Cannes is a showcase for international stars and a platform for major movies and also a marketing site for filmmakers eager to get the world buzzing about their new pictures.
Fans hoped Martin Scorsese's new movie "Gangs of New York" would open this year's program. Scorsese is a perfectionist, though, and he's still in the editing room, honing transitional scenes and tweaking the music score, hoping for a final cut by July.
Who can blame him for taking his time? This is his biggest-budget production ever, at almost $100 million, with an impressive cast Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz and an epic story about turf wars in Manhattan during the first half of the 19th century.
Since he couldn't show the movie here, Scorsese and Miramax Films decided to do the next-best thing: screen about 20 minutes of footage for a huge audience including Diaz, DiCaprio, and celebrities such as Sharon Stone, a member of the festival jury.
Scorsese isn't one for aggressive self-promotion, so he preceded the preview with a tribute to Billy Wilder, the much-admired Hollywood director who died recently. After enjoying Scorsese's commentary on clips from "Some Like It Hot" and other Wilder classics, spectators settled back for their first glimpse of his own movie.
And an underwhelming glimpse it proved to be! Stitched together like an extended coming-attractions trailer, the material played like a series of clichés and stereotypes: the intimidating master thug, the orphaned son bent on revenge, the feisty Irish minx, and so on, all surrounded by spectacular but not particularly atmospheric sets.
You can't judge a movie by its promotion, and as a longtime Scorsese admirer, I'm still hopeful "Gangs of New York" will be a terrific film when it comes to theaters. All that's certain is that the Cannes preview was one of the worst ideas of his illustrious career.