Tag Archives: katharine hepburn

TCMFF Day 3: The Festival Audience

share

Apologies for the lateness of this post, readers. For the past month, I’ve been busy with much planning, for events film-related and not, to the point where I’ve neglected my coverage. More news about upcoming (and now past) events on another post. But in the meantime, here is the latest installment of Backlots’ coverage of the TCM Classic Film Festival.

On the third day of the festival, I started the morning bright and early with a screening of Double Wedding, the 1937 William Powell/Myrna Loy vehicle that was filmed contemporaneously with their more famous Thin Man series. While waiting in line, I received a tweet from a fellow festivalgoer who was incredulous at how long the line was.

One of my pearls of wisdom, as someone who has been coming to the festival for 8 years, is to always line up for 1930s movies at least an hour and 15 minutes before start time. The TCMFF audience absolutely lives for 1930s fare, and those movies always sell out. In my previous post, I discussed the popularity of the pre-codes–but any film made in the 1930s is guaranteed to have a very long line.

True to my own word, I made my way over to the Egyptian Theatre and lined up for Double Wedding at 7:45 AM, in preparation for a 9:00 start time. I’m glad I did–when all attendees were let in, the theater was packed. Illeana Douglas, introducing the movie, started off with a question.

“Does anybody know how many movies Myrna Loy and William Powell made together?”

Without the tiniest pause, a thunderous reply from just about every member of the audience reverberated throughout the Egyptian Theatre: “FOURTEEN!!!!”

1122000054-l

This was not unexpected. The TCM Classic Film Festival crowd is a group of the smartest, most passionate movie lovers in the world, and William Powell and Myrna Loy are particular festival favorites. Many of us have been studying the careers of Powell and Loy, independently and together, for decades, and the question of how many movies they made together is akin to asking a mathematician if they know what 6 x 6 is.

Entering the festival is like entering an entirely different world, one that a friend of mine called the “TCM vortex.” In prior festival years, I have made posts about the unique experience of watching a movie with the TCM festival crowd. But this experience at the start of Double Wedding has inspired me to talk about the audience itself–who comes to the festival, and why.

Festival attendees come from nearly every state, as well as Canada, Mexico, Australia, Sweden, and Norway. Many festivalgoers come several days in advance–not for sightseeing in Los Angeles, but for spending time with friends from previous years, and to soak in as much of the “festival vibe” as they can, even before the festival starts.

tumblr_nj5matBGgw1u9813ao1_500

If I had to describe the festival using one relatable life experience, it would be summer camp. Friends are made there for life–they room together, eat together, and gather together at predetermined spots for events or just for fun. There have been known to be movie musical sing-a-longs in line, and exaggerated imitations of Katharine Hepburn circa 1973–and those experiences remain injokes from year to year. Friends are an integral part of the festival, due to the fact that for many classic film fans, it’s difficult to find like-minded individuals during the rest of the year. For those of us who are lucky to have found like-minded individuals online, tangibility is limited. The bloggers, for example, all virtually interact with each other throughout the year, but only at the TCMFF do we get to sit down over coffee or lunch and discuss film blogging or the intricacies of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in Ladies They Talk About.

This clip, of Katharine Hepburn preparing for the Dick Cavett Show in 1973, has become fodder for countless imitations and injokes among the bloggers at the TCMFF.

Schedules are compared, negotiated, and changed based on what friends are doing. This year my friend and I experienced a serious roommate dilemma over whether to see The Opposite Sex poolside or Road House at the Egyptian. We went back and forth, negotiating and compromising, until we finally decided that she would go poolside, I would go to the Egyptian. This is not atypical.

Some of us are fortunate to live in areas where classic films are shown regularly, but many festival attendees come from parts of the country, or the world, where one has to drive hours to see a classic film on the big screen. Not only does the festival give many attendees a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it gives everyone friends and memories that last a lifetime.

Advertisements

TWO KATHARINES: The Childhood of Katharine Hepburn and the Shaping of an Icon

Today marks what would have been the 107th birthday of an incomparable legend. Katharine Hepburn, a persona so beloved and respected to have reduced hardened prop men to putty in her hands during her appearance on Dick Cavett in 1973, was a force to be reckoned with and everybody knew it. When Katharine Hepburn walked in the room, there was no question as to who was in charge. This was an individual who fought for what she wanted, demanded what she needed, and in the process singlehandedly redefined what it means to be a woman in Hollywood.

