April 22, 2012

2012 TCM Film Fest Round-Up Part 2

The first part of this round-up covered Thursday and Friday, but as any seasoned festival-goer knows, the madness doesn't really start until Saturday.

Appropriately enough, my Saturday began quite literally with an early morning screening of The Longest Day (insert your own joke here). This was capped off by a talk from Robert Wagner, who recounted his small role amongst the bevy of stars (Mitchum, Fonda, Wayne, Burton etc). Seeing it on the big screen, I'm reminded what a towering achievement The Longest Day really is. It's an epic that achieves the intimacy of a character drama; some sequences are more effective than others but on the whole, it's an entertaining, remarkable film that can be counted among the best of the war film genre. The editing and that hummable score are particularly noteworthy.

The next screening was the one I'd most been looking forward to and it didn't disappoint. Retour de Flamme/3-D Rarities, presented by film historian Serge Bromberg, was probably the most unique offering of the festival and definitely something I would like to see more of in the future. The charmingly French Bromberg, of the terrific Lobster Films, curated/narrated/presented a clip show of ultra-rare 3D films, some over 100 years old. They included clips from the Lumiere Brothers, Soviet educational films, nature films, and a tremendous exhibition of circus performers whose juggled balls and pins came whizzing straight at you! In an era where it seems 3D is being exploited rather callously for big budget mass entertainments, it was astounding to realize that the technology (or some rudimentary form of it, anyway) had been popular with cinema-goers since the media's very inception. The presentation really gave a fascinating historical overview to the format.

Me, looking like a total 3D dork.

The next showing was Harold Lloyd in the terrific proto-romcom, Girl Shy. I was especially pumped for this screening as it coincided with the Campaign to Save the Harold Lloyd Birthplace, a contingent of silent movie and Harold Lloyd fans that hope to draw attention (and attendance) to the Burchard, Nebraska homestead where Lloyd was born. We handed out flyers to the people in line and everyone seemed genuinely interested in the campaign. Later this summer, we're hosting a Harold Lloyd Blog-a-Thon to raise awareness of the cause.

Anyway, the film. I had seen Girl Shy before, but you've never really seen a silent comedy (especially a Harold Lloyd comedy) until you've seen it in a packed house. The audience was screaming with laughter! Harold always kills, even eighty years after the fact!

The evening program begun with one of my all-time favorite films, Gun Crazy. This was a really special screening, as the star Peggy Cummins was there in person to talk about it. Apparently, the British-born Cummins hadn't been back in the U.S. since the 1950s and had never given a live interview about the film before! Wow, we were really being treated to something special. Peggy looked as gorgeous as ever, sporting a sparkly golden blazer and just generally being charming. It was clear the moderator Eddie Muller (the czar of noir) had a crush on her (as does anyone who watches the film!), so it was fun to see that dynamic in play during the Q&A. The print itself was gorgeous; I had never seen Gun Crazy on the big screen before, and boy, what a thrill. I know it sounds corny, but I really got a buzz off of seeing one of my favorite films noir on the big screen with the star in person.

We stuck around the Egyptian for the late night screening of a film I had never even heard of (but now can't imagine my life without), Call Her Savage. Starring one of the sexiest women ever onscreen, "It" girl Clara Bow, Call Her Savage is exactly what an outrageous pre-Code movie should be. It takes place in a land where wearing bras is unheard-of, whippings occur regularly and bestiality in-jokes are the norm. It is a wild, wild movie and Bow is full of sass as the ferocious, rebellious lead character. We were also treated to a short clip of Clara Bow in color (!), which was a real treat. She's even more beautiful in color.

I had wanted to stay up and watch Duck Soup at midnight, but I was just too tired. And I knew I had a huge day ahead of me. So, no (Duck) Soup for you! (Bad "Seinfeld" joke, I apologize).

My friends and I woke up super early on Sunday, convinced that we'd be late to the Cinerama screening of How The West Was Won. As it turned out, we were first in line (Hollywood Blvd was practically deserted) and the next people didn't show up for about half an hour. Oops! Well, we decided to feast ourselves on coffee and cheeseburgers for breakfast (good decisions) while we waited to be let in to the screening.

At the same time, they happened to be filming a documentary about Cinerama right next to us. They were filming with real Cinerama cameras, too!

Seeing these cameras in action--some were also on display inside the theater--was the highlight of the morning for me. Just when you think the bell's tolled for film and cinema and movies forever, someone decides to film a Cinerama documentary with real Cinerama cameras. Kind of renews your faith a bit.

