Thursday, May 15, 2014

TCMFF 2014 Day 4

Back to TCMFF 2014 Day 3

Day 4 at TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) was the day that almost all of my well-laid plans went out the window. First up, I had planned to see Fiddler on the Roof, a film I had never seen before, not on TV/dvd/nor in the theater. I had a chance to see it when it came out with my mom and sister. I would have been about 9 or 10, and as a 9- or 10-year-old boy, i.e., stupid, a musical was a tough sell. I have always felt bad that to this day I still haven't seen it. I know it has come on TCM, but the last time I didn't have the three hours to spend on it. This was my mindset coming into TCMFF. This was my chance to right a great classic film injustice.

Then I started hearing people talking about, The Adventures of Robin Hood and how the presentation beforehand was supposed to be really good. That and by this time, the Sunday TBAs had been announced and in the second block, an encore of 5th Avenue Girl was scheduled. Just about everyone I spoke to who had been to the first screening raved about it. Because Fiddler was so long, it would be next to impossible to make 5th Avenue Girl. That tore it, The Adventures of Robin Hood was in, and Fiddler, once again, would need to wait for another day.

The presentation before Robin Hood by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt was great and probably the most interesting and informative of the whole weekend. Just to keep it light though, the two of them came out wearing green Robin Hood Sherwood Forrest hats. They did a really great visual presentation. Highlights of things that jumped out at me:

  • An early preproduction publicity photo of James Cagney from when he was slated to play Robin. I'm kind of thinking that would have been a different movie.
  • Some home movie footage that Basil Rathbone had taken, mostly of the cast horsing around on set. Olivia de Havilland in Alan Hale Sr.'s arms and Errol Flynn hugging and basically rubbing himself on Patrick Knowles who played Will Scarlet. You go, Errol.
  • Looks at some of the technology associated with the film, things that you probably knew in the back of your head but never really thought about:
    • How the matte paintings worked. You always think about things like the castle on the hill being a matte painting, but there were others like the shot where Errol Flynn is hanging on the vine covered wall talking to Olivia de Havilland. He is actually standing on a ladder on a short wall. Then a matte painting was added to the bottom of the screen to make it look like he is 40 or 50 feet in the air.
    • The Technicolor three strip process and how separate red, green, and blue strips of film were combined to create the color.
    • Even though they filmed the outdoor material on location, a rarity in those days. You couldn't always count on things like trees being in the right location, so they showed one of the prop trees they built that could be moved around as filming demanded.
    • Filming on location also demanded that sound be recorded in a mobile sound truck. This is one of the remaining restored Warner Brothers sound trucks form the era:
Warner Bros. sound truck

Then of course, you had the movie itself. Seeing The Adventures of Robin Hood on the big screen with a group of people who love it like you was great. Brilliant adventure movie made that much better by the theater/TCMFF experience. As a side note, The Adventures of Robin Hood was playing in The Egyptian, which according to the TCM Tour I took  the next day, is where Robin Hood played for two years when it was first released. Yo, James Cameron, how many theaters did Avatar play at for two years? None? Oh, okay. Then take you $760 million and shut up.

Next up was the added screening of 5th Avenue Girl at the Chinese Multiplex. My concern about not being to make it had I gone to Fiddler on the Roof was well founded. I left The Egyptian as soon as Robin Hood ended and was one of the very last people seated (in the very front row) for 5th Avenue Girl. Note to self: if this ever happens again, sit on the side (easier to look to one side and up than just up). The introduction was by Cari Beauchamp, but about the only thing I remember her saying that it was one of the few starring roles that Walter Connelly ever had. He made a lot of films in the 1930s, but always played supporting roles, like the father or the boss. You probably know Connelly as Claudette Colbert's father in It Happened One Night.

