Archive for April, 2014


END CREDITS

These are some final thoughts from 2014  TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL that we were very lucky to have attended with media credentials.

 

TCM festival goers stay for the end credits of a film. TCM audiences will often applaud the star of the film name on screen and their first appearance in the story; especially if it is an iconic shot such as John Wayne’s entrance in STAGECOACH.

It may seem silly to some that people would flock to this place to view older films that many had seen before. Time and time again I heard then phases, “You really love film,”‘ and, “You are seeing these pictures as they are meant to be seen.” This rings true, along with the fact that you are near the source of these pictures. The studios (or what is left of them) are a bus ride or cab ride away. Not many of the eateries and party places of that time are open but some are with history just oozing at the doors.

People consistently mentioned the quality of prints as part of their enjoyment. Many were newly struck prints and/or restorations especially for this festival. Pictures suffer from time, nitrate and water damage, and sound fluctuations. That was to a minimum and often these “film blemishes” add to the charm. One film with the original aspect ratio made sitting closer to the screen a-not-so-eyeball-crushing experience. One fellow we chatted to in line mentioned to a TCM staff person about a print of a film he had seen earlier only to find it was in fact a 35mm print at its best.

We missed a few things due to crowds which happen or the inevitable cross programming that happens. So many hours in the day and so many venues make it common.  I mentioned before about missing HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY screening that featured Maureen O Hara. The venues were large enough and the staff was brilliant in handling yet sometimes that is not enough especially with the throngs on Hollywood Boulevard.  JERRY LEWIS being immortalized in concrete with the other stars was especially interesting when you get issued photos showing Quentin Tarrantino was the MC.

 

 

 

 

 

You always got some sort of surprise attending a screening such as almost most running over Juilette Lewis who was coming into the Roosevelt Hotel as we were leaving. Sitting in a screening of THE GREAT GATSBY with Alan Ladd, standing up and realizing that behind you was Robert Osbourne and David Ladd as you start to say how there was miscasting in the picture.

The last film we saw and it was rather fitting was Orson Welles’ odd masterpiece THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI with the blonde, short haired Rita Hayworth. The other choice was Hitchcock’s silent picture THE LODGER with live musical accompaniment. No bad decisions as Welles won out simply because we were already at the venue. It was a wonderful experience seeing this quirky work for the first time on large screen. It was ably introduced by Film Noir expert Eddie Mueller who defied us to follow the plot in the original cut which ran 155 minutes cut down by the studio to the present 98 minutes. It was noir, and it was irritatingly evil like wearing a shirt soaked in perspiration suddenly getting a cooling breeze.

It was brought out in the introduction that TCM are now officially, “guardians of the American film legacy.” I can see this as TCM does increase the awareness of this style of film making by its programming and events. The awareness is something that is important especially in the next generation –   many even in the opening media press conference. Seek these pictures out, seek the books out, and seek the history out as I continue to find out about the Canadian legacy.

We were one of the first ones out of the screening of LADY FROM SHANGHAI. Going through the doors we were all greeted by a friendly gauntlet of TCM yellow shirted venue staff cheering and high fiving us as we left.  Walking to hotel I had the Bob Hope song “Thanks for the Memories” playing in my head.

HOTTER THAN SIN

The next day at the festival was a hot as the weather yet still pretty cool for stuff to do. You have to make some choices in these things and sometime you guess wrong. Robert Osbourne gave us the anecdote that for years he had pushed the network to aquire the rights to a remake of DESERT SONG (1943) by Director Robert Florey.  When they were able to obtain them and the picture was screened, Osbourne said it was one of the worse films he had ever seen.

 

However there are no poor decisions at a festival  Screening get filled up with eager people who hopefully understand what they are seeing and not surprised to much ina wrong way. I did see quite a few people exit the GODZILLA restoration during the picture most likely because it features sub titles which many still don’t care for. GODZILLA is in its original form is not entirely a giant creature smashing buildings.( More on this in  a complete article on the film later.)

The first out of the gate was Walt Disney”s animated THE JUNGLE BOOK from 1967. This was the first time I had seen this film since I saw it with my mother on original release.  To top it off we entered the EL CAPITAN Theatre to the sounds of a full organ being played. Brilliant fragments of show tunes and favourites filled the air as we slurped the coffee. It was not expected to be there neither was its exit sinking slowly beneath the floor of the theatre as Ben Mankewicz came in to set up the film.  Mankewicz was refreshing vulnerable in his comments speaking how his new fatherhood had changed him. The picture he said was  “eighty minutes of pure joy” even asking if there were any real kids in the audience and there were.

