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TCM Classic Film Festival Wrap-Up, 2017

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The 8th annual TCM Classic Film Festival came to a close this weekend, and since Sunday night, fond memories and farewells have flooded social media. The photos of fans boarding their planes home, sadly telling their friends they’ll see them next year, tug at our hearts and serve as reminders of what this festival means to so many of us.

In day-to-day life, classic film fans of this caliber often have trouble meeting like-minded people. The chance of meeting a person on the street who can talk at length about the Motion Picture Production Code, the Best Actress Oscar winner for 1950, or the final scene of The Heiress is a slim one at best. “Thank goodness for the internet,” is an oft-repeated phrase among classic film fans. “I thought I was the only one.” At the festival, all of us “only ones” convene, creating what has lovingly been referred to as the “TCM vortex.” Nothing matters except the movies on the screen, and watching them with people who love them too. It’s a world all its own.

This was my 6th festival, my 5th with Backlots as a member of the media. I attended the press conference on Wednesday afternoon, which included TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, programmer Charlie Tabesh, vice president of branding/partnerships Genevieve McGillicuddy, and general manager Jennifer Dorian. We heard some very positive things from the conference, including word of the wild success of the Fathom Events screenings, which have sold over 2 million tickets so far this year. At the beginning of 2017, TCM partnered with Fathom Events to bring classic movies to the big screen once (and sometimes twice) a month nationwide, often playing at theaters in the AMC chain. From the beginning, I was excited about this partnership, hoping for its success. I’m very glad that it seems to be working out beautifully for all involved.

We also received word that the next free online course through Ball State University will be on the movies of Alfred Hitchcock. Ball State University partnered with TCM last year for a class on the history of slapstick, and before that for a course on film noir. The classes are always exceedingly popular, and based on the interest in Alfred Hitchcock within the TCM community, I predict that this class will be a great success. If you would like to sign up, here is the place to do it.

TCM does a marvelous job procuring top-notch guests for the festival–this year’s guests included Sidney Poitier and Norman Jewison for the opening night screening of In the Heat of the Night, Lee Grant for a discussion of her life and work in Club TCM, Carl and Rob Reiner for a hand/footprint ceremony at (what will always be) Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and celebrity family members Kate MacMurray (Fred MacMurray’s daughter) and Wyatt McCrea (Joel McCrea’s grandson) to be interviewed before movies. At the press conference, I asked if there was any method to their solicitation of festival guests. Charlie Tabesh responded that many guests are very eager to come, and ask on their own accord, while the festival has tried to get other guests for many years, but they’re not able to make it. Age seems to be very much a contributing factor to this–in recent years, the festival has been leaning toward children of stars more than stars themselves, due to the dwindling number of classic Hollywood stars who are still with us, and the physical frailty of those who are.

Among my group of friends, the schedule for this year’s festival was the most anticipated of any year, with such favorites as The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Awful Truth (1937), Red-Headed Woman (1932) and Theodora Goes Wild (1936). Factor in the nitrate screenings of Black Narcissus (1947) and Laura (1944), and it was one of the greatest programs in festival history, from my perspective.

Red-Headed Woman turned out to be one of my biggest festival joys, introduced by Cari Beauchamp, the author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. Beauchamp is a beloved presenter at the festival, the go-to expert on women in early Hollywood, and the introduction of Red-Headed Woman was a prime example of what I look for in an intro. The TCM Festival crowd is an intelligent one, and most of us know these movies well. Instead of relating plot points or trivia bits, the introduction to Red-Headed Woman focused on backstory and studio politics, and the effect of movies like it (featuring strong, unapologetically sexual women) on the strengthening of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1934. The pre-code era holds a special place in my heart, and an item of particular interest in the introduction was the difference between the way the Hays office (the earlier enforcement arm of the code) and the Breen office (that followed Hays) operated. The Hays office would actually see the movies, while the Breen office would only read the scripts–thus allowing filmmakers to get away with close to anything using costumes and lighting.

