Madonna, the singer (you’ve heard of her), was a guest at the annual Cinema Against AIDS AmFar dinner in Cannes Thursday night. It was a rare appearance tied to her trying to sell her Africa documentary. She’s never been to the dinner before, so it was also a novelty.
Sharon Stone, who is the face of AmFar, was thrilled nonetheless. Thanks to Madonna’s just showing up, and Stone’s persistence in selling her at auction, AmFar raised a staggering $10 million Thursday night. That’s up nearly $3 million from last year. So say what you will, Madonna’s presence was her donation to the cause.
She also let Stone put up for auction, under the glittering tent at Moulin des Mougins, Madonna's diamond encrusted Karl Lagerfeld custom-designed handbag (including her lip gloss, lip balm, magnifying mirror, hair clips and lozenges), one of her guitars and the promise to sing two songs privately for a bidder before a concert this fall somewhere on her tour.
To make the Lagerfeld bag even more attractive, Madonna threw in her blotting paper for her face. She blotted her face on stage, handed the paper to Stone, who did the same and quipped, “There’s a lot of DNA there now. In case there’s a murder you’ll have the evidence.”
Madonna said, “I’m rubbing it against my body."
Those items altogether brought in just under $1 million euros, or $1.5 million, maybe, when all the calculations are done. You’d have thought those things would have reaped higher numbers. Madonna certainly did.
When the bag wasn’t selling so fast or for that much, Madonna beseeched the crowd, “It’s not the bag, baby, it’s the thought.” She added of the blotting paper, “I’m wearing, I’m rubbing it against my body. Don’t insult me.”
The idea for the two songs in a private concert came from Harvey Weinstein, the motivating force behind the Amfar dinner for 14 years. “Madonna will sing for you,” Harvey told the crowd. Madonna interjected, “Not tonight — I’m not ready for that!”
The original bid went out at 250,000 euros, which prompted Madonna to joke: “I’m worth more than that! People have asked me to play at their bar mitzvahs!”
When the two songs only fetched a total of 350,000 euros — or about $600,000 — the Material Girl, who was on stage with Stone, leaned into the mike and advised the audience, “Don’t humiliate me.”
With that, she and her posse — manager Guy Oseary, pal Donatella Versace, hubby Guy Ritchie and publicist Liz Rosenberg — upped and left. Stone must have known this was going to happen, because she told the audience before the songs were auctioned: “Madonna’s got to leave.” There was still about an hour left of the event, but Stone didn’t mind: Madonna had done what she came for, and what she was asked to do.
“She gave us a lot of her time,” Stone told me. “She did a great job.”
Stone, however, did the best job. She started the evening by raising $2.1 million (dollars, not euros) for her new Sharon Stone Pediatric AIDS fund within AmFar. She immediately got 21 people in the audience to contribute $100,000 each, including Diane von Furstenberg, Roberto Cavalli, Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel clothing, Chopard, Valentino, Dior, producer Ryan Kavanagh, Michel Litvak and Vin Roberti.
Other celebrity guests in the audience that paid $5,000 a ticket included Kenneth and Maria Cuomo Cole, Christian Slater and Tamara Mellon, Sean "Diddy" Combs (who helped out in the auction and donated money), Natalie Portman, Rose McGowan, Rodrigo Santoro, David Furnish (who came without partner Elton John, who was laid up at their villa, he said, with bronchitis), Alan Cumming, Michelle Yeoh, Vivi Nevo and Ziyi Zhang, director Alfonso Cuaron, Polanski documentary maker Marina Zenovich, Joshua Jackson and Diane Kruger, Denise Rich, Star Jones and stripper Dita Vn Teese, who really doesn’t strip (she’s just provocative).
Madonna didn’t sing, but Mary J. Blige did in her smashing trademark off-key style, versions of U2’s “One” and her own “No More Drama,” which got the audience up on their feet. Later, model Milla Jovovich, whom I’d run into using the mens’ room with Donatella Versace earlier, sang a jazzy blues number with a small combo with a lot of enthusiasm.
Supermodel and tsunami activist Petra Nemcova also made a presentation, which meant that she and Madonna were there to represent Sean Penn’s romantic headache week. Penn, head juror for the film festival, was presumably at a screening.
As for Diddy, he fetched 200,000 euros for something called “24 hrs with P Diddy.” This came to include shopping on Rodeo Drive, visit to a spa for a massage, visits to “your 2 or 3 favorite nightclubs,” as well as a strip club and a studio session to make a record.
The biggest winners of the night? A young good-looking Russian man named Milutin Gatsby. He bought Madonna’s white acoustic guitar for 300,000 euros, then said he’d give it back to her so she could have a Malawi orphan learn to play it.
Later, at the swinging after-party at Jimmy’s in the Cannes port, Gatsby — appropriately named since no one knew who he was — got to dance with Stone and even got a ride home from her.
The other big winner: Georgina Chapman, wife of Harvey Weinstein, whose self-designed Marquesa gown was easily the fashion hit of the evening, a tour de force lesson in elegance.
Charlie Kaufman has finally directed his own movie called “Synecdoche, New York,” which is supposed to sound out like “Schenectady,” a city in upstate New York where Kaufman grew up.
Kaufman, you know, writes inventive if not always understandable screenplays like “Being John Malkovich,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and “Adaptation.”
According to the dictionary, synecdoche is also “a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage).”
Kaufman must have always had this word in the back of his mind as some kind of meta-play on his hometown.
The result is this odd, confounding movie featuring a mind-blowing cast of A-level talent: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
What happens here is up to interpretation. Hoffman is a theater director in a college town. Keener is his wife and mother of his young daughter, but she leaves him. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? Here’s where it gets murky: Hoffman is suffering from a number of ailments. A silent man is watching him in the background as he gets a genius grant and produces a huge theatrical spectacle. Morton, whom he sleeps with, lives in a house that’s always on fire. Jennifer Jason Leigh speaks in a German accent.
There is also a lot of scatological talk about feces and bodily fluids. Hoffman also stages “Death of a Salesman” with young actors and gets great reviews. His 4-year-old daughter turns into a tattooed stripper. And so on. You not only need to be wide awake for “Synecdoche,” you need a decoder ring.
It’s all about clues. The overriding theory is that Hoffman’s character actually dies at the start of the movie, and the rest is either his dying dream, his life passing before his eyes or who knows what. Most of the audience didn’t. In my twenties I would have said this was a work of genius. Now it seemed like kind of a great disaster.
By contrast, Chris Nolan’s classic “Memento,” which few people get the first time, seems like a walk in the park. Whoever releases “Synecdoche” should get a nice cult hit out of it, or a migraine. I just hope the DVD is annotated, like the Pop Up video they do now on “Lost” re-runs.