Ty Burr
May 24, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Film festivals are great fun — for about two days. After that, your skin peels from sitting in dark theaters for eight hours at a pop, a steady diet of cocktail wienies wreaks havoc on your nervous system, and you begin to crave talking about something — anything — other than movies. So this year I let others go to the French Riviera and stayed home to experience the Cannes International Film Festival on the World Wide Web. (All right, so EW wasn’t planning to send me anyway — but it sounded good, didn’t it?) True, I couldn’t screen films like Spike Lee’s Girl 6 or Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty this way, but who wants to watch movies on the Riviera, anyway? And while there’s something to be said for knocking heads with Sandra Bullock, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and Liv Tyler at a party, an online interview tends to be pithier. What I wanted — and what the Web delivered — was industry buzz, unsubstantiated gossip, and cheesy photos of celebrity wannabes.

With its Hollywood-insider perspective, Film Scouts on the Riviera was a good site from which to taxi forth. Film Scouts is a well-structured grab bag of movie trailers and reviews, and its Cannes foray showcased the site’s industry connections: The briskly thorough ”Guide to Cannes” was cowritten by former New York Daily News critic Kathleen Carroll, and the hilarious ”Diner” restaurant diary came from HBO film buyer Jim Byerley. Even better was ”Essential Riviera French”: Sound clips to help you correctly pronounce such mots as ”Je n’ai vu aucun film. Trop de rendez-vous” (”I haven’t seen any films, I’ve got too many appointments,” or, more precisely, ”Actually, I don’t have credentials, so I can’t get in”).

Weak spots on the Scouts site include a boilerplate list of films in competition — a synopsis or two would have been welcome — an empty chat room, and a threadbare gossip section. But there was a lovely interview with Kansas City director Robert Altman on growing up in said city (not to mention a less-revealing chat with festival jury president Francis Ford Coppola).

For all that, Film Scouts on the Riviera never quite conveyed the ambiance of Cannes — that unique combination of dealmaking panic, hedonistic bliss, and exhausted cynicism. Those qualities weren’t present at the official site, Festival International du Film de Cannes, either. In fact, there wasn’t that much there at all, other than daily screening schedules, a nifty searchable database on Cannes history, some canned news items, and photos of mostly French stars (though there was that one picture of I Shot Andy Warhol‘s Lili Taylor looking uncharacteristically soigne against a background of yachts).

It wasn’t until I surfed over to Live Cannes ’96 — a joint production of the French newspaper Le Monde and online news outlet World Media Live — that I hit the merelode. Here were not only synopses of the movies but filmographies of the directors. Here were wryly observed field reports posted every few hours by reporter Stephen O’Shea (including this indelible Cannes image: ”An implant brigade in low-cut dresses hovers around the pillars of the central bar while TV crews dance into the dining room in search of authentic film people to interview”), gate-crashing party buzz from another writer, an appropriately snotty clickable map of the town, and articles and movie reviews from Le Monde (mostly in French, tant pis). And here, too, were the tackola photo ops that make Cannes what it is — the shot of model Eva Herzigova surrounded by gasping shutterbugs could serve as an eternal poster for this festival.

So what did I learn from my trip? That no one was sure whether Madonna actually showed up. That the best way to get into a sold-out screening of Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book was to wait 20 minutes for the walkouts to start. That Stealing Beauty, starring Tyler and Irons, may be the best thing Bertolucci has made in years. That the Girl 6 party was better than Girl 6.

Was it the same as being there? No. And it won’t be till I can download some cocktail wienies. Film Scouts: B
Festival International: C+ Live Cannes: B+

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