The Cannes Film Festival is almost nigh! 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 — 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, 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.
The next day, Marco and I leave the screening of Leta Has Two Lovers with Winnie, a conspicuous bombshell from Dubai.
She’s attached herself to Marco and me, I suspect, because she’d like to get to know an American actress better.
I can tell they’re both impressed by my performance in Leta.
“That was fantastique,” Marco enthuses, “I loved that bottle house that Leta lived in at the desert.”
“Yes, the bottle house was so unique,” says Winnie.
“Benjamin stumbled on that location on his way to Fran’s Ranch, this down-at-the-heels whorehouse in Beatty, Nevada,” I say.
“Benjamin? You mean your director?” asks Marco.
“You were in that movie?” asks Winnie.
“Wait, what? Of course, I was in that movie. That’s why I took you to see it!”
“Oh. You look very different in person. I didn’t recognize you as Leta,” says Marco.
“That’s because I didn’t play Leta.”
“Of course, of course, I’m so sorry, of course I knew that, you were la putain. The whore,” says Marco.
“That woman outweighs me by fifty pounds!”
“I thought you lost weight.”
“Her front teeth are missing!” I point out.
“I thought, maybe dental implants?”
“She looks nothing like you,” says Winnie, her cheeks aflame.
“I play the lead character’s girlfriend!” I state the obvious.
“He had a girlfriend?” asks Marco looking at Winnie. She shrugs.
“I was in the scene in front of the volcano at the Mirage!”
“I might have fallen asleep for a moment,” whispers Marco.
“Me too,” whinnies Winnie, “We were up very late last night.”
“Remember the lead character and my character had a moment of forgiveness, it was very moving?”
They just stare, like villainous puppets that come to life at night and stab sleeping people with nail files like in Trilogy of Terror.
As I stride purposefully away, Marco calls after me. “You were a chameleon blending into the scenery!”
“You disappeared into the role!” yells Winnie.
It’s four a.m. on the third night of the festival.
Jean-Christophe ferries a group of us from Studio Circus disco back to our hotels in the festival minivan.
He passes The Hotel Splendid, where I’m staying. I’m about to tell him he’s missed my stop when it occurs to me that he might have done so on purpose.
Marco is the last person to be dropped off besides me. He steps out of the van but reaches back to take my hand and kiss it.
“I will think fondly of you until I see you again,” he says, gazing at me with yearning.
Dear boy, I want to say, save your innocent love for a girl who deserves it. I am simply too jaded for you.
I bid him a fond adieu.
“Would you like to sit up front with me?” asks Jean-Christophe, looking back at me, his eyes dark with something. Could it be … desire?
“But, of course.”
And so, it begins. My French love affair.
He’ll be Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless and I will be his American Jean Seberg.
We’ll be caught together in a crucible of passion and crime, with an indecipherable French nouvelle vague plot.
“Would you like to see the harbor in my hometown?” Jean-Christophe asks.
“I’d like that very much,” I husk.
“It’s not too far; a little fishing village called Antibes. My mom and dad still live there.”
He already wants me to meet his parents? It’s fast, but understandable, given the novelty of my star status.
He’ll introduce me. The four of us will have a picaresque feast of baguette avec Camembert de Normandie.
He’ll expect me to stay the night in his childhood bedroom, covered by a duvet whilst he feigns sleep on the divan below, until his parents retire for the evening.
Then he’ll sneak up the quaint, creaking, cottage staircase and slide under the covers with me.
We’ll make l’amour-passion after he feeds me un pain au chocolat.
“Why are we stopping here?” I ask as Jean-Christophe parks in front of a secluded cove.
“I wanted to show you le port d’Antibes.”
“You’re not taking me to your parents house?”
“Well … no. They’re asleep.”
“Of course they are!”
“I love it here,” says Jean-Christophe. “When I feel anxious or overwhelmed, I come here and just look at the water and everything slows down.”
Handsome and philosophical. Would he notice if I just threw my right leg over his lap?
We watch the little harbor for some time. Sinking into a companionable silence for ten minutes, fifteen minutes, thirty minutes.
When is this guy going to kiss me already?
I’m getting a neck cramp from leaning toward him so that my lips will be accessible. My ribs are starting to hurt from twisting like a churro.
It’s five a.m. and I’m … starting … to … get … groggy … Jean-Christophe is talking about something … I don’t know what it is … I need a pillow … wait, snap out of it!
He’s trying to gaze into my eyes. He’s asked me a question, what was the question?
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I was just wondering,” Jean-Christophe says, “Do you like me just because you’re leaving on Wednesday?”
What kind of question is that? Of course I like him because I’m leaving on Wednesday.
What does a girl have to do to get taken advantage of in France??
“No,” I prevaricate, “I’d like you even if I was leaving on Saturday.”
This seems to fall flat.
“Or even if I was staying forever, because you’re so likable. In the short term, and the long term. On any terms.”
He’s leaning. He’s leaning. Our lips are inches apart. He has sweet breath. Our lips meet.
Now, now for the passion! Wait. What is happening? He isn’t moving his lips. It’s as if his lips are using my lips as a landing pad.
His rotors are winding down, stopping altogether. His lips rest on mine.
Where is his tongue? Does he have one? I try to recall linguistics and which consonants rely solely upon the tongue.
