I have just had the opportunity to view the picture MR SKEFFINGTON (1944), directed by the black listed Vincent Sherman. What can you write about actor Claude Rains that would be different? This was a very private man, who, while apparently being held in high regard by many people, never spoke of his numerous marriages. I could not help but think of some of the actors we have lost recently to illness, or reckless living. Perhaps it was just their time.
I speak about Peter O’ Toole, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Shirley Temple and now Harold Ramis. No doubt others we have not realised were in dire straits of health or life that we will be made acquainted with when one of my favourite segments of the Academy awards airs called, “In Memoriam.” I always pause at that moment to see the people that are no longer with us; surprised at the fact that someone you knew as a face in pictures would be forever silenced.
TCM’s presentation simply called, “TCM Remembers,” does remembrance best. It thoughtfully presents those who may not be in other remembrance events. When that moment occurs it is a time for quiet recollection in the broadcast. Perhaps it is one of the only times that the live audience at the Academy awards are united in common purpose. This is especially for the film buff as we enjoy this style of acknowledgement. It is not an “elitist” moment to go, “I know that person,” or, “I didn’t know they were still alive,” but a something people universally can care about even for a moment.
One does not have to be a film star to have a moment of recollection anyone may have lost loved ones and friends during the year or are even having a tough time themselves. The people we see on the screen for years are not supposed to leave us except on the credit fade out – yet they do. These people are not supposed to age – yet, of course they do. All we have to do to see them is replay their motion picture moments and all is well.
I think also that people remember moments of their own lives when we view, “In Memoriam,” or “TCM Remembers.” Why would you not think back to when you were younger and saw a certain film with a family member or future husband, wife or significant other? Some of us have memories of going to our first movies with our parents. My first memory of film in a theatre was seeing BILLY BUDD (1962), BEN HUR (1959), BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI (1957), LORD JIM (1965), and MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962) with my father. He related how when he was younger he constructed a small film studio out of cardboard boxes as a toy which ended when the war began. He said that going to silent film was not silent as many people couldn’t read so you had to have someone older read the titles out loud to you. Today that is replaced by people texting in theatres, getting up and streaming out during closing credits and muttering as if they were in their own living room.
I recently received comment on a post I had written regarding film aspect ratios A person claimed that I was wrong to mention this and that these films should be seen at all costs. They also claimed that they appreciated silent as well as sound films equally. My reply was that it wonderful you can appreciate this, however, there are people that are concerned about frame size, projection speeds (especially in silent film,) as aspect ratios have changed. Unless it is properly mastered, you can end up with elongated faces and stretched frames on large television screens. That is a fundamental difference between an average film person and one who perhaps has a strong interest in motion pictures. Many audiophiles still want vinyl records for the close to original sound. The feeling of respect you have for an art is a wonderful thing if not carried to excessive nature. That respect also translates into people pausing when those actors, technicians, writers, and directors are remembered. For every one of those people that ‘made it’ to the honour of remembrance, we should remember those not thought of as being important enough to be included.
Viewing MR SKEFFINGTON (1944) triggered this for me because it shows the passage of time between two radically different characters: Fanny Trellis played by Bette Davis, and Job Skeffington played by Claude Rains. As the years go by, Fanny is distracted by her many suitors and unable or unwilling to return the love of her husband Job. It is only at the end of the picture in a masterful bit of acting by both Davis and Rains do things change. It can best be described as ‘unspoken appreciation’ of each other that takes place. That same appreciation of watching film manifests itself when we feel shock or sadness when we see who has passed on IN MEMORIAM and TCM REMEMBERS.
Feeling lament for the past is not against the future but a moment to pause reflect and ask, “Who is here now?” It is a time to embrace the new performers, technicians, directors, writers and the forms of film that you are interested in today. Discover something new that perhaps others will be looking on with affection in years to come in the same way you look upon Classic Hollywood.