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Trailblazing Women to be Highlighted on Turner Classic Movies in October

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For the second year in a row, Turner Classic Movies will pay tribute to significant contributions to the film industry by women, through their Trailblazing Women series in partnership with Women in Film. Last year’s programming was a huge success, with a spotlight on female directors in what has become a crushingly male-dominated industry. This year’s theme will be “Actresses Who Made a Difference,” focusing on those women who contributed to issues outside of acting, and made waves that are still felt today in the film world and beyond.

The month-long Tuesday/Thursday night programming is hosted by Illeana Douglas, joined by a different female guest each night who will discuss the actresses, why they were chosen, and introduce a film made during a significant period in their life. On the first night, October 4, Douglas will be joined by the leading expert on women in early Hollywood, Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. The subjects on the first night will be three actresses who seized the idea of the traditionally male studio executive and turned it on its head.

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Mary Pickford was one of the most prominent figures in early Hollywood, both on and off the screen. While moviegoing audiences knew her as “Little Mary,” a perpetual little girl in curls even at the age of 30, in reality she was a woman with an steel will and iron constitution, a shrewd businesswoman and a savvy investor who knew the industry inside and out. In 1919, she founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, and subsequently founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Motion Picture Relief Fund, which (now operating as the Motion Picture and Television Fund) still serves those in need in the industry. She will be discussed and profiled in conjunction with Little Annie Rooney, a movie she produced and performed in at the height of her position as a head of United Artists Studio in 1925.

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Lucille Ball, former contract player at RKO and “Queen of the Bs,” decided in 1950 to join with her husband Desi Arnaz to form their own production company, Desilu, in order to pitch a series based on Ball’s radio program My Favorite Wife. The series eventually became I Love Lucy, the production company became one of the most formidable forces in the business, and Lucille Ball became one of the most influential figures in movies and television. In 1960, she became the sole owner of Desilu and was directly responsible for shows such as Star Trek and The Untouchables getting to air. The movie Yours, Mine, and Ours was made in 1968, while Lucille Ball was serving as the powerful president of Desilu.

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Following directly in Lucille Ball’s footsteps was Mary Tyler Moore. 3 years out of her debut hit series The Dick Van Dyke Show (in which she broke significant ground for women on television in her own right), Moore created MTM Enterprises with husband Grant Tinker in order to pitch The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1969. The show premiered the following year and lasted for 7 phenomenal seasons, during which time MTM Enterprises grew and produced not only the show’s spinoffs, Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant, but also the popular  The Bob Newhart Show, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere. The movie Thoroughly Modern Millie, chosen to represent Mary Tyler Moore this first evening, was made in 1967, in the in-between time just after Moore’s run on The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, and MTM Enterprises began.

Other nights to watch with significant women profiled:

Bette Midler, discussing women who controlled their own destiny, including:

  • Olivia de Havilland, the first person to make a major dent in the studio system by winning a contract case against Warner Bros. The ruling, the De Havilland Decision, is still cited often in entertainment law cases. She will be profiled in conjunction with Devotion (1946), filmed in 1943 but unable to be released until after she won the lawsuit.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, who left her Twentieth Century Fox contract behind to study at the Actor’s Studio in New York, only to return and demand director approval on all her projects–then form Marilyn Monroe Productions in 1956 in which she had full control over her work. Her work will be discussed with The Prince and the Showgirl (1956), produced by Marilyn Monroe Productions, as an example.

Jane Fonda, discussing women activists, including:

  • Myrna Loy, who served as the co-chair on the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, campaigned actively against McCarthyism and the Vietnam War, and became the first Hollywood personality appointed to U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. One of her best-loved movies, The Thin Man (1934), will be shown to profile her onscreen work.
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Dr. Emily Carman, discussing actresses’ wartime contributions, including:

  • Bette Davis, who together with John Garfield established the Hollywood Canteen, where soldiers could eat and be entertained for free while on leave. A semi-Hollywood movie, Hollywood Canteen, was made in 1944 to promote the canteen and enhance the war effort, and TCM will show it this evening.