Cari Beauchamp. Special thank you to Ariel
Schudson @sinephile, whom I met/talked to
several times was able to supply Beauchamp's name

I have to say that 5th Avenue Girl was my favorite and most pleasant surprise of the weekend, and I really don't think I can discuss the movie without talking about the plot. Thus I offer this:

*** Extremely mild Spoiler Alert; you don't want to know, scroll past this bit ***

I know that I had seen the last bit of 5th Avenue Girl. I remember the part about the beef stew, but I'm just as sure that I have never seen it start to finish. Now, 5th Avenue Girl is a 30s romantic comedy, and as such, it is everything that you would expect from a 30s romantic comedy, charming, witty, very funny in spots, and very touching in others. But what made 5th Avenue Girl so great was that the plot was completely different than just every other 30s romantic comedy I had every seen. It wasn't, Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Girl Goes Off to Reno, Boy and Girl Get Back Together Before the Divorce Is Final. 5th Avenue Girl was about Walter Connelly, a middle-aged man who works too hard to make money to support a wife and two good-for-nothing grown-up children, none of whom appreciate what he does for them. He uses what is ultimately a platonic relationship with Ginger Rogers to repair his relationship with his wife and children. That little twist made a very good example of a genre I love into way more than I ever would have expected. It was awesome.

*** End of Extremely mild Spoiler Alert ***

The decision to see 5th Avenue Girl had also messed up my early afternoon block, so my only real choice was to keep going to the TBA block of movies. Next up was, On Approval, a British comedy from 1944, from which had come very highly recommended by @AlanHait. On Approval was introduced by Jeffrey Vance, and he explained that the comedy was very broad in spots and very outlandish. He also said, that it was likely that you would either love it or hate it. In fact, a couple of people did leave after about 15 minutes. Me, I didn't love it, but I didn't really hate either. In spots, On Approval was belly-laugh funny, and the story line of a trial marriage was interesting. I think that my problem was that I didn't really care about the characters in the movie. 

Am I upset that I watched it?  No. Do I wish I had walked out like the people I mentioned? Not at all. When it was funny, On Approval was very funny, and that alone made it worth watching. But when it was not funny, I found it a little boring, mostly because I didn't have characters I could really get behind. Still, the humor was so outrageous and off the wall, it made me think that maybe this is what the Monty Python guys cut their teeth on.

By the time, On Approval got out it was getting close to 4:00, and I hadn't eaten since breakfast.  Now, at this point, I could've gone back to my original plan and jump theaters for The Quiet Man or stay on the TBA track for the pre-code film, Employees' Entrance. Either way, I only had 45 minutes to get there. I decided on Employees' Entrance mostly because it gave me a bit more time to get to my final screening of the festival. However, Employees' Entrance was in one of the smaller theaters, meaning I had to immediately get back in line at least long enough to get a queue number before I could run out and get some food. Food turned out to be a sandwich place, a short way from the theater. Got a BLT and wolfed it down in the theater cafe before having to get back in line. Fortunately the theaters were pretty cool about you bringing in outside food. 

The intro to Employees Entrance was by Bruce Goldstein, a really good presentation about pre-code films. He showed a presentation of certain pre-code films and and talked about how far they pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on screen, but what I found most interesting was how the studios simply ignored the code for the first several years after its inception. The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America agreed to abide by the code in 1930, but then simply reneged on it. The film industry had been hit pretty hard by the Depression. People didn't have the money to spend on movies that they once had. Studio bosses knew then what everyone knows now. Sex sells, and since the Hays office had no real power, movies became even more racy. It was in this environment that Employee's Entrance was made.

Employee's Entrance is about a man who runs a large department store with an iron fist, the Mussolini of Macy's. What I found interesting about it was that the main character (William Warren) had absolutely no morals. Now, this in itself is not all that unusual. What was unusual was that had Employee's Entrance been made a few years later, a character like this would always get what he deserves. But before the enforcement of the code, that wasn't required, and in Employee's Entrance, Warren is a total a-hole for the entire movie, and at the end of the movie, he goes on being an a-hole with no retribution. If anything, he's even worse. It was awesome.