Among my favorite things to do in a theater when a classic movie is showing is to glance back at the audience. It gives me an indescribable feeling to see hundreds of people watching a person from 80 years ago, likely someone long gone from this earth, flicker on the screen. That pleasure seems especially meaningful when the movie features Jean Harlow, who died of degenerative kidney disease at the age of 26 at the height of her career, but has remained one of the most alluring stars of any era. Watching the audience watching Harlow seemed to embody what Beauchamp said when introducing the film: “Jean Harlow lives!”

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As for the overall feel of the festival, I noticed a few differences between this one and previous festivals. This year’s staff seemed larger, contributing to a few snags in communication relating to line management. It was a situation that could have easily have been rectified had there been about half the staff. Despite some initial discomfort and a few panicked moments, I did manage to get into everything I wanted and the line team was always gracious and pleasant in the midst of the pressing crowds and general chaos of impatient film fans. I struck up a conversation with a lovely young line staffer at the Chinese Multiplex while I was in line for Born Yesterday, and she knew who Marion Davies was. Instant friend.

I would like to send TCM a huge thank you for the change they made regarding the pre-codes this year. It made me very happy to see that the festival remembered the two sold out showings of Double Harness last year, and made sure to put the pre-codes in the big theaters. This time, instead of selling out in the small Chinese Multiplex theaters, the movies played at the huge Egyptian Theatre–to packed houses, but no turn-aways. The festival’s love for pre-codes was something that I and many others noted in our post-festival wrap-ups last year, and it was clear that they listened.

Thank you, TCM, for another great festival, thanks to all my festival friends for giving me such a beautiful community, and thanks to my readers for following along so diligently. Here’s to next year!

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Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Days 3 and 4–The Nitrate Prints: LAURA (1944) and BLACK NARCISSUS (1947)

The 8th annual TCM Classic Film Festival is coming to a close, and what a weekend it’s been. When I return home tomorrow I will write a wrap-up post summarizing my experience, but I would be remiss if I didn’t write a post today discussing the nitrate prints that festivalgoers were treated to at the Egyptian Theatre these past few days.

Nitrate film stock is known for the shimmering quality it lends to the picture, and for its unique accentuation of line, shadow, and light. It was used in the film industry through 1952, and then due to safety issues owing to its extreme flammability (it holds its own source of oxygen, and keeps burning when thrown in water), it was no longer produced. Many nitrate films were destroyed when the stock went out of production, but we’re lucky that many were also rescued. When one watches a nitrate film, one is essentially watching an “original,” the film equivalent of holding an original photograph. Very few theaters are licensed to show nitrate nowadays, because of the heightened risk of fire. In the Bay Area, where I live, only the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto is equipped to show it.

Going into the festival, one of my most anticipated screenings was Black Narcissus (1947) on nitrate. One of the most beautifully photographed movies of all time, with some of the most vibrant colors we’ve ever seen on film, I knew that it was going to be a magnificent viewing experience. What I was not particularly prepared for, however, was Laura (1944).

I debated whether or not I should go to Laura. It was programmed opposite Twentieth Century, one of my all-time favorites starring one of my all-time favorite actresses, Carole Lombard. It pained me to choose, but ultimately I decided that nitrate needed to take priority.

I’ve seen Laura many times, but was not prepared for what happened when I saw when Gene Tierney onscreen. The nitrate accentuated the lines and shadows of her face, her big, expressive eyes, and the porcelain skin under her jet-black hair. Tierney, whom I consider to be one of the most beautiful faces ever to grace the screen, was so exquisite on nitrate that tears fell from my eyes.

I must stop for a moment to discuss the print. I had a discussion with a few people afterward who were distracted by the pops and scratches on the nitrate print, which had come from the Academy as a “for your consideration” copy for the 1945 Academy Awards. The print did pop and some key lines were covered up. For me, that didn’t matter. We were there (at least I was there) to get the visual of the nitrate. Granted, I have seen this movie before and don’t necessarily need to hear the lines, but I came up with this comparison. When you look at an antique, made by a prominent designer who is known for a certain style, you don’t factor in the fact that it might have scratches on it in your analysis of the style. You look at the style in and of itself, and while the scratches might be an inconvenience, it’s really not what you’re there to look at. That’s my view of the nitrate print of Laura. I saw what I was looking for, and the rest came with the territory of looking at an old film.

