"There's a great war," Elizabeth Taylor told a star-studded crowd on Thursday night in a village near Cannes. She spoke in a velvety voice, clear and strong. The war she referred to was the one on AIDS, and La Liz flew from Beverly Hills to the South of France to continue her campaign against this insidious disease.
Taylor was physically fragile but feisty as ever. She is tiny, and sometimes appears to be a walking blonde wig. But her heart is big and her intentions serious. She didn't come to the Relais Chateau in Moulins de Mougins to flounce around. She came to raise money for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Several corporate sponsors including Motorola were there to support her.
And so were the stars: Elton John and David Furnish, Bianca Jagger, Calvin Klein, actors Sam Rockwell and Patricia Clarkson from the film Welcome to Collinwood, Stephen Baldwin, director Michael Moore, Adrien Brody, Prince Albert of Monaco, Milla Jovovich, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, New York TV news star Jane Hanson, Joan and Melissa Rivers, Jeannie Wolff, director David Lynch, and Miramax's voluble honcho Harvey Weinstein who proclaimed, "I will sponsor this event for its lifetime." Before the night was over, he would donate about $250,000 on the spur of the moment.
But certainly apart from Dame Elizabeth's royal entrance and speech the biggest star of the night was Sharon Stone. I don't care what anyone says about this woman — she is funny, candid, spontaneous, and persistent. Forget about a movie career, Sharon — you should have a talk show or a variety show. It would be bigger than anything. Stone, continuing to be the most glamorous star of Cannes, emceed a very lively auction of expensive baubles and perks donated by the corporate sponsors. She probably worked harder than she had on any movie — and without a script. This was not easy. Money is tight this year and even people dripping in diamonds and designer gowns were not particularly interested in opening their wallets.
"Do I have to come down there, Calvin Klein?" Sharon did what she could to pry some money out of the fashion designer, who sat at the head table near the stage with Taylor, Jagger, and Sir Elton. Eventually Klein coughed up $70,000 for a Louis Vuitton travelling case that Stone herself had custom designed for the auction.
But that wasn't all. Stone wrung dough out of these people even though they seemed made of … well, stone. Her ad-libs were precise and funny. Talking about Skibo Castle, where Madonna and Guy Ritchie were married, Stone said, "It's for members only. Well, f--- 'em." She continued: "This is for $2,000 a couple. You can't come to my house for that!" She baited the dour Prince Albert into buying private tennis lessons with Pete Sampras for $100,000. She welcomed Milla Jovovich to the stage ("Can I buy a vowel?" she kidded Milla), then got the model/actress/sometime singer to warble a very sultry and surprisingly good version of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."
The crowd went wild, but still they were tight-fisted with the dough. This did not stop Stone's spontaneity from spreading to others. One of the best lines of the night came when Iman, David Bowie's wife and the famous model, who is now the DeBeers diamond spokeswoman, came on stage to retrieve a wildly expensive gem from Stone's neck. "Excuse my nervousness," Iman said, "I've never removed jewelry or anything else from a woman before!"
In all the excitement, Taylor — whose table was on the opposite side of the stage as Stone's — slipped out without fanfare. The two are like the warring tribal queens of the AmFar, each with her own camp and followers. It's interesting because they have the same goals, although I'm sure Taylor is not interested in Stone's theatrics. What she may not realize, and Stone most assuredly does, is that raising money for any charity post-September 11 and in bad economy is a brutal job. Taylor's royal presence isn't enough anymore to guarantee success.
What La Liz missed, sadly, was a rousing rare performance by Elton John with "Soul Man" Sam Moore. First Moore executed a hot version of his trademark song, then joined Elton on "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" and "Twist and Shout." Romijn-Stamos, Jovovich, and Stone took mikes and did Supremes-like back up, and the audience full of face lifts and Harry Winston jewels boogied into the night. Moore, a surprise guest, was a revelation and provided a boost of energy for the weary crowd.
So that's the famous AmFar event you hear so much about every year. Quite a time, although you can see why the Cannes Film Festival people consider AmFar interlopers — the evening siphons off all interest from the festival and has nothing to do with films per se.
Last night, two premieres packed in crowds: the Russo brothers' very funny comedy Welcome to Collinwood, and Roman Polanski's The Pianist. The former film, which is very quirky, makes a star of Sam Rockwell, who is utterly charming as the leader of a gang of bungling burglars. George Clooney, the film's executive producer, has an excellent cameo. Clooney, by the way, just directed Rockwell in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, due this fall.
As for The Pianist: everyone loves it, and certainly Polanski — director of the famed Chinatown, Tess, and Rosemary’s Baby — has a success d'estime. But the question is: What American distributor will take on Polanski's problems with the U.S. legal system and give him an Oscar campaign? (He has so much baggage he needs porters.) Polanski is a fugitive from the law, and he's accused of having sex with a minor. Even if the girl — now grown up — absolves him, Polanski has huge hurdles in front of him with the legalities. Will there be an advocate for him? This should be interesting …