TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL DAY 1: Meet TCM, So You Think You Know Movies?, QUEEN CHRISTINA, My Man Godfrey

Exhausted but beyond excited, I arrived in Los Angeles last night for the kickoff of the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival, taking place in Hollywood this weekend for its sixth year. The theme this year is “History According to the Movies,” which leaves plenty of room for interpretation…and controversial programming. When the full schedule of the TCM Classic Film Festival was announced several weeks ago, the internet started buzzing. Bloggers and film fans began asking questions–why were there so many modern movies scheduled?  Is TCM changing direction? Today at the annual Meet TCM panel prior to the official start of the festival, a film fan brought the question to the attention of Charlie Tabesh, head of programming at the channel. Tabesh answered that the modern programming of this year’s festival fits into the theme of “History According to the Movies,” and TCM has always operated according to themes. If the channel were paying tribute to the career of Katharine Hepburn, Tabesh continued, they would show not only Hepburn’s admired early work, but also her last film, Love Affair, made in the 1990s and generally acknowledged to be far from great.

MORNING GLORY (top), which won Katharine Hepburn her first Oscar, would get equal attention with LOVE AFFAIR (bottom) on TCM in a tribute to Hepburn’s career.

Much of the discussion centered around the fact that the festival is screening Out of Sight, a film from 1998 edited by Anne V. Coates. Having edited Lawrence of Arabia, Murder on the Orient Express, and several other noteworthy titles that firmly establish her in the landscape of classic Hollywood, Coates is a deserved honoree at the festival this year for her achievements in editing and, Tabesh said, she requested that the festival screen Out of Sight for a look into what editing looks like today. A look into editing from a woman in the business for over 50 years is a remarkable gift to festival goers. As there is no set definition of “classic,” TCM is obligated to identify and adhere to what they as a channel and a brand consider to be classic cinema, and for Tabesh, classic film has no expiration date. This is clear in TCM’s choice of programming on the channel as well as at the festival–for an in-depth discussion of TCM’s programming choices and what makes a classic, see my article TCM Programming and the Definition of Classic Film. After a short break for lunch, which I spent with my friend Spencer and fellow blogger Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film, festivalgoers convened again at Club TCM for an exciting round of So You Think You Know Movies?, TCM’s difficult and rapid-fire trivia competition. So You Think You Know Movies? is designed for the trivia master, with extremely obscure questions about film history and culture. Trivia is my strong suit, and our team did well, but ultimately a team of 8 called The Flickers won the grand prize, and deservedly so. When quizzed on the spot after the game, they knew almost all the answers to the supplementary questions, which were just as difficult as in the regular game. As those with high-level passes got ready for the big opening night screening of The Sound of Music, those of us with lowly press credentials had a few hours to relax. I caught up on some preliminary blogging until 5:30, when I decided it was time to get in line for Queen Christina. A word about lines at the festival–passholders must line up in order to gain entrance to a movie, and entrance is first come, first served. Needless to say, lines queue up quickly. As I deduced that Queen Christina, a hugely popular movie with two hugely popular stars (Greta Garbo and John Gilbert), I gave myself an hour to play it safe in case it sold out. The movie began at 6:30, and the audience was treated to two wonderful things–first, an introduction by noted film historian Cari Beauchamp, and then a rare lighting test that showed Greta Garbo acting in a casual manner.  Cari Beauchamp’s talk included details about Greta Garbo’s personal life (“Ernst Lubitsch said that Greta Garbo was the most uninhibited people he knew,” she related), and about her acting in general, in this film and beyond. It was a great introduction to a fascinating film. Queen Christina is one of the last great hurrahs of the days before the full implementation of the Production Code. It tells the true story of Sweden’s queen Christina, who lived in the mid-1600s and who many historians now believe was either transgender or intersex. The film hints gingerly at these subjects, though even in the days before the Production Code, the industry was bound by what it thought the public would accept, so a full examination of a transgender person was out of the question. However, in scenes like these, director Rouben Mamoulian gives the audience an idea of what it is he’s trying to get across. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVP9WA07tJg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r_gC-CcvYU For a full analysis of the LGBT implications of Queen Christina, feel free to check out my post on the subject for the Queer Film Blogathon in 2011. Next up was one of my favorites, a showing of the screwball classic My Man Godfrey in a theater that was packed to the gills with enthusiastic fans. This is one that I have seen on the big screen several times, but always seem to come back for more whenever it is showing. One of the zaniest screwball comedies of all time, it is a masterpiece of ensemble acting and director Gregory La Cava directs Carole Lombard and William Powell to perfection. Alice Brady, playing the eccentric and off-the-wall mother, was robbed of an Oscar  in 1936, though the film itself received 6 Oscar nominations including Alice Brady for Best Supporting Actress, and remains one of the best-loved screwballs among devotees of classic cinema. We have a big day tomorrow, so I’d better get to bed. See you tomorrow night!

TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL UPDATE: Get well soon, Robert Osborne!

The TCM Classic Film Festival, going on its sixth consecutive year later this month, is known for its devoted following and a large, dedicated staff that keeps a monumental event running seamlessly from start to finish. Classic Hollywood guests, behind-the-scenes film programmers and prominent on-air talent bring life to the festival, giving it the vitality that has come to define this event over these past six years. This year, a major component of past festivals will be missing. The legendary Robert Osborne, the face of TCM and a tour-de-force within the film industry, is undergoing surgery the week of the festival and will be unable to appear at the event.

Osborne, approaching his 83rd birthday, still plays an essential and active role in turning the wheels that keep TCM operating. Though he has increasingly delegated hosting duties to Ben Mankiewicz in recent months, he remains a veritable powerhouse on the channel and has achieved the status of a near-deity within the community of classic film aficionados. He will be greatly missed at the festival this year, and Backlots certainly wishes him a speedy recovery.

I have met Robert Osborne a number of times, but I must say that my favorite moment with him was when he asked about my favorite film at the festival. This was a year when they had shown Cover Girl, a movie that I knew was a mutual favorite. We discussed Cover Girl and Rita Hayworth for several minutes, and I walked away thinking “I just talked to Robert Osborne about Rita Hayworth. What a story I have!” So Robert, here’s to your successful surgery–and make way for tomorrow!

The TCM Festival Schedule is Here!

A few days ago TCM released the final schedule of the TCM Classic Film Festival, and there has been a lot of chatter about it already. Much of the discussion has centered around an idea that I have often brought up on this blog, a point of contention among classic film fans–the definition of “classic film” and what constitutes a classic.

This year’s festival features an unusually large number of films from the 1970s and beyond, and for some die-hard TCM fans this has proven a bitter pill to swallow. Many are devoted to films made in the “classical Hollywood era” (an academic designation for films made between 1927 and 1963) and purport that a classic film festival should prioritize films made between the birth of sound on film and the final waning years of the Production Code in order to truly be considered a “classic film festival.”

As I have mentioned before, there is no singular definition for what makes a classic. The term “classic film” is as diverse as the movies themselves, and the vast majority of film fans would not be able to give you a clear-cut definition of what the term means to them–“I know a classic when I see one” is commonly heard among film devotees, perpetuating the enigma of the concept. For me, though I am unabashedly a devotee of the classical Hollywood era, I am familiar with the difficulty of programming a classic film festival that is unbiased and fair to people with varied definitions of “classic,” and trying to make as many attendees happy as possible.

On my part, I have grown to truly love the TCM Festival schedule this year and have already mapped out my timetable. Go to filmfestival.tcm.com for the full schedule, but here is what you may expect from Backlots this year:

THURSDAY:

QUEEN CHRISTINA

MY MAN GODFREY

Friday:

INHERIT THE WIND

THE PROUD REBEL/THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (I’m loyal to my Olivia, but man, Purple Rose of Cairo…and on the big screen…I’m torn on this one.)

LIMELIGHT

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR.

REBECCA

BOOM! (I’ll have to leave Rebecca early, but there is no freaking way I’m missing the camp factor that is Boom!)

Saturday:

WHY BE GOOD? (I saw this a few months ago and it is so fantastic. Viva Colleen Moore!)