With Black Narcissus, none of this was an issue. The print was beautiful, the nitrate was beautiful. Black Narcissus is a movie that has sent a chill up my spine since the first time I saw it. The story of British nuns trying to run a convent in the Himalayas, dealing with cultural differences and a dangerously unstable member of their order, the photography is breathtaking, and the ending is, to this day, considered to be one of the scariest moments in the history of British cinema.

One of the standout nitrate moments for me in Black Narcissus were when Deborah Kerr’s character, Sister Clodagh, has a flashback to when she was a young girl in love in her native Ireland.

The sparkling of the sea in the background, combined with the lines in Deborah Kerr’s hair and the serene, muted colors, brought me to tears during this scene.

The frightening penultimate scene of the movie became even scarier, if that’s possible, as the nitrate highlighted the character’s gaunt, red-tinted eyes and sick pallor.

And finally, at the end, the shot of the green leaves as the rain falls on them.

If you have never seen a film on nitrate, you owe it to yourself to find a theater near you that screens nitrate film. Or better yet, come to the TCM Classic Film Festival next year. There are only a select few theaters in the country that have a license to show nitrate, and The Egyptian Theatre’s retrofit to nitrate capabilities means that the TCM Festival will likely be showing nitrate from now on. It is one of the greatest filmgoing experiences you can have.

I’ll wrap up after I return home tomorrow. See you then, and thanks for reading!

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Day 2: Watching Old Favorites With a Community

We’re in the middle of the TCM Classic Film Festival’s first full day, and during this break I have between screenings, I wanted to talk about what it’s like to watch an established favorite with a community like the one at the TCM Festival. In a prior post, I discussed the fact that I tend toward the old favorites when faced with a screening dilemma, and much of my reasoning for that comes from the sense of community that comes from sitting in a theater and watching something you’ve seen dozens of times.

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Last year, the screening of The More the Merrier proved to be my festival highlight, due to the sheer joy of hearing raucous laughter while Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea were on the screen, and anticipating when that laughter was going to come. I had the same experience this morning with the screening of Born Yesterday (1950). Those loyal readers of Backlots may be familiar with the love I have for Born Yesterday and its messages of freedom through knowledge, and when I arrived at the theater I was thrilled to see that the line to get in was one of the longest I’ve ever seen, extending around the ropes and even necessitating the management to form another line outside. When we were let in, there was barely a single seat left in the theater. I began to look forward to another enthusiastic crowd.

Born Yesterday, and especially Judy Holliday, have always held a bit of a special place in my heart. The combination of physical comedy, topical and progressive subject matter, brilliant and sincere performances, and a witty, dynamic script combine to make a movie that clicked for me at a young age. So much so, in fact, that in 7th grade I chose to do a class report and presentation on Judy Holliday, highlighting clips from Born Yesterday to illustrate my points about her acting ability, including the one below.

(Apologies for the faulty video, but this is the only clip of this scene that seems to exist online, and it’s too good to leave out of this post.)

When this scene came onscreen this morning, the audience went wild, laughing uproariously at Holliday’s card organizing, as well as her mannerisms and quirks that make the scene one of the greatest bits of downplayed physical comedy that I’ve ever seen. When Holliday called out “Gin!” and spread her cards out on the table, in the face of her brash and uncultured boyfriend, the audience clapped loudly.

To hear others appreciating Born Yesterday as I do, and appreciating Judy Holliday as I have for so many years, is a priceless gift of the TCM Classic Film Festival. Rarely in life do we classic film fans get the opportunity to sit in the dark, with our favorite people up on the screen, with nothing but love opposite them in the audience. But once a year at the festival, we can be assured of it.

Thanks for reading, and keep watching this space for more! Here are some photos from some other things that have been going on:

2017 TCM Classic Film Festival - The 50th Anniversary Screening of "In the Heat of the Night" (1967) Red Carpet & Opening Night

Opening night red carpet featuring In the Heat of the Night (1967)

2017 TCM Classic Film Festival - Hand and Footprint Ceremony: Carl and Rob Reiner

Hand/footprint ceremony for Rob Reiner and Carl Reiner, featuring guests Billy Crystal, Tom Bergeron, and Norman Lear alongside TCM network representatives Jennifer Dorian, Ben Mankiewicz, Coleman Breland, Genevieve McGillicuddy, and Charlie Tabesh.