The film was introduced by the one and only Debbie Reynolds, who's just as much as a spitfire as you'd expect her to be. She was full of enthusiasm for the movie, even some fifty-odd years after she made it. The most impressive part of the film is probably the soundtrack. They presented it in the old roadshow format which featured an entr'acte where we just listened to the score in the dark. It was wonderful. 

Because How The West Was Won clocks in at about one million hours, our viewing options for the rest of the day were somewhat limited. We decided to continue the theme of epic westerns with a screening of Howard Hawks' masterpiece, Rio Bravo. The always-beautiful Angie Dickinson was there to introduce the film and talk about making it. Her stories about Hawks and Wayne were wonderful. This is another film you truly can't appreciate until you've seen it on the big screen. It was filmed for that screen, you can tell. You're not really getting the full experience if you watch it on your TV at home.

After Rio Bravo, I think the combination of excitement and exhausting was now mingling with a sense of impending sadness. We only had one movie left: The Thief of Bagdad (another looong movie). It goes without saying that Douglas Fairbanks is amazing, but he is truly, truly a-ma-zing in this movie. He scales walls and climbs up ropes with an agility that is inhuman. He's more like some kind of wild animal in this flick. Like a boyish, charming, rakish wild animal. I don't even know how to describe the physical feats of wonder he pulls off as the title thief. I mean, Aladdin wishes. Presented with live musical accompaniment, the film was an instant energizer. Everyone in the theater was laughing and gasping and applauding in unison. It was a great, communal experience.

After this screening, we were all raring to go. Go party, that is. The film part of the film festival was over, but the fest part of the festival was just beginning. Maybe, however, the details of our hard partying into the night are best left remembered to those who experienced it. I'll leave you with this snapshot of two film nerds looking very, very, blissfully happy. Thanks, TCM Fest! See you in 2013!

April 21, 2012

2012 TCM Film Fest Round-Up Part 1

If this year and last are any indication, the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival is swiftly becoming the cinema-going event in the country. People from all across the United States trek out to Hollywood, CA to stand in long lines (in the rain this year), fight other cinephiles for seats in tiny theaters for a glimpse at 1928 Joan Crawford (can you blame them?), battle sleep deprivation Sunday afternoon to soak up the last few screenings and risk alcohol poisoning to chalk up the courage to talk to Leonard Maltin at the after party. (Okay, maybe that last one was just me.)

But now that our livers have had time to detox, what's left is the glorious memories, the embarrassing photos and the business cards from the eager, film-hungry fellow fans we met at the 2012 TCM Film Fest.

It was another spectacular year, somewhat marred by some scheduling conflicts (I'll get into that later), but overall, I had a blast. Well, beyond a blast, really. (What's beyond a blast?)

The festival kicked off on Thursday just as I had planned, with a screening of the silent Our Dancing Daughters, followed by the terrific noir Criss Cross. Even though the films were great, the best part of Thursday is meeting up with old friends and catching up, gabbing, squeeing, etc. about all the films we'd seen in the intervening year since the 2011 TCMFF.

Friday was probably my favorite day of the festival. Things started out early with a screening of Wings with Mr. Paramount himself, 94-year old A.C. Lyles. The incredible Mr. Lyles started out as a errand boy for Adolph Zukor (!) in the '30s and worked himself up through the company, ultimately becoming a producer for some of their most famous films. Mr. Lyles still works at Paramount; he has never had a job. Wings, the first best picture winner, is a silent film from 1927 and when you're watching a silent film from 1927 about WWI, you don't generally expect anyone to stand up and start speaking about their first-hand experience watching the film. But A.C. Lyles just isn't anyone. Lyles was just a boy when he saw Wings in theaters and was so taken with the film (it is spectacular) that he wrote a letter to Zukor asking to work with him. No response. He sent more letters. No response. Not a man (er, boy) to be kept waiting, Lyles wrote another letter. This time he made his intentions very clear. He wrote that he would be taking the train from Jacksonville, Florida to Hollywood, California and arriving at Paramount Studios for a job. He arrived. The secretaries didn't know what to do with this kid. He didn't have money for a return ticket. Ah, what the hell, Zukor said, hire him! Which is how A.C. Lyles became Mr. Paramount.

