Saturday, April 22, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – Day 2

For Friday at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), it mostly comes down to almost continuous series of screenings starting at 9 am with incredible cartoons and ending after 2 in the morning with an incredibly bad science fiction movie.

Beyond the Mouse: The 1930s Cartoons of Ub Iwerks – My daughter Jasmine and I were out pretty early for this one. I was worried that it might be full. I'd seen a lot of buzz about it on others' pre-festival picks. I think I was shooting for getting there an hour early, and I don't  think we missed that by a whole lot. We got our line numbers and had time to run downstairs for coffee and something resembling breakfast. 

Beyond the Mouse was great. On hand were animation historian Jerry Beck and Leslie Iwerks (Disney animation pioneer Ub Iwerks' granddaughter and producer/director/writer of the documentary on Iwerks). Ub Iwerks was a teenage friend of Walt Disney in Kansas City, and helped establish Disney Studios as head animator, chief character designer, and co-creator of Mickey Mouse. Though Ub Iwerks left Disney in the early 1930s, he returned to work for Disney in the 1940s. Iwerks had a knack for innovation and solving the difficult problems in the fledgling animation field. In the 1940s and 1950s, he worked on everything from animated films to The Hall of Presidents at Disneyland.

The presentation featured about 10 animated shorts, including Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (predates Mickey Mouse), Steamboat Willy (the first cartoon with fully synchronized sound), and a smattering of Iwerks cartoons from the 1930s.  What struck me in particular from the earlier cartoons was how outrageous some of the gags were. Also it was a treat to see the progression from the very simple silent black and white cartoons of the 1920s to incredibly sophisticated technicolor wonders, like the brilliant Art Deco-inspired Merry Mannequins, less that 10 years later.

Ariel, me, and Jasmine waiting for Born Yesterday
Born Yesterday –  Next up was the film that turned out to be Jasmine's favorite of the festival. Jasmine had never seen it before, and I had never seen it on the big-screen. While I had misjudged Jasmine's reaction to the end of Harold and Maude, I knew this was a sure bet, it paid off. Jasmine loved how Judy Holliday is empowered by learning. Me, I think the movie is absolutely hilarious and seeing it on the big screen made it more so.

We sat with Ariel Schudson (Archive-Type: Musings of a Passionate Preservationist) who was possibly more psyched to see it on than I was. It has such great message about the difference between intelligence and a lack of education, all wrapped up in a charming and funny love story. It also says a lot about corruption in Washington, which if anything has only got worse since 1950.

Jasmine and I even got a chance to hang

out with stars afterwards, okay, this was taken
the day 
before but who's counting.

Monkey Business – Next up was Monkey Business at the Egyptian. Dick Cavett in his intro told a hilarious story about Chico Marx and Tallulah Bankhead that I wrote about here. I love the Marx Brothers and seeing them on the big screen was indeed a treat, but.... You probably knew there was a but coming. But I learned something about myself and the nature of TCMFF. Even though we were only barely into the festival, I was having a real tough time staying awake during the screening. I kept dozing and being jerked awake by audience laughter. Fortunately, in a film like Monkey Business the bursts of audiences laughter come every few seconds.

Don't get me wrong, the film was great, but I was having a real tough time staying awake for it. To be fair, I was working on a sleep deficit that started with WonderCon the weekend before TCMFF. What I learned is that I have a much tougher time staying awake in movies, that are long on laughs and short on story than the other way around. Seeing W.C. Fields in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break in very next block only confirmed this. If I had it to do over again, I would have done either Monkey Business or Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, but not both back to back. 

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break – Other than the issue with dozing/being jerked awake by laughter during the screening that continued into this block, I really enjoyed Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. In his intro, Jeremy Arnold said that title of the film is not what W.C. Fields wanted but what the studio changed it to (according to IMDB, Fields wrote the original story under the name, Otis Criblecoblis). Never Give a Sucker an Even Break isn't even a reference to anything in the film, but to two of Fields' earlier films. Fields joked at the time that with limited theater marquee space, it would be shortened to:

W.C. Fields

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is a parody of Hollywood and the studio system, though really more of a series of skits than an actual narrative. The film featured, Gloria Jean, sort of Universal's bargain basement version of Deanna Durbin, whom was also under contract with Universal. Some of Gloria Jean's scenes are direct parodies of things in Deanna Durbin movies.  Still it was very very funny, which helped get me back from dozing every few minutes. The screening also feature the W.C. Fields short, The Barber, which also was very funny and had about as much story as the feature, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

Pig and Whistle – Our choice in the next block was Red Headed Woman, but by the time we got to Never Give A Sucker an Even Break, we'd decided dinner was more important than one more film. I had wanted to try the Pig and Whistle, and since it was next door to the Egyptian, it seemed like a natural. While waiting for W.C. Fields to start, we'd looked at the Pig and Whistle menu online and it seem like as good a place as any. On the way, we walked with Alan Hait, who unlike us was still going to Red Headed Woman. Both Alan and I really liked Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, but Jasmine was a bit overwhelmed by the silliness and rapid verbal humor. Then again, part of that might have been hunger and exhaustion talking. 