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At the opening night. Walter Mirisch, Sidney Poitier, Quincy Jones, Norman Jewison, and Lee Grant, with TCM network representatives Ben Mankiewicz, Jennifer Dorian, Charlie Tabesh, Genevieve McGillicuddy, and Coleman Breland.

 

 

TCM Classic Film Festival Day 1: 7 Seconds of Bette Davis in JEZEBEL (1938)

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This afternoon, classic film fans from around the country and the world descended upon the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard that runs from the Roosevelt Hotel to the Egyptian Theater for the opening of the TCM Classic Film Festival. For much of the day, the street was completely blocked off for the red carpet entrance to the opening night movie, In The Heat of the Night, for which Sidney Poitier and Norman Jewison were in attendance. It looked to be a spectacular affair. But for those of us whose passes don’t allow entrance to the opening night movie, there was no shortage of other choices–and I, being a devotee of Bette Davis in general and Jezebel in particular, was thrilled to see the pre-Civil War story of love and defiance as an option for the festival’s opening night. It was a screening I did not want to miss.

Jezebel has always fascinated me. The story of Julie Marsden (Bette Davis), a rebellious young southern belle in 1852, who defies convention and alienates her companion Pres (Henry Fonda) only to have him leave and return with a new wife, it is a beautifully directed, beautifully costumed movie that plays with the idea of women’s rights long before the women’s rights movement, while still reining itself in with the restrictions of the production code. We see a strong woman who fights for what she wants, but who repents when her companion leaves. Then when he comes back with a new wife, she rebels again, only to give her final repentance at the dramatic ending.

I arrived at the movie relatively late in my classic film life, having somehow missed it until my first year in college, and due to the nuanced and textured performances of Bette Davis and Fay Bainter, I’m rather glad that I came to it late. As I watched Jezebel for the first time, I was able to grasp right away the meticulous and fine acting details that define the movie.

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Jezebel is best-known for the scene in which Julie appears at the Olympus ball in a red dress, in direct defiance of what Pres wants her to do. All unmarried women appear in white, he tells her, but when Julie insinuates that he’s just afraid of having to defend her, he relents and takes her to the ball in the red dress. It is indeed a marvelous scene, filled with discomfort and palpable tension. But what I consider to be the greatest moment in the movie occurs afterward.

Following the dance, Pres leaves Julie, humiliated. A year later, he returns and Julie has repented, appearing to him in a white dress and asking him to forgive her. She kneels down to the floor, her dress flowing around her, and tells him “Pres, I’m kneelin’ to ya.” A few seconds later, Julie finds out that Pres has married during his absence. The woman walks into the room and is introduced as Pres’ new wife from New York. What follows is a phenomenal 7-second performance by Bette Davis. Start the video at 2:31.

Davis immediately transforms from the angelic, saintly creature that was kneeling to Pres on the ground, into a confused, startled person. She starts with a blank stare, almost as if she hadn’t heard what was said. Then, she gets a look on her face that shows comprehension, but a disbelief that he had done it. Leaning forward slightly, she looks for a moment as if she were about to move toward him, but thinks better of it. She looks at Amy, scrutinizing her, looking her up and down, then gets a puzzled look on her face, and turns back to Pres before she says, in shocked disbelief, “Your wife.” This all happens over the span of 7 seconds.

The entire moment is played in the face–except for a small movement of her arms when she is leaning forward. It works due to Davis’ naturally expressive features, and her ability to use them and them alone. These 7 seconds are a testament to Davis’ skill as an actress, and to her ability to work effectively with director William Wyler. By this time, Wyler knew Bette Davis extraordinarily well, onscreen and off. By the time of Jezebel‘s filming, Davis and Wyler were spending a great deal of time together as romantic companions, and Wyler used his knowledge of Davis to direct her to her second Academy Award. Whatever direction Wyler gave her in that moment prompted Davis to create one of the most impressive physical moments of her career.

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Stay tuned for more reports from the TCM Classic Film Festival as it rolls on through the weekend. Tomorrow’s schedule includes screenings of The Maltese Falcon, Born Yesterday, and Red-Headed Woman. Thanks for reading!

TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule Released–How We Pick Movies and Where I’ll Be

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The TCM Classic Film Festival released its full schedule this past week, and social media has been abuzz ever since with attendees announcing their festival picks. Some festivalgoers opt to prioritize screenings of movies new to them, others prefer to see old favorites alongside others who love the film as they do.

It seems to come down to a difference in what attendees hope to get out of the festival. For those who give priority to the “new-to-me” screenings, the TCM Classic Film Festival serves as a pathway to expanded film fluency, an opportunity to close the gaps in their film repertoire, gaps that we all have regardless of our level of knowledge. For those who prefer to put movies they’ve seen before at the top of their list, sometimes movies they’ve seen dozens of times, the festival is a way to bond with other classic film lovers, to visit with those who have a special connection to a particular movie or genre. And, naturally, there are those who consciously combine the two practices.

Historically speaking, I’ve tended to run with the “old favorites” crowd. Over the past 6 years that I’ve attended what is known affectionately as “TCMFF,” I’ve found that the most useful gift that the festival can give me personally, and that I can then give to Backlots’ readers, is a connection with the movies and the people who attend the festival. At last year’s screening of The More the Merrier, for example, I knew about half the audience, and I knew how much they loved the movie. There is a sense of community that comes from that, one that I wouldn’t have gotten if I had gone to see a movie with which I was unfamiliar.

I’m aware that I have a bit of privilege when it comes to picking movies for TCMFF. The San Francisco Bay Area provides easy access to classic movies, and chances are good that a movie shown at TCMFF that I’ve never seen will also play at the Castro or the Roxie at some point, so I can feel comfortable settling in with an old favorite on the big screen. Many attendees don’t have such easy access to classics, and seeing an old favorite on the big screen would be a wasted opportunity to expand their viewing repertoire. One of the beautiful things about TCMFF is that it can be easily customized for the individual attendee–her interests, preferences, and what she wants to get out of the festival as a whole.

With that context in mind, here is my TCMFF schedule:

THURSDAY, APRIL 6

6:30 PM: Jezebel (1938)

9:30 PM: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

FRIDAY, APRIL 7

9:00 AM: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

11:30 AM: Born Yesterday (1950)

2:00 PM: Trivia at the Roosevelt

4:30 PM: So This is Paris (1926)

7:00 PM: Red-Headed Woman (1932)

9:30 PM: Laura (1944)

SATURDAY, APRIL 8

9:00 AM: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

12:00 PM: The Awful Truth (1937)

5:00 PM: Hollywood Home Movies

6:30 PM: Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

9:30 PM: Black Narcissus (1947)

SUNDAY APRIL 9

10:15 AM: The Egg and I (1947)

1:30 PM: The Palm Beach Story (1942)

4:30 PM: Singin’ In the Rain (1952)

8:00 PM: Speedy (1928)

Some notes on my choices:

  • Black Narcissus and Laura are both on nitrate. Nitrate film is rarely shown in theaters today–due to the fragility and flammability of the stock (it has its own source of oxygen, and famously keeps burning when submerged in water), theaters have to have a special license to be able to use the stock in a projection booth. Nitrate is known for the “shimmering” quality it gives the film, and suffice it to say I’m extraordinarily excited to see this on nitrate:

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  • The 9:30 PM slot on Friday is very difficult, as it pits Laura against Twentieth Century (1934) against Cat People (1942). Laura barely ekes out a win over Twentieth Century simply because of the nitrate, but it pains me to abandon Carole Lombard. TCMFF reserves several TBA slots at the end of the festival for movies that overflow, and I’m hoping that Twentieth Century fills one of those spots.
  • While not a movie per se, the Hollywood Home Movies event at Club TCM is always a highlight of the festival for me. In cooperation with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, TCM brings in rare video of the stars at home and on the set, providing glimpses into their lives often narrated by the children or relatives of the people depicted sitting right there on the stage. It’s marvelous.

I’ll keep you posted with any more news. Thanks for reading!

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!”

