Traditional values on display in Cannes

Eastwood, Gray pluck emotional strings

CANNES -- Old-style Hollywood was very much on display Tuesday in Cannes as the wraps came off two American Competition pics -- "Changeling" and "Two Lovers" -- and the principals were paraded out to talk about their movies.

What's old-style about Clint Eastwood is that, like some of the masters from the golden age, he is now in the enviable position of getting just about anything made that he takes a shining to. And James Gray, albeit of a younger generation, doggedly adheres to a similarly old-fashioned concept of storytelling rather than succombing to digital delirium.

While their films are both strong emotional dramas, of a kind increasingly rare in Hollywood, the two helmers handled the lobbed questions during their respective pressers in quite distinctive ways: Clint quite laconic and laid-back, Gray more impassioned and garrulous -- so much so that at one point the moderator cut him off: "James, breathe."

Most of the questions for Eastwood, Angelina Jolie and the screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski had to do with the historical accuracy of the late 1920s period -- and how the filmmakers' attitude toward corruption translated into the film.

Eastwood and Straczynski pointed out how closely they adhered to the actual events surrounding the series of childkillings in the area at the time, the corruption that was festering in the L.A. police dept., and the oppressive condescension toward women, especially uppity ones.

"Every two or three decades the police or the political structure goes through some revolution. This regime was particularly corrupt. There was very little fabrication of actual facts," Eastwood said.

Asked by one older journo, who obviously watched the film closely, how come the radio Jolie switches on starts playing music immediately (when such gizmos back then had tubes that took a while to heat up and emit sound), Eastwood rejoined good-naturedly: "I didn't want to bore you all to death, so I took some dramatic liberties."

It's still unclear whether the title will remain "Changeling" or be changed to "The Exchange." Jolie confessed affection for the French translation "l'Echange," which appeared on the print shown here.

As for Gray, he became encouraged by the lack of precision in the questions at his presser to spell out his criticism of American moviemaking. With their addiction to popcorn movies, he argued, the studios in the last three decades have essentially imposed on the public "a bogus fast-food reading of life."

"Americans were once amazing storytellers," Gray went on, "but the big-business takeover of the movie industry has changed that."

If McDonalds hamburgers are fed to people for most of the year, Gray explained, and then one day they're given sushi, "their response isn't 'Wasn't that yellowtail amazing' but rather 'What is that?!' "

In other words, movies like his own are no longer a diet that folks are accustomed to or quite know how to digest -- nor do most marketing execs know how to handle.

Still, Gray, who also managed to inject Jacques Lacan, Federico Fellini, and "Paisan" into the discussion, admitted that he himself had been fortunate with his last two movies, and is in Cannes for the second year in a row with a movie.

Despite what folks have said of him, Gray says he writes rather quickly and as for "Two Lovers," the actors were quick to sign on, and the financiers "wonderful." Only mishap: star Joachim Phoenix, who was sidelined by a stomach virus and couldn't travel.