It was another wonderful print with beautiful colors and sound. Honestly the picture dragged a bit for me after these years but the voices of Sebastian Cabot, George Sanders and Phil Harris plus the songs brought back some moments.

Next was GODZILLA at the Egyptian down the block so you have time to grab some food, walk the friendly gauntlet of people on Hollywood boulevard to find people already cueing up in line outside. You get your number that holds your place in line giving you the option to leave but be back thirty minutes before entrance You end up talking to fans in line even some of the TCM yellow shirted staff as each venue since they have seen you before.   The people that have paid for the higher end passes plus V.I.P.S and guests go in first. Eventually you get to shuffle forward ,handing your number card to person and flashing your pass to be checked. I made my way upstairs to balcony which strangely enough was partially filled up yet I found a seat.

GODZILLA or GOJIRA (1954) was everything that I had hoped and will be discussed in separate article. There was a special presentation both before and after the screening by film Historian Eddy Von Muellar and the director of the 2014 rebirth of Godzilla ,Director Gareth Edwards. The afterword consisted of highlighting the differences between the American 1956 release GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS  (1956) and the original Toho production we just saw. The North American release featured Canada/ New Westminster BC native Raymond Burr just before he rose to fame a PERRY MASON on TV.  Burr was identified in the presentation as being American. We Canadians have a rich history in the golden age of Hollywood which included Norma Shearer from Montreal, Jack Warner from London Ontario and countless others that I try to bring out when I can.

 

We hustled off for another meal break and then to the 1949 rarely seen Paramount production of THE GREAT GATSBY with Alan Ladd. Interesting pre screening chat with Robert Osbourne and David Ladd who both revealed how important this role was to Alan Ladd and how each had wanted to see this picture. The film had been shelved even with drawn from circulation until now. The lights dimmed and we watched

Honestly for me Alan Ladd was just a Shane in suit. He was aloud to be stiff, little inflection in voice yet he did crack a smile. He looked at home at the end with the gun play.   It happens when you see these sometimes and I wont say it was overrated.  Barry Sullivan and Shelly Winters stole the show with solid performances played against am rather colourless background.  Still worth a look.

Speaking of look, TCM on air host Ben Mankewicz commented on my shirt as we crossed paths going to different screenings.

Last picture of the evening was the pre-code gem HAT CHECK GIRL (1932) which was shown in restored form for the first time since 1932. The picture is noteworthy as it was early supporting role for Ginger Rodgers long before she was made into a dancer. The pictures stars were Sally Eilers and Ben Lyon. Once again a wonderful print was given as it was revealed that the negative had been found in a huge submission from 20th Century Fox studios.   The running time was a mere 68 minutes of bootlegging, brazen suggestions for the day and bizarre images.  One sequence at a party included Karate people tossing each other around the carpet at the party people laughed and clinked glasses.  The drinkers then all begin to try the moves out, tossing each other on the carpet in fits of laughter.

The crowds were to long to get into a screening HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1942) which featured an appearance by Maureen O Hara.  Things like this happen as you leave one film to get to next.  No bad decisions

EDITING SWEET

Things happen fast at a festival depending on pace that you set for yourself in the amount of films you wish to see. You can’t see everything.  The following are some first day rapid impressions from 2014 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL

I write this at a Hollywood party of sorts near people waiting for the red carpet reception to happen and club Tcm to open up. It is the evening of the first day of the festival.  Many types of people here from those that wish to put on their personal version of the Ritz to people that don’t.  It makes no difference yet for some  it is a necessary part of the experience if you enjoy a look of Hollywood glamour.

 

 

The Roosevelt Hotel has a history of hosting such events so what better place to have it happen then where the academy awards were first staged.

Next day.one of the fun things about film festival is sitting sleepy eyed in theatre about to watch the quintessential western John Ford’s STAGECOACH (1939) with John Wayne. Cool to see in a 35mm print on large screen in the correct aspect ratio. It is the youthful, broody, feral beginning of John Wayne flipping his rifle, carrying his saddle. This was not my first time seeing it. Wayne’s character could be classed as support character as he comes in around a quarter in the film. I would suggest that there are no leading roles in STAGECOACH as it works as a wonderful ensemble cast featuring among others Thomas Mitchell, Claire Trevor, John Carradine.  It is an essential picture to see as it does set so many standards for camera work, stunt work and style for the Western Film.