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  • Hedy Lamarr, who developed frequency-hopping technology to help with communication between Allied forces, an invention that is still used today in cell phones, wifi networks, and Bluetooth technology. The Conspirators (1944) will be shown to highlight Hedy Lamarr’s war efforts as well as her film work.

Be sure to tune in every Tuesday/Thursday in October for what promises to be a timely and informative look at a group of women who made a difference in the betterment of their industry and their world.

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Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: LUCILLE BALL

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On August 1, TCM began its annual summer tradition of Summer Under the Stars, a full month of specialized programming that honors one classic film star per day. Yesterday was devoted to the films of Edward G. Robinson, and the rest of the month will see days dedicated to such stars as Esther Williams, Ruby Keeler, Karl Malden, and Cyd Charisse. TCM fans look forward to Summer Under the Stars all year, and the announcement of the lineup is always a popular topic of discussion in the online classic film world.

Today we are watching movies starring a very familiar face–but those more versed in television may be surprised to see it on TCM. Before Lucy Ricardo, before the founding of Desilu and the immortal show that cemented Lucille Ball in our collective conscience, she was a rising star at RKO and later MGM, starring with all the big names of both studios and creating a reputation for herself as the “Queen of the B’s.”

Some of the highlights of today’s programming are windows into Lucille Ball’s career as few people know it–that of a talented dramatic actress whose foray into comedy was simply one of the many roads her career could have taken. Ball herself once said “I’m not funny. My writers were funny. My direction was funny. I am not funny. What I am is brave.” Her comedy was a manifestation of a woman driven not toward being funny, but toward perfection and success. Movies like The Big Street and The Dark Corner give us a glimpse into what Ball’s career could have been like had she chosen drama rather than comedy.

In The Big Street, Ball plays a singer who becomes disabled after being pushed down a flight of stairs by her jealous lover, and takes refuge with Pinks (played by Henry Fonda). After a series of circumstances that include being rejected by a former lover for being in a wheelchair, she lashes out at Pinks in a scene that merits Ball an Oscar for her raw, nuanced performance. Unfortunately, the clip does not exist online.

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The Dark Corner features Lucille Ball in a film noir, one that is so steeped in the noir trope that it almost seems a parody of itself. Ball is the femme fatale, the beautiful secretary who unwittingly becomes involved in an intricate murder plot. Starring with Mark Stevens and Clifton Webb in a delightful thriller, this is Lucy as you’ve never seen her. She is a convincing and attractive femme fatale, possessing an energy that holds your eyes on her whenever she is onscreen. I first saw this movie at Noir City this past year, and it was a wonderful experience to see it on the big screen for the first time with hundreds of other fans.

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Other programming choices today like Best Foot Forward and The Long, Long Trailer show Lucille Ball in roles familiar to the I Love Lucy-loving public–involving raucous comedy and situational humor. But even here, the carefree nature of Ball’s comedy that has become her trademark is carefully planned and calculated to appear so.

The Long, Long Trailer, co-starring none other than Desi Arnaz, was filmed and released during the fourth season of I Love Lucy, and the influence of the show’s characters is clear in Lucy and Desi’s portrayals of their characters in this movie (in a less-than-subtle move, Desi’s character is even named “Nicky”). Talking with a friend of mine about this The Long, Long Trailer the other day, we came to the conclusion that The Long, Long Trailer is really just one big, extended episode of I Love Lucy, with similar characterizations and even similar gags used in each.

I was slightly surprised to see that TCM hadn’t programmed Dance, Girl, Dance this year for Lucille Ball day. It is one of my favorite roles of hers, and a marvelous example of how filmmakers circumvented the code to make the movies they wanted to make. Ball’s character of Bubbles in Dance, Girl, Dance is clearly a “kept woman,” in view of the massive amounts of furs, jewels, and fancy clothes that accompany her wherever she goes. And it features Lucy doing the hula, just about the most seductive dance that could ever have made it past the censors. It also sums up how Lucille Ball, despite her legacy as a comedic genius, was a woman whose genuine talent in many arenas and drive for success defied categorization.

