TCM Film Fest: Criss Cross

With no fanfare, we’re dumped straight into the story in media res, panning over a city, then zooming in to see a man and woman embracing in a parking lot, then breathlessly discussing some plot they have to get away from someone. Not much is clear, except that there’s some backstory here that we’re not privy to, a situation that continues for a while, as the couple returns, separately, to a club were we discover that the woman is married to another, much smarmier man who she doesn’t like much. The beginning of this film doles out information like a morphine drip…just enough to keep you going, but never too much. It’s succinct and matter of fact, setting up characters and relationships with a beautiful economy, but keeping you grasping to know the backstory, how these characters got to where they are.

Thankfully, there’s soon a flashback that fills in the blanks, but only after you’ve managed to do most of it yourself. It’s a rather satisfying technique, managing to give the audience a feeling of investment and agency as well as the necessary exposition. Even the flashback is economical by noir standards, with the requisite defeatist voiceover kept minimal, for the most part letting the action play out without comment, content to just add a bit more to the backstory that was left so tantalizingly slender in the first few sequences.

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TCM Film Fest: Girl Shy

Until a few weeks ago, the only Harold Lloyd films I’d seen were his signature Safety Last with its famous building-climbing set-piece, and The Freshman, which I cannot, at this point, separate in my mind from Keaton’s College. Lloyd is one of the Big Three when it comes to silent comedians, but in terms of the popular consciousness, he still falls well below Chaplin and Keaton, and I was content with his third-wheel position based on what I’d seen. After a recent double-feature at Cinefamily, I was primed to change my view on that, and Girl Shy clenched it. Lloyd is every bit as worthy a giant of silent comedy as either of his rivals. They’re all in a dead heat as far as I’m concerned.

Lloyd’s essential persona is a normal, slightly nerdy guy who deals with problems as they come along, usually involved with trying to get a girl. He has neither Chaplin’s downtrodden acceptance nor Keaton’s stoic stubbornness in the face of the outrageous situations that befall him, but instead shows his exasperation and yet continues to push through toward his goal. In Girl Shy, his own worst enemy for much of the film is himself, and his irrational fear of women that causes him to be flustered and stutter uncontrollably whenever a girl comes near him. It doesn’t help matters that he’s adorable and girls tend to flirt with him, even to the point of tearing their stockings so he can fix them (he’s the tailor’s son in a small town).

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TCM Film Fest: Retour de Flamme – 3D Rarities

For reasons I can’t entirely explain (but I’ll probably try anyway), the prospect of seeing vintage 3D films fascinates me, even as I do my best to avoid current 3D as much as possible. Part of it is simply a the ability to see something in a form that we usually can’t anymore (because 3D films from the 1950s and before are usually seen only in 2D now), part of it is an interest in the more experimental shorts included in the program, part of it is an illogical preference for old things, part of it is mere curiosity about whether it would be better or worse or different than modern 3D, and part of it is just perversity. In any case, I knew from the moment this program was announced that I would try to go see it, and I’m very glad I did, for all the reasons I just mentioned, and because Serge Bromberg, the French film historian who curated and presented the program, is an absolute delight, as well as being extremely knowledgable and able to accompany the silents himself on the piano. If scheduling had permitted, I would’ve gone to his Trip to the Moon program as well.

The program had everything from Disney cartoons from the 1950s 3D boom to Pierre Lumiere remaking his own turn-of-the-century films in 3D in the 1930s to experiments as old as 1900 to Russian nature films, and even a couple of modern CG cartoons. Pretty much everything was delightful in one way or another, and I’m just going to go through the program short by short, mostly in the same order Bromberg did. One note: we were given two pairs of glasses at the beginning, both red/green anaglyph paper glasses and modern RealD polarized glasses. We only used the anaglyph glasses on one film, which surprised me. Somehow I thought all the 1950s films were done with that technique, but actually, it seems very similar to current 3D, and the RealD glasses worked perfectly for them all. I know very little about the technical side of these things, so I apologize in advance for any errors I make on that front, and please correct me.