 

Next up after some deciding was the science fiction classic THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS made in 1956 by Don Siegel with Kevin McCarthy. I had seen this before yet again not on the big screen. This was ably introduced by Joe Dante who mentioned that this print was in super scope loaned by Martin Scorsese, which was another of those large screen processes created to get people back in cinemas from television in the fifties. It was free entertainment so people stayed home.  Super scope print was clear and huge. The world of fifties small town America under siege came to life with clear dialogue and wonderfully naive images.  I still don’t know how or why the cars in these movies rock back and forth when they stop.

 

 

One of the unspoken aspects of TCM festival is the people you meet while attending. The staff that get you into the venues all have smiles or the best that they can manage in the heat and crowds They always offers cheery comment, insightful direction on something you may ask or even if you are just standing there.

One person who interjected into one of these conversations said that ‘STAGECOACH was over rated. The people would all have been killed in the chase scene.” They went on to expound on the realistic acting in THE HEIRESS   (1949) with Olivia De Havilland and Montgomery Clift.  I would suggest that this person enjoys the William Wyler style of film creation more then t a John Ford western which is basically constructing fables and metaphors against a Western background..  That’s what makes it interesting with the people you meet at the festival, some many varied options exchanged in the spirit of caring for film.

You meet people who are film goer’s in line, in restaurants sometimes even in hotel lobbies. People seem to ask you what you have seen, what you have tried to see which always begins a conversation. Its also pretty cool to talk to someone who is seeing a picture that you have for the very first time That has happened a number of times and it is like extra real butter on your popcorn.  Good feeling are what it is all about.

The final screening we attended as the 1927 silent film WHY WORRY? wth Harold Lloyd. The featured the live world premiere musical score by orchestra conducted by composer Carl Davis. Leonard Maltin introduced the picture who complimented us on our smart choice to attend and then introduced Harold Lloyd’s grand- daughter Suzanne Lloyd who was a driving force in getting the picture restored.

 

 

 

She related to the audience that Harold Lloyd thought ahead and preserved his pictures from decay of time. He also did not allow his films to be broadcast on television which in some cases kept careers going.  Therefore the career of Harold Lloyd was faced with the task of being rebuilt which does off advantages as whole new generation will now see the work in proper form.  Mary Pickford also withdrew her films from circulation after she retired.  Pickford did suffer as a result of this as her image was one of the perpetual “Girl with the tiny curls” playing orphans ignoring her vast body of work as she grew older on screen. Lloyd and Pickford were both shrewd business people.

I was fortunate in 2011 to see Buster Keaton’s picture THE CAMERA MAN (1927) with original score by Vince Giordano and His Nighthawks Orchestra so this was something to be looked forward to.   WHY WORRY?  Featured an excellent print with little frame damage, or water marks. There was some minor image fluctuation when reels changed ye it was a brilliant experience.  The timing, the ambience, the power of the music made the picture come even more to life.   The picture closed with a wonderful portrait of Harold Lloyd smiling at us from a bygone era of film making.  The theatre erupted into a standing ovation for booth Lloyd, composer/conductor Carl Davis and the players.  It was a wonderful end to a day as one walked home down Hollywood Boulevard.

 

 

FACES

 

It is not a  pressure conference to open the festival at all its simply about putting a face on a sense of nostalgia. On air host Robert Osbourne brought forth some reasons why people watch Classic film that never occurred to me. Amazingly these experiences were  part of me which I did not take into account.

It was mentioned that the TCM network could be classed as a nurse of sorts. Countless letters are received saying that networks gets people through periods of personal loneliness, periods of unemployment,  a loss of loved one, or any number of life transitions.

I for one have gone through a medical convalescence a few years ago of six weeks of rest at home. I would watch one film sometimes two beginning very early in the morning as it was my habit to get up at that time. I was pretty much restricted to movement although encouraged to walk which I did. It was pretty cool to be able to catchup on many of the pictures I had stored on PVR. My medical troubles were short as l was fortunate to heal very fast. It is insular of me to not think of this for a person with a long term predicament.

Robert Osbourne mentioned this very well when he said that with our current world situation  which is very dire why would people not want to see something uplifting.  The network has a tremendous loyal following that is like a family which no other network can boast. You don’t see conventions, festivals or cruises for other networks. Yes it is in business to make money which it must do to continue. Some would say that networks such as this are selling your past back to you which is fine since that was what the Studio system did in the past. Movies eased people though the Depression, wars, societal transitions with larger then life faces. Monetary escape from what was going on which is pretty good for a dime.

