Wednesday, May 7, 2014

TCMFF 2014 Day 3

Back to TCMFF 2014 Day 2 

Saturday at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) started at the Chinese Multiplex for City Lights. As I entered the theater, I noticed some of my TCM Party pals, who I had met earlier, but by the time I got there, the row was pretty much full.  I took a seat a few rows back. City Lights was introduced by Jason Scott Lee, and I have to say, he was my favorite of all the celebrity presenters. Okay, second favorite behind Mel Brooks. The reason I think I liked Jason Scott Lee so much is that he totally geeked out about City Lights. I mean he was a real fan of the movie, and it showed. I'd go into detail, but since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll just link to the video here. It really is worth watching.

Now, before the screening I would have bet money that I had seen City Lights before, but within a minute or two of the start, I realized that I must have been thinking of another Chaplin film. Of course, I had seen bits and pieces of it, but never the whole thing. It was great, funny, charming, and at times very moving. I'm almost embarrassed that I had never seen it before, but what kept me from going down that road was that I don't think I could do any better than seeing it the first time in the theater at TCM with the best people in the world to be watching it with.

As I left the theater, I met one of my Twitter #TCMParty friends, @AlanHait. I don't think we had met before, or at least if we did, it was only briefly. Since we were both on our way to The Egyptian for Godzilla: The Japanese Original, we walked together, and it was good to finally talk to him in real life after so much time trading comments a hundred forty characters at a time. Alan suggested we stop for coffee at Starbucks, but I thought should get right in line for the screening. Godzilla was another of my must-sees (would have to be if I passed up Mr. Deeds Goes to Town for it). Alan had one of the higher level passes that included priority seating, so he offer to get me one and then found me in line to give it to me. Thanks, again, Alan.

The intro for Godzilla: The Japanese Original was by Gareth Edwards and Eddy Von Mueller. I remember mostly them talking a little about the production of this version and how it became a franchise. They briefly talked about how the film we were about to see was literally gutted to make room for Raymond Burr, which set the stage for 60 years of bad schlocky giant monster movies. One of them made a joke about how at one point Godzilla even became a troubled single dad.

Godzilla: The Japanese Original simply put is not the same movie we grew up with. I think they said that 28 minutes of the original film was edited out, so that new footage of Raymond Burr, talking with Asian American actors dressed in similar clothes as their Japanese counterparts could be intercut with the original. Thus, the American version had lots of scenes with Raymond Burr watching Godzilla from the sidelines. Godzilla: The Japanese Original was movie about human suffering with a strong anti-nuclear message. Godzilla was the result of man exploding the Hydrogen bomb, and there was even a short scene where a young woman told how she had survived the Nagasaki bomb, and she was going to survive this (Godzilla). None of this made it into the American version.

Godzilla: The Japanese Original showed not just Godzilla destroying Tokyo,  but the aftermath as hospital wards were filled with injured and burned survivors, mostly woman and children. This had to be a raw nerve for the Japanese people, coming less than a decade after their defeat in World War II. Also there was a scene where Godzilla was wading through the harbor, and the wake he caused pushing boats around. I'm certain that Director Ishiro Honda was tapping into the collective Japanese Psyche, and their fear of Tsunamis. There was another scene, where a mother was holding a baby in her arms and had two children under three with her. She told her kids that they would be with Daddy soon, and I almost fell out of my seat crying. Brilliant movie.

After the screening, Bruce Goldstein gave a presentation about what was cut  to create the American version. He showed how poorly the scenes with Raymond Burr were blended with the original. Once the American version was finished, that became the version that was dubbed into other languages for International audiences. And the final insult, they even dubbed Raymond Burr into Japanese and re-released the American version in Japan, calling it 100 times more exciting than the original

Next up was another sandwich in a bag from Fresh and Easy and a trip back to the Chinese multiplex for Stormy Weather. I picked Stormy Weather not so much because I was dying to see it, but because it was short and ended earliest in that block, giving me time to pick up some real food and get back to my hotel to change clothes for the evening.

The introduction for Stormy Weather was by Donald Bogle. He gave a brief history of black movies in the Hollywood studio system. He didn't mince words about Stormy Weather. One problem was the casting, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson was in his 60s when he made Stormy Weather, while his love interest Lena Horne was 25. Bogle also freely admitted that there was virtually no story in Stormy Weather, but was just an excuse to string together a bunch of musical numbers, but oh what musical numbers. He also promised that there would be an additional presentation following the screening with special guests.

Donald Bogle was right on the money about the thin plot, but the musical numbers were indeed spectacular. Bojangles despite his age was in great form, and Lena Horne was beautiful in both voice and to look at. For me it was also a treat to see Dooley Wilson, who played Sam in Casablanca in a supporting role. Also just being able to see people of color from the era, interact more-or-less normally, and not only as chauffeurs and maids. And yes, all of the musical numbers were great. I had never seen or heard much Fats Waller, but immediately knew I needed to find some of his music. Katherine Dunham had a great voice and a wonderful style. Then there's Cab Calloway; he had to be the coolest guy in the 20th Century. Back in the late 80s/early 90s he played at the San Diego Zoo free with admission two or three summers in a row. I'll always kick myself that I didn't take advantage of it. Finally, Stormy Weather ends with what has to be the most spectacular dance number ever filmed by the Nicolas Brothers:

After the screening, Bruce Goldstein introduced special guests, several members of the Nicolas Brothers family were in attendance. Mr. Goldstein also showed some rare footage of the Nicolas Brothers, one from a TV variety show in 1964, where they replicated the last part of that dance number. In 1964, Harold was 42, and Fayard was 50. They could still do the splits like that. Also he showed a home movie that showed one of the sons Tony (who was there in the theater) doing a running sliding splits, between his dad's legs when he was three years old.

