Recovering and Recapping the 2016 TCMFF…
Well, another TCM Classic Film Festival has come and gone, and I’ve just about ‘recovered’ from my post-film-fest-blues (albeit not completely)… And, although I’m already counting the days until next year’s Festival (yes, it’s that good), I thought I’d take the time to share some highlights with you…
For the 2nd year in a row, I served as a Social Producer for TCM, along with about 20 other film fan comrades. I was also able to bookend my trip with some classic movie sightseeing thanks to some very special ‘twitter’ friends (who I now count among my ‘real’ friends); from cemeteries and celebrity houses to film sites and more, we traversed the LA area in a state of classic movie bliss. I will be posting about these adventures separately, as they deserve their own coverage (and I have lots of pictures to share), but let me at least offer my Special Thanks here to my travel companions Aurora @CitizenScreen, Kellee @IrishJayhawk66 and Jeanelle @NebraskaNellie, and our ‘travel guides’ Laura @LauraMiscMovie and her husband Doug, Elise @EliseCD and Danny @Cinephiled.
Before I start my recap, I just want to mention here that, for me, the TCM Classic Film Festival is more than ‘just’ a classic film festival… For me, it’s a classic movie ‘nirvana’… There’s always an incredible selection of movies and special events to see at any given moment (and, yes, some delightfully difficult choices to make). We get to experience classic films on the Big Screen (with like-minded fans who actually appreciate them too), we get to attend interesting panels that give us insight into the classic era (from home movies and book signings to expert discussions and celebrity conversations), plus we get to see exclusive interviews with iconic classic film stars (where else could you see Eva Marie Saint or Angela Lansbury talk about their careers?). But, what also makes this Festival so ‘especially’ special, is that it allows us classic movie fans to meet fellow fans from all around the world and build some solid friendships — and that is something extra wonderful…
Pre-Fest Fun, April 27
Old Friends and New!
The classic movie merriment kicked off with some pre-fest events, including a ‘Going to TCM Classic Film Festival’ Facebook Page Meet-Up. It was terrific to re-unite with old friends — and meet lots of new ones. The event was hosted by Kelly Kitchens Wickersham, and featured a presentation by Meredith Ponedel, niece of legendary make-up artist Dottie Ponedel.
Meredith was a treasure trove of information and anecdotes about her pioneering aunt and famous clients. I had the privilege of sitting down and talking with her, and as it turns out, we had quite a bit in common — although I can’t boast growing up around Judy Garland, Joan Blondell, Gail Patrick, and a cast of other classic movie stars! A Big Thank you to Meredith, Kelly Kitchens, and Woolsey Ackerman for making this event possible!
Meredith had lots of stories to tell, from Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” to her over the phone, to Gail Patrick buying her clothes, to visits from Frances Dee and her ‘cowboy husband’ (that would be Joel McCrea :). You can hear more from Meredith in our Classic Movies and More YouTube interview series with her. To see the first interview of the series, click here.
Let the Movies Begin!
TCMFF Day One, April 28
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945, director Elia Kazan)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was my first movie of the Festival, and needless to say, it was a heart-wrencher. I had seen it a number of times before, but nothing can beat seeing it on the Big Screen. This is a must-see classic — a coming of age story about a young girl set against a backdrop of tenement life in Brooklyn.
Ted Donaldson (who played son Neeley Nolan) introduced the movie, which was a real treat for me, especially since he talked about working with Elia Kazan (on this film), as well as his debut movie role at 10 years old in Once Upon a Time opposite Cary Grant (a personal favorite of mine). He also had something very sweet to say about Joan Blondell (see below)…
Donaldson told us that, while filming A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, he asked Joan Blondell to marry him… At the end of filming, Ted asked her for a photo, which she signed “From Joan ‘I’m waiting for you’ Blondell” 🙂
TCMFF Day Two, April 29
Francis Ford Coppola Handprint and Footprint Ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre (aka Grauman’s Chinese Theater)
Francis Ford Coppola speaks at the TCL Chinese Theatre Imprint Ceremony (photo: 2016 Classic Movie Hub)
After a 50+ year career that earned him five Oscars, Francis Ford Coppola was honored with an Imprint Ceremony at the famous TCL Chinese Theatre, marking the 6th consecutive year that TCM hosted this type of event during the Film Festival (previous honorees were Peter O’Toole in 2011, Kim Novak in 2012, Jane Fonda in 2013, Jerry Lewis in 2014 and Christopher Plummer in 2015).
