications and will be photographed more in one day than most people are in a lifetime.
It's exactly the kind of junket that stars once considered demeaning, though Cannes has always served as a scenic backdrop for publicity stunts. But Schwarzenegger and other media-savvy actors, such as Michael Douglas, who will appear at the festival next week to promote the foreign release of Warner Bros.' "Falling Down," have lately made it OK to bray.
Their films, which have racked up huge numbers both domestically and overseas, are testaments to the box office value of the celebrity-as-salesman. In the case of last year's "Basic Instinct," Douglas' name alone brought in $32 million in foreign pre-investment.
That's a strong incentive for producers to put press-friendly stars at the top of their most-wanted lists. Publicist Pat Kingsley, who represents some of Hollywood's biggest names, says most of her clients have come around to the idea that the media machine must be fed.
"People are more willing to do it now because they actually see the value in it," she said. "Interviews and press junkets save marketing costs and spur foreign business."
Savvy to that fact, onetime reclusives from all walks of entertainment are coming into the light--from the notoriously shy Michael Jackson to the notoriously nonverbal Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.
Jackson's "Dangerous" bounded up the charts, rising to No. 12 from No. 26, after he engaged in a whirlwind series of appearances that included an awkward, 90-minute chat with Oprah Winfrey and live performances at the American Music Awards and the Super Bowl.
The prevailing wisdom was that Jackson rekindled interest in himself, even if the price was answering embarrassing questions about his skin tone and sexuality. Social critics took the surging sales as evidence that the public hungers for more intimacy with its idols.
If so, intimacy is what it's getting. Anyone recently tuning in E! Entertainment Television, which often acts as a billboard for the movie industry, would have found De Niro endlessly chatting up "Mad Dog and Glory," the film he starred in with Bill Murray and Uma Thurman.
"Mad Dog" was a disappointment at the domestic box office, taking in only $11 million.
But while De Niro and his colleagues failed to build an audience for their film, it's widely believed that Pacino's publicity efforts enhanced interest in "Scent of a Woman."
Pacino--who once disguised himself in public to avoid the press, preferring to reveal himself only in classic films such as "Dog Day Afternoon," "Serpico" and the "Godfather" series--has now taken to promotion the way Frank Serpico took to snitching on his crooked brethren. He has bantered engagingly with the press at junkets and awards shows, and even tangoed with Barbara Walters on national television.
"Scent," which was also propelled by Pacino's Academy Award-winning performance, has taken in more than $107 million at the box office internationally.
Which brings things back to Schwarzenegger, the master at one-stop stumping. Columbia will begin the drum beat for "Last Action Hero" today, when it screens footage and the new trailer from the film for the international press. At the same time, Cannes will be blanketed with "Hero" banners.
Schwarzenegger takes center stage Saturday, in a series of round-table interviews with reporters from every conceivable place on the planet. Columbia plans to round things off with a party to end all parties at the famed Hotel du Cap, home base for the industry's top movers and shakers.
By the following day, Schwarzenegger will have gotten more publicity than the boldest beach floozy on the Riviera. Then it's " hasta la vista , baby," and off to the bank.
Their Little Secret? Is Paramount Pictures hiding "Sliver" from critics until the last minute? That's one theory in Hollywood after the studio scheduled the only screening of the $40-million Sharon Stone-William Baldwin psychosexual mystery for next Thursday night--the day before the movie debuts. That will leave too little time for most newspaper critics to get their movie reviews into Friday's papers.
It's rare for major studios to open a high-profile film without giving critics an opportunity to attend a screening well in advance of opening day. When that occurs, it usually means filmmakers are worried that negative reviews could diminish box office returns on the crucial first weekend.
Paramount says it isn't hiding anything--that the film is still undergoing "fine tuning" by director Phillip Noyce and that the studio won't have a print ready for critics until Thursday night. The film will be shown the prior evening at a benefit for "Stop Cancer"--no critics are invited to that preview--but Paramount says it is scrambling to get a finished print for the event.