Today people want realism or the opposite through effects.  Movies have always been a product of their time as audience change. They are still an escape which is the common denominator even if the faces today are not  as dynamic.

 

OVERTURE

 

I am beginning to feel a little like Merton Gill of the picture MAKE ME STAR  (1932) which featured an early role for Joan Blondell which was later remade as Merton of The Movies.  I did see this film a few days before leaving for this trip which made for interesting if not timely unplanned viewing.  I relate to it now since I am going to the  2014 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL for the first time as a accredited member of the media.  I did not think  it would come about.

I am approaching this as Canadian in Hollywood’s Golden Age which in this case is who I am.  We have a very rich history here wich has been forgotten not that a single visit from me is going to change that. One is told to write what you know even if you don’t know it at the time. I think the brief visit I had to Annenberg beach house was a great warm up as it was a chance to chat with Phyllis Bernard.

What we did not have a chance to do was visit  the haunted eatery PATRICK’S ROAD HOUSE  which we did pass by thinking we would return. Like many places it has stories of Hollywood Stars most notably Arnold Schwarzenegger as a regular fixture when he was first into body building.  The place is also haunted by former owner who returns to check on the staff and customers. A former  boss is said to have fled after seeing  the original owner’s ghost glaring at him in a  doorway.

The other place we missed was a bit nebulous for some as it has changed greatly. Thought of going up the coast to find legendary Thelma Todd  Roadhouse.  Thelma owned the establishment  which was called aptly called THELMA TODD’S ROADSIDE CAFE   which opened in the thirties.  Todd’s guests included herself, show business people and  shady underworld characters which are said to have contributed to her death. Those were the days for some of creating mayhem outside the watchful eye of studios in Noir style of going down the highway of no return.  Todd was found in her garage in LA what was  said to have been carbon monoxide poisoning. It was ruled a  suicide after a cursory investigation by what was a ‘corrupt’ police force.   Thelma Todd, the great beauty was 29 years old. The case was quickly closed and remains so today.

 

These were some  cool places we missed but you can’t do it all.  Sometime being in the same area is as close as you get. The festival starts tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

VISITING MARION

STARDUST AND SHADOWS is lucky enough to be writing this entry from Santa Monica near the famous pier. It is still a number of days before the TCM FESTIVAL begins yet I still have time in this neck of the wood to find some film history.

First up , took a walk to the Annenberg Country beach house was once owned by Marian Davies who was connected pretty strongly with William Hearst.  This site is not it former splendour but a smaller version of itself much like  a way to many of these sites are today.   What is actually left is a section of the house reconstructed during the 30’s from plans to give us the idea of what was there.

It was still a wonderful experience due to the our tour guide Phyllis Bernard.  She and most of the staff were members of the Annenburg  Conservatory Society that is interested preserving local history. Bernard also has worked in music and had office at Hollywood and Vine. She also had a friend would mix drinks for Spencer Tracey who would only drink them if this friend joined him. Yes it seems lots of people had brushes with celebrities but it was still cool to hear.  We talked  about  Jean Harlow/ Paul Bern, theory that Spencer Tracy was actually gay and covered up the image makers hence is huge guilt regarding his marriage and heavy disappearing drinking binges.

The house  itself is free of admission price. It is filled with pictures of Marion, William Randolph some of the parties that happened. There is even a electronic scrapbook of the era that one can browse and enjoy  The only thing that is left of the original house with all the pillar or sculpted representations in nearby  facility for conferences. You can play cards, read, write as there is an artist in residence which encourages its use as a creative place.

I listened to the brief tour. Even did  the off thing depending on your point of view of walking up and introducing myself to William Randolph Hearst large full length photo when no one was looking. Joked about not getting my invitation to San Simeon yet. Got to have fun in these times and places, cant be all maudlin.

Phyllis and I chatted about the sites in Hollywood that had disappeared.  I have always been fascinated by the “Night life” of that time which includes the dance clubs and the eateries.  She had had the opportunity to go the redone Brown Derby which itself is gone long after the original in the shape of the hat had disappeared.  You could still get some of the recipes from the menu but it is not the same thing. However her face lit up when we talked of Musso and Franks still open on Hollywood Blvd which still has  some of the original recipes including Mary Pickford’s favourite flannel cake that she would order when there with Charlie Chaplin. It is also reported to mix and very good martini.  Musso and Franks still has the original coat hooks on the premises so you dream who wonder  who had out their coat in the same spot you have done.