I leave you with Lucille Ball doing the hula in Dance, Girl, Dance. Happy watching, readers!

This is an entry for the Summer Under the Stars blogathon, hosted by my friend Kristen Lopez. Check out the other entries at http://www.journeysinclassicfilm.com

SHE DID IT ALL HERSELF: 100 Years of Olivia de Havilland

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100 years ago today, Olivia de Havilland was born.

5 years ago this past March (and in the very wee infancy of this blog), I was studying abroad in Paris and heard that the great Olivia de Havilland would be introducing a movie she had recently narrated, a documentary about Alzheimer’s called I Remember Better When I Paint, at the American Library in Paris.

I was ecstatic. This was at a point in my studies where I was becoming quite homesick, and had spent the past few weeks binging classic movies at the Rue Christine in order to give myself a taste of home and comfort. I had become a huge fan of Olivia de Havilland over the past few years, had seen nearly every movie she ever made, and the fact that she would be appearing at the American Library while I was there in Paris seemed almost too good to be true.

She was 94 then, and I had no idea what to expect. Her onscreen persona had been a strange and appealing combination of sweetness and vulnerability, paired with a lion’s strength and an iron will in her eyes. Her life had been a series of triumphs and challenges in the extreme–from rocky relationships with her sister Joan Fontaine and first husband Marcus Goodrich, to loving and beautiful ones with her two children and her second husband, Pierre Galante. She won two Oscars and was nominated for three more. Her childhood had been difficult in many ways, and she overcame it to become one of Hollywood’s brightest superstars and a powerful advocate for the rights of entertainment workers who almost singlehandedly destroyed the studio system. This was a woman of enormous strength.

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She was born in Tokyo, Japan on July 1, 1916, the first of two daughters to Lilian and Walter de Havilland, a British couple living abroad in Tokyo’s international district. Her sister Joan was born in 1917. In the aftermath of World War I, in March 1919, she moved with her mother and younger sister to San Francisco. Her parents were separating, and Walter stayed behind to work in Tokyo while Lilian moved with the girls to a warmer climate that would be better for their health. They soon moved from San Francisco to a smaller town an hour south, the village of Saratoga, CA. Lilian became involved with the owner of a San Jose department store, a man named George Milan Fontaine, whom she married when Olivia was 8. He was immensely strict with the girls, his harshness prompting at least one runaway attempt. They weren’t allowed any extracurricular activities, but Olivia was beginning to show a talent for drama and disobeyed her stepfather’s orders by joining the school play.

When Fontaine found out, he gave her an ultimatum. “You will either give up the play,” Olivia recalled him saying later, “or leave this house forever.” Olivia chose the latter, and at the age of 16, she left home.

I had invited several European friends, all fans of Olivia de Havilland, to come with me to the American Library to hear Olivia introduce the movie. They flew in, two from Sweden, one from Italy by way of England, the afternoon of the movie and after cramming all of our stuff into my tiny apartment near Parc Monceau, we headed over to the library. Shortly after our arrival, we saw a regal, perfectly arranged shock of white hair sticking up from the front row of chairs. It was Olivia. She was sitting perfectly straight, talking and smiling with the people introduced to her, a perfect lady. She stood up whenever she was introduced to someone, leaping out of her chair faster than someone half her age. We watched her in awe. Essentially shunned by her family, left to fend for herself at 16 years old, she had forged her own path, never looking back and creating a livelihood entirely on her own, standing tall and maintaining her dignity all the way through her life. Even at 94 years old.

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In a local production of Alice in Wonderland, shortly after she left home.