After Stormy Weather, I went to Baja Fresh and picked up a couple of tacos. Oooh, hot food this time, go figure. Then back to my hotel to eat and quickly change clothes. Then back to the Chinese theater for Hard Days Night. I immediately got in line and ended up with a queue number in the mid-200s. I ended up in line with @WeRecycleMovies, whom I met on Wednesday night. Since I had a bit of time, I went and got some "penny" candy and offered it to the people around me in line. 

When we got In the theater, I sat further down front than I normally would have for a movie. This was my one concession to celebrity the whole weekend. Introducing Hard Days Night, was Alec Baldwin interviewing Don Was. Now, while I like Alec Baldwin and do admire his work, I was really there for Don Was. He's been a record producer for years and years and the list of people he's produced reads like a who's who of popular music from the last 40 years. He's currently president of Blue Note Records, but for me, he's one of the two driving forces behind one of my favorite bands from the 80s, Was Not Was:

Now, having said all of that, I really got the impression that Don Was was not used to being interviewed nor to public speaking, and Alec Baldwin did an excellent job keeping it about The Beatles and about music. The video posted here is probably less than half the entire interview, and I have to say Alec Baldwin brought out the best of him, so good job, Alec, and good job TCM for having him.

Alec Baldwin introducing Don Was

Alec Baldwin asks Don Was a question

Don Was

I had only seen Hard Days Night once or twice before, but I love their music from that period. Actually I love all of their music, any period. I was too young to remember seeing them on Ed Sullivan or anything (would've been three the last time they appeared). As a kid, it was through their movies that I saw them, and it wasn't Hard Days Night that I saw. The movie that they played way more often as a kid was, Help. I think it's that by this time color TVs had just come in, and I think TV stations were leery of showing black and white movies, especially about something like The Beatles. As a result, I actually like Help better. That's the one I get nostalgic about. Still, I'll admit that Hard Days Night is probably a better movie.

The film itself was a beautiful restoration, and it is a fun movie. Hard Days Night gives you an idea of what it was like for them without being fake or gimmicky, and the music was incredible. A woman next  to me from New Jersey was singing softly along with a lot of the songs, but honestly, how can I blame her. My one and only complaint with the film was with some of the shaky hand-held  camera work. I know it was cutting edge and avant guard at the time, but I get motion sick very easily on things like this. There were a few times when I had to just look away from the screen. Don't even get me started on the Borne movies.

Since I was down front, was able to get a better shot of the Chinese Theater ceiling

Even the Chinese Theater Exit sign was cool

Next up, I had a fair amount of time to get to The Women. Since this was the only screening I was planning to see at the El Capitan, I decided that I really should just get in line right away. I ended up talking to a young woman who had a pass to TCMFF, who was with a guy who was attending on standby. Now, she had to run off and do something like move her car, which left me talking to her friend. Wait, let me rephrase that. Her friend talked my ear off. I'm like, Dude, don't you know how this works. You say something asinine, and I smile and nod in agreement. Then, you shut up, and I get to say something asinine, while you smile and nod. Still, all told this was the only suboptimal experience I had talking with random strangers the whole, so I'm okay. Eventually, Talk-Your-Ear-Off Guy realized that he had better get in the standby line if he wanted to have any hope of getting into The Women. This left me me free to talk we other random strangers who better understood the conventions of polite conversation.

Inside the El Capitan
Before long they started moving the line in. The inside of the El Capitan was awesome, and on top of that they had live pipe organ music playing movie-related music while you found your seats. I ended up sitting next to @WeRecycleMovies, and her friend who's name escapes me. Damn, I need to work on that. Her friend did go to school in Scotland if that helps.  Another woman I didn't really get a chance to talk to sat next to me, but she did take the last of my candy, a roll of Smarties. I seem to remember seeing a tweet from @AlanHait saying how he wished @GayerThanThou one of the #TCMParty regulars was in the theater with us, a sentiment I definitely shared. Maybe next year, Bud.

Before the screening, @BenMank77 interviewed Anna Kendrick. To be honest, looking at her Wikipedia page, I don't think I've ever seen any of her movies. Still, I think she was a good choice. She talked about how as a teenager, she used to try to get her friends to watch, The Women, so I felt like she was one of us. Another good choice, TCM.

Anna Kendrick
Anna Kendrick 2

Anna Kendrick and Ben Mankiewicz

Like almost everything at TCMFF, I had never seen The Women in the theater, and it was awesome. Again, the audience did the applause for all of the major stars, and there are a ton of them in The Women. Still, it seemed like the entire audience knew film well enough to know just when to stop clapping at just the right time to not mess up any of the dialog. The Women is a great film. In the theater with an audience, awesomely great. 

As I came out of the theater again, I ran into @AlanHait again. He asked if I had noticed Barbara Pepper at end there in the bathroom scene. He rattled off the smart-ass line she said. I looked confused. "Umm, who is Barbara Pepper?"Alan explained that she had played Mrs. Ziffle on Green Acres. I IMDBed her just now. She had uncredited performances in some great movies back then. She was also the lady wrestler Stanwyck described walking past Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve. Okay, how cool is it that people like Alan know this kind of stuff?

I had already decided that I wasn't going to worry about the midnight showing of Freaks. I was sleep-deprived enough as it was, and I didn't see any reason to change that assessment. I wandered back to The Roosevelt and Club TCM. I ended up alternately talking to, flirting with, and mildly pawing at a woman from Kansas City over drinks for the next hour or so. Eventually, she said that she had to do some ironing, which I later figured out was code for, I'm not going to sleep with you but I'm flattered enough by the offer to not just come out and say it. Ah, shot down in No Man's Land in The Roosevelt bar. Thus ended Day 3.

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