Tag Archives: tcmff

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.

born-yesterday

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.

TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL

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.

 

 

Advertisements

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

2017-tcmff-TLC-theater

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 glad 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.

Jezebel-Ball

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.

d46e002a924dcc42c256c1712205c2a4

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

Jezebel-film-images-5e61ec44-cbbb-48b0-806e-5146bb6073e

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:

black-narcissus-3

  • 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.

The-More-the-Merrier-dual-solo-rumba

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.

claudette-colbert-john-barrymore-in-midnight

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!

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Day 3: CITY LIGHTS (1931), I REMEMBER MAMA (1948), HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941), Hollywood Home Movies, THE WOMEN (1939), FREAKS (1932)

On what was my busiest day of the festival thus far, my film experiences yesterday ran the gamut of human emotion. From the laughs and tears of City Lights to the nostalgia of I Remember Mama, to delight at the naughtiness of The Women to the uncomfortable but ultimately triumphant horror of Freaks. It was quite a long day and so, dear readers, I was compelled to begin writing this post on the morning of the last day of the festival, in the name of sleep and sanity.

The first film of the day yesterday was City Lights, a 1931 Charlie Chaplin masterpiece that is one of his many tours-de-force and happens to be one of my personal favorites of all time. It tells the story of a blind girl who is befriended by Chaplin’s “little tramp” character, and when she is unable to afford her rent, he goes through a series of precarious (and often hilarious) circumstances to get the money for her. The movie is laugh-out-loud funny, but with a certain poignancy in Chaplin’s scenes with the blind girl, a poignancy that serves to give the tramp character his humanity. This is typical of Chaplin–right when we are about to write the tramp off as nothing but a silly clown, we are shown a side of him that is so sweet, gentle, and kind, we cannot help but relate to him in some way and think of him on our own human terms.

The ending of City Lights is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful endings ever in the history of the movies. For those of you who have not seen it and prefer not to have the ending spoiled, skip this paragraph and clip! But for those of you who don’t mind spoilers, I will show you an ending that is sure to melt the coldest of hearts. When the tramp is with the blind girl at one point in the movie, she discusses the possibility of surgery on her eyes so that she may see. It is inferred that with the money that the tramp gives her for her rent (he manages to get her a lot more than her rent required, by enlisting the help of a millionaire friend who, through a series of circumstances, ends up not remembering him and the tramp is thrown in jail for extortion), she is able to afford the operation, but as the police believe that the tramp stole the money, he ends up in jail and unable to see the girl until he is out. Autumn comes, and the tramp is out of jail…disheveled with raggedy clothes on, he sees the girl, who has had her operation. This is the scene:

Needless to say, it was an emotional moment in the theater. It is rare that a movie can make you laugh so hard, and then tug at your heartstrings with such grace and beauty.

Next up was I Remember Mama, a glimpse into the life of a Norwegian immigrant family in San Francisco in the early 1900s. The plot is simple–a young woman recounts her childhood in flashback, recalling the days with her family, the good times and the bad times. TCM’s theme this year is “Family: The Ties That Bind,” and they couldn’t have picked a more appropriate addition to the festival than I Remember Mama. The film earned Irene Dunne her final Academy Award nomination, and in my personal opinion she was robbed that year. Though the competition was tough–she was up against Olivia de Havilland for The Snake Pit, Barbara Stanwyck for Sorry, Wrong Number, Ingrid Bergman for Joan of Arc, and the ultimate winner, Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda–Irene Dunne’s performance as the devoted Norwegian mother is flawless. She speaks with a convincing Norwegian accent, and in one scene in which she has to leave her child alone in a hospital, you can feel her pain and guilt. It is a remarkable movie, and a love poem to mothers everywhere.

Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941)

I was concerned about getting into the next movie, as there would be a special guest–and not just any special guest. The legendary Maureen O’Hara was slated to appear at the screening of How Green Was My Valley, and as I expected, the line was the longest I had ever seen at this festival. I did end up getting in, and they showed a beautiful montage of clips from Maureen O’Hara movies before Maureen came out–teary-eyed with emotion. At 93 years old she is still strikingly beautiful, and speaks elegantly with a touch of an Irish brogue that came and went during her film career but now seems here to stay. I had the great privilege of meeting Maureen O’Hara several years ago when I was in Ireland, and she is truly a larger-than-life personality. A great lady with great convictions that are apparent whenever she speaks.

How Green Was My Valley is a touching coming-of-age story set in a Welsh mining town, and Maureen O’Hara plays Angharad, sister of main character Huw (Roddy McDowall). The film makes a great many points about family and fairness, especially in regard to labor and treatment of others. It is a simple film that doesn’t put on any airs, yet it won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1942–winning over Citizen Kane.

The next activity was a showing of several Hollywood home movies from the Academy Film Archive, including home movies from the Ziegfeld family, footage from Hearst Castle, the set of Oklahoma, and rare backstage footage of a young Jean Harlow. Accompanied by a live piano, the silent clips were shown with live commentary from special TCM guests, including, notably, the great-granddaughter of Florenz Ziegfeld and Billie Burke.The Academy Film Archive is a treasure trove of films, newsreels and film clips, and their selections for the festival are always fascinating. This is becoming a yearly event at the TCM Classic Film Festival, and I always make it a point to go. The audience was enraptured and enthusiastic, and it was great fun to experience.

After having coffee with fellow blogger Vincent Paterno, who is in town for the festival, I headed off to see The Women, a movie readers of Backlots are quite familiar with by now as I have written about various facets of the movie on many different occasions. It is one of the smartest, wittiest movies of the 1930s and, I would argue, of all time. Yesterday’s screening featured a talk with Anna Kendrick, Oscar-nominated actress who happens to be a huge fan of The Women. Kendrick spoke intelligently and passionately about this movie, and she and Ben Mankiewicz (who interviewed her) clearly have a great rapport. It was a lot of fun, and the talk went overtime because Kendrick had so much to say.

I won’t delve into the movie in this write-up, as I would be writing about it all day and you can read my varied analyses of this movie here, here, and here, but suffice it to say that it’s one of my favorite films to discuss. I am especially fascinated by the the influence that designer Elsa Schiaparelli had on the film’s costume designer, Adrian, evidenced in the fashion sequence and throughout the movie.

My final viewing of the night was a midnight showing of Freaks, a dark look into the world of circus sideshows that ultimately brings light to the way people with disabilities were treated within the confines of so-called “freak shows.” It is a movie whose concept makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and I think it’s partly because there is a misunderstanding of the film’s title from those who have not seen the movie. It is often passed over by people who are either offended by what they assume the movie will be, or by those who fear the dark and bizarre subject matter. But at its core, Freaks is a movie that turns stereotypes upside down. Previously (and since), actors who had some sort of physical disability were often cast as villains or characters to be feared. In Freaks, it is the disabled characters who are the “good guys,” and the able-bodied characters are the ones to be feared. It is quite an unusual and progressive scenario. Tod Browning spent much of his life working in circuses, and knew this world very well, which makes his interpretation all that more fascinating. In addition, nearly all of the characters were portrayed accurately, by disabled actors or real life sideshow performers.

Tod Browning with some of the cast members of FREAKS (1932).

Today, as the last day of the festival, is a bit of a lighter day, but there are some good things on the horizon to look out for tomorrow! See you then!

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival, Day 1: Press Roundtable, Red Carpet Coverage, THE HEIRESS (1949)

Readers, I apologize for the delay in this post–I returned from a screening of The Heiress last night to find that my internet had taken a holiday of its own and was on the blink. Unable to post online but determined to get you the coverage you expect from me, I started writing on my phone but it had been such a long day that I fell asleep before the post could be entirely written. Hopefully that won’t be happening again and my internet will behave for the duration of the festival.