Despite the difficulties she encountered as a teenager living on her own, Olivia received a full scholarship to Mills College based on her exemplary grades. But at the same time, she auditioned and got the role of understudy for Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Max Reinhardt, to be performed at the Hollywood Bowl and various other places in California. Olivia decided to do the play in order to build up her resume and perhaps get more scholarship money for Mills, but after going onstage several times as the understudy, Max Reinhardt was so impressed with her that he selected her to go to Hollywood with him to make the movie version.

And thus began the career of Olivia de Havilland. She was signed to Warner Bros, where she made an impression not only with the acting talent that had so impressed Max Reinhardt, but also with her huge, winsome brown eyes and distinctive voice, perfectly suited for recording with the equipment in the mid-1930s.

 

When the program was to start at the American Library, the producer of I Remember Better When I Paint, Berna Huebner, went to the podium and introduced Olivia, who would introduce the movie. Her words were loving and kind, speaking of a woman whom she had clearly come to love as a dear friend. Then Olivia came up to the podium and began to talk about the movie. I was so profoundly struck by the sound of her voice, I could barely pay attention to anything but the beautiful deep tones that were coming out of her mouth. Her voice was like melted chocolate, rising and falling dramatically with each clearly enunciated word, articulated slowly and deliberately. I have never heard a voice like hers in my life. It seemed to come from an era that is long gone–and of course it does.

During her years at Warner Bros, Olivia was often cast in damsel-in-distress roles, paired a whopping nine times with Errol Flynn. Their feelings for each other were palpable onscreen and off, but Flynn was married and Olivia refused to be the “other woman.” Still, Olivia continued to speak giddily about Flynn even in interviews many decades later, and it was clear that the love had never faded.

In 1938, she persuaded Jack Warner to loan her to Selznick International for a movie that Selznick was making based on the hit novel Gone With the Wind. Warner was reluctant, but finally allowed her to go, and Olivia signed on to play the shy, demure, ever-trusting Melanie Hamilton to Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara.

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Cast members sign the contracts for Gone With the Wind.

It became the role of her lifetime. Above anything else, Olivia de Havilland is remembered as Melanie Hamilton, playing the character to nuanced perfection. She received her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress against costar Hattie McDaniel, with McDaniel winning the Oscar and becoming the first African-American actress to do so. De Havilland took it very much in stride.

People were very attached to Melanie, but they knew I wasn’t a supporting actress. They knew that Hattie was, and they were not tricked, and they were not deceived, and they voted for Hattie.

-Olivia de Havilland, Academy of Achievement, 2006

Back at Warner Bros, she was beginning to tire of being the damsel-in-distress, finding those parts too limiting and itching to expand her repertoire. She had been nominated for an Oscar again in 1942 for her performance in Hold Back the Dawn, but had lost to her younger sister, who had come to Hollywood and started acting under the name Joan Fontaine. Joan and Olivia eventually became fodder for the press, who scavenged for stories and contributed to the crumbling of their sibling relationship, which had never been strong. But on Oscar night, Olivia was extremely gracious and proud of her younger sister, and the press captured it.

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In the wake of her second Oscar loss, Olivia started refusing scripts from Warner Bros, resulting in suspensions that were then tacked on to the end of her contract. She seemed forever destined to the roles that she hated–and saw no light at the end of the tunnel for her career. She became very depressed, and consulted her agents to try to help her. The agents called a lawyer, who informed her of an obscure California law restricting the duration of time that a worker can be held under contract to seven years.

She went to court, and after an appeal, she won in a unanimous decision of the California Superior Court. The De Havilland Law, as the decision is now called, had and continues to have huge implications for workers in the entertainment business. It limited the power of the studios over their stars, and gave stars greater freedom to seek projects that they felt suited them, and set a precedent for workers in the music and sports fields. Most recently, Jared and Shannon Leto of the band Thirty Seconds to Mars sued in response to a musical contract issue, and won based on the De Havilland Law. They wrote Olivia personally to thank her.