42nd STREET

THE MIRACLE WORKER

Hollywood Home Movies

ADAM’S RIB

Sunday:

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

GUNGA DIN/THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (I’ll probably decide the day of)

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY/THE CHILDREN’S HOUR/JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG

KISS ME, KATE

Backlots at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival

A few days ago, I received confirmation that Backlots will be covering the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, as a member of the press for the third year in a row.

Over the past 6 years of its existence, the TCM Classic Film Festival has become synonymous with class and sophistication, and has provided a haven and meeting place for classic film lovers from all over the world. Featuring a plethora of classic film related events to augment the film showings, and world-class guests from all areas of the entertainment world, the TCM Classic Film Festival is truly not to be missed.

Though the full schedule for this year is yet to be released, the theme of “History According to Hollywood” has yielded such exciting programming choices as Gunga Din, Dr. Zhivago, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and 1776.

Stay tuned, as I will be posting exciting updates to the schedule in these weeks leading up to the festival. In the meantime, if you are in the Los Angeles area, be sure to go to http://www.tcm.com/festival to learn more about the pass options and how to attend. I look forward to seeing you there!

The Coming of Sound and the First Academy Awards ceremony

Janet Gaynor receives the first Academy Award for Best Actress, for three roles: STREET ANGEL (1928), 7TH HEAVEN (1927), and SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927).

At this moment, the film world is busy preparing for its biggest event of the year, when Hollywood’s best and the brightest come together to honor the greatest work done over the past year. It is a tradition so ingrained into Hollywood culture that it is difficult to imagine a time without it, a time when there was no precedent against which to measure the best performance or director or screenplay of the year. Yet the film industry already had more than 30 years of history by the time of the first Academy Awards ceremony, and few could fathom the impact that it would have on the industry and how much one ceremony could change the way we look at film as a whole.

The first Academy Award ceremony, 1929.

The first Oscars ceremony was held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929. Tickets were $5 per person, and 15 awards (the winners of which had already been announced) were handed out in front of an audience of 270 people, in a ceremony that lasted 15 minutes. The award given out for Best Picture of the Year, to William Wellman’s Wings, proved to be a significant one–it would become the only film marketed as a silent to win Best Picture for 83 years.

At the time of the initial release of Wings in 1927, the film industry was on the brink of a massive transformation. The Jazz Singer, the first major film featuring synchronized dialogue, exploded onto the screen less than 6 months after the release of Wings, inciting wonder and fascination in the public, worry and fear in theater owners. Proprietors of small theaters wrung their hands over how to afford the transition to sound that seemed to be coming like a tidal wave. Construction of sound equipment would be expensive and prohibitive, and if sound films continued to be as popular as The Jazz Singer was, audiences would flock to the bigger, more lucrative theaters who could afford sound films, and the small theaters would go out of business. This simultaneously exciting and frightening time in the industry provided the backdrop for the years leading up to the first Academy Awards.

The first words of synchronized dialogue in a major feature film, spoken by Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer (1927).

In order to allow small theaters to adapt their theaters with minimal financial impact, most films to be released in sound between 1927 and 1929 had a silent counterpart to be shown in the silent theaters. Nonetheless, even in silent films, the influence of the coming of sound was palpable. Plots were tighter, intertitles appeared more frequently and featured more skillfully written dialogue. Some of the best silent films were released during the era between 1927 and 1929, due to the influence that sound films were having on the public and the response that silent filmmakers had to make to that influence.

By 1929, sound had become industry standard. The silent era had eroded under the pressure of sound, and most theaters had had enough time to renovate their theaters to accommodate sound pictures. Though silents continued in foreign markets and under certain filmmakers (Charlie Chaplin made his final silent, Modern Times, in 1936), sound had taken over as the default method in the United States. And at the dawn of this new epoch of filmmaking came the birth of the Academy Awards.

There was truly no better time for the tradition of the Academy Awards to start than the spring of 1929. The honored films and performances include some of the best in all the silent era–Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, one of three performances for which Janet Gaynor won the first Academy Award for Best Actress, ranks as not only a giant of the silent era, but one of the most beautifully filmed movies in all film history. Wings, a war drama focusing on aerial combat, employs the magnificent feat of filming from the air, an almost unheard-of special effect in 1927, and the marvel of it holds up even today.

