Listen to (and share) episode 27, a special Cannes Film Festival edition of our audio podcast Deadline Awards Watch With Pete Hammond. Deadline’s awards columnist talks with host David Bloom about the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis and other notable films screened in competition so far at Cannes; the legacy of Liz Taylor and a restored Cleopatra; and whether Oscar season should just officially start with the festival, given its recent success in spotlighting awards-worthy films.
Hammond On Cannes: Elizabeth Taylor’s Memory Lives On At Festival As ‘Cleopatra’ Premieres And AIDS Event Hits 20th Anniversary
There are lots of stars in Cannes this year but I don’t think any of them are shining brighter at the festival than one who is no longer with us. Elizabeth Taylor may have died over two years ago at the age of 79 but she lives on, not only on the big and small screens where her many films still play, but also for all the amazing charitable work she did in her lifetime, particularly her fight against AIDS. Tomorrow night amFAR will certainly be remembering her at the 20th anniversary of Cinema Against AIDS, the signature event set during the Cannes Festival she helped start. And Tuesday night 20th Century Fox World Premiered its meticulous 2K digital restoration (it took nine months to complete) of the 1963 film, Cleopatra, infamous for the torrid off-screen love affair between its stars Taylor and Richard Burton.
On the occasion of its 50th anniversary the studio pulled out all the stops with a black tie premiere of the four-hour movie (that ironically almost bankrupted the studio), followed by a lavish party sponsored by Bulgari, the jeweler who supplied Taylor with so many of the baubles she was famous for collecting. In fact, as you entered the party on the J.W. Marriott rooftop it was hard to avoid them displayed in special glass cabinets. Included was the platinum and emerald necklace her co-star Burton gave her for their engagement in 1962. Host (and Bulgari spokesperson) Jessica Chastain actually wore it to introduce the film before taking it off and giving it back to Bulgari. She is the only person to have worn it other than Liz on her wedding day (or one of her wedding days). Also Fox brought in several original Cleopatra costumes. Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos was there to help intro the film and told me later that the financial toll the film took on the studio has been overblown. “It turned a profit after three years,” he says although the movie’s cost was astronomical and ran off the rails. I asked Fox President of Post-Production Ted Gagliano about the story that director Joseph Mankiewicz actually had a six-hour cut and that two never-before seen hours of the film are somewhere in the Fox vaults. He says he has heard this as well but thinks it’s another in the long line of Cleopatra myths since they searched high and low and found nothing. One of the guests at the premiere, director and film nerd Alexander Payne told me after seeing the film again he wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn there was an even longer cut. “But who really needs to see a six-hour version?” he asked. Both Payne and his guest Laura Dern (whose father Bruce Dern stars in Payne’s Cannes entry, Nebraska, which premieres here Thursday) said they loved seeing the film in all its restored glory.
The Cannes Film Festival‘s Classics section, created in 2004 to showcase restored versions of classic and notable movies, will include 20 features and three documentaries for the 2013 edition. Among the highlights, Kim Novak will present the restored print of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo while Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe will mark a return to the Croisette. The 1973 film about four friends who gather in a villa with the express purpose of eating themselves to death starred Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Piccoli and Philippe Noiret and caused quite the scandal when it was originally screened. Also appearing are Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s infamous Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in its four-hour version; Billy Wilder’s Fedora; Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour, starring Oscar nominee Emmanuelle Riva; Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail and Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. In tribute to Joanne Woodward, the festival will screen the final film she produced, Shepard & Dark, by Treva Wurmfeld. There will also be a special evening dedicated to Jean Cocteau’s Beauty And The Beast and to Opium, a new musical comedy directed by Arielle Dombasle. Euzhan Palcy’s film Simeon (1992) will be screened in honor of the 100th birthday of Aimé Césaire. Additionally, the beach screenings that form the Cinéma de la Plage section have been announced and include Luc Besson’s The Big Blue and Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies Man. Click over for a full list of films:
EXCLUSIVE: After featuring Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra as portrayed by Lindsay Lohan in its original movie Liz & Dick, Lifetime is now going for the real thing, putting in development a four-hour miniseries about the famous Egyptian queen. Written by Robert Port (Numbers) and produced by Michael Goldstein and Mike Larkin (Scoundrels), the mini tells the story of one of the most popular figures in ancient history. The last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra is known mostly for her beauty; her liaisons with Rome’s Julius Caesar and Mark Antony; and her tragic suicide that was followed by the fall of Egypt, which became a Roman province. This is a rare multi-part miniseries for Lifetime, whose longform business has been focused primarily on TV movies. The cable network recently came on board History’s four-hour Bonnie & Clyde miniseries, which is being shared by the two sibling nets. It stars Holliday Grainger, Emile Hirsch, Holly Hunter and William Hurt and is directed by Bruce Beresford.
