Thursday, April 13, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – Postpartum Wrapup, Part II

I decided to break up my initial wrapup of the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) into three parts. Part I is posted here and covers pre-festival activities on Wednesday and Thursday (Day 1). This post covers Days 2 and 3 and Part III will cover Day 4 and any leftover bits on the trip home on Monday.  None of these posts are comprehensive. My intention is to cover the two or three things that really jumped out at me each day. Unfortunately, I just can't do that for Friday and Saturday. It really has to be four or five things each day, but I will try to keep them short.

Day 2 – Friday 

Friday is the first day with screenings running starting the first thing in the morning and ending with a midnight movie. Keeping it short, these are the highlights from Friday:
Mannequins and Art Deco – If you have never been to one of the special presentations at TCMFF, you really should. These are indeed unique experiences that you will never have again or even come close to. The one we selected this year was Beyond the Mouse: The 1930s Cartoons of Ub Iwerks.  My daughter Jasmine and I love animation and cartoons. Me,  I was raised on the cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s. Many of the cartoons of that era slipped into Public Domain by the 1960s, so that was what the local independent TV station was showing in the afternoon for kids after school. To be honest, I've always been more into the Fleischer Studios and Warner Brothers cartoons over Disney, but this was too good to pass up.

Of the 10 or so short cartoon films, the standout for me was a gem from Columbia, called Merry Mannequins. Cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s were made to precede feature films and often parodied the films of the day. Since musicals were a dominant genre in the 1930s, many of the cartoons were mini seven-minute musicals. The TCMFF guide called Merry Mannequins "an Art Deco masterpiece paying tribute to the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals of the era." That about sums it up. Two mannequins fall in love and sing and dance their way through a department store in front of the most beautiful Art Deco backgrounds imaginable. Incredible.

Danger of  ignorance – One of my top films for the whole festival was Born Yesterday. It's an absolutely wonderful and perfect film. Aside from being a great romantic comedy, it's also a severe indictment of government corruption in Washington, and as such it's just as poignant today as it was when released in 1950. I'll do a full review later, but now I want to touch on one thing that happened during the screening. There is a line from William Holden, "A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in." That line drew applause from the audience, proving just how relevant Born Yesterday is today.

Chico Marx and Talluluh Bankhead – This a reference to something from Dick Cavett's intro to Monkey Business. He said that of all the people he interviewed, he considered Groucho Marx the most brilliant and a great writer. He ended the intro with a story about Chico Marx and Tallulah Bankhead. Groucho had been in New York and had met Bankhead. Chico wanted to meet her, but of course Groucho knew how much of a womanizer Chico was. Groucho warned Chico to be on his best behavior. Bankhead's father was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and her uncle and grandfather had both been U.S. Senators. Groucho and Chico went to a party at Tallulah Bankhead's house. Chico saw her on the dance floor.  He walked up to her and said, "I want to fuck you"

"And so you shall." replied Tallulah Bankhead. "You old fashioned boy."
Ribeye over Red-Head – One of the big problems with TCMFF is finding time to eat. Jasmine and I had gone to the store on Wednesday for milk and cereal for Jasmine for breakfast in the morning, while I picked up something like a cheese danish with my coffee. We also bought Lunchables and fruit we could carry with us during the day. That said, by early evening, you're really famished, and popcorn and Jujubes just ain't  gonna cut it. Add to that nitrate. Everybody was all gung-ho to see the nitrate prints, and Laura in nitrate was on almost everyone's list I read. We decided to skip Red Headed Woman for a real meal at Pig and Whistle and definitely ensuring that we would be able to get in to see Laura. I honestly felt like a complete wuss doing this, skipping a movie I really wanted to see just to eat. Jasmine and I split a calamari appetizer. She had fish and chips, and I had a ribeye and an Anchor Steam. It was such the right call, especially since we were committed to seeing Zardoz at midnight.

Zardoz, the cookie not the movie – Jasmine was really psyched to see Zardoz, as she recognized it from a parody they did on the cartoon show, Rick and Morty. I knew Zardoz was not a great movie, but as a midnight movie, what do you expect? It's not funny or camp, mostly just weird. We got to the theater and two of my San Diego film cronies, Beth Accomando (Cinema Junkie Blog and Podcast) and Miguel Rodrigues (Horrible Imaginings Film Festival) had made cookies, and they were giving them out to anyone who would post a picture to social media with the hashtag #FilmGeeksSD (Film Geeks SD).

I even discovered that you could eat the cooking in such a way that you could make cookie Sean Connery's head float like Zardoz.