From then on, Olivia’s career soared. In 1946, she played the role of a mother who gives up her illegitimate child and then tries to adopt him back in To Each His Own. The role finally won her her first Oscar. In 1948, she received another Oscar nomination for playing a mentally unstable woman whose treatment in a mental institution is documented in The Snake Pit, one of the first serious treatments of mental illness on film. Then in 1949 came another role of a lifetime, the role of a simple embroiderer set to inherit a large fortune who is courted by a man of questionable intentions in The Heiress, for which she won her second Oscar. Olivia’s metamorphosis from naïve, schoolgirlish embroiderer to bitter, jaded woman getting her revenge stands as one of the most brilliant transformations in film history.

At home, her life was becoming difficult. She was on the brink of divorce from Marcus Goodrich, whom she had married in 1946, and with whom she had had a son, Benjamin. They finally divorced in 1953, and shortly thereafter Olivia moved to France with Benjamin. Life got better in France–she married a Frenchman, Pierre Galante, the editor of Paris Match, with whom she had a daughter, Gisèle. She continued to work, though more sporadically now than before, and focus her energy on raising her children. She wrote a witty memoir in 1962 called Every Frenchman Has One, recounting anecdotes of living as a foreigner in France.

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With her two children: Benjamin (left) and Gisèle (right).

Benjamin, a prodigious mathematician, grew up to be a statistical analyst and died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1993. Gisèle became a respected journalist like her father, and currently lives in the Los Angeles area.

Olivia became an American citizen in 1943 and has long been dedicated to the bastions of American culture in Paris, devoting her time and resources to the American University, the American Library, and the American Cathedral. It was her commitment to the American Library that brought I Remember Better When I Paint to France, and Olivia de Havilland to me. After her introduction, she sat down and watched the movie with the crowd–delighting in the movie as a simple member of the audience. It was a memorable moment. I watched one of the towers of the entertainment world sitting on a simple folding chair, laughing at a movie’s funny parts and furrowing her brow at the sad parts, just like the rest of us.

After it was over, we prepared to leave. Olivia was taken by the arm by one of the library staff, and accompanied out of the main room. But just as we were about to head out the door, we saw that shock of white hair again–this time behind the library desk, as Olivia chatted with the audience members who had come to see her. She had somehow broken free of the library staff member who was supposed to lead her to her car, and she was simply interacting with those who had loved her for so many years.

Just in case, we had brought things for Olivia to sign. I had brought my copy of Every Frenchman Has One, and my friends and I excitedly positioned ourselves in the crowd. She talked with us for several minutes, asking us where we had gotten our long out-of-print books and interacting in just as charming and gracious a way as she did on the screen.

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When it finally came time for her to leave, she went unwillingly. “They’re making me leave!” she exclaimed. It took her another good few minutes to get out the door, and when she did, we saw that she had come to the event alone at 94 years old.

And so it has always been. She did it all herself.

Happy 100th birthday, Olivia. There is no one more deserving of this special birthday than you.

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Highlights From the TCM Classic Film Festival

Charles Coburn and Jean Arthur in a scene from THE MORE THE MERRIER, 1943.

The TCM Classic Film Festival came to a close last night, and I am currently fighting off a tremendous case of sleep deprivation following my flight home at 6:15 in the morning. Despite my lack of sleep, I still feel the elation of the festival in every fiber of my being.

What a weekend it was. Attendees come from all over the country and the world, and every year it feels like a family reunion–except, as a friend of mine put it, for the fact that “everyone likes each other.” Those of us who are regular attendees can hardly walk 10 feet across the Roosevelt Hotel lobby in less than half an hour, because everyone we see is a close friend whom we haven’t seen in a year. It’s truly unlike anywhere else.

As expected, the highlight of the festival was the screening of The More the Merrier at the Egyptian Theatre. The pure joy and infectious laughter of the crowd was something very rare and unique to festivals like TCM–this level of excitement is not something one encounters at the standard neighborhood movie theater. It reminded me of just how special this festival is, and why we keep coming back year after year.

