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Backlots at the TCM Classic Film Festival 2017

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For the 5th year in a row, Backlots will be joining the ranks of the media in early April,  covering the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. In the years since its inception in 2010, the TCM Classic Film Festival has easily become the most prominent classic film festival in the country, attracting world-class speakers and attended by fans from all over the world.

The festival always has an overarching theme, and this year TCM is saluting comedy in the movies with a theme they call “Make ‘Em Laugh.”

The schedule is still in the works, but the lineup announced so far is phenomenal, even by TCM’s standards. Some of the highlights for me thus far:

  • The Palm Beach Story

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Starring Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, and a marvelously funny Mary Astor, The Palm Beach Story is a staple of the screwball comedy genre about a woman who divorces her husband to finance his career with the money of a millionaire she starts to date. This is a movie that we’ve been hoping to have at the festival for some time, as it’s a real crowd-pleaser and very much in the vein of The More the Merrier, which was such a big hit last year.

  • Red-Headed Woman

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In this steamy pre-code, Jean Harlow uses her feminine power to climb the ladder of success, wrecking marriages, engaging in affairs, and attempting murder along the way. With a screenplay written by Anita Loos, Red-Headed Woman is a must-see in Jean Harlow’s filmography, and a delicious example of what we think of when we think of that raw and glorious era between 1929 and 1934.

Having attended the TCM Classic Film Festival 6 times (5 as press with Backlots), I have come to recognize general trends among festivalgoers, and which movies will be sellouts. TCM has an intricate ticketing system–about an hour before the movie starts, the staff starts passing out numbers to passholders in line, starting with the Spotlight and Essential passes and then moving to the Classic and Media. Once the numbers get past the number of seats in the theater, the movie has sold out. Thus, if you hold a Classic or Media pass, it is important to get in line as early as possible, in order to avoid being shut out of a movie. The festival leaves TBA slots open on the last day of the festival to re-screen select movies that sold out, but it is left to their discretion which ones are re-screened.

Red-Headed Woman is a sellout if I’ve ever seen one. Pre-codes are immensely popular at the TCM Festival, as is Jean Harlow, as are movies from any year of the 1930s. Last year, Double Harness sold out, was re-screened, and sold out again. I would expect this event to repeat with Red-Headed Woman. If you’re attending the festival and would like to see Red-Headed Woman, I would advise you to get in line about 2 hours ahead of time. It will fill up so quickly your head will spin.

  • Twentieth Century

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Considered to be one of the first screwball comedies, Twentieth Century features Carole Lombard and John Barrymore in a zany piece filled with hilarious Carole Lombard lines and over-the-top acting by Barrymore that leaves the viewer in stitches. It’s one that I’m surprised hasn’t been shown up to now, it’s such a marvelous fit for TCM. Watch for this one being sold out too–Carole Lombard always sells well at this festival.

  • Born Yesterday

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The winner of the Best Actress Oscar of 1950 (it came as a thrilling surprise–Judy Holliday was up against Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard and Bette Davis for All About Eve), Born Yesterday is an exploration of how a newly-educated woman equips herself to leave her abusive boyfriend. While on the surface it may look like a standard 1950s comedy, the movie is really an ode to the powers of education, and to a woman’s right to her own happiness. It seems especially significant in this day and age, when both education and women’s rights are under threat. I wrote a blog post about Born Yesterday some time ago, feel free to take a look.

Stay tuned to hear more festival news as it comes in. Looking forward to reporting to you from Hollywood!

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Remembering Robert Osborne

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The classic film world has lost a monumental force, one of our preeminent modern film historians and certainly among the most visible. Robert Osborne, the beloved host of Turner Classic Movies since 1994, died on Monday at the age of 84.

Osborne had been on a long hiatus from TCM due to illness, and was absent from the past few TCM festivals in Hollywood. His death hit the classic film world hard, with posts and tributes written almost immediately and emotions running high.

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TCM has a unique fan base, and Osborne was the face of the network. Many of us grew up with him, his soothing voice becoming synonymous with evenings in front of the television watching a classic movie. More than just a representative of TCM, however, Osborne transcended the network. His knowledge of movie history, and of the stars and directors who made it, was staggeringly detailed, nuanced, and deep. Always polished and dapper on air, Osborne’s presence on the network was representative of a different era of television–one that seems to have otherwise disappeared. His sophistication and elegance harkened back to the news programs of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, as he informed us respectfully, intelligently, and passionately, about the movies he loved as we did.

