San Diego Classic Film Calendar

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – Day 3

Saturday at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) we were up and out early once again. The first block was one of the toughest for me. I'm not a huge fan of either The Court Jester or The China Syndrome, and This is Cinerama would likely mess up the next block. Still, this left three killers, none of which I had ever seen in the theater, Arsenic and Old Lace, Red River, and Stalag 17

Stalag 17 – Our choice Stalag 17 was in one of the two smaller theaters that fill up easily, so we wanted to get there extra early. Fortunately, the big draw in that slot turned out to be Arsenic and Old Lace. We got line numbers somewhere in the 60s and went down to Starbucks for a coffee and a bagel and Jasmine's cake pop (the perfect supplement for the breakfast she'd already had in the room).

When we got back in line, we saw our friend, Christy Putnam (Christy's Inkwells), in line ahead of us, so I asked if she could save us seats. I guess she didn't hear me, because when we got in, she had people on both sides of her. I started to give her crap, but let it go when she introduced me to her son, whom I was hoping to meet anyway.


Casey, Angela, me, and Jasmine
(photo: stolen from Casey's Twitter feed)
We ended up sitting with Casey (Noir Girl) and Angela (The Hollywood Revue). Stalag 17 did not disappoint. When I had brought it up to Jasmine, she almost vetoed at the mention of war movie, but then I explained that it wasn't a normal war movie. It was about prisoners of war in a German POW camp. It was funny and suspenseful. There is a German spy in the barracks, and the main guy gets blamed for it, because he's always running scams. Oh, and it was directed by the same guy who made Double Indemnity. That was enough; she was in. Stalag 17 was everything I expected of it, absolutely the right decision. Jasmine loved it as well.

The Awful Dictator – Here, Jasmine and I parted ways. She is a big Chaplin fan (City Lights is what got her started on classic movies in the first place), and my all-time favorite screwball comedy, The Awful Truth, was playing opposite The Great Dictator. Jasmine went off with I think Angela and/or Casey. I seem to remember one or both of them say, that they were going to The Great Dictator in the next block. One of the great things about TCMFF is that once you've been going for a while, even if you're by yourself, you almost always know someone to sit with.

Me, I ended up sitting with Ariel Schudson (Archive-Type, Musings of a Passionate Preservationist) for The Awful Truth, though I think there were a dozen or so other #TCMParty people sitting around us. Ariel had never seen it before. I have long maintained that The Awful Truth falls on it's face in the last 10 minutes, but despite this, I still love the film and can easily overlook that one perceived flaw. I mentioned it to Ariel, and she was all, "Why did you even tell me that." After it was done, she said, "What was wrong with that ending?" I had to admit, nothing. Seeing it on the big screen with an audience changed all of that. It was such a profound experience that I wrote about it here

Seeing The Awful Truth was such a treat. It is such a funny movie. I laugh my butt off all the way through, despite having seen it 40 or 50 times. That said, it was that much funnier on the big screen with an audience.  

Jasmine on the other hand didn't do as well with The Great Dictator. Though she loves Charlie Chaplin's humor, I think what really gets her is the way he pulls at your heartstrings. There is less of that in The Great Dictator, as it's really an anti-fascist political message movie. She also thought it went on a bit too long. 

The Jerk – One of the other problems with The Great Dictator and it being long was that it made the transition to our next pick kind of tight for Jasmine. Once I got out of The Awful Truth, I got back in line for The Jerk. It turned out that there was an optional book signing preceding the screening, so that meant there was about 45 minutes more time to get there and still make the screening. I texted Jasmine that. Since I had time, I went to the TCMFF Boutique and spent about 10 minutes talking to the woman who had put the vintage clothing collection together that they had on sale. Turns out she was from La Jolla, part of my hometown, San Diego.

Mostly I was killing time so that I could make sure that Jasmine would know that she could still make it to The Jerk. By the time, I finally did get in touch with her, she said she needed a break or she was going to kill someone. I knew enough to give her some space, so I told her I would get back to her after The Jerk. She spent the part of the time wandering around the Hollywood Highland mall, which for an overwhelmed teenage girl is a good thing.

The Jerk is not a huge favorite of mine. I remember seeing it in the theater when it first came out and yes, it was very funny. It is just one of those films that never made it into the regular rotation for me. I've seen it two or three times since it first came out, but not the dozens of times I've seen the Mel Brooks or Monty Python movies. Seeing The Jerk was more about Carl Reiner for me. He was so funny in his intro for Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid last year. 

As expected, the Carl Reiner interview was a hoot. I got about the first two thirds of it on video, in two separate files. My camera does about 10 minutes of video and then just stops. After the second 10 minutes, it decided to run out of power. The audio and video is a bit rough in spots, mostly from me laughing. Carl Reiner and Ben Mankiewicz spoke about politics, social media, and how Carl got his start as a writer. Then they moved onto Steve Martin, his standup comedy, his work process, how smart he is, and how he is a huge art collector. Ben mentioned that Steve Martin has formed one of the top bluegrass bands. "He plays the banjo, like ...." Carl Reiner joked. "Like it's a good instrument."