I had about an hour and fifteen minutes before the next showing, so I figured I would have time to go back to the hotel  to change clothes for the evening. Even though I had eaten before Employee's Entrance, I didn't want to chance not having time to eat later, especially since I was bound to be drinking at the Sunday night closing party. I went to Fresh and Easy for another sandwich in a bag. I figured I would have enough time to eat quickly and maybe grab a quick shower. When I got in my room and looked at the clock it was already 6:43. Crap. My last showing was at The Egyptian (farthest theater away). No shower. No clothes change. And I would be eating the sandwich in line, again. I ended up grabbing my skateboard. It ensured that I was to the showing on time and helped on the turnaround clothes change after the screening and before the party.

In retrospect, I probably had more time to get to my last screening (The Lodger) than I thought. Still, I had never seen a silent film with live music, and I had to skip Why Worry for Double Indemnity/Blazing Saddles on Day 2, so I really didn't want to take any chances. Thanks to my skateboard I got to the theater easily about 10 minutes before they started moving the line. I definitely could've got there later and still been okay. The Egyptian is a big theater, and I don't even think they opened the balcony. I got in line, ate, and talked to a woman from Kansas City. Not not the same one from the previous night. 

Ben Mankiewicz did the intro to The Lodger. I know I've said this before, but he has a good way about him, kind of a dry acerbic sense of humor. He announced the winner of some tickets to the 2015 TCMFF that they were giving away in hopes that the winner would be in the audience. When she wasn't there, he said something to the effect of, "Oh, great, she's probably in the theater that Robert Osborne  is introducing. Ah, screw her."

He also told a funny very self deprecating story. He mentioned how much he enjoyed being at TCMFF, and how great the fans were, and how they really made him feel like he was a celebrity for these four days, something he doesn't normally get outside of TCMFF. During the festival, he gets in a habit of nodding, saying hi, how you doing to everyone, shaking hands, etc. as he walks around. On his way to The Egyptian for The Lodger that night, he saw a line of people waiting at the El Capitan. So naturally he went into the, hey, how you doin', good to see you, hi, ... thing. As he was doing this, it dawned on him that there were a lot of kids in the line. Strange, that there would be that many kids at TCMFF this year. Then, he realized that they had nothing to do with the Festival. They were just waiting in line for the new Muppets movie that opened that week, and that all of people he'd been greeting probably didn't know him from Adam.

Ben Mankiewicz did also talk about The Lodger. The thing I remember most is him talking about the star of the film, Ivor Novello, and how he was a huge star in England when The Lodger was made. Within a few years after making The Lodger, he took a contract to write and star in films for MGM in Hollywood, but they never really found much of anything to do. His biggest claim to fame in those years was he wrote the dialog, for Tarzan, The Apeman, so, yes, he wrote the line, "Me, Tarzan. You, Jane."

The Lodger had these great Art Deco, dialog cards

I had seen The Lodger a handful of times. The closest I ever came to the big screen was 16 mm in a film class in college. All of the versions I had ever seen were straight black and white. This restoration had reproduced the color tinting that the original film had. In particular many of the night scenes were tinted blue for an eerie effect. Also the film featured live accompaniment of a new musical score performed by the Mont Alto Orchestra, a quintet featuring keyboard, trumpet, clarinet, violin, and cello. That made this just such a great viewing experience.

My second choice on in that slot had been The Wizard of Oz in 3D, which I had already seen in the theater (not in 3D of course) years and years ago. I figured that Wizard of Oz might conceivably get distribution, so I might get  a chance to see it anyway. I think I made the right choice with The Lodger:
  • Getting to see Hitchcock in the theater
  • An early silent film, Hitchcock's first suspense thriller
  • A new absolutely beautiful restoration 
  • A new score performed live in the theater
All of these things added up to make this way way cool. On the way out of the theater, I did hear someone say that he like the original score better. My thoughts were, Thanks, guy, for pissing on my cornflakes. I mean, on a film this old, how do you even know what the original score was. Yes, I do understand that there is probably some piece of music that is considered the definitive score, but for me having only seen it three or four times, I can't even say for sure that it even had the same score every time I watched it. The first time I saw it in college on 16 mm, I don't even thing there was a score with it. Whatever the case, I liked Mont Alto Orchestra score. It worked. It fit. And I didn't have enough other experience with the movie to color my opinion.

