Another successful TCM Classic Film Festival has come to a close, and I need a serious vacation.
For those of you who have never been to a film festival, it’s hard work. They sound dreamy, but it’s a grueling schedule that requires little sleep and shoveling some less than acceptable food substance in your maw while doing the 400-meter dash to the next film line queue. My tongue is unusable after eating too much salty popcorn, but on the plus side, I have finally gotten back down to the elusive size 6 that’s been eluding me for far too long.
There were many highlights and surprise guests along the lines of – ‘I can’t believe he or she is still alive.’ It’s impossible to see everything, and if you don’t get in line at just the right time, you won’t be seeing much. The theme for this fest was travel, so I opted for a variety of experiences and countries.
First off, I traveled to post-WW II England to see “It Always Rains On Sunday,” introduced by the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller, directed by Robert Hamer through Ealing Studios (which is normally known for producing comedies). In fact, Hamer’s next project with Ealing was “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” a far cry from this bleak story about an escaped con hiding out in his former squeeze’s family home.
The con actually spends most of the film having a kip in the bed where his former ladylove, played by Googie Withers, had recently shared with her husband. The scene is set in a grim working class neighborhood of Bethnal Green in the midst of bombed out buildings — obviously a metaphor for how this one’s going to end.
Next I’m off to Venice with Katherine Hepburn in the visually pleasing “Summertime,” directed by one of the best directors of all time, David Lean. It was a tough call deciding which was more visually pleasing — Venice or Rossano Brassi.
Friday afternoon, I opted for the shortest line and was abundantly rewarded with an especially odd film made in 1933. While set in Paris and listed as a musical, it was so much more than just a musical. “I Am Suzanne!” has ballet, music, romance, wonderful performances and, most importantly, marionettes. I won’t ruin it by adding a synopsis for this not-to-be-missed gem.
Friday night, I opted for “Gimme Shelter,” introduced by cinematographer Haskell Wexler, responsible for many of the perennial films of a generation including “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Coming Home” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Wexler interviewed his friend and filmmaker David Maysles, standing near the chairs provided instead of sitting in them until a fellow cinematographer on the film, Joan Churchill, came up and wrangled everyone into chairs. Joan related her experience at the Rolling Stones concert venue Altamont Speedway and her attempt to wade through the crowd to reach the stage, along the way receiving ‘help’ from concertgoers who supplied her with food and drink to sustain her on the trek. By the time Joan finally reached the stage, she was too high and spent most of the time hiding underneath the stage.
Albert Maysles’ career as a filmmaker came about for purely altruist reasons. During the Cold War, he and brother David, who died in 1987, came to the conclusion that if they could capture the human side of the individual Russian and screen their project for U.S. audiences, that we would pause and reconsider obliterating each other. He feels that he can find the good in any person by using the camera to look into the subject’s eye, revealing a window into their soul.
“Gimme Shelter” was described as a microcosm of the times: the War, the protests, the assassinations, the Love and Peace movement and, most importantly, the music. An interesting side note: The Maysles Brothers handed out cameras to a number of people to capture the crowd and different stage views, and one of those cinematographers was George Lucas. This turned out to be most important, capturing on film evidence of the murder that took place during the concert.
On Saturday, I wanted to move on from the smaller theaters to experience the ‘big’ screen of the Egyptian and view the Bergman film with one of the most iconic film images of all time – Max von Sydow’s character the Knight playing a game of chess with Death in “The Seventh Seal.”
The experience was elevated by a Q&A between an intimidated Ben Mankeiwicz and Mr. von Sydow, who received double standing ovations for both this movie and Sunday’s “Three Days of the Condor.”
My next pick was one of my personal fave’s, “Mildred Pierce.” Who can resist another iconic film character – Jack Carson as Wally? Wally’s one-liners are unforgettable. Another draw was Robert Osbourne’s Q&A with Ann Blyth, who plays daughter-from-Hell Veda.
Osbourne was amazed that Blyth wasn’t typecast after that spot-on performance, and everyone in attendance was amazed that Blyth appeared to be just as stunning now and not much older. Apparently, she found out how to stop the clock decades ago. I believe she has a painting in an attic somewhere.
On Sunday, I decided to finish out the fest at the soon-to-be-renovated Chinese Theatre to see Buster Keaton in the silent classic, “The General,” from 1926. TCM pulled out all the stops to give the audience the best possible viewing experience by providing musical accompaniment by the flawless Alloy Orchestra, whose musicians received an enthusiastic standing ovation upon completion.
TCM provided a post-fest party at The Roosevelt Hotel with Robert Osbourne tirelessly greeting and taking pictures with film fanatics in a line that stretched on far too long to subject Robert to after a four-day marathon.
If you missed this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, next year’s will be extra special in celebration of their 20th anniversary on the air. Word has it that a project is in the works featuring the glue that holds it all together – Robert Osbourne.