When we got to the Pig and Whistle, there was a 45 minute wait. I put in our name and cell phone number, and we started to walk east on Hollywood Blvd. I tried to suggest other restaurants we passed but Jasmine wasn't having any of it. We ended up wandering in several souvenir shops, and Larry Edmunds Bookshop, a very cool place, dedicated to Hollywood and movies. By the time we got back to Pig and Whistle about a half hour later, our name was at the top of the list, and they were just cleaning off tables of people who had just left. The food was not cheap, but not super expensive either and quite good. Looking back on it now and the prospect of seeing Red Headed Woman on the big screen, I still think we made the right call. 

Laura – We got to the theater for Laura plenty early, but we were still had line numbers in the high 80s, but in a theater the size of the Egyptian, all was right with the world. We ended up going to Starbucks with our Film Geeks San Diego friends Miguel Rodrigues (Horrible Imaginings) and Beth Accomando (Cinema Junkie) and Fussy and her daughter, The Nitrate Diva

I was really looking forward to Laura, mostly because of all of the hype about nitrate before TCMFF. Many were talking about how seeing a film on nitrate was this life changing experience, but by Friday afternoon, we had run into a few people who had seen The Man Who Knew Too Much in nitrate the night before and were less than impressed. The term nitrate schmitrate was bandied about. Me, I think I fall somewhere in the middle on the Nitrate Schmitrate-Life Changing Experience scale. In watching Laura, I could see certain things that looked really cool, like reflections on glass, highlights on people's hair, and the way jewels sparkled, but it was far from the cinematic epiphany that others had spoke of. After a while I stopped looking for things in the nitrate that looked especially good, mostly because it was distracting me from the film. 

To be honest, I like Laura, but it is not super high on my all-favorite film noir list. I can think of a dozen other film noirs off the top of my head that I like better. Jasmine was similarly unimpressed. Yes, we both liked the film, but neither of us liked it nearly as well as say, Nightmare Alley (Jasmine's favorite film noir) or Double indemnity (my favorite).

Zardoz – When we were at Laura, Fussy mentioned that there might be rain that night, so I decided to run back to the hotel real quick and drop off my hat with the drawings all over it. The hat had never been sealed, so I didn't want to risk getting it wet. This also gave me a chance to pick up a small flask of tequila I had packed. When we got out of the theater, it was sprinkling lightly, the only rain we got at TCMFF, so that was a good call as was the flask. Zardoz, not nearly as good.

We got to theater and were welcomed by the best thing about Zardoz, cookies! Yes, cookies, provided by our Film Geeks San Diego friends, Beth and Miguel. They were giving them out to anyone who would post a picture on social media with the hashtag #FilmGeeksSanDiego. 

Zardoz had been Jasmine's pick. She had seen a parody of it on the Adult Swim show, Rick and Morty. I had seen Zardoz in the last couple years, and I warned Jasmine that it was mostly just weird. Then again it did have Sean Connery in a futuristic banana hammock, and that alone could make for a fun midnight movie.

Well, it turns out that fun midnight movie is a relative term. What might be a fun midnight movie under normal circumstances when you've had enough sleep and have the prospect of sleeping late the next day, sure. But when you're sleep-deprived and you're working on your sixth movie in very very long day, maybe not. We sat with Ariel again. All I can say is that both of us were grateful for the tequila.  Heck, had Jasmine asked, I would have given her some, but I'm a bad parent. 

Yes, Zardoz was funny and stupid at the very very beginning, but that didn't last long and neither did the novelty of Connery in a post-apocalyptic speedo. Again, mostly just weird. On the plus side lots of boobs, but boobs that seem to have been selected because they were unusually small. Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with small boobs. I'm fine with big boobs. Old boobs, young boobs, perky boobs, saggy boobs, all are good in my book. But when all the boobs you see are really small, even that loses its allure. I can't even believe I'm saying that.

Now, it's one thing to watch a bad movie. It's another thing to watch a movie that is weird. It's still another thing to watch a movie that is both bad and weird. It's a completely different thing to watch a movie that is bad and weird and goes on a half hour longer than it should. That's Zardoz. Next year, I'm bringing a bigger flask.

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