I have to say that it was a thrill for me to be able to cover this event. I’ve always been mesmerized (yes, I’m a tourist to the umpteeth degree) by the Grauman’s forecourt and could easily spend hours wandering around, gaping at the imprints and inscriptions from the iconic stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I can only image the glamour of days-gone-by when a Douglas Fairbanks or a Bette Davis would be so honored. But, I digress, so let’s fast-forward to 2016 again…
Roman Coppola introduced his father and talked about his dad’s film-making and love of actors, as well as what it was like growing up in his famous family including some lessons learned — not the least of which was — “when you’re making a pasta sauce, unless it has meat, there’s no garlic” 🙂 (to read my full article about the Handprint/Footprint Ceremony click here)
When You’re In Love (1937, director Robert Riskin)
When You’re In Love was a must-see for me for two simple reasons 1) it is the only film that Robert Riskin directed (aka Frank Capra’s favorite screenwriter) and 2) the film was introduced by Jennifer Grant (yes, that would be Cary Grant’s daughter). The movie starred Cary Grant as a penniless artist, and Grace Moore as an opera singer who is forced to marry Grant when her visa runs out.
Jennifer Grant shared stories about watching Silver Streak with her dad on a Princess Cruise (laughing and eating popcorn, and then watching it again when they returned home), how her dad told her never to smoke because “no-one will ever want to kiss you” (and how she couldn’t believe it when she saw him smoke on-screen) — and, when she was a little girl in the Hamptons, how she walked up to the television screen and slapped the woman who kissed her dad (Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember)…
The Manchurian Candidate (1962, director John Frankenheimer)
The Manchurian Candidate was non-negotiable for me. What a treat to see Angela Lansbury being interviewed by Alec Baldwin, not to mention seeing her on the Big Screen as the manipulative and amoral (understatement) Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin! Lansbury was a Class Act, and incredibly articulate and poised as she discussed the film, as well as her overall career.
Alec Baldwin interviews Angela Lansbury at The Manchurian Candidate screening (photo: 2016 Classic Movie Hub)
While discussing The Manchurian Candidate, Lansbury told us “I could honestly say that John [Frankenheimer] maintained a mood on that set that was really all business, and had everything to do with the story and the scenes at hand. He was a very serious director in his own way and he really got terribly excited with the drama that was inherent in a scene.”
When Baldwin asked about how she prepares for a role, Lansbury explained that “as far as I’m concerned, what the writer gives the character to say is immediately a clue for me, the actress, as to what my attitudes or my looks or my everything else” will be. And, “I always say to everybody – leave yourself at home, don’t bring yourself to the set, bring that woman and get on with it. And that seems to work on various levels in various roles.”
TCMFF Day Three, April 30
90th Anniversary of Vitaphone with Writer/Producer Ron Hutchinson
The early Vitaphone shorts are some of the only surviving records that show what vaudeville was really like. Many of these shorts however were lost ‘to time’ because the silver nitrate film either faded or decomposed, and/or because the sound discs were lost or missing. Lucky for us however, The Vitaphone Project has been locating and restoring original elements and transferring them to 35mm for over 20 years. And, today, we were treated to seven fabulous restored shorts including ones starring George Burns and Gracie Allen, Baby Rose Marie, Shaw and Lee (my ‘new’ favorites), and Molly Picon.
I have to admit that this presentation threw me for a loop! I suspected I’d enjoy it, but I was thoroughly astonished by what I saw (the talent!), what I learned (‘vaudeville in a can’) — and how hard I laughed!
This presentation was hosted by writer/producer Ron Hutchinson, who informed us that The Vitaphone Project has restored about 130 shorts and 10 features so far including Why Be Good?
Hutchinson explained that a theater could order any short they wanted. Vitaphone was essentially delivering the biggest stars in show business as ‘canned vaudeville’ to theaters who couldn’t afford the actual stars; rentals were about $5-10 a day.
During 1926-1930 almost 1500 Vitaphone shorts were produced both on the East and West Coasts.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982, director Carl Reiner)
Okay, so I swore I wouldn’t go see any post-1970 films at the Festival, but I just couldn’t resist seeing Carl Reiner introduce this film. And, I’m actually very happy I broke my ‘rule’ because Carl Reiner was wonderful and warm (and of course funny) — plus seeing this film with people who actually ‘get’ Film Noir, changed the entire film experience for me. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the film parodies film noir weaving ‘real’ noir characters into the plot including Barbara Stanwyck (from Sorry Wrong Number), Ava Gardner (from The Killers), Humphrey Bogart (from The Big Sleep) and lots more…
Illeana Douglas interviews Carl Reiner at the screening of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (photo: 2016 Classic Movie Hub)
Illeana Douglas (actress, and paternal granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas) had the privilege of conducting the interview, and kicked off with remarks about how Reiner’s comedy remains current. Reiner explained that “The only things you can make fun of are the things you know about, and the things you know about are the things you live. So, comedy hasn’t changed at all.”
Carl Reiner talks about The Dick Van Dyke Show at the Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid screening (photo: 2016 Classic Movie Hub)
While talking about The Dick Van Dyke Show, Reiner described how difficult it was to cast the part of Mary Richards. “I literally saw 23 different actresses. And I said to Sheldon (Leonard), I don’t know what I’m looking for, and he said ‘you’ll know when you see it’.” When Mary Tyler Moore showed up for the audition, Reiner had her read one line and heard ‘a ping in her voice.’ He told us “my hand became the claw that you see in the arcades that pick up candy…I clasped the top of her head, and I said ‘young lady come with me.’ And I lifted her out of the chair and I walked her down the hall and I said Sheldon ‘I found her’.”