Yesterday was the opening day of the TCM Classic Film Festival, and what a day it was! Normally the TCM press events happen the Wednesday before the festival, but due to conflicting events at the Roosevelt Hotel, the powers that be decided to move the press day to Thursday, and into the TCL Chinese 6 theater, upstairs in the Hollywood and Highland mall complex on Hollywood Boulevard. We heard from Robert Osborne, Ben Mankiewicz, Charlie Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy (the latter two work in network programming), and we heard a slew of fantastic questions and fascinating answers. Robert Osborne answered questions about his associations with Lucille Ball and Jane Darwell (“She wasn’t funny,” he said of Lucy, referring to her offscreen demeanor, “but she could BE funny”) as well as a question about what TCM’s greatest gift to him has been. He answered that the TCM family has been a great gift–the fact that there are so many knowledgeable people at the network, as opposed to the staff at previous jobs he has worked–and hearing from fans. He noted that TCM often gets letters from fans who say that the network has helped them through unemployment, hospital stays, and cancer treatments, and that he never realized that part of his job would be that of nurse. Ben Mankiewicz echoed Osborne’s sentiments that the TCM family has been a great gift to him, and added a bit about his own illustrious family having given him the boost that he may have needed to attain the job that has “changed the direction of [his] life.”

Robert Osborne answers questions.

Robert Osborne answers questions.

My question was posed to Charlie Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy, and it related to original programming. I am a big fan of TCM’s programming, and especially love the documentaries that they have produced in the past. I referenced the beautiful Clara Bow documentary that was done many years ago, and asked if there was anything other documentaries on the horizon. They responded that there is a separate department for original programming, and that there are indeed some things on the table, but it was good to hear that there is interest in these documentaries because it spurs action on their part. They said they would pass on my words to the department, so hopefully in the future we will be seeing more of TCM’s beautiful original work.

Notably, during Robert Osborne’s time to speak, he also referred to the Private Screenings interview with Olivia de Havilland that was supposed to have taken place last October. There has been some buzz online that it didn’t happen, and Osborne confirmed that it unfortunately did not. 97-year-old Olivia had taken ill with pneumonia shortly after they arrived in Paris, and was not able to do the interview. Extremely apologetic, she said that she would come to New York and do one–but when that was scheduled, she had another flare-up of pneumonia and ended up in the hospital again. “It’s not meant to be,” said Osborne.

On my end, I had heard that Olivia had been ill and in the hospital with a lung infection, and thus wondered if there was truth to the rumor that the interview did not happen. Obviously, pneumonia at 97 years old is quite serious. Certainly, a Private Screenings with Olivia de Havilland would be a major coup for TCM, but Olivia’s health needs to come first and Backlots sends her great healing wishes.

Next on the agenda was coverage of the red carpet. It was great fun to watch stars such as Shirley Jones and Margaret O’Brien walk down the carpet into the screening of Oklahoma! at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Unfortunately I didn’t get to talk to anyone (save a rather awkward exchange with Leonard Maltin, who caught me off guard and for whom I didn’t have any legitimate questions), but I got some fantastic pictures.

001

012

My view.

015

Shirley Jones on the red carpet.

After a brief rest following the red carpet, I headed out to see a screening of The Heiress, meeting up with fellow blogger Kristen from Journeys in Classic Film, her friend Michelle, and also TCM notable Lawrence Carter-Long (you may remember him from the marvelous series on disability in film that aired on TCM last year). The Heiress is a movie that I have seen literally dozens of times, but never on the big screen, and seeing it this way was a truly thrilling experience. The audience was laughing and gasping at parts that I had never paid particular attention to, and I heard witty dialogue that simply disappears when one sees the movie on a small screen. Olivia de Havilland’s performance in the magnificent final scene was all the more powerful when viewed on a huge scale, and the expressions on her face magnified to create a grand perspective. The Heiress is a gorgeous film in any size, but like anything else, it is meant to be seen on a screen of these dimensions.

Click here to read my analysis and discussion of the final scene of The Heiress.

Today is a full day, and hopefully my internet will be working when I get home so that I can give you the scoop while it’s still hot!