Osborne began his career as an actor with Desilu, and it was Lucille Ball, in her infinite wisdom, who first noticed Osborne’s talent for journalism when he was still a young actor. He published his first book in 1965, then became a longstanding columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. Osborne enjoyed relating the story of his first major interview, for which his subject was Natalie Wood. Osborne told of the incident in an article for a Natalie Wood tribute on TCM:

By the time I met her in 1965, she was already a Hollywood veteran at the age of 27. And along with her determination and brilliance, she also turned out to be incredibly kind, especially to an admittedly novice journalist like me. She was, in fact, my first major celebrity interview and when I arrived at her home, with those beautiful brown eyes looking at me, waiting for me to begin, I realized just how much of a beginner I was. My questions had no rhythm to them, and my notes were, I realized too late, completely disorganized. Looking back, she could have stopped that interview then and there, or quickly answered my questions and ended it almost as soon as it had begun. But she didn’t. Instead, Natalie ended up sitting down on the floor with me and giving me suggestions on how to best organize the interview to get the most interesting story.

That day she became my mentor and, more importantly, my friend.

He went on to be one of the great classic Hollywood interviewers and the author of several books, including a series on the Academy Awards. The series began in 1965 with The Academy Awards Illustrated, and culminated in 85 Years of the Oscar, published in 2013. He was a respected and sought-after co-author, with credits on a seemingly endless list of classic film books.

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Osborne was a dear friend of many classic Hollywood stars, including Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, and particularly Olivia de Havilland, with whom Osborne spoke every Sunday. It was de Havilland who introduced him to Bette Davis, and the two became fast friends. When he was looking for an apartment in Manhattan in the late 1980s and had finally found one he liked, he called Bette Davis to come see it with him, to get her opinion. Davis liked it, and Osborne took it. The building, serendipitously enough, was called the Osborne, and he lived there for the rest of his life.

I had the great fortune to meet Robert Osborne at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2012. It wasn’t a very formal meeting, but it was incredibly memorable for me. I related to him my love of Rita Hayworth, and we chatted for a few minutes about her. I feel so fortunate to have met a scholar and man of his stature, and to be able to talk about a mutual love.

Here he is introducing Cover Girl, one of his favorite Rita Hayworth movies. Robert Osborne’s loss is immeasurable, and will be felt forever in the classic film community. He is and will continue to be greatly missed.

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.

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

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

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

Much of the discussion centered around the fact that the festival is screening Out of Sight, a film from 1998 edited by Anne V. Coates. Having edited Lawrence of Arabia, Murder on the Orient Express, and several other noteworthy titles that firmly establish her in the landscape of classic Hollywood, Coates is a deserved honoree at the festival this year for her achievements in editing and, Tabesh said, she requested that the festival screen Out of Sight for a look into what editing looks like today. A look into editing from a woman in the business for over 50 years is a remarkable gift to festival goers. As there is no set definition of “classic,” TCM is obligated to identify and adhere to what they as a channel and a brand consider to be classic cinema, and for Tabesh, classic film has no expiration date. This is clear in TCM’s choice of programming on the channel as well as at the festival–for an in-depth discussion of TCM’s programming choices and what makes a classic, see my article TCM Programming and the Definition of Classic Film. After a short break for lunch, which I spent with my friend Spencer and fellow blogger Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film, festivalgoers convened again at Club TCM for an exciting round of So You Think You Know Movies?, TCM’s difficult and rapid-fire trivia competition. So You Think You Know Movies? is designed for the trivia master, with extremely obscure questions about film history and culture. Trivia is my strong suit, and our team did well, but ultimately a team of 8 called The Flickers won the grand prize, and deservedly so. When quizzed on the spot after the game, they knew almost all the answers to the supplementary questions, which were just as difficult as in the regular game.

As those with high-level passes got ready for the big opening night screening of The Sound of Music, I had a few hours to relax wherein I caught up on some preliminary blogging until 5:30, when I decided it was time to get in line for Queen Christina. A word about lines at the festival–passholders must line up in order to gain entrance to a movie, and entrance is first come, first served. Needless to say, lines queue up quickly. As I deduced that Queen Christina, a hugely popular movie with two hugely popular stars (Greta Garbo and John Gilbert), I gave myself an hour to play it safe in case it sold out. The movie began at 6:30, and the audience was treated to two wonderful things–first, an introduction by noted film historian Cari Beauchamp, and then a rare lighting test that showed Greta Garbo acting in a casual manner.  Cari Beauchamp’s talk included details about Greta Garbo’s personal life (“Ernst Lubitsch said that Greta Garbo was the most uninhibited people he knew,” she related), and about her acting in general, in this film and beyond. It was a great introduction to a fascinating film. Queen Christina is one of the last great hurrahs of the days before the full implementation of the Production Code. It tells the true story of Sweden’s queen Christina, who lived in the mid-1600s and who many historians now believe was either transgender or intersex. The film hints gingerly at these subjects, though even in the days before the Production Code, the industry was bound by what it thought the public would accept, so a full examination of a transgender person was out of the question. However, in scenes like these, director Rouben Mamoulian gives the audience an idea of what it is he’s trying to get across.