The Zardoz cookies were great, the movie, not so much

Day 3 – Saturday 

The highlights from Saturday are:

The end of Awful Truth – If I had to pick one screwball comedy as a favorite, I don't even have to think twice about it. It has to be The Awful Truth. It is such a funny and wonderful film, but for years I have complained about one thing. I really felt that the film falls on its face in the last 10 minutes. Still, the rest of it was so strong that I could easily overlook this. Seeing it in the theater with an audience, the ending worked just fine, forcing me to take a step back and reexamine. Classic films were made to be seen in a theater with an audience, not to be watched 50 or 60 times on DVD and every time they air on TCM. It's a credit to The Awful Truth that it can and is still very funny, even after 50 or 60 viewings. On the small screen, the last 10 minutes aren't all that funny, then again, neither are the first 10 minutes, but both are necessary. The first 10 minutes establish the situation; the last 10 minutes resolve it. Sure, maybe you could probably come up with at different way to resolve it without the silliness of the motorcycle cops, the connecting door, and the figures in the cuckoo clock, but in the context of watching the film in the theater, it works just fine. The Awful Truth, I owe you an apology.

Nontoxic children – Sometimes, what stands out at a screening is not the film itself but a single blip from the introduction or interview.  For me, that was the case for Ben Mankiewicz's interview of Carl Reiner before The Jerk. Carl Reiner had great stories about the making of the film, but when Ben asked about family, Reiner said something that really hit home. Now, I'm in my mid-50s. I sometimes think about where I am in life and where I thought would be when I was younger. I'm not rich, but doing okay financially. I've never written the great American novel or run with the bulls in Barcelona. Carl Reiner said that the most important thing in life is raising nontoxic children. My wife and I have two kids. Both of them are good people. Many of my classic film friends have met my daughter Jasmine. My son is every bit as caring a person as Jasmine, not a trace of toxicity in either one of them. Thank you, Carl Reiner, for putting my life into perspective.

Meeting Dick Cavett – Another of the great things about TCMFF is that you sometimes run into celebrities when you're not expecting to. Jasmine and I had gone back to hotel to change clothes. We got into the elevator to go back into the fray. The elevator opened on one of the floors and an attractive 50s-ish woman got on with an older gentleman. We said, hello. The man looked familiar, but it took a few seconds to sink in. "You're Dick Cavett, aren't you." He said yes, and asked if we'd met and said I looked familiar. I thought about it. I had seen him introduce Monkey Business the day before, but we were sitting in the balcony, no way he could have seen me. It didn't dawn on me that maybe he saw me in the trivia contest until later. I told him how much I enjoyed his show as a kid. His wife said they were re-airing his show on Decades. I told him that he was always very clever and witty on the fly. We spoke briefly and shook hands. I should have asked to take a picture with him, but I never think of that sort of thing. My father, who passed away several years ago, always had disdain for most celebrities. Dick Cavett was one of the few he genuinely admired and respected. He would have got a kick out of knowing I'd met him.

The Kentucky Fried Incident – My original plan for Saturday included seeing Black Narcissus in nitrate, but The Incident was a very close second. We had seen Laura in nitrate the night before. While I did think it made certain things, like the reflections on glass and highlights in hair look especially cool, it was far from the life changing experience others described. Maybe, I'm just not that visually oriented. Still, I wanted to see Black Narcissus. If anything was going to prompt that nitrate epiphany, a technicolor visual treat like Black Narcissus would do it. But then we talked to Ariel Schudson (Archive-Type: Musings of a Passionate Preservationist) about The Incident. She was raving about how great it was. It had been Jasmine's top pick and a very close second for me.

That's how we ended up switching gears and going to The Incident instead of Black Narcissus. The Incident is about two psychopaths who terrorize a group of passengers on a subway train. It was so good, and one of the most intense movies I've ever seen. My friend Theresa Brown (CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH) described it as, Auschwitz on a subway train. That sums it up surprisingly well. It has a great cast, an early role for Beau Bridges, the first major role for Martin Sheen, Thelma Ritter's last film role, plus Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Gary Merrill, and a surprisingly good dramatic performance from The Tonight Show's Ed McMahon. 

Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi
The problem is this not a movie you can watch and then just go to sleep. It reminded me of when Jasmine and I watched the last half of the last season of Breaking Bad, all in one sitting, ending at two in the morning. Jasmine was so traumatized that she was just lay curled up on the floor in a blanket. We ended up watching an episode of Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi, so that Jasmine could sleep. After The Incident, we both felt like needed to curl on the floor in a blanket. Of course, Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi was not an option, but Kentucky Fried Movie was. After seeing,  Zardoz as a midnight movie the previous night, the last thing we needed was another midnight movie the next night, but we really had no choice. Hindsight being what it is, we would have been way better off skipping Zardoz and planning on Kentucky Fried Movie, which was great. Then again, you never know that ahead of time.

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