Three Dimensional Murder, aka Murder in 3-D (1941)

This was the one film that used the anaglyph glasses, and it was basically a tech demo for 3D, albeit directed by George Sidney. Part of the Pete Smith series of shorts, this one has Smith (first-person camera pspective) heading into a creepy house and being attacked by all sorts of things – a mummy with a spear, a witch’s hand, and Frankenstein’s monster throwing or dropping everything in sight directly toward the camera. All the stereotypes of 3D being about hurling or thrusting things at the camera, yeah…they’re all here. With the glasses on, the red and green tints combined to make a black and white image – to do color, they had to go to a different technique, much closer to what is done today. This short was ridiculous, but fun, until it wore out its welcome about halfway through. The anaglyph process is not that great, either, and was easily the most eye-straining part of the program, with the colors flashing annoyingly on the screen and a lot of ghosting effects.

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TCM Film Fest: Raw Deal

When we think of film noir as a concept, we often describe it as a B movie phenomenon, a look and feel associated with low budget crime dramas. But a lot of the big names we immediately think of as noir films are actually higher-budget A pictures with top stars and name directors – Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Sunset Blvd, etc. This year TCM (and Noir City Foundation programmer Eddie Muller) has done a great job of programming actual B-level films in the noir sidebar, intentionally choosing independently produced films that are clearly low budget programmers, which Raw Deal definitely is, despite being directed by Anthony Mann (before he got big) and starring recognizable but often B or second-lead actors like Claire Trevor and Marsha Hunt.

Unusually, this film has a voiceover from a female perspective, with Claire Trevor narrating some, but not all, of the film. She play Pat, who is planning to break her man Joe (Dennis O’Keefe) out of prison, where he’s been taking the rap for his boss Rick (the inimitable Raymond Burr, consistently shot from the most imposing angle possible). Meanwhile, Joe’s lawyer’s assistant Ann (Marsha Hunt) is trying to convince Joe to hold out for a couple of years until he gets parole. Thinking he has Rick’s support, he opts to stick with the prison break plan. Unfortunately, Joe’s just a loose end to Rick, who expects and intends for the police to do his dirty work for him and eliminate Joe during his escape.

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TCM Film Fest: The People

Reviews and write-ups of individual films will be coming soon, but I wanted to take a quick moment to talk about why I always look forward so much to the TCM Festival each year. The reason to come to the TCM Classic Film Festival is, of course, the wealth of incredible classic films both essential and obscure that they program every year, and I pack my schedule full of them. Getting to see these films on the big screen in fabulous theatres like Grauman’s Chinese is an amazing experience. But the reason the Fest stands out above other rep screenings, and the reason that I choose to see so many films here that I could probably catch at other times here in LA is the people. All festivals have a bit of a heightened air about them, a sense of camaraderie with the other festivalgoers surrounding you, but I’ve never felt that as strongly or as deeply as at TCM.

The audiences here in general are fantastic, both respectful and truly enjoying the films, filling up theatres big and small for all sorts of movies. Seeing these films on a giant screen is great, but seeing them with a full and receptive audience is really what makes it amazing. The TCM Fest is really a communal moviegoing experience, and everyone here feels like a kindred spirit – finally people who get as excited as I do when Elisha Cook Jr or Thelma Todd walks onto the screen, and will pack out houses for Poverty Row noir films and obscure silents.

Of course it’s awesome to meet up with other bloggers and LA film people who I knew would be here, like the Cinementals crew, Titania (who I’ll hopefully meet up with soon!), Kristen, and the Silent Treatment folks, but that’s expected and can be planned for at any major festival. What I love here is the random conversations that strangers in line strike up. If you know me, you know I’m not a very outgoing person, and I don’t tend to start conversations. I have not yet been in a line at any of the three TCM Fests I’ve attended without chatting with the people around me in line, and having a great time doing it. I’ve met USC cinema students, high school teachers from Wisconsin finally able to come because the fest coincided with spring break, the wife of the festival’s technical director, silent film fans from North Carolina excited at all the silent programming this year, and more. These conversations are easy to start, and easy to join, because we share a connection that goes deeper than most film fans. I presume similar things happen at other niche genre festivals, but I do think there’s something special about the community that TCM has managed to build around their programming and their brand.