David Fincher talked about his future plans with MTV’s Josh Horowitz:
MTV: Was that a book that was important to you as a young man?
Fincher: No, not at all. I was alive when a man stepped on the moon. It was awe-inspiring, the notion of that much care that NASA took. I’m sure it was the same thing for the Manhattan Project. The idea of a post-Civil War version of science fiction and the notion of being able to breathe underwater was so radical in its thinking. That’s pretty cool. If you’re going to do big tent-pole teenage PG-13 summer movies, it’s kind of cool that it would be this.
MTV: Is Cleopatra something you’re currently developing?
Fincher: That’s something I would love to do with Angie [Jolie]. It’s something that was brought to me that you have to take seriously. [Producer] Scott [Rudin] has this wonderful book, and hopefully [screenwriter] Eric [Roth] can find a way in. I’m not interested in a giant sword-and-sandal epic. We’ve seen scope; everyone knows we can fake that. That stuff doesn’t impress in the way that it did even 10 years ago. We expect that from Starz [now]. So that’s not the reason to do that. What is it about this character that has purchased this place in our history and imagination that is relatable today?
EXCLUSIVE: HBO has teamed with BBC2 to acquire the rights to turn the Robert Graves historical novel I, Claudius into a miniseries. The mini will be exec produced by BBC Worldwide Productions’ Jane Tranter and Anne Thomopoulos, who were executives producers of HBO’s Rome. The deal ends a long series of twists and turns for the rights to a book that was previously turned into an Emmy-winning 13-part miniseries in 1976 by BBC. In that mini, Derek Jacobi turned in the role of a career as Claudius. The book and mini gave a glimpse into the power, madness, murder, backstabbing and debauchery that was part and parcel of ruling-class Rome. It is seen through the eyes of Claudius, who was content to be the butt of jokes and hide his brilliance behind a stutter and a limp. Because he was never perceived as a threat, Claudius was never poisoned as many others in his circle were. Claudius outlasted them all, and became emperor in 41 A.D.
The feature rights were long controlled by In The Name of the Father helmer Jim Sheridan, but suddenly those rights were shopped in 2007. It looked like producer Scott Rudin beat out a competitive field of suitors to pay $2 million for the rights. He had Oscar-nominated The Departed scribe William Monahan ready to write it and Leonardo DiCaprio ready to attach himself to star. But the deal collapsed when Sheridan successfully challenged the claim in Ireland. By the time Sheridan finally bowed out, Rudin was no longer interested because he had moved on to another Roman Era epic, the movie adaptation of Stacy Schiff’s book Cleopatra: A Life, which has Angelina Jolie ready to play the Egyptian queen and David Fincher keen to direct her. Others flirted with the property, but the story is so big that it became clear that a miniseries was a way to get everything in. That opened the door for Tranter, who pursued the property for a decade. HBO has feasted on episodic period dramas, from Rome to its current run of Game of Thrones.
Producer Scott Rudin reveals to Deadline that “we’re pretty close” to pinning down a director for his mega-high-profile Sony Pictures 3D movie Cleopatra starring Angelina Jolie and based on Pulitzer Prize-winner Stacy Schiff’s biography Cleopatra: A Life. Rudin isn’t spilling but we hear that the filmmakers “like the idea” of the much respected Paul Greengrass although his name hasn’t even been mentioned yet to Angie who’s attached. Greengrass, who helmed the most recent two Bourne franchise action thrillers as well as Green Zone and United 93. He also flirted with doing the 3D Fantastic Voyage for producer James Cameron, who himself flirted with directing the 3D Cleopatra for Rudin. Love it when these things come full circle. We’re obsessed with this project and think Greengrass would be an intriguing hire, perhaps less about spectacle and more about story. “Smart, tough, political, hard-nosed…,” an insider described the director to Deadline. “Sort of the idea of Cleopatra in the book.” Not a bad thing considering that the last time Hollywood tried that subject of Cleopatra on a grand scale, back in 1963, it nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.