Next, I skated back to my hotel to change clothes and head back out on foot to the closing night party. At this point, there were still a few people that I knew twitter #TCMParties that I still hadn't met. Actually, it turned out to be more than a couple. I vow here and now to catch up on the ones I missed next year. I ran into @ciniebugz. She was a bit upset because she had left her backpack with @joelrwilliams1. Now, Joel was one of those people who I was talking about, so Cindy and wandered around the entire place looking for him. After not finding him, we decided to split up (do more damage that way). About 15 minutes later, we finally ran into Joel. He is one of those people who is always online talking about whatever is on TCM on a #TCMParty. Like me. Don't think either one of us get out much. It was really great to finally meet him.

TCMFF pin set
At some point in the evening I also ran into Nora who does social media for TCM (@tcmfilmfest). She said, she'd put aside some TCMFF buttons for me. She didn't have them on her, but she said she would catch up with me later. They had a thing going on where you could collect these by doing certain social media activities: You could get one by posting about TCMFF to facebook, another by tweeting, another by doing a vine video, and so on. Now, I like swag just as much as the next guy, but when I have to do something to earn it, I'm thinking laziness is a much better idea. I did tweet and post to facebook during TCMFF, but I don't even have a vine account, much less know how to use it, so Nora putting some aside for me without me having to do anything, way cool. I ended up not seeing her again, but she contacted me the next week and mailed them. Even more, way cool. Thanks, again, Nora.

I also met @MonsterResort. Actually, it was a bit surprising that I didn't already know Miguel, seeing how as we are both from San Diego and are into more or less the same things. The degrees of separation between the two of us is like one. To give you an idea, I added him as a facebook friend the other day, and about half the mutual friends I had with him had nothing to do with TCM. In fact, I ran into him the other night at a screening of Godzilla: The Japanese Original and when I introduced him to my wife, he looked at her and said, "Wait, don't we already know each other." My wife gets around. Oh, wait. That kind of came out wrong. My wife is a fine upstanding figure of a woman..., who gets around. Better.

In addition, I also met @MiddParent. I only spoke to her only for a couple of minutes, wandered off, and never made it back. Need to remedy that next year. Miguel (@MonsterResort) was also recording a podcast live by the pool with a bunch of the TCMParty regulars and he invited me to join them. Awesome, I'm so in, I agreed. Then, I wandered off and never made it back there either. Note to self: Stop wandering off all the time. Don't go walkabout you freakin, idiot. Go get a beer and come back. The podcast would've been fun and @MiddParent was cute. Of course, I was kind of drunk. I know I had to have at least four or five pints of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, a very very strong beer, so wandering off, was not really all that out of character for me at that point.

By the way, Miguel's TCMFF podcast is located at

I know I talked to a ton of other people that night, and it really was a great time all around. The ones, who stand out, and I haven't mentioned before in any of my blogs were @jaxbra@suesueapplegate, and @ClassicMoviesTO, who was giving out these classic film buttons he'd made for TCMFF. Turns out a number of us were going on the TCM L.A. Film Locations tour the next day, and @ClassicMoviesTO didn't have a pass, so I offered the extra one I had. By strange fortune, late in the evening I ended up back at the bar with that same woman from KC from the night before, but we ended up doing the same dance as the night before. She said that I was her third offer of the evening. Of course, I did have to say that I was probably better than the first two. Ultimately, I did end up getting the iron again.  If you don't get the iron reference, you probably need to read my Day 3 blog.

That pretty much wraps up Day 4 and more or less TCMFF as a whole, but I gotta say, I go to a lot of conventions, comic conventions, science fiction conventions, steampunk, you name it, and most conventions end with a whimper, not a bang. Things tend to close at about 5:00 the last day, and people pack up and get out. I must say, I like the TCMFF way much better. Having a big party to talk to the people you just met, share the experiences you just had, and celebrate what just happened, much much better. Great way to end a great event.

Do stay tuned. I am planning to do a TCMFF Day 5 post (covering the TCM tour and trip home) and an Aftermath post (covering the surprising number of TCMFF-related things that happened in the month or so following TCMFF. On my current schedule, I should get these done sometime before TCMFF 2015.

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