If you've ever seen Wings, you know how emotionally devastating it is--and this was only the first picture of the day! Needless to say, my friends and I were pretty wiped out. But like the good film festival soldiers we are, we forged onward. 

Here's where things got kind of wonky. I had my heart set on seeing the ultra-rare film noir Raw Deal with star Marsha Hunt in person. But we were so enamored of Mr. Lyles that we stayed for the entire Q&A after the film and then rushed over to the Chinese for Raw Deal. Well, nuts to that. Raw Deal was already more than 100 people over-capacity and there was more than an hour till the screening. A lot of people were upset. We commiserated in line and decided to get out ducks in a row. Just like that, a voluptuously-proportioned light appeared and ye, we were saved. Yes, Mae West to the rescue! We were just in time to catch the crackling delight I'm No Angel, starring the baroness of zaftifgness, Ms. West.

Our spirits considerably lifted (see, there are no disappointments at TCMFF!), we trekked over to another '30s comedy, Nothing Sacred, starring the divine, flawless, etc. Carole Lombard. I swear when I tell you I laughed till it hurts. Featuring a perfect script from the masterful Ben Hecht and pitch-perfect direction from the brilliant William Wellman, I do believe Nothing Sacred to be a screwball comedy without equal. It is perfectly absurd in only the way that genre can manufacture absurdity. Truly divine.

After dinner, we fulfilled our daily requirement of film noir with the Dick Powell-starring Cry Danger.  With a cigarette dangling perilously from his lips the entire, film, Powell commands the screen with the lackadaisical masculinity of a self-effacing Bogart. The film itself is a surprisingly delightful B-picture, chock full of fast and furious dialogue that tiptoes around self-parody without going over the edge. Most of the film takes place in a Bunker Hill trailer park, lending the film a sort of charming, shabby cheapness. Cheap suits, cheap talk, cheap lives...the entire aura of the picture is one of off-the-cuff sardonic wit cut with the bitterness of regret. Cry Danger is a truly underrated picture and one worth seeking out.

By this time, I was totally exhausted. I had wanted to catch Young Frankenstein at the Egyptian with Mel Brooks introducing, but I just couldn't make it past midnight, so I decided to check out Chinatown at Grauman's Chinese with Robert Towne and Robert Evans presenting. The magnitude of Grauman's Chinese cannot be underestimated. It is a giant, giant theater and a towering, enormous screen. There really is nothing like seeing a classic picture spread across that tableau. I've Chinatown countless times, but seeing it at TCMFF was like seeing it for the first time. Towne and Evans provided rambling commentary about the good old days during the Paramount revival of the '70s and some insights into the making of the picture. Towne's script remains a masterclass of the detective narrative. I can't imagine a time in the future when film student won't study it (I sure did).

With the day coming to the end, we all headed back to the hotel, exhausted and happy. In part two, Saturday, Sunday and the infamous after party.

April 10, 2012

My 2012 TCM Film Fest Schedule

Last year's TCMFF was a long weekend of veritable Sophie's Choices. My heart was set on Peter-O'Toole-a-Thon, but this was at the expense of some lovely other screenings, like The Outlaw Josey Wales, Manhattan, La Dolce Vita, Bigger Than Life, The Third Man and tons of others. To choose between all-star post-film discussions and Kevin Brownlow? So painful. Digital projection of a movie I've seen and loved or a restored 35mm of something I've never heard of? These are the manifold painful pleasures of the TCMFF, which is like an edenic fever-dream for cinephiles wrapped up in an absurdly jam-packed schedule of anxiety-inducing psychological torture and sadness.

But looking over this year's schedule has come as a pleasantly less heart-wrenching experience. 2012 seems a year programmed just for me, chock-full of westerns, films noir, silents, and classic Universal horror films. I mean, I take it these program decisions were a direct shout-out to yours truly. Holla, TCMFF programmers.

Check out the 2012 schedule here.

Thursday, April 12

Luckily, the first day is always the easiest. After what I assume will be a busy socializing (read: drinking) period in the morning and afternoon, my noir adventure begins at the 3PM Club TCM panel The Maltese Touch of Evil. What is this? Who knows, who cares; it sounds awesome.

Since nobody and their mother gets into the super-duper VIP screening of Cabaret, the rest of us rabble will no doubt congregate at the 5PM Club TCM Festival Welcome Party, where the scoring of free drinks gets top billing. If it's anything like last year, everyone will stand around awkwardly, there will be absolutely no breathing room and lots of very excited nerds talking with their hands.

