Postcards From Abroad: Oldest International Film Festival Stays Afloat in Venice

It has been 18 years since I was last associated with a Hollywood movie—I had a very minor credit on

Christopher Barnes (far right) reports from Venice. (Getty)

It has been 18 years since I was last associated with a Hollywood movie—I had a very minor credit on Pumpkinhead II, starring the amazingly talented presidential brother Roger Clinton as “The Mayor”—and this week, at the Venice Film Festival, felt like a walk back in time. In addition to covering the festival for The Observer, I was there to see off my small investment in an independent movie called Kiss of the Damned, which was closing the festival.

Venice is like a smaller Cannes: lots of premieres, stars and glamour, but without the large scale-madness of its French counterpart. Medium-sized commercial movies play alongside smaller, niche pictures. Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Robert Redford’s The Company you Keep and Brian De Palma’s The Passion all premiered, as did a retrospective of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate.

My only criticism of the Venice Film Festival is that it’s hard to motivate oneself to go to these movies during the day, when you have a combination of perfect weather, one of the world’s most beautiful cities and whatever residual bleariness from covering all those late-night parties. I admit that I missed Mr. Redford’s The Company You Keep. The word around the camp was that this was something of a stinker—anyone remember Sneakers? Mr. Redford is the near antithesis of Michael Cimino, both cinematically and physically: while Mr. Redford is the epitome of growing old gracefully, Mr. Cimino appears to have had more plastic surgery than Joan Rivers, resembling a Jake and Dinos Chapman artwork. Gawker recently compared him to The Strange Case of Benjamin Button. Mr. Cimino has had a strange career. His 1978 film The Deer Hunter was revered as one of the great movies of its time, and his name was mentioned alongside the great auteurs. But then came Heaven’s Gate, arguably the biggest flop in cinema history (yet, in my opinion, a great American movie)—which took down United Artists. It’s a sad state for a character as colorful as Mr. Cimino (who was rumored to have contemplated changing his name to Michelle Cimino).

Another old master, Mr. De Palma, whose The Passion seems to pay homage to his own Dressed to Kill with a little lesbianism thrown into the mix, didn’t fare much better. The movie, which stars Rachel McAdams as a mean-spirited ad exec and Noomi Rapace as her talented but stepped-on subordinate—feels like an ’80s slasher movie that is trying too hard to be an ’80s slasher movie. As I was walking out of the theater I overheard someone exclaiming, “How could someone who was capable of Scarface and Carlito’s Way create this dross?”

And then there was Kiss of the Damned. I got involved with Kiss through a friend who is an executive producer on the film (and a partner in Vegas Seven, an Observer Media Group property). Prior to the official screening, I had dinner with cast and the crew. Xan Cassavetes, the 46 year-old daughter of John Cassavetes and Gina Rowland, was showing her first film at the festival, and it was easy to imagine the stress undoubtedly coming from the weight of such a big legacy. But she said she was both excited and confident of a good reception—and was more worried about her 15 year-old daughter who had hurt her leg the day before. A keen subject of conversation was the first review, which came out of the Hollywood Reporter. It was long and thoughtful but somewhat mean-spirited, calling the film “The Valveeta Vampire.” It was also harsh toward the two lead actresses, Roxane Mesquida and Josephine de la Baume, even misreporting that Josephine had been on Gossip Girl, when it was in fact Roxane who had guest-starred on the show. The endeavor was a high-profile project for both ladies, and you could sense the hurt from the pair as they sat just opposite me at dinner. The only thing I could think of saying to comfort them was that nobody reads the Hollywood Reporter anymore—and that the Variety review would surely be better.

The next day, I walked the red carpet with the lot. It took a little negotiating from my executive producer friend to have me included in the entourage, and I strutted down the red carpet alongside the glamorous actresses, awkwardly smirking as the paparazzi flashbubs popped.

The movie is a homage to vampire films of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. It reminded me of Tony Scott’s The Hunger, starring Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie, in terms of its visuals and pacing—and the Frenchness of the cast. It is the art-house answer to Twilight. A woman-dominated film, the French actresses give enthusiastic performances, dominating the male lead, Milo Ventimiglia, a handsome man who mercifully was given little to say.

The after-party was festive and made more so by a deservedly strong review from Variety: it described the film as “a sly tongue-in-cheek tribute to old school horror films.” I was right!

The Kiss team was in a good mood. I asked producer Jen Gatien (she also recently produced a film about her father, nightclub impresario Peter Gatien, as well as one about the Chelsea Hotel) if she was relieved it was over—she said she was more relieved that they had sold the movie’s U.S. and international distribution rights and was going to take a couple days of r&r in Rome. Roxane, who played the bad-girl vampire with a penchant for threesomes, asked if I thought of her differently after seeing the film, to which I clumsily mumbled back, um, well yes, maybe.

Their conversations turned to the upcoming festivals and projects—such is the life of a movie producer. Did I mention I have a credit on Pumpkinhead II?

Postcards From Abroad: Oldest International Film Festival Stays Afloat in Venice