Katharine Hepburn at the rehearsal for her appearance on Dick Cavett in 1973.

Hepburn famously said on an interview with Barbara Walters “I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to, and I’ve made enough money to support myself, and ain’t afraid of being alone.” Katharine Hepburn broke many molds during her lifetime, and defied societal expectations in a generation in which women were still expected to be subservient to men. And she didn’t do it alone.

Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn, the mother of Katharine Hepburn and a pioneer of women’s rights in Connecticut.

From her earliest childhood, Katharine Hepburn was taught to live the way she wanted to, and not give credence to what others might think. This attitude was instilled in her by her mother, the passionate suffragette and famed leader of Connecticut women’s rights groups Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn. Houghton Hepburn served as the president of the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association and, after the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, founded the American Birth Control League with fellow activist Margaret Sanger, the organization that later became Planned Parenthood.

In later life, the younger Katharine would remember her mother taking her along to suffrage rallies as a toddler, teaching her that the women there were doing all they could to fight for her future. Due to her mother’s work, the Hepburn family endured intense hostility from the neighbors–neighborhood children were often not allowed to play with the Hepburn children, and bricks were thrown through their windows on several occasions. But through it all, Mrs. Hepburn persevered, and passed on to her daughter the attitude that rights must be fought for and earned.

Katharine Hepburn with her mother and siblings.

Young Katharine never let go of the lessons of her childhood, and throughout her life fought many personal and professional battles, fighting hard and not backing down until she won. In her desire to be comfortable, she insisted on wearing pants almost exclusively, a practice seldom exercised in her generation. In her stalwart determination to not be restricted by what other people thought, she is widely credited with popularizing pants for women. In 1947, at the height of the Red Scare and the Hollywood blacklist, Katharine Hepburn was one of the founding members of the Committee for the First Amendment, formed to protect and support the blacklisted Hollywood Ten. Evoking her mother, and the women who fought for equal rights for women when she was a child, she delivered a speech written by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo at the Hollywood Legion Stadium during a Progressive Party rally. Her own risk of being targeted by the Hollywood blacklist not holding her back, Katharine Hepburn once again stood up for what she believed in.

Her mother must have been proud.

Many thanks to Margaret over at The Great Katharine Hepburn for hosting this blogathon!

The Romantic Comedy Blogathon DAY 3 ENTRIES

2883811_original

Well readers, we’ve got a light load today, but one that packs a punch! Here are the three entries we received for the Romantic Comedy Blogathon this evening. Remember, tomorrow is the last day, so get those entries in!

At The Great Katharine Hepburn, Margaret gives us 10 things to love about Without Lovehttp://margaretperry.org/10-things-to-love-about-without-love-1945/

Our friend Kristina at Speakeasy gives us a gem with The Richest Girl in the Worldhttp://hqofk.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/richest-girl-in-the-world/

And finally, ImagineMDD gets in with the high society with The Philadelphia Storyhttp://www.imaginemdd.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-philadelphia-story-and-features-of.html

Thanks to Margaret, Kristina, and Cedar for these lovely posts today. See you tomorrow for the blogathon wrap-up!

LIVE FROM THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL, DAY 3: Jane Fonda’s Handprint Ceremony, “On Golden Pond,” “The Lady Eve,” “Mildred Pierce”

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Day 3 started with a bang, as the first event of the day was a very special one. Jane Fonda was scheduled to have her hand and footprints put in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, right alongside those of her father, Henry Fonda. The event was very crowded, and the security tight and closely monitored. For obvious reasons, this is to be expected at an event for a major celebrity, especially one who is as politically controversial as Jane Fonda. Once all attendees successfully passed the security screenings, the event began. We saw a number of major celebrities in attendance, including Jim Carrey, friend and 9 to 5 costar Lily Tomlin, brother Peter Fonda, and longtime friend Maria Shriver. Jane Fonda’s son gave a keynote address, followed by warm words from Lily Tomlin and Maria Shriver. My friends and I happened to be in a spot where we could see Jane behind the scenes as the speeches were read, and she was clearly very emotionally moved. Because of the massive crowd, pictures were hard to get. Here are a few pictures from the official TCM collection of the event.

