According to some, the best parties are the ones you have absolutely no recollection of.
That being said, Cannes has thrown some shindigs that were so spectacular that they’re still firmly etched in the memories of attendees more than a decade on. After two years in the COVID doldrums (though the festival was on last year, parties were — officially, at least — off the menu), many are now expecting the Croisette to return to its usual celebratory mood. “Cannes should be back to its partying best this year, hopefully!” says Kerem Ayan, director of the Istanbul Film Festival and a Cannes regular. Top Gun: Maverick and Elvis would appear tailor-made for some post-screening wildness. But whatever 2022 offers, topping some of the most legendary soirees of recent years will take some doing.
One bash leading many all-time lists is the Trainspotting party in 1996, held at the cavernous Palm Beach Casino, where electro pioneers Leftfield played inside, lines snaked outside and, according to one festgoer, “every possible blag” was deployed to get a golden ticket.
“It was the loudest thing I’d ever been to … when Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ played, I could feel the sound waves compress my lungs,” says Northern Irish doc-maker Mark Cousins, then head of the Edinburgh Film Festival. “Mick Jagger danced beside me. Damon Albarn and Leonardo DiCaprio were there, as was Harvey Weinstein, who sat enthroned like Louis XIV. I was young, suntanned, dolled up, pretty in a way and agog at the epic scale. Here at last was the Dionysian life I’d dreamt of.” Fellow attendee and PR vet Charles McDonald says he’d originally set a “final, final” cutoff point of 4 a.m., but emerged blinking into the daylight at 8 a.m., “having had my internal organs vigorously massaged by the sound system.”
An end to COVID-era restrictions and curfews should add energy to this year’s Cannes party scene. Though beach curfews of 2 a.m. — introduced in the mid-2010s — will mean that Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis will have a hard time matching the bacchanalia of 2001’s Moulin Rouge party, which featured Fatboy Slim on the decks and the film’s entire cast — including Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor — hoofing it on the dance floor. Even Rupert Murdoch, then head of Moulin Rouge studio 20th Century Fox and no one’s idea of the life of the party, was spotted in the back, standing on his chair to check out the action.
Another Cannes party high-water mark, according to festival regulars, was the 1998 Velvet Goldmine fete held in a crumbling chateau on the edge of a cliff. The film’s international publicist Jonathan Rutter says it felt like “every famous face in Cannes” was in attendance, including McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale, Toni Collette, Eddie Izzard, Michael Stipe, Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder. Rather than the usual sardine-like affairs where people are forced to stand in line for plastic glasses of lukewarm rosé, this was “buzzy but not overcrowded,” Rutter recalls. “I still remember standing in the warm night breeze in the garden looking over the sea, chatting to someone, and then realizing that my Champagne glass had been topped up without me even noticing,” he says, adding that the event had an “elegance and class” he hasn’t encountered since.
Even before COVID, Cannes’ party scene was moving away from the big bash toward “more intimate, cooler affairs,” notes one international sales executive. Part of the reason is financial: declining theatrical revenues have meant smaller “promotional” budgets to tap into for those Cannes blowouts.
One of the last of the legendary Cannes parties is also a cautionary tale. The 2011 launch event for Red Granite Pictures (which had just announced it was financing The Wolf of Wall Street) had it all: a celeb-packed guest list (including DiCaprio, Pharrell Williams, Jon Hamm and Bradley Cooper), a no-holds-barred approach to food and booze, as well as a Coachella-worthy live performance by Kanye West (with Jamie Foxx joining at one point to sing “Gold Digger”).
“And it wasn’t just one of those 10-minute can’t-be-bothered paid-for performances — more like 90 minutes of an absolutely amazing show,” says Sundance Film Festival: London programmer Wendy Mitchell. “It definitely felt like a party I shouldn’t have been invited to.”
Red Granite, of course, went down in flames just a few years later after it was caught up in the multibillion-dollar Malaysian 1MDB corruption scandal. Which may have accounted for the vast fortune spent on the party (and the reluctance of anyone since to follow this example).