In the interview, Carl Reiner said that the name Navin was Mel Brooks' idea, as he thought that African-Americans have a way of turning names just slightly from what they would normally be, like Irvin from Irving. So for Steve Martin as a poor black child, Navin seemed to work. Toward the end of the interview, Carl Reiner said, something about family that really helped put my life in perspective (see Nontoxic Children here). The videos I recorded are below:






The film The Jerk did not suffer from the years of me not viewing it. It was every bit as funny as I remember it.

Theodora Goes to Dinner Instead – When I got out of The Jerk, Jasmine had gone back to the hotel. We'd more or less decided that we would skip the next block of films in favor of dinner. We'd decided on 25 Degrees in the Hollywood Roosevelt, Though crowded, we were able to get seated at the bar within a couple of minutes. Jasmine had their huge grilled cheese, and I had a Sonoran hot dog, wedge salad, and a Guinness milkshake. Yea, green stuff, umm and the surprisingly good combination of Guinness stout and ice cream. As we were leaving, I noticed that waiting to be seated was Diane Baker and friends.

I wanted to change clothes before the evening screenings, so we went back upstairs. I also grabbed a second flask, this time with gin, little did I know how much I would need it. On the way down, we rode in the elevator with Dick Cavett (talked about it previously here). We had plenty of time to get to our next screening, so we stopped in Club TCM on the way. We also stopped in the TCMFF Boutique, where I bought some fudge, named after, From Here to Eternity, which tasted a lot like a PayDay candy bar.

The Incident – Our original choice here was Black Narcissus, but The Incident was always running a very close second. A number of things conspired to push us toward The Incident. First, Ariel had said it was really great. Second, by this time, they had announced that both Beau Bridges and Martin Sheen would be joining director Larry Peerce and Bruce Goldstein. Third, there was the whole nitrate-schmitrate stuff. While there are moments of Black Narcissus that are absolutely chilling and the cinematography is wonderful, the film as a whole leaves me somewhat lukewarm. Do I go to a film I'm somewhat ambivalent over, just because it's in nitrate, when I know in the back of my head that it is probably not going to live up to the hype. I had failed to feel the Earth move at Laura in nitrate the night before. 

That's how we ended up in The Incident, a film about two sociopaths holding a group of passengers hostage on a late-night subway train. Larry Peerce who had also directed One Potato Two Potato (one of the big highlights of TCMFF 2016) was great. He wanted to shoot the entire film on location, but the New York Transit Authority wouldn't let them. They did sneak in a few shots of the platforms etc. without permission.  They ended up building a complete subway train for shooting in the studio. Normally, they would build a train set with one side of the train open for the camera to move. Peerce didn't want that and had the set built as a fully enclosed subway train. He wanted it to be cramped and for shots to feel too close and claustrophobic. Boy, did it work.

On set, Larry Peerce didn't want the two psychos (played by Martin Sheen and Tony Musante) associating with the other actors and told the other actors to not have lunch or go drinking with Sheen and Musante. When they met for the first rehearsal, Peerce had all of the actors sit in folding chair for a run through. Then he brought in Sheen and Musante and had them really get in their face and terrorize the crap out of them. Martin Sheen confessed that the whole not drinking thing didn't work. After Larry Peerce would leave for the day, he and Tony Musante would go out drinking with the other actors anyway. Sheen and Musante couldn't stand to have the rest of the cast thinking that they were the terrible people they were playing. 

Whatever the case, the film is one of the most intense movies I've ever seen. Martin Sheen and Tony Musante were absolutely chilling. They were out to hurt people for the simple reason that they liked hurting people. The rest of the cast was amazing as well. Beau Bridges was great as a young soldier with a broken arm who like his Army buddy just want to avoid getting involved. Thelma Ritter was brilliant in her last film role, and Brock Peters was great as a black man who's seen too much prejudice to feel anything but hatred and contempt for the white people being abused, until the two psychos turn on him. The rest of the cast was tremendous as well, but a standout was Ed "Heeerrrreee'sss Johnny" McMahon in his first film role.

An Unplanned Midnight Movie – Now, the problem with seeing a film as intense as The Incident is that you just don't go to sleep after watching it. Thus, we ended up going to see Kentucky Fried Movie even though we really needed the extra couple hours of sleep at that point, not really a viable option after The Incident. For the introduction, Edgar Wright (director of Sean of the Dead) interviewed Kentucky Fried Movie director John Landis and writers, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. The interview was hilarious partly because a) the entire audience was loopy, b) they really were funny, and c) they kept contradicting each other (no one seemed to remember anything happening the same way).

We sat with Ariel and her friend Rick, who had been sitting with us previous screening as well. Between the fun interview, a hilarious film, and a flask of gin, it was a good way to wind down from the cinematic Bataan death march intensity of The Incident. If I had to change anything, it would have been not going to see the Zardoz midnight movie the night before. Kentucky Fried Movie is a way better movie and way more worth the loss of sleep.

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