The More the Merrier is a movie that we had been fighting tooth and nail to bring to TCM for some time now. Along with my fellow fans of the movie, I was slightly concerned that it wouldn’t get much of a showing, owing to the fact that it was scheduled opposite Shanghai Express and Love Me or Leave Me. We shouldn’t have worried. The theater was packed, and the audience enjoyed themselves more than at any other screening I attended, 9:00 in the morning or not.

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Another highlight for me was the wonderful Midnight, starring Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche. The movie was introduced by Bonnie Hunt, who lauded it as one of her favorites, and then backed up her claim by staying to watch it with us. She is a charming presenter, filled with humor and a down-to-earth air about her. As with The More the Merrier, the audience was enthusiastic and involved, laughing out loud at the perfect Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett script about a chorus girl who gets caught up in a millionaire’s scheme. My favorite line: “When I married, I didn’t realize that in the Czerny family there was a streak of… shall we say, eccentricity. And yet, I had warning. Why else should his grandfather have sent me, as an engagement present, one roller skate covered with thousand island dressing?” Claudette Colbert is a gem, and John Barrymore does a hilarious scene on the telephone in which he pretends to be Ameche’s wife and daughter.

Barrymore died a mere 3 years later. While he showed a talent for comedy early on, he never truly became known as a comedy star–something that may have come had he lived longer. His performances in Midnight and Twentieth Century 5 years earlier are world-class.

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On Friday night, I went to see Angela Lansbury interviewed before a showing of The Manchurian Candidate. The line to get in was one of the longest I have ever seen in any of my years attending the TCM Festival. I knew it was going to be packed, so I got there over an hour early. By the time I arrived around 6:45 for the 8:00 interview, the line had snaked around to the side of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, up the stairs, through Hollywood and Highland center, and almost around to the back of the complex. Despite my early arrival, I was number 293 in line.

Angela Lansbury is one of the most versatile and prolific actors alive. She has excelled phenomenally in every medium she has attempted, becoming a legend of film, a legend of the Broadway stage, and a legend of television in equal measure. Very few people achieve the level of stardom that she has, even in one medium–and she has conquered them all. TCM festivalgoers know this, and the level of respect that she has earned among this crowd is immense.

Trying to contain an interview with Angela Lansbury within the confines of one single movie is futile. Lansbury’s career is so immense and far-reaching that a focus only on The Manchurian Candidate gives the impression of a big elephant in the room–the rest of her career. While interviewers have set guidelines to follow, and interviewer Alec Baldwin had to bring her back to The Manchurian Candidate at some point, there were moments where Angela Lansbury clearly wanted to talk about her early career in film, and about her roles as Mame Dennis in Mame and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. She is prime material for a lengthy interview, along the lines of what TCM does every year–last year with Sophia Loren and this year with Faye Dunaway. And judging by the line I stood in, number 293 over an hour before the interview, there is a Grauman’s Chinese Theater-full of people who agree.

The Hollywood home movies were a joy. We were treated to behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of The More the Merrier (which obviously made me happy), footage from Marjorie Morningstar, and home movies of the Nicholas Brothers, presented by Fayard Nicholas’ son, Tony. Tony’s daughters and grandchildren were there as well, and we had a nice surprise when one of the grandchildren, who looked to be about 9 years old, did an impromptu tap routine. It is comforting to know that the out-of-this-world talent of the Nicholas Brothers is being passed on through the generations.

The reasoning behind my current sleep deprivation is the fact that I was originally scheduled to fly home last night. But when I saw the schedule and realized that Network was playing on Sunday night, I changed my flight to early the next morning. There was no way I was going to miss it.

As I have mentioned before, I consider Network to be one of the most timely, prescient and telling movies ever made. It was a thrill to hear audiences gasping with recognition at lines such as “We are talking about putting a manifestly irresponsible man on national television,” recognizing the eerie parallels with today’s election news cycles. There were some people who laughed all the way through the movie, something that I felt to be a recognition of the absurdity of the story. But upon leaving the theater, a friend of mine expressed that she was upset that people laughed during the movie, that it trivialized the brilliance of it. I’m not sure which one of us is in the right, but I think it was unexpected for us both.