Hopefully retaining at least a semblance of sobriety, I'll be spending the evening at the Chinese Multiplex 3 where the silent Joan Crawford-starring Our Dancing Daughters begins at 7:15PM. There I will remain to geek out over Eddie Muller, Burt Lancaster and noir in 35MM; yes, it's Criss Cross at 10PM.

Friday, April 13

Rise and shine to CRUSHING INDECISION. Will it be The Searchers at Grauman's or Wings at the Chinese Multiplex 1? Both films are digital projections, which kind of breaks my heart, but I've already seen Bringing Up Baby on the big screen and neither of the other films scheduled in the morning interest me. Ultimately, I think this will come down to which of my friends goes where. I'll follow the lemmings.

Lunchtime will find me again in the Chinese Multiplex 3 for Raw Deal and staying there for Nothing Sacred. This is a tough choice because I LOVE Frankenstein (playing at the Egyptian at 3:30PM), but I've seen it in 35mm before and Nothing Scared is a screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard, directed by William Wellman and written by Ben Hecht. So basically all of my favorite people.

The first evening program represents probably the worst scheduling conflict of the fest: Do I wait in the gigantic line to see Vertigo at Grauman's GIGANTIC screen and hear Kim Novak talk about it? I mean, I probably will. It's Vertigo. Those colors. On that screen. With KIM NOVAK HERSELF. How could I say no? Even though I'd really like to go to continue my noir-a-thon with Cry Danger at the Egyptian...

The tough Friday choices continue late into the evening. I'd love to see Young Frankenstein because Mel Brooks will be there. But I've never seen The Grand Illusion on the big screen. And how often to both Robert Towne and Robert Evans discuss Chinatown together? I think Chinatown will probably win on this one, but it might depend on how punch-drunk I am after 12 hours of movie-watching...If I'm still conscious: Chinatown. If I've got the giggles: Young Frankenstein.

Saturday, April 14

Saturday is always the worst. And by worst, I mean the best. But also the worst. Your hyped up anticipation energy is replaced by oh my god I'm so tired lethargy meets I MUST WATCH ALL THE FILMS psycho-determination. The most important survival supplies on a long TCMFF Saturday are coffee and good friends to rib you in the guts when you nod off during the fourth, fifth, or sixth screening of the day.

If any screening typifies Saturday at TCMFF, it's The Longest Day, which ironically will kick it off for me. Wayne, Mitchum, Burton, Ryan, Fonda, everybody and their mother, WWII, black and white. Yeah, this movie has everything. After that light jaunt through the European campaign, I'm really anticipating the weird uniqueness of Retour de Flamme/3-D Rarities, presented by film historian Serge Bromberg. This program will include screenings of early cinema's most famous and experimental masterpieces. And how often can you say you saw a 100+ yr. old movie on the big screen?

The third show of the day is literally killing me. I'm absolutely committed to seeing Girl Shy (see my campaign to Save the Harold Lloyd Birthplace), but those rascals scheduled it opposite Night and the City, which is one of my absolute favorite noirs--and I've never seen it in 35mm. Hopefully, someday I'll get to watch Richard Widmark's giant, sweaty, crazy face on the big screen because this year my vote goes to Harold.

I'll make myself comfortable at the Egyptian, where Gun Crazy screens at 6:45PM. More than Night and the City, this is really top 10 noir for me and Peggy Cummins will be there IN PERSON. Amazing. At 9:30PM, it's the restoration of the Clara Bow-starring silent Call Her Savage (yay film preservation!), followed by a midnight screening of Duck Soup. The Marx Bros. at midnight? Try and stop me.

Sunday, April 15 (providing I'm not completely comatose by this point)

Sunday begins bright and early at 9AM with me trying my damnedest to stay awake during How The West Was Won. I mean, it's a Cinerama picture at the Cinerama Dome! How can I sleep in?

And since How The West Was Won is a million hours long, that basically eliminates a lot of choices. Why not continue the western epic theme with Rio Bravo at 3:30PM? Sounds good to me.

The festival ends with a bang, and possibly my most anticipated screening of the weekend: The Thief of Bagdad with live musical accompaniment from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. 7PM at the Egyptian; be there or be square!

I'll see you all at the Festival Closing Party...and then probably talking and laughing and eating and drinking and reminiscing into the wee hours of the morning on Hollywood Blvd.