BBC TwoNewsnight Review
Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Thursday, 21 May 2009 13:18 UK

Sartorial double standards of the red carpet

By Sarfraz Manzoor
BBC Newsnight Review, Cannes

French actress Melanie Laurent and US director Quentin Tarantino dance on the red carpet
If you are famous enough the bowtie rule does not apply

"Let me tell you about the very rich" wrote F Scott Fitzgerald "they are different from you and me". It is an observation that applies doubly to the rich and famous - they are nothing like you and me. They walk among us but play by different rules.

This long held suspicion was roundly confirmed when I attended the red carpet gala screening of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. It was my first experience of such premieres - the rest of the week has been spent at press and industry screenings, but this was something else entirely.

It was a black tie event (a dress code that, hilariously, also applies to cameramen and women and photographers- as if the lenses and tripods aren't enough to be carrying in luggage) and so I duly dressed up in my sole black suit, a dress shirt bought from House of Fraser only days earlier and a rather nice black tie.

At the last minute I popped a bowtie into my pocket - I have an aversion to wearing bowties on account that they look ridiculous - but thought that as with credit cards, it is best to carry one even if I had no intention of using it.

'Unacceptable' attire

Fellow Newsnight Review panellist Natalie Haynes and I sauntered to the front of the line whereupon a festival official looked at me with an expression that neatly compressed pity with disappointment and said in a voice that brooked no dissent: "I'm sorry that tie is unacceptable."

As if my lack of bowtie deficiency wasn't embarrassing enough I could see words being exchanged and fingers pointing at my shoes

"That's fine, I have another one," I said brightly, scrambling in my pockets for the bowtie. "You will need to put it on before you can come in," said the man.

If only it was that easy. I don't mind confessing I have very little experience with bowties and the ones I have worn in the past have been Velcro affairs - this one was a more complicated contraption and I was frankly clueless about how to tighten it round my collar.

With each step forward I could see eyes watching me struggle with the fiendish thing.

As if my lack of bowtie deficiency wasn't embarrassing enough I could see words being exchanged and fingers pointing at my shoes, which were evidently inappropriately dusty and insufficiently shiny.

Breaking the rules

Fortunately a way was found to keep the bowtie round my neck without it sliding off and Natalie and I made our way up along the red carpet.

It is an extraordinary experience, the carpet like a red sea between twin banks layered with flashing cameras and yelling photographers.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Pitt and Jolie added some A-list glamour to the premiere

I glided unnoticed past the identikit and improbably tall women and their surprisingly short and grimly unattractive male partners.

The photographers could not care less about the men, it was the women they wanted and mostly the women obliged with studied over the shoulder gazes and practised poses that depicted approximations of what it is to be happy.

I had no idea who the women were and I suspect the photographers were equally clueless.

It was easier to deduce who the big shot guys were - they were the ones who broke the rules.

They broke the rules about short, ugly guys having any chance with tall hot women, and they broke the rules about bowties.

The big guns, the real players, they didn't wear bowties- they wore whatever the hell they liked. Some wore ties, others didn't just go tie-less, they unbuttoned their shirts as if to remind those of us in bowties of their superior social standing.

'Well preserved'

Meanwhile, out in the great beyond, the masses had assembled beyond the barriers, their cameras poised. This may be the year of the auteur at the festival, but the fans were there to see stars.

I was already inside the cinema by the time the real stars arrived. I watched in on the silver screen that was transmitting live pictures of what was occurring only yards from where we were sitting.

Cast of Inglourious Basterds bing photographed
What must it be like to be the centre of such attention?

I saw Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie - who had flown in from a courtroom in The Hague where she had watched the prosecution of the Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga - signing autographs for fans who appeared on the verge of delirium.

Pitt, in his white bowtie and aviator shades looked astonishingly well preserved for someone who will be 46 this year.

Jolie was displaying her trademark expression of icy moral superiority that said "I can't believe you people care about such trifling matters as films and celebrities when there is suffering in Congo/Darfur/Sudan/Sierra Leone/Cambodia and by the way don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?"

What must it be like to be at the centre of such attention? To be able to launch a thousand flashbulbs merely by stepping outside of the door?

I looked around me in the theatre and I saw people taking photographs on their mobile phones of the cinema screen that was showing images of Pitt and Jolie - who were just outside the building.

And it was then that I concluded that, yes, the famous are different from you and me. Watch Newsnight Review from Cannes on Friday at 1030pm.

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