 

It is still a sore spot to me the a great number of the wonderful homes have disappeared. I speak of the demolition of places like Falcon’s Lair, Pickfair, Errol Flynn’s Mulholland Drive abode and countless other to make way for modern monstrosities and subdivisions.   Many of these with no record in some case not a inkling of what was there n the first place for people seeking these out. MGM back lot was broken up years ago for a housing development. The only thing now I believe are the pillars from the original front of MGM which is now the headquarters of Sony Pictures.

It was  great fun talking to Phyllis about  some of the history I enlightened here of Mary Pickford who was in one of the photos in the redone Annenberg House, Jack Warner, Norma Shearer, were in fact Canadians. She seems quite surprised at that and  said  well she ‘won’t just pass them over’ when talking about them.  That was pretty cool.  It is people like Phyllis Bernard who give an enthusiastic edge that you remember on  trip

 

LEARNING FROM DREAMS

It goes without saying that people watch pictures from the Classic Hollywood era for sheer enjoyment. l have discussed at length in posts the nostalgia factor and will continue to do so as l am a romantic at heart.

I have been fortunate to attend the 2011 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL, and while waiting for a screening to begin, an interesting event took place. We were in the theatre when a young university age fellow approached a group of people in front on us. He announced to them that he was going to film school to as a director. He was then asked who “his” directors were, to which he listed off Mike Curtiz, William Wellman, Billy Wilder, and David Lean. He then proceeded to list films and actors that he knew, and even moments in some films of the aforementioned directors. This little moment of eavesdropping got me thinking regarding the role of classic Hollywood in shaping future filmmakers.

First is the creation of the story. Film is telling a story with pictures – from title cards and live sound in the silent cinema to full dialogue. Dialogue structure can be learned from the films of Ben Hecht, who gave us THE FRONT PAGE (1932) or the Epstein Brothers’ cobbled together screenplay for CASABLANCA (1942)

 

 

Stories in the golden days of Hollywood often came from the theatre or the best seller list. Sometimes not even the bestsellers, but the popular novel as with GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), which was purchased before it was released.The legitimate stage of Broadway was the prime source for musicals, dramas and actors. Many writers were brought out to hone their craft.  One was William Saroyan who gave us the slightly off beat Mickey Rooney war movie THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943). Some were successful –some, like F. Scott Fitzgerald were not, and went back to novels or the bottle.  Who could not learn about story from John Huston’s THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)?

 

 

Women played a strong role as you had brilliant writers like Frances Marion, June Mathies and Anna Loos.  The classic cinema is a veritable writer’s class of ways and ideas. Ideas taken from magazine articles, and current headlines all made for immediacy for the film industry then. Film story telling has not changed in its basic vocabulary since these days. The key to it was the delivery system: what has been called the double edged sword of the studio system which brings us to the director.

Shot composition and pacings can be gleaned from the likes of Michael Curtiz, William Wellman, W.S. Van Dyke, Ernst Lubisch, and Victor Fleming. Even second unit directors like Lloyd Bacon and serial king Forde Beebe. Frank Capra, John Huston, and John Ford were standouts as they often had complete control of scripts or were heavily involved in the writing process, particularly Capra and Huston.  Looking at screenplays versus film scripts plus the finished film print can lead to facinating learning.

The studio system style of production was arguably an assembly line.  Brilliant male and female editors created house style that does not exist today.  Set decorators such as Cedric Gibbons and sound person Douglas Shearer who did the sound and sets for  all MGM films.

Second unit directors, writers, technicians, composers, and actors learned their craft in less prestigious films. No studio could afford this system today.

Classic Hollywood – no matter what genre, time period, or technical skill – is a treasure trove of knowledge for today’s film maker or someone interested in seeing how it was done and why. I have spoken with film people and non-film people who wonder why someone would want to see a film in black and white, or a silent film with dead people.

You can learn from them each time you watch.  You don’t have to study every shot.

This is by no means a total list of all the opportunities to learn from this style of picture. It is an often neglected area in film appreciation.  To put it quite simply, the films from this time period are wonderfully done.

I am very happy to say that I have been lucky to be granted Media Credentials for the 2014 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL in April so our next posts will be coming from that. It promises to be a very interesting time. I learned that this  dream is  possible.