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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Ovation for Moore's 'Fahrenheit' lasts longer than Bush dawdled

CANNES, France -- Two questions involving the duration of events: (1) So how long, exactly, was the standing ovation for Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11"? And (2) Did President Bush actually remain in a Florida classroom, reading from My Pet Goat, for seven minutes after he was informed of the second attack on the World Trade Center?

Moore's anti-Bush documentary was received rapturously at its black-tie screening here Monday, and a friend told me the ovation lasted 25 minutes. In my report I suggested that Cannes ovations, like the estimates of parade crowds in Chicago, have a tendency to be exaggerated. Since I attended an 8 a.m. press screening, I was not inside the Palais des Festivals to clock it myself.

Now I have another source. The ovation lasted 20 minutes, according to Variety, which may be correct, because its reporters all carry stopwatches to check the running times of movies.

In any event it was "the longest ovation in the history of the festival," according to Thierry Fremaux, the festival's director. At a party Monday evening, I asked Moore. "It depends on when you start counting," he said. "Do you start with the beginning of the closing credits or when the lights go up? When they just wouldn't stop clapping, I walked out and they kept applauding in the lobby."

And as for Bush's delay in reacting to the attack on the World Trade Center? Conventional wisdom has it that the president was reading to schoolchildren when he got the news and quickly left the room.

The Moore version: He was informed of the first attack, went into the room anyway, was informed of the second attack, and remained with the students until a staff member suggested that he leave.

"The teacher in that Sarasota classroom happened to tape the whole event," Moore told me. "We'd seen other footage from the networks, but it was all edited. She just left the camera running. She said nobody had ever asked her for the film. Bush didn't instinctively jump up and go into action, but just stayed on autopilot until someone told him what to do."

*****

One question involving the conditions of performance:

Is it true that Billy Bob Thornton was drunk during most of his scenes for "Bad Santa," the Terry Zwigoff film that plays Tuesday in the festival? (It opened in the States last year.)

"Absolutely," Thornton told me as we did a Q&A session at the American Pavilion. "There's one scene where I'm supposed to arrive late to work as Santa Claus, with a cut face, holding a broken bottle. I get to the top of the escalator where all the kiddies are waiting and attack a papier-mache donkey.

"Well, I had overprepared for the scene, let's say, and I was supposed to wait at the bottom of the escalator until the director said, 'Action!' Then a crew member would start the escalator. I laid down on the steps and went to sleep, the escalator started, I didn't know a thing and I arrived upstairs, still passed out."

The actor said he rarely drinks on the job, "but this role seemed to call for it."

*****

Decline of Civilization, Cont'd: At the American Pavilion, I was given an orange baseball cap bearing the logo of the Screen Actors Guild Indie Division. The bill was frayed.

"Hey," I said. "Gimme a new cap. This one is all beat up."

"It's brand new," said Paul Bales, director of the SAG Indie Division. "The kids like them to look that way. We had to pay a guy to distress them."

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