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Cannes #3: Dreamgirls deferred

Director Bill Condon (from left), Beyonce Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson appear after the preview of scenes from "Dreamgirls" Friday at Cannes.

CANNES, France -- One of the traditions at Cannes is the dramatic unveiling of advance footage from a blockbuster scheduled to open next Christmas. I avoid these opportunities. I prefer to see movies all at once. Therefore I turned down an invitation to the preview party for "Dreamgirls," the big musical scheduled to open Dec. 6.

"You're crazy," I was informed. "People are dying to get into that party."

I considered my latest report from the festival. It involved movies about cow manure in hamburger meat, and a taxidermist who invents a machine to kill and stuff himself. Perhaps, I thought, my readers would enjoy reading about something more cheerful, like Beyonce Knowles.

My wife Chaz and I arrived at the Hotel Martinez an hour late for the party, which would be starting before long. People were not dying to get into the party. They were killing to get into the party. The customary riot was under way. Jamie Foxx was entering the building, and gendarmes were holding back surging masses of paparazzi determined to repair the world's tragic shortage of photos of Jamie Foxx. We fought through the crowd to the entrance point, where the barricades were manned by those fierce guards in tuxedos known at Cannes as the gorillas.

"Non!" explained a gorilla, as we indicated a desire to enter. "Impossible!"

"But we are invited!"

"Enn-vee-tay!" he said, pointing to the other end of the mob, a block down the street. Mark Twain once explained that all foreigners understand English if it is pronounced loudly and slowly enough, and so I said, "We ... are ... invited!"

"Impossible!" he explained in French. He jabbed his finger in a giant arc to indicate that we should overleap the mob. Luckily, in French I know how to say, "Not by foot, I hope!" When I told him that, the gorilla started talking into his cufflink. I know when I am beaten. We plunged into the mob, and emerged at a point where Richard and Mary Corliss, the film critic of Time and his wife, were shaking their heads and waving us off.

"We're at the wrong place," they told us. "We have to go up to the front of that mob."

A gorilla was fiercely watching for any excuse to apply a choke hold.

"We just came from there and they told us to come here," I said. Richard nodded curtly and translated this into English: "They just came from there and were told to come here!"

"Must go there!" said the gorilla.

"Not by foot, I hope!"

We hurled ourselves again into the mob and fought our way back up the street, where the original gorillas regarded us with total indifference as we walked directly into the hotel. The story has a happy ending. Once inside the hotel, we were given badges that would admit us to the hotel.

As for the "Dreamgirls" preview, the theory is that after seeing 20 minutes from the movie I will write a story saying I can't wait until Dec. 6 to see the rest of it. There is no sense in being coy. Those were 20 terrific minutes. They involved three unknown backup singers (Beyonce Knowles, Anika Noni Rose and Jennifer Hudson) rehearsing with a James Brown-type played by Eddie Murphy. Then a musical montage. Then Jamie Foxx as a former car salesman who has transformed himself into a brilliant manager. "Didn't you sell me my Caddy?" Murphy asks. Then the famous scene where the sweet girl with the best voice (Hudson) is told she's being replaced as the lead by the Dreamgirl with more glamor (Knowles).

Bill Condon, director of the film (and an Oscar winner for the screenplay of "Chicago," the famous musical filmed in Toronto), bounded onstage and introduced Knowles, Rose, Hudson, Foxx and the film's choreographer, Fatima Robinson. Tumultuous cheering.

At the reception, Jennifer Hudson, the "American Idol" loser from Chicago who is now one of the program's biggest winners, introduced her mother, Darnell, to Ian McKellen, who starred in Bill Condon's "Gods and Monsters" (1998). Sir Ian confessed himself charmed by mother and daughter.

Also in the room was Chris Tucker, in an ice cream suit and shocking pink tie. "Do you have a film here?" I asked. "No," he said, "just hanging out." That possibly translates as, "No, but my people and Jackie Chan's people are meeting in hotel rooms to discuss 'Rush Hour 3' and pre-selling it to most of the world."

And Lawrence Laws Watford and his wife, Angela Watford, were there. May 14 was their first wedding anniversary. He has a short film in the official competition, and she is the copy editor of Star magazine. "I never miss it," I said. They were such really nice people, I wanted to introduce them to Ian McKellen, just to see three nice people at the same time. But by then I myself was feeling so nice that I considered taking some cookies out to the gorillas. It is a lonely life they lead.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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