Jane and Peter Fonda sit next to their father's hand and foot prints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Jane and Peter Fonda sit next to their father’s hand and foot prints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

pv_23632_006_2248_7

Putting her hands into the cement.

pv_23632_006_2242_7

Finishing the prints.

The ceremony slowly began to break up after Jane’s prints were sufficiently down in the cement, and we began to prepare for the next event–a screening of On Golden Pond (1981) introduced by Jane, clearly the woman of the day. She told some beautiful stories about the filming,  particularly relating to her relationship with Katharine Hepburn on set. Jane Fonda was the perfect person to introduce the film, as she had a position as actor and producer on the film as well as being Henry Fonda’s daughter. It was wonderful to hear her talk.

This widescreen print magnified the lush beauty of the photography, shot on location in New Hampshire with breathtaking shots of the fall leaves and loons. It is a simple story, taken from the stage play about Norman and Ethel Thayer (Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda), an elderly couple dealing with the effects of age. Norman’s failing health and grumpy personality alienate everyone around him, but Ethel is devoted to him and loves him unconditionally and with all of her soul. Norman and their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) have a severely damaged relationship due to Norman’s inability to be a demonstrative father, and much of the movie deals with their healing process as Norman nears death. It is a beautiful movie on so many levels. The relationship between Norman and Ethel is one that I think everyone hopes they will have with their spouse as they age together, and watching Hepburn and Fonda together is so touching that the mere thought of it provokes tears.

Next up was the brilliant comedy The Lady Eve, another in the Fonda family pantheon. Henry Fonda plays Charles, the heir to a beer fortune who, unbeknownst to him, gets mixed up with a father and daughter pair of card sharps on a cruise ship. He ends up falling in love with the daughter Jean (played by Barbara Stanwyck), and when Charles finds out who she is, he breaks off the relationship. To get him back, Jean collaborates on an elaborate plan to pose as the Lady Eve Sidwich, fictional niece of wealthy Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith. “Lady Eve” and Charles fall in love all over again, and Charles is none the wiser that this is the same woman with whom he had broken up on the cruise ship.

This is a classic screwball comedy by the brilliant Preston Sturges, who has a unique and specific style that leaves its mark on any movie he makes. As film historian Carrie Beauchamp said at the beginning of the screening, Sturges’ films center on dialogue and a hand-picked, stellar cast. The supporting cast in The Lady Eve is especially good, with Sturges mainstay William Demarest, Eugene Pallette, and Charles Coburn playing small but significant roles.

Below is a scene which Roger Ebert called the sexiest scene ever on film. The Hays Code forced filmmakers to be cleverer with their depiction of sexual or steamy content, and this scene is a prime example of how a scene can be extremely charged without the two leads ever even hugging or kissing.

Next on the agenda was Mildred Pierce (1945) with special guest Ann Blyth, Veda in the film. By all accounts that I have heard, Ann Blyth is one of the nicest celebrities in Hollywood, and she certainly showed that tonight. Gentle and sweet, she is the complete polar opposite of her character in Mildred Pierce. Robert Osborne interviewed her about her time in the movies, and she spoke of nothing but good memories of Joan Crawford, a celebrity who often gets a bad rep in Hollywood gossip circles.

pv_23632_003_5246_1

Robert Osborne interviews Ann Blyth.

Mildred Pierce is another wonderful ensemble movie, though the plot centers around the relationship between Mildred (Joan Crawford) and her devotion to her daughter Veda, who proves to be a spoiled, ungrateful child with an evil streak. The supporting cast includes such character actors as Jack Carson and the witty and hilarious Eve Arden, who pops up and provides some oft-needed comic relief every now and then.

This was the third time that I had seen Mildred Pierce on the big screen, and it never fails to impress me. It is wonderful on the small screen, wonderful on any medium, but there is nothing like the big screen for this movie. Everything is accentuated and magnified, and Veda’s evil is all that more powerful.