Once again, a remarkable festival. Here are some things that I would like to see next year:

  • A Conversation With Angela Lansbury
  • More pre-Codes. Double Harness, the William Powell pre-Code that showed on Friday morning, filled up quickly and left many people disappointed. It was rescheduled for Sunday, and filled up yet again. Every year, the pre-Codes fill up. This, to me, means that the TCM Film Festival crowd has a special affinity for this era.
  • As an addendum to the previous point, I would love to see a showing of Ladies They Talk About (1933). Combining Barbara Stanwyck with pre-Codes would be a surefire hit for the festival.

Thank you, TCM, for a wonderful festival this year. I can’t wait for next year’s “family reunion!”

TCM Classic Film Festival Day 3: WHY BE GOOD? 42nd STREET, EARTHQUAKE!

Day 3 was one filled with favorites and laughs. I started off the day with Why Be Good? (1929), a movie I had seen a few months ago when a new restoration was screened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This same restoration was shown here, and I loved the movie so much the first time that I had to see it again.

 

The plot of the movie centers around a young girl who falls in love with a wealthy banker’s son, but has to prove that she’s a “good girl” before his father will allow him to date her. The premise sounds contrived, but in reality the film is unique and refreshingly feminist in many spots, with lines that resonate with much of feminist thought today. Colleen Moore is as cute as can be, with big, expressive eyes and movements that radiate the jazz age. It was great fun to see it screened at the festival, and I’m happy that this sweet film is getting the attention it deserves.

Next up was 42nd Street (1933), a personal favorite. Featuring much of the same cast as the seminal Golddiggers of 1933, what this movie lacks in originality it makes up for tenfold with a spectacular cast and Busby Berkeley’s creative musical numbers. Ruby Keeler is a delight as always, and the title number is one of the first real ballet sequences within a film that tells its own story within the film. The famous ballet sequences in An American in Paris and Singin’ In the Rain followed 42nd Street‘s lead in creating a veritable “show within a show,” but 42nd Street takes it one step further–the title number is indeed a story within a story within a story. Take a look:

42nd Street and Golddiggers of 1933 are hallmarks of the pre-Code era, and are extremely popular with the TCM Festival crowd, yet pre-Codes are often put in the smaller theaters and easily sell out. My dream is to one day see a pre-Code programmed at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where it will not only look beautiful but also bring a lot of excitement to the festival-going crowd. I would have loved to have seen Ruby Keeler on that giant screen!

I had a large break in my schedule on Day 3, during which I relaxed with friends and got ready for the evening screening, Earthquake!, poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel. A Q&A with Richard Roundtree preceded the film, and then we were treated to one of the most fabulously low-budget movies I have ever seen. The inspiration for future disaster films such as the Airport movies and the spoof Airplane!Earthquake! stars Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner (who hilariously insisted on doing her own stunts) and focuses on a disastrous earthquake in Los Angeles, ultimately destroying the city. Its low-budget special effects left the audience in stitches, and satisfied my frequent craving for camp film. I left with a pain in my stomach from laughing so hard. Thanks, Earthquake!

Day 4 tomorrow. See you then!

TCM Classic Film Festival Day 2: The Dawn of Technicolor, STEAMBOAT BILL JR., REBECCA, BOOM!

Dear readers, I’m usually so good about posting right after festival events, but after several late nights, I needed some sleep. The festival is now over, and I’m getting back into the swing of things. I apologize for the delay!

Day 2 was a jam-packed one at the TCM Classic Film Festival, the first day of the festival with a full docket of programming. I started off the day with a beautiful presentation called The Dawn of Technicolor, based on the new book by David Pierce and James Layton. Pierce and Layton were there discussing the facets of early Technicolor, and the differences between the two-strip Technicolor process and the much better-known three-strip process, as seen in movies like The Wizard of Oz. It was a fascinating discussion, touching on such concepts as lighting techniques for early Technicolor and difficulties in getting certain colors to register (blue was especially difficult), and Pierce and Layton showed the audience clips of very early Technicolor musicals that were a delight.