Did he use any “T’s” in our conversation? I can’t remember because this is a comfortable position and we’ve both fallen asleep.
The following evening, Benjamin and I eat dinner at L’assiette Au Boeuf. One table over, Marco and Winnie make out over bowls of noodles in creamy meat sauce.
“Would you look at that lucky bastard,” says Benjamin, nodding to Marco.
“I guess,” I aver.
“What do you mean you guess? Winnie’s the most beautiful woman at this festival.”
“If you like the strangely exotic type.”
“If you like any type.”
I leave Benjamin to his delusions. It’s obvious Marco is rebounding with Winnie after he intuited I did not return his affections. I suppose he had to move on.
Besides, things are heating up with Jean-Christophe.
He spent last night in my hotel room. There was quite a bit of dry-lipped kissing and the passing of his palm along my ribcage.
“Do you find me repulsive?” Benjamin asks, startling me from my reverie.
“So you think I’m attractive?”
“Benjamin, seriously, get your hand off my knee.”
“I don’t see why you’re with that French guy, Jean Luc.”
“What’s he got that I don’t have?”
“Let’s see … morals, manners, charm?”
Suddenly, one of the student coordinators Marguerite arrives with her walkie-talkie, “Shannon, Jean-Christophe says you should meet him outside in ten minutes. Is that okay?”
“It’s because he speaks French, isn’t it?” asks Benjamin.
“Yes, Benjamin. It’s because he speaks French.”
Look at the poor guy. All he wants is a little love, some affection.
“Shannon?” says Benjamin.
“Can you lend me five food tickets?”
THE LAST NIGHT IN CANNES
Jean-Christophe lies next to me on the duvet in my hotel room at three a.m.
He’s just finished his final shift driving festival attendees around.
The next morning Benjamin and I are flying back to Los Angeles to resume living in our cars and waiting tables until our fortunes arrive.
I’ve done it again. Managed not to make even one meaningful business-related connection at this festival.
I’ve been too busy trying to seduce Jean-Christophe to work on my career trajectory.
I’m hopeless as a self-promoter. Networking never seems to work out the way I want it to.
Point in fact: I met two producers after Teddy’s last play at the Mark Taper Forum. We’ll just call them Frick and Frack.
Frack mentioned they were making a low-budget Jean-Claude Van Damme action film and were looking for someone to play his love interest. Would I like to join him the following evening at Chaya Venice where he was hosting dinner with several of the film’s investors?
The next night, I arrived as arranged at the restaurant and was, indeed, the only actress at the table with several legitimate Dutch film financiers.
Aside from a slight mishap, where my merlot went down the wrong pipe and came out my nose, everything went well.
Shaking hands good-bye outside, Frack asked if I wouldn’t mind driving him back to his hotel room at the Chateau Marmont as he’d taken a taxi to Chaya.
I was pleased to help a future colleague and all seemed well, until I reached for my stick shift and found his erect penis in my hand.
After some negotiation, he put it away.
And although I still drove him to his hotel, I was not cast in the Jean-Claude Van Damme film.
I tried to be thankful that at least I wouldn’t have to portray a character who dies by electrocution via her nipples.
“Where did you go?” Jean-Christophe asks. I look over to see he’s gazing at me intently.
“Nowhere. I was just thinking that the men I want to want me, don’t, and the men I don’t want to want me, do. Does that make any sense?”
“I want you,” says Jean-Christophe.
He’s perspiring slightly and opens his shirt to his navel, exposing manly chest hair and a slender, architecturally lovely pectoralis major. He strokes my hair, my face.
“It’s just, when I really appreciate somebody,” he says, “I don’t like to make love right away. I want to take my time to discover that person and get to know her. The first time is always awkward, but the lovemaking becomes better as you become better acquainted both physically and emotionally. Then it becomes delicious.”
He leans forward and kisses my neck, my face, my lips. Wait a moment. There it is! He has a tongue!
In a moment, our shirts fly off.
Jean-Christophe is sweating profusely. Oh. This is going to happen, and now suddenly I’m not sure how I feel about it. Jean-Christophe reaches for my bra strap then stops.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, “What is it?”
“I have to vomir vos tripes,” say Jean-Christophe.
I keep my hand on Jean-Christophe’s back as he barfs in the hotel toilet.
He’s got the stomach flu. He throws up and dry heaves until I have to leave for the airport four hours later.
I tell him he doesn’t have to drive me to the airport as we’d planned. I can just get a taxi.
But he throws water on his face, gets dressed and drives me to the airport anyway; stopping three times along the side of the road to dry heave some more.
We stand on the tarmac where a ladder has been pushed up against the plane I’m to board.
The sun is just coming up. The sky is streaked pink, orange, red. The air is soft.
I’ve been in Cannes for seven days. I’ve known Jean-Cristophe for five of those days. And I’ll never see him again.
I turn to hug him goodbye.
“Oh no,” he says, “Why are you crying?”
“I don’t know. I always cry at all the wrong times.”
I’ve managed to find the one Frenchman in France who wouldn’t sleep with me. Instead, he kisses my tears one by one. He hugs me so hard that my ribs ache. That my heart aches.
It seems I did manage to have a torrid French love affair. Merci homme doux.
Or as we say in English, thank you, sweet man.
For more ignominious sexcapades whilst living on the edge of celebrity, download Shannon’s book HERE.