For a previous post I have written about the costumes of Mildred Pierce, click here.

Stay tuned tomorrow as Backlots puts the blame on Mame, with a review of Gilda!

Challenges to the Production Code in “Suddenly Last Summer” (1959)

Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor struggle with the mysterious death of Sebastian, Hepburn’s son and Taylor’s cousin in “Suddenly Last Summer.”

The works of Tennessee Williams are notorious for their stark dealings with sensitive subjects. Prostitution, incest, adultery, and homosexuality were regular themes in his works, and yet, interestingly, despite the strict production code in place from 1934 to 1968, his were some of the most frequently adapted plays in classic Hollywood. Williams’ plays have been held in high esteem by Hollywood directors, who often had to invent creative means by which to sneak the “immoral” material past the censors, who would veto any outright mention of behavior going against mainstream Christian values. From A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Night of the Iguana (1961), the movies have nearly all become giants of cinema, due in large part to the source material and the skill of the directors in conveying meaning in subtle ways.

After years of gradual erosion, the 1950’s saw films that tested the code outright, questioning the values set down by Joseph Breen in 1934. Suddenly Last Summer (1959), directed by the great Joseph L. Mankiewicz, was a direct hit at those values, barely veiling the original intent of Tennessee Williams in the stage version.

Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn) is a New Orleans woman who lost her son, Sebastian, in a mysterious accident the summer before. The only person who knows what happened is Violet’s niece, Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor) who is confined to a sanitarium after going insane after the incident. A kindly doctor (Montgomery Clift) who is a specialist on frontal lobotomies is summoned by Violet to analyze her niece for the procedure. He visits Catherine, who likes and trusts him, and when Violet and Catherine get together with the doctor, it is clear that they have animosity. Catherine begins to verbally attack Violet, and in doing so, a portion of Sebastian’s life becomes clear. Slowly, a story begins to emerge of a mother who loved her son intensely and obsessively, and a young man who used his mother and cousin to attract the attention of men.

Confronting Violet.

The subject of what is termed “sexual perversion” was explicitly prohibited in the production code, with the inference of prohibition on the subject of homosexuality and incest, both of which, of course, are central to this story. With dialogue such as this bit, seen in the trailer at the bottom of the page, the audience is left to extract the meaning, which is inherently clear.

CATHERINE: Sebastian only needed you while you were still useful.

DOCTOR: Useful?

CATHERINE: I mean young. Able to attract.

VIOLET: She’s babbling again. Babbling and lying.

CATHERINE: He left her home because she–

VIOLET: Because you stole him!

CATHERINE:–lost her attractiveness!

DOCTOR: What does attractiveness have to do with the son and the mother?

CATHERINE: You see, Doctor…we were both decoys.

Though the subject of homosexuality was not new to cinema, appearing notably, though in in extremely subdued ways, in such movies as Gilda (1946) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955), up until this point it is rarely stated as explicitly as in this film. Catherine’s statement “We were both decoys” all but says to the audience, and the censors, “Sebastian was interested in men.” The fact that it was not cut out, nor the film shut down altogether, is a testament to the weathering of the power of the censors over a film’s content.

One of the final scenes, in which we are privy to the actual circumstances of Sebastian’s death, is quite disturbing, and features Catherine recounting in total graphic detail what happened. This scene is noteworthy in that the character is telling us exactly what circumstances led to her cousin’s death, but the visuals are left to the imagination. What we see is a mild, watered-down version of Catherine’s story, and what we imagine is much worse. In that sense, the scene runs much like it would onstage, and this was, perhaps, Mankiewicz’s way of creatively evading the censors.

Sebastian’s death.

The reception of the film initially was mostly negative. Tennessee Williams denounced the writing and thought Elizabeth Taylor was a horrible choice for Catherine. However, both Taylor and Hepburn went on to Academy Award nominations for their work, and today the film is seen as a great showcase of the talents of both these screen legends.

Suddenly Last Summer plays relatively often on TCM, and it is certainly an interesting film to watch as one that stretches the bounds of the restrictive production code. It is a must-see for fans of any of the three stars, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the intensely raw story.