May 7th, 2013
The Cannes Film Festival is almost here! Have you ever wondered what it’s like to fall in love there? Then this excerpt from my book Smash, Crash and Burn: Tales From The Edge of Celebrity is for you!
It’s fall of 1991.
As my airplane wings its way over the Atlantic Ocean I feel like I’ve finally arrived. I’m an actress accompanying my auspicious director on an all-expenses-paid trip — airline, hotel and food tickets — to the Cannes Film Festival!
I’ve been to Cannes once before as an anonymous semester-abroad student who drank two-dollar Bordeaux on the Promenade de la Croisette outside an arena I couldn’t afford to get into where James Taylor sang Mexico. If James Taylor could see me now he’d be sorry he hadn’t given me a personal serenade.
“Hey, Shannon, did you bring any money?” asks my director, Benjamin.
Benjamin looks like a feral squirrel who never flosses. There seems to be a small bonsai bush growing out of his mossy teeth. We’re going to Cannes to find distribution for his film Leta Has Two Lovers of which I am the star.
“What do you mean did I bring money? Don’t you have any money?” I ask.
“So you do have money. How much?”
“Two hundred dollars. Why?”
“Can I borrow a hundred?”
“I really need it,” Benjamin whimpers. “I have to look successful.”
(Did I mention Leta had a nano-budget? But that doesn’t mean it won’t be my breakout vehicle).
“I don’t think a hundred dollars is going to make you look successful,” I inform Benjamin.
“I can get it broken down into five-dollar bills and roll it into a wad.”
“Benjamin, how can you not have any cash? Are you seeing hookers again?”
(Did I mention Benjamin has an affinity for ladies of the night?)
“Won’t you ever let me forget the trannies in Tijuana?” shrieks Benjamin
(Did I mention we were almost thrown in the pokey for trying to transport Guatemalan hookers across the Mexican border? I probably should have mentioned that.)
I was just giving them a lift!” Benjamin shrills. ”I spent my family’s entire fortune on this movie, I just got an eviction notice and they turned off my phone. I’ve been sleeping in my car.”
“Well, why did you make a movie about the sweatshop abuses in Mexico and then hire a French-Canadian actress to play the lead?”
(Did I mention I’m not the lead in this movie? Still my character is a catalyst that really drives the movies, even if she’s only in two scenes.)
“Caprice is French-Canadian via Portugal with Andalucía roots!” says Benjamin. “She was perfect for Leta. Maybe you could just give me twenty?”
(Did I mention that we’re not going to the crowded Cannes Film Festival? The one they have in May which hosts the mainstream films with actresses like Julia Roberts, directors like Scorsese and the rabble that trails them? What do you mean I should have told you that? It’s a mere technicality).
We’re going to the more exclusive December Cannes film festival for the off-off-off Hollywood actors and directors; young, fabulous people who haven’t yet been discovered, most likely because their iconoclastic talent burns so bright as to be threatening to the powers that be.
“Benjamin, get your hand off my knee.”
“That hand! The one that’s on my knee, sweating right through my pants. Listen, I told you I would come as your Plus-One, but you weren’t supposed to take it the wrong way. I told you that!”
“Sometimes people change their minds. We could pretend we aren’t Shannon and Benjamin, but strangers swept away by air travel.”
“Benjamin, you’re not my type.”
“What’s your type?”
“Men who floss.”
“I have sensitive gums, they bleed when I floss.”
“Because you don’t floss!”
“But we’re physically matched.”
“Benjamin, when I stand next to you I can rest my elbow on the top of your head.”
“You know what they say about short men.”
“I don’t want to hear any penis references.”
“How can I make any when you’ve castrated me?”
There will be no fling with Benjamin. But I feel it’s my duty to have a passionate liaison once we arrive in France – a country known for its frank sexuality. Especially after being rejected by the INXS Drummer, whose name I prefer not to know (jon farris) when I danced for them at the 1990 VMAs. It’s time to close the deal with a Frenchman.
How can any self-respecting actress stay chaste for so long? How am I expected to emote, to hone my instrument if I’m not having any life-experience? There’s no way I can transition from ingénue to leading lady without my share of heartbreak, romance and perhaps, just once in my life, a ménage a trois.
What better opportunity to throw caution to the winds, even though I still have trouble getting a condom on a banana and am embarrassed to buy them. I’ll be a post-feminist Modern Woman in charge of her sexuality.
Even now I notice a heavy-lidded Frenchman gazing at me from Aisle 22, seat B. Oh, to order a Hennessey XO Extra Gold and slip into the empty seat next to him. Unfortunately it’s impossible to move with Benjamin’s balding head now resting in my lap, spittle and the beginnings of a muskrat snore emanating from his lips. I can’t help myself. I cover him with a blanket.
TWO DAYS LATER
I’m going to barf. I’m crammed in the third row of a tightly packed festival minivan heading up the winding cliffside road on the way to a supposedly quaint little village called Grasse. Whose bright idea was this? Someone at the festival orchestrated this little tourist jaunt for festival invitees and I was so honored I forgot I get motion sick hiking.
“Do you need to vomir vos tripes?” says Marco, a 20-year old student juror at the festival, “Or as you say in English, ‘Vomit your guts out?’”
I met Marco at the festival mixer on opening night and he’s stuck to my side ever since. I’ve maintained a friendly distance, as I don’t want to break his heart. He reminds me of an eager puppy, his hair hanging down on both sides of his head like floppy ears. He has a sweet smile and his hands shook when he helped me into the van twenty minutes ago.
He won’t be my French treat. I’m too worldly for him. Sadly, I still haven’t managed to figure out how to have an orgasm (perhaps I simply don’t have a clitoris?); but I did once attempt The Eagle Takes Flight kama sutra position with a Oaxacan dishwasher. This acolyte will no doubt kiss sloppily, fumble at buckles and bra straps, need help finding various hidden body parts and, although he is French, will absolutely fall short of the long overdue tryst I seek.
“Yes,” I say to Marco, “I may need to lancer, or, as we say in English, “hurl.’”
It is our Grasse driver, Jean-Christophe, who has caught my eye. He’s an older man of twenty-three (well, older than Marco at least) and alluringly poker-faced. His eyes are a cerulean blue, his hair a tangle of black curls one could twist one’s fingers into. He has a dimple at the left corner of his mouth and an intelligent forehead. His ears are friendly. His nose is shy.
There’s also the charming way he now places his hand on my back as I barf down the side of the Alps Maritimes, then allows me to use his shirtsleeve to wipe my mouth. I straighten and give him my most seductive look. “When do you get off work tonight?”
“Four-thirty in the morning,” he replies. Then, “Do you know there are women who come here for a few days and they give me their room key just for sex? Especially the Americans. It is disgusting.”
“Repellent,” I cry as a small bolus of barf pops out of my nose.
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