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Day 4: 5TH AVE GIRL (1939), EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE (1933), THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947), Closing Night Party

The final day of the TCM Classic Film Festival was by far the lightest in terms of screenings, but I also found it to be among the most enjoyable. One of the wonderful things about this festival, speaking for those of us who write about classic film, is that there is never any shortage of community here. The classic film writers’ world is quite a tight-knit one, and I found myself constantly surrounded with fellow bloggers and friends comparing schedules and trying to coordinate screenings, chatting in line about Barbara Stanwyck and Irene Dunne, and updating each other on what’s new on our blogs. The TCM Classic Film Festival is known for valuing bloggers, so many of us in the online classic film community received credentials this year and it was nice to put faces to names, and reunite with those I saw last year.

The first showing today was a repeat, a movie that had sold out in a previous time slot and they scheduled it in another to get more people in. It was a Ginger Rogers movie called 5th Ave Girl, directed by Gregory La Cava (of My Man Godfrey fame) and co-starring Walter Connolly, telling a story about a young woman who is hired by a lonely man to live in his house with his wife and children, and make his life a little less boring. It was not, in my opinion, a hugely successful effort, but it is a feel-good movie and it showcases Ginger’s ability to do some pretty top-notch deadpan comedy.

Interestingly, it was made in 1939, the year known as “the best year for movies,” alongside Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Stagecoach. But in those days, studios were an essential factory line for movies, and it’s sobering to think that even in a year like 1939, the sheer amount of movies coming out of Hollywood ensures some troublesome ones. Though it was not a bad movie, it was rather slow with a bit of a loose plot that I found tedious. It is one of the few films I’ve seen at festival that I haven’t particularly liked.

Loretta Young and Walter William in EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE.

Next up was Employees’ Entrance, a 1933 film about a corrupt and evil boss that uses people and then throws them out. It stars Warren William as the evil boss and a young Loretta Young as the wife of his next-in-command. The boss is such a tyrant that he won’t let his employees get married, so the two have to keep their marriage secret, and the movie is about their lives and those of everybody else who is privy to the antics of this deranged person.

One of the highlights of the Employees’ Entrance screening was an informative and entertaining lecture about the pre-Code era from the president of the Film Forum in New York City, Bruce Goldstein. Goldstein gave a witty and fun overview on what the pre-Code era meant for Hollywood, and referenced several strong pre-Code films and the strong women characters that are indicative of that era.

As my readers know, I have a real fascination with the pre-Code era and I have just learned that TCM will soon be having a tribute to the women of pre-Code Hollywood, who make up some of the most exciting characters ever to be seen onscreen. Stay tuned for more details as they become available, as I will be doing a series on Backlots related to this.

Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947).

My final screening of the festival was a movie that I have had the privilege of seeing before on the big screen, but this was a world premiere presentation of a new digital restoration that I was anxious to see. It was The Lady From Shanghai, a movie that presenter Eddie Muller called “noir poetry,” directed by Orson Welles and starring his recently separated wife Rita Hayworth opposite himself. The movie is notable for the brilliant “hall of mirrors” scene, and for the surprise of seeing the beautiful Rita Hayworth with short blonde hair–as well as the magnificent directing of Welles and his innovations in cinematic technique. The plot is a bit muddy, but in this case it doesn’t much matter because the focus is primarily on the visuals and Welles’ beautiful manipulation of the camera.

The restoration was gorgeous. There are some mixed feelings within the classic film community about digital restorations, and in my opinion it’s possible for a film to be “over-restored.” A few years ago I had the privilege of seeing a new digitally restored print of Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, one that was hailed as being such a superb restoration that it was near flawless. And it was a flawless restoration. To my mind, too much so. It looked computerized in how perfect it was, and it didn’t look like it came from film stock. It turned me off a little. But this one was simply a pristine clean-up–it was still clear that this was a movie that had been shot on film, and it was just the restoration that was done digitally. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

And that was the end of the TCM Classic Film Festival. I spent the rest of the evening at the closing night party, talking to friends and preparing to miss them until next year. But the good news is that we all know each other online, so it’s only goodbye to faces–not goodbye to people. Thank goodness for the internet, keeping us all connected though miles away.

A huge thank you to TCM for allowing me to attend this festival, to Chelsea Barredo for all her help with the red carpet credential, and to all the wonderful people I met and reconnected with this year. Here’s to the next one!