When asked about the inspiration for boss Alan Brady, he said that, although many people think that the character was based on Sid Caesar, in fact, “Sid Caesar was a pussy cat” and that Brady was a combination of Milton Berle and a Phil Silvers’ character from Top Banana.
Reiner also talked highly about his wife and family, and made me chuckle when he said “I give credit to my wife…She raised three great kids and one great husband.”
Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell (1968, director Melvin Frank)
I have to say that Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell was another pleasant surprise for me! Yes, I knew that I had to see Gina Lollobrigida somehow during the Festival, but little did I know how much I would enjoy this film — which is essentially about a ’20-year old lie’ that causes a little mayhem in a small town in Italy (to say the least) 🙂
And I just want to add a little known fact here… In 2013 Lollobrigida sold her diamonds for $4.9 million and donated the money to stem cell research.
Ben Mankiewicz interviews Gina Lollobrigida at the screening of Buona Sera Mrs Campbell (photo: 2016 Classic Movie Hub)
Lollobrigida shared with us that she studied painting and sculpting as a young girl with dreams of becoming a sculptor. However, one day on the way to school, she was stopped and asked to do movies. She said no, but when they told her that they would pay her $1000 lire, she agreed. She explained that it was a lot of money back then (during the war), and she felt that she needed to help her family.
A bit later, when she was asked to star in her first film, she again said no, and this time, in order to close the matter quickly, she went to the office and told them “I want a million,” thinking that they would say ‘No!” but, she told us “instead they said yes, so I was stuck with the movies.”
Home Movies (at Club TCM)
This was a nice break for me between movies, and although I only caught part of the presentation, I was lucky enough to see some home movies of Ginger Rogers swimming, some behind-the-scenes footage from On the Waterfront and The More the Merrier, and footage of The Nicholas Brothers in performance and with their family. Special guests included Tony Nicholas (son of Fayard) and his family. This was a real treat, and I’m looking forward to another batch next year (fingers crossed)!
Midnight (1939, director Mitchell Leisen)
Midnight is a screwball comedy about an out-of-work showgirl stranded in Paris who is hired by a millionaire to pose as a Baroness and break up his wife’s affair. But when her ‘true love’ shows up, oh boy…
I had seen this one before, but again, it’s always fun to see movies on the Big Screen with like-minded fans.
Bonnie Hunt introduces Midnight
Bonnie Hunt introduced the film and it was clear to me that she had a genuine passion for it — but I was struck most by the fact that she worked for many years as an oncology nurse and shared classic movies with her patients. I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly moved I was by this little-known but very-telling fact about Hunt.
TCMFF Day Four, May 1
The Kid (1921, director Charlie Chaplin)
The Kid 1921 starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan
It’s no secret that I adore Charlie Chaplin, so needless to say, The Kid was another non-negotiable pick for me. In my humble opinion, it’s a classic among classics… a heartwarming story of a kind-hearted tramp who adopts an abandoned child. This was Chaplin’s first feature as star, director, writer and producer. The film was introduced by film archivist Serge Bromberg who explained that there was no specific score for the original 1921 release. It was, in fact, scored 50 years later for a re-release when Chaplin was 82 years old, with the help of musician Eric James. Today’s screening was the North American premiere restoration.
Horse Feathers (1931, director Norman Z. McLeod)
Okay, no secret here either… I simply adore The Marx Brothers, so Horse Feathers was another ‘slam dunk’ for me. And, if the Marx Brothers aren’t funny enough ‘on their own,’ they are absolutely hilarious when you’re in a crowded theater filled with laughing fans! This was their 4th feature film together, a zany pre-code comedy that ‘tackles’ academia and college football among other things! The film was introduced by comedian David Steinberg.
Cinema Paradiso (1988, director Giuseppe Tornatore)
Okay, this time I had another good excuse to break my ‘pre-1970-only’ Festival rule. Cinema Paradiso is an emotional tribute to the beauty and magic of classic movies, as seen through the eyes of a young boy growing up in a small town in Italy. Mere words cannot express the exquisite nature of this film. But, suffice it to say, I could hear people sniffling and choking back tears in the audience (when I wasn’t sobbing myself)…
Ben Mankiewicz interviews actor Salvatore Cascio at the Cinema Paradiso screening (photo: 2016 Classic Movie Hub)
Mankiewicz conducted the pre-screening interview with Salvatore Cascio (who played the young boy, Toto, in the film). Upon asking Cascio if he had any experience acting at such a young age, Cascio replied “No, I was born an actor.”
Cascio summed up his experience working on the film as “Cinema Paradiso is my life and it will be in my heart forever.”
What a perfect film to end the Festival!
–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub
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