A scene from WINGS, shot from the air.

In 2012, the Academy Awards paid tribute to its past by awarding the Best Picture Oscar to The Artist, the French-American silent collaboration about Hollywood’s transition to sound. It seemed that the circle was complete–though The Artist bears little resemblance to silent films of the past, it was a nostalgic look at what was, and at the same time, a commentary on what is.

Don’t forget to watch the Oscars on ABC tomorrow, at 7 EST, 4 PST!

The Dueling Divas Entries

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The Dueling Divas are underway, readers! I will be updating this post throughout the day as the entries come in, so be sure to check back!

Here are the entries thus far:

Over at Movie Star Makeover, Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth claw it out over Pal Joey.

Silver Screenings gives us a rundown of two military divas, Gregory Peck and David Niven in The Guns of Navarone.

Barry Bradford shows us two ladies battling it out in the wrestling arena with a rundown of All the Marbles.

Meanwhile, at Sister Celluloid, Carole Lombard and Kay Francis compete for the same man in In Name Only (but they’re really friends in real life!)

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You spoons up some drama between Ginger Rogers and Gail Patrick in Stage Door.

Silents, Please! recaps Asta Nielsen’s dual role in Die falsche Asta Nielsen.

Over at Wolffian Classic Movies Digest, Hayley Mills plays twins in…you guessed it…The Parent Trap!

I’m thrilled that Theresa, at the fantastic new blog CineMaven’s: Essays From the Couchis participating this year with a treatise on the divas in Libeled Lady versus those in its remake, Easy to Wed.

Marsha at A Person in the Dark tries to keep it civil between Jean Brodie and Sandy from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Critica Retro offers up a piece on Olivia de Havilland’s twins suspected of murder in The Dark Mirror. If you don’t speak Portuguese, be sure to make use of Le’s handy translate button on the right side of the page!

At Girls Do Film, we are treated to a fascinating look at the legendary relationship between two of the biggest divas of them all, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.

I See a Dark Theater takes on diva Rags Ragland and his dual role in Whistling in Dixie.

Meanwhile, at Vitaphone Dreamer, Lina Lamont and Kathy Selden take center stage as they duel over Don Lockwood in Singin’ In the Rain. So fabulous we “cahn’t steeeeand it!”

We travel to France for some Napoleonic dueling in Silver Screen Modes post about The Duellists.

Movies, Silently discusses Constance Talmadge and a wacky storyline involving identical twins in her piece on Her Sister From Paris.

Classic Reel Girl gets creative and tells us why Bob Hope and Bing Crosby really are dueling divas (no doubt on my end)!

The Wonderful World of Cinema delves into the rivalry between Bonnie Parker and Blanche Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde.

It’s a battle of the Barbras over at Moon in Gemini where we’re treated to a piece on Barbra Streisand’s dual roles (with a twist) in a On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

Don’t Forget–The Dueling Divas Blogathon is this Saturday!

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Hear ye, hear ye, this serves as your reminder that the Dueling Divas Blogathon is happening this Saturday! Get ready for a fun day of rivalry and revelry, when Backlots’ readers get together to contribute posts about their favorite dueling divas. In case you’re new around these parts, here are the guidelines for this blogathon, now in its 4th year:

Your topic may be related to any of the following:

  • Classic film personalities who had a rivalry in real life, either over a particular film role or over a personality clash, ie Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
  • Classic film characters who had a rivalry on the screen, ie Mildred and Veda from Mildred Pierce
  • Any dual role played by an actor or actress in a classic film, ie Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap.

You don’t need to feel limited to a single duel between two personalities or characters. You can talk about various clashes a single actor had (ahem…Bette Davis) or duels within a group. In the past, I have written about the duels in The Women, which was a lot of fun.

Also, Backlots is a progressive and gender-eschewing blog, so your divas may be women or men, as you wish.

If you haven’t signed up yet, there’s still time! Email me or comment on this post, and I will know to expect your entry on Saturday.

I am very much looking forward to our 4th year of Dueling Divas, and know that this year is going to be a great one!

See you on Saturday!