For a full analysis of the LGBT implications of Queen Christina, feel free to check out my post on the subject for the Queer Film Blogathon in 2011.

Next up was one of my favorites, a showing of the screwball classic My Man Godfrey in a theater that was packed to the gills with enthusiastic fans. This is one that I have seen on the big screen several times, but always seem to come back for more whenever it is showing. One of the zaniest screwball comedies of all time, it is a masterpiece of ensemble acting and director Gregory La Cava directs Carole Lombard and William Powell to perfection. Alice Brady, playing the eccentric and off-the-wall mother, was robbed of an Oscar  in 1936, though the film itself received 6 Oscar nominations including Alice Brady for Best Supporting Actress, and remains one of the best-loved screwballs among devotees of classic cinema. We have a big day tomorrow, so I’d better get to bed. See you tomorrow night!

The Rise of getTV and the Accessibility of Classic Film

For more than 12 years, the accessibility of classic film on mainstream television has been limited to a single channel. Following the change of direction that American Movie Classics (AMC) undertook in 2002, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been the classic film fan’s holy grail, the one station showing classic films 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Due to its near monopoly on the showing of these films, it has attracted legions of devoted fans and become a brand unto itself–with the annual TCM Classic Film Festival and TCM Classic Cruise drawing participants by the thousand.

Now there is another channel on the market, just launched in February of this year in major U.S. cities and expanding quickly across the country, that may have all that to look forward to. GetTV, owned by Sony Pictures Television Networks, is the newest channel to make classic film programming its primary business model. Like TCM, GetTV shows classic films around the clock, but there is one significant difference–GetTV is available to viewers completely free, no cable subscription required. For this reason, GetTV shows 3 hours per week of educational programming in order to comply with FCC standards on public broadcasting, and this consists of quality entertainment directed toward a demographic crucial to the survival of classic films–children.

For the vast majority of hours in the week, GetTV shows films primarily from Sony Pictures’ Columbia Library and has had in its lineup thus far such notable films as To Sir With Love (1967), Picnic (1956) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959). I was also thrilled to see The Fuller Brush Girl, one of my favorite lesser-known Lucille Ball comedies on the schedule a few days ago, cementing my notion that GetTV is a market force to be dealt with.

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As a general access public broadcasting network, GetTV has certain restrictions as to what they are and are not able to show. At the present time, the network is focusing on films from the mid-1930s through the late 1960s, which aligns more or less with the time frame of the Production Code’s enforcement in Hollywood. This allows the channel to comply with broadcasting standards and the needs of advertisers (the channel does carry commercials).without editing a film for content. In addition, GetTV is committed to never editing a film for time. In an interview with Will McKinley over at Cinematically Insane, they state:

We are trying not to get into the zone of editing. We’re trying to present the whole movie, but at the same time, we are on broadcast TV, which has tighter restrictions than cable, and tighter rules in terms of community standards.  And we’re not editing films for time. So if something runs from 10 a.m. until 12:40 p.m., that’s when the next movie is going to start.”

For classic film lovers, this is great news. Though I have not as yet seen any silent movies on the schedule for GetTV, this doesn’t mean that silent films are off the table for the future. I would love to see GetTV tap into the lucrative silent film market, as in this way they could reach several crucial demographics–the huge community of silent film devotees that make pilgrimages every year to events like the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Kansas Silent Film Festival, and the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Pordenone, Italy, as well as the deaf community, many members of which have a huge passion for silent cinema and would likely tune in as regular viewers.

A scene from King Vidor’s THE PATSY (1928), a silent film that I think would work wonderfully on GetTV. Funny, engaging, and appropriate for public broadcasting, it would be a fantastic gateway film to introduce many viewers who might not be familiar with silent cinema to this beautiful art form.

We have great reason to be excited about this new development in the classic film world. I will stay on the pulse of GetTV and update readers with any news.

Thanks for reading! See you next time!

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!