I tend to pack my schedule too full of films to spend much time in Club TCM, the pass-holder only area at the Roosevelt Hotel that gives fans, TCM staff, and special guests a chance to hobnob and relax with a few drinks, as well as enjoy special panels and events throughout the weekend, but just from my interactions during the rest of the festival, I know that’ll be a great experience, too, should some year there be a timeslot with no films I care to see (ha, that’ll be the day). Having all these community options available, and centered on the film buffs rather than on networking, or selling films, makes the Fest that much more of a joy to attend, even when you live in a city where rep screenings are plentiful and varied.

TCM Fest: Come for the films, stay for the community. It’s a great one.

TCM Classic Film Festival 2012: Preview

In just about two weeks’ time, the TCM Classic Film Festival will descend on Los Angeles once again, turning downtown Hollywood into a mecca for film fans hungry for the glamour and nostalgia of the days of yore. Waxing poetic aside, this is the third year for the festival, and it seems to be going as strong as ever. Last year, attendance nearly doubled over the first festival, so we’ll see what the crowds are like this year! In any case, with Robert Osborne and the TCM crew bringing in films big and small, essential and rare, along with star appearances and special events galore, it’s sure to be a weekend of fun for anybody who loves classic Hollywood. The theme this year is “Style in the Movies” – with an apparent eye toward costume design and set decoration. There are sidebars for specific designers, specific “looks,” especially style-conscious directors, and even the broader Essentials section has been curated to favor films that feature a unique design aesthetic. Confirmed special guests include Kirk Douglas (who was fantastic last year at a screening of Spartacus), Debbie Reynolds, Liza Minnelli, Shirley Jones, Kim Novak, Robert Wagner, Angie Dickinson, director Norman Jewison, and more.

Along with the festival, TCM sponsors a Road to Hollywood series of screenings in various cities throughout the weeks leading up to the festival, with Robert Osborne and special guests presenting the screening. That series continues with The Last Picture Show March 31st in Toronto, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers April 3rd in Denver, and Marty April 5th in Portland. TCM did this last year as well, bringing a taste of the festival to other cities, so even if you don’t live in LA, keep an eye on where TCM is holding these (free!) screenings. Plus, you may learn insider info before the rest of us – at a recent screening, Robert Osborne let it slip that Mel Brooks will be a special guest. But he caught himself before revealing what film Brooks will be introducing – could even be something not announced yet!

As far as the main event in Hollywood, taking place April 12-15, Matinee Festival Passes are still available, and individual tickets will be on sale before each screening. With no further ado, here is the line-up thus far announced. There could well be additions – as I recall, last year they added films into the “Discoveries” section almost right up to the festival start. And I hope they do that again; the pickings are a little slim in that section this year, though there are plenty I’m excited about in other sections. Without the schedule in hand, all my predictions of what I’m going to see are probably wrong – with only three days of festival and over fifty films, very difficult choices will have to be made. (Note: I took most of the synopses below from IMDb, so my apologies if they’re bland.)

Edit: I have amended this post to include the films announced on March 28 when the schedule was released, as well as additional guest star and presenter information. I’ve highlighted the additional films in red. Also, The Godfather, Part II has been removed from the lineup, citing “unforeseen circumstances.” Most notable among the newly announced guests – Stanley Donen will be appearing with all three of his films (not including his co-directed Singin’ in the Rain), producer Robert Evans will be introducing most of the New Hollywood films, with writer Robert Towne introducing Chinatown, Sara Karloff and Bela G. Lugosi will be presenting their respective fathers’ film The Black Cat, legendary makeup artist Rick Baker will introduce The Wolf Man, and John Carpenter will introduce Frankenstein.

Essentials

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Director: Richard Fleischer
Starring: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre
Synopsis: A ship sent to investigate a wave of mysterious sinkings encounters the advanced submarine, the Nautilus, commanded by Captain Nemo.
My take: I’ve not seen this before, but Disney’s first live-action feature film promises practical special effects galore, and I’m a sucker for those. Plus, any chance to see Kirk Douglas live is probably worth taking. Hoping to see
Festival Guide
In attendance: Kirk Douglas

Annie Hall (1977)

Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, Colleen Dewhurst
Synopsis: Neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer falls in love with the ditsy Annie Hall.
My take: I love this film a lot; in fact, it’s a constant battle between this and Manhattan for the title of my favorite Woody Allen film. Still, I think I’ll skip this in favor of things I haven’t seen a dozen times. Probably won’t see
Festival Guide

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