Since many of the early Technicolor clips that the audience saw yesterday are extremely rare, I will instead post here two clips that demonstrate the two-strip process and the three-strip process, respectively.

This is the “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden” number from The Florodora Girl. Pierce and Layton noted that, in addition to the difficulty in photographing blue tints, yellow tints were next to non-existent in the two-strip Technicolor process. The focus was on reds and greens, which came out in beautiful shades and this lends itself to the signature look of two-strip Technicolor.

You can see the difference between two-strip and three-strip Technicolor by looking at this beautiful clip, in which all the colors of the rainbow are represented as Dorothy goes over it. By 1939, three-strip Technicolor had all but replaced two-strip as the color standard in film, though color wouldn’t become industry standard until several decades later.

A wonderful and informative presentation, that I would recommend to anyone interested in film!

Next I went to Club TCM to hear legendary film historian Jeanine Basinger speak about portrayals of history in the movies. Professor Basinger is the head of the film department at Wesleyan University, and founder of the renowned film library there, as well as one of the most respected figures in the world of film studies. She discussed the way history has been portrayed in Hollywood and what devices filmmakers use when trying to depict events for which we may not have all the information, or when trying to make history interesting and screen-worthy. One thing she talked about was what she calls the “letters of transit” device, referring to the plot of Casablanca that hinges on Victor Laszlo getting letters of transit out of Morocco when letters of transit did not exist in reality. The filmmakers used this device to add spice to the story, and it worked brilliantly. No one seems to care that letters of transit did not exist in reality, they existed in Casablanca and that seems to be enough. It was a great discussion, and hearing Professor Basinger speak is something that all students and scholars of film should be able to do.

A scene about “letters of transit” in Casablanca (1942).

Next up was the Buster Keaton classic Steamboat Bill, Jr., complete with a new score by silent composer Carl Davis, who also conducted the orchestra. It was a brilliant score and great fun to watch. Buster Keaton is typically hilarious and, naturally, gets into some real shenanigans. This is the movie with what is probably Buster Keaton’s most famous scene:

Steamboat Bill, Jr. was made in 1928, when Buster Keaton was at the peak of his career. Unfortunately, it was also right before his downfall, with contract switches and the coming of sound essentially putting a halt to what was one of the most glorious careers of the silent era. It was interesting to watch it in this context, as one of the great silent comedians was at the top of the world…only to fall off shortly thereafter.

A personal favorite, Rebecca, came next. I have written about this movie many times before, but it’s such a masterpiece of lighting, cinematography, and acting that I see something new every time. This time, I noticed that director Alfred Hitchcock uses very long lines in his camerawork, perhaps to emphasize the tallness of the estate Manderley. Nearly all the doorways and windows are structured to draw the eyes upward, and even the furniture and shadows are designed to guide the eyes up. Take a look at this scene, and notice the narrow, vertical light on the wall from the window, as well as the narrow structure of the window itself:

It is said that nothing in Hitchcock is accidental. If that adage holds true, this is a genius work of subtlety on his part.

The festival this year features an unusually high number of films that one can read through a queer lens–and Rebecca is certainly one of them. The relationship between the evil Mrs. Danvers and the late Rebecca de Winter can be inferred very clearly in this movie, as evidenced by this scene. Though filmmakers were kept from stating the relationship explicitly, the eerie scenes with Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca’s room do more for a queer reading of the film than anything that could have been stated explicitly.

The next movie, Boom!, is one that I have seen before on the big screen and it is a movie so bad that it’s a lot of fun to watch. I can barely tell you the plot, except that it takes place on a Greek island and Elizabeth Taylor is a drug addict who is visited by death, played by Richard Burton. It features monstrously terrible and nonsensical dialogue, and my friends and I were laughing the whole time. It’s the perfect midnight screening.

I’ll update about Day 3 tomorrow!

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!