Take an amusing step back in time at the Cannes Film Festival by watching the 1980 documentary, "Billy Baxter Presents Diary of the Cannes Film Festival with Rex Reed." It will be available to watch for free on Vimeo during the run of Cannes 2015, which ends May 24. The film's producer, Billy "Silver Dollar" Baxter, was one of the great characters at the Cannes Film Festival, and turns up routinely in Roger's festival coverage. Roger's May 12th dispatch from 1980 begins with him conversing with Baxter during the filming of the documentary. Baxter's son, Jack, said he wanted to make the film available online "in memory of Billy, Roger, Andrew Sarris, Charles Champlin, Richard Corliss and others" from the festival's past.
“‘Diary of the Cannes Film Festival with Rex Reed’ is a project my father had in his head for several years before he actually put the pieces together for 1980,” recalls Jack. “All of the critics (including Roger) loved him because he essentially acted as their press agent and treated them as the real stars and celebrities of Cannes. He made ‘Sexy Rexy’ his star and appointed Roger and everybody else ‘associate producers and co-writers.’ Lord Lew Grade put up a lot of the finances but my father put up a lot of dough himself. He rented eight hotel rooms plus an office suite overlooking the Croisette at the Hotel Majestic for the one-month shoot. Even in 1980 he spent money like there was no tomorrow. We had access because of his public relations connections and the film critics and interviewed every star in Cannes. ‘Diary’ was the highest rated television documentary in the UK when it aired in June 1980 and was broadcast in dozens of countries around the world – except the US. Because of UK union rules in those days, everything needed to be on film and not video tape. My father's American rights were not bought because the story was deemed stale by early July 1980. So, what viewers can now see online in 2015 is a time capsule of 1980.”
The nearly hour-long documentary is indeed a priceless time capsule, featuring interviews with festival director Gilles Jacob, Kirk Douglas, Bob Fosse, Liza Minnelli, Danny Kaye, Ricky Schroder, Paul McCartney, Stacy Keach, David Carradine, Anouk Aimée, Peter Sellers and many others. There are nearly as many familiar faces as there are topless women on display. Reed's sardonic commentary results in several amusing moments, such as when he's informing Lucie Arnaz about the town's color-coded beaches, rummaging through swag that includes a hat promoting "Chauncey Gardner for President," and reflecting on how two of the festival's recurring themes in 1980 have been "cruelty to animals and incest." Roger once declared the film as "the best documentary of the Cannes Film Festival." And frequently told stories about the happenings at the Petit Carlton and the Hotel Majestic. When Billy came to our wedding in 1992 he of course gifted the bride and groom with silver dollars.
Below is an engaging interview with Baxter about his career and legacy.
To read more about Ebert's adventures with Baxter, read this chapter from "Life Itself," which the critic reposted upon the news of Baxter's death in 2012. "Diary of the Cannes Film Festival" is available for purchase on Amazon, and has an official site as well.