So why will this version fare better? ”It is a completely revisionist Cleopatra, a much more grown-up sophisticated version,” Rudin recently told Mike Fleming. “She’s not a sex kitten, she’s a politician, strategist, warrior. In the Joseph Mankiewicz movie, Elizabeth Taylor is a seductress, but the histories of Cleopatra have been written by men. This is the first to be written by a woman. It felt like such a blow-the-doors-off-the-hinges idea of how to tell it, impossible to resist. We’re pretty close. A lot of directors want to do it, but there is only a handful we’ll make it with.” Of course, Cameron was seriously discussing Rudin’s pic before taking that huge deal at Fox to direct the two Avatar sequels. Did Rudin feel leveraged? “No,” he tells Fleming. “I’ve been a good friend of Jim Cameron’s since I was the executive on Aliens. I got promoted because of my relationship with Jim Cameron and the guy’s been a seminal figure in my career. I never for one second thought we were being leveraged. I fully expected Fox to make the play they did, to make sure he didn’t do Cleopatra. I wasn’t surprised when they did.”
Rudin, who acquired the Schiff book, is producer. Deadline has had the scoop on this project all along, from Cameron’s interest, to Jolie anxious to make the movie, to Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chair Amy Pascal deciding to fast-track this PG-13 and 3D Cleopatra after screenwriter Bran Helgeland wrote what is being described as a “brilliant script deserving of epic treatment” about
EXCLUSIVE… UPDATED: File this one under tantalizingly possible. James Cameron and Sony Pictures Entertainment are exploring the very real possibility that he will direct Angelina Jolie in a 3D version of Cleopatra, an SPE adaptation of the Stacy Schiff book Cleopatra: A Life. Jolie is attached and anxious to make the movie. Scott Rudin, who acquired the book, is producer. The talks are serious but by no means conclusive yet. Meanwhile, Deadline’s Nikki Finke reports that Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chair Amy Pascal decided to fast-track its PG-13 and 3D Cleopatra project after screenwriter Bran Helgeland wrote what was is being described as a “brilliant script deserving of epic treatment” all about “what the Romans took from Egypt”. In addition, Pascal wants to own the Angelina Jolie franchise the same way it owns the franchises of Adam Sandler and Will Smith because “she’s a real star who can open a movie by herself” and “she knows she was born to play this part” because it’s the “greatest female heroine” that ever lived. Pascal is hoping for a start date in 2011 but has acknowledged that “it won’t be cheap” and is calling this her Gone With The Wind epic. Indeed, a project of this size and scope is a huge risk for any studio, especially considering how much attention will be focused on the production and the last time the story of Cleopatra was made into a movie. The Egyptian queen got her big screen closeup in the 1963 film with Elizabeth Taylor in the title role. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed the film, which started with a $2 million budget that ballooned to $44 million (the equivalent of over $300 million today) not the least because Taylor became ill and almost died. The production nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, despite being the year’s highest grossing pic with $26 million. However, with James Cameron as director, he has the ability to produce a huge worldwide spectacle where every penny will be on the big screen. He has several of his own projects in the works, including a title called The Dive, but there is no other outside project he is looking at but this one as he develops the Avatar sequel.
Stacy Schiff’s biography peels away the layers to reveal the true Cleopatra, a much more interesting woman than the Hollywood version, and, as it turns out, a formidable queen after all, according to reviews. A Pulitzer Prize-winning American nonfiction author and guest columnist for The New York Times, Schiff digs up astonishing and rare facts about the queen that could make the film into an entirely new story. Schiff herself has said about Jolie as Cleoptra, ”physically, she’s the perfect look, and is hoping for Brad Pitt to play Mark Antony (just as Liz Taylor’s then lover, Richard Burton, did in the 1963 epic). ”Angelina Jolie radiates grace and power, exactly the qualities that Stacy Schiff finds in her biography of the most intriguing ruler who ever lived,” the book’s publisher, Little Brown’s Michael Pietsch, told reporters.
As for 35-year-old Jolie, she has been a tomb raider and a spy and even a queen (she played Queen Olympias in 2004′s Alexander.) But she has had a lifelong fascination with Cleopatra and has always wanted to play the Queen of the Nile. She once told reporters: