May 23, 2016
I've wanted to see the 1930 Ronald Colman/Kay Francis version of Raffles for a very, very long time. I watched the 1939 David Niven/Olivia de Havilland version years ago -- I'm pretty sure I have a copy that I recorded on VHS from TCM when I was still in high school -- but my attempts to track down the 1930 version were always unsuccessful. I can remember the excitement whenever I'd see "Raffles" show up in my Now Playing guide, then the immediate disappointment when I'd inevitably see "1939" written next to it. (Oddly enough, the same thing happened for a while with another Ronald Colman movie. I really wanted to see his version of A Tale of Two Cities, but TCM would always be playing the Dirk Bogarde version instead. This was way before I became a Dirk fangirl, so I'd always shake my fist in the air, cursing whoever the heck this Dirk guy was, who thought he could possibly remake a role that was practically MADE FOR RONALD COLMAN. But I digress..)
I searched all the places high-school-me knew to search (basically ebay and the library) to no avail. At some point I stopped looking. For all I know it's probably been shown on TCM dozens of times in the last few years and I just didn't notice because it wasn't an obsession anymore. I had given up on the dream. *light goes out, curtain closes. silence*
A couple months ago I was searching for Ronald Colman on Amazon, and THIS came up in the search results. It's a Warner Archive double feature DVD with both the 1939 AND 1930 versions of Raffles. FINALLY!!
A lot of the time when I'm obsessed with tracking down a movie, there isn't any real reason behind my mania. It's usually just because I'm being a completist (Still trying to find the 1970 TV movie Upon This Rock to complete my Dirk Bogarde collection, argh!!) or the mere fact that the movie seems unattainable makes me desperate to attain it. I compare movies to boyfriends a lot but seriously... if you play hard to get I'm going to want to watch you EVEN MORE.
Anyway, the main reason I wanted to see this particular movie so badly is because the ending of the remake seems like it was tacked on to obey the production code. I desperately wanted to know if the pre-code version had the same ending.
The basic plot of both movies is essentially the same: Raffles is a (slightly less morally upstanding) modern Robin Hood -- he steals to help his friends and people in need, but he also might take a diamond bracelet or two for his lady friends. After deciding to settle down and get married he gives up the game. But when he finds out that a friend is in financial trouble, he decides to take on one last heist. It's clear in both movies that Raffles is essentially a good guy. He feels bad about his crimes, but he's also committing them (well, most of them) for good reasons. And after this last robbery (taking a necklace from a very rich lady, not like... robbing the community chest or anything) he's calling it quits. Now here is where the two films diverge:
The 1930 ending: The police enter Raffles' apartment. The chief inspector spies a plane ticket to Amsterdam, apparently the place to unload hot diamonds, and Raffles confesses. But just as he's about to be arrested he pulls a daring escape, asks Kay Francis to meet him in Paris, and then disappears into the night. THE END.
The 1939 ending: The police enter Raffles' apartment. The chief inspector spies a plane ticket to Amsterdam (9 years later it's still the best place to unload hot diamonds.) Raffles confesses. But just as he's about to be arrested he pulls a daring escape. Then he goes back to his apartment, has a small love scene with Olivia de Havilland (no promises of Paris this time) and heads off to keep an appointment to TURN HIMSELF IN to the Chief Inspector at 7pm. THE END.
That ending always struck me as so unusual... why does he evade arrest and then turn himself in anyway? It felt very tacked-on, like the original movie ended with his escape and then because of the code they had to add the part where he gets his just desserts. Having finally seen both movies now, I feel vindicated, but also kind of bummed out because it just reminded me that the code watered down so many otherwise great movies.
That being said, I did enjoy the remake (I re-watched it after the 1930 version last night.) David Niven makes a fantastic Raffles. I still prefer Colman, but they both pull off the effortlessly-suave-and-likeable-criminal thing very well. The remake isn't as tight as the original (despite both clocking in at 72 minutes) but the cast does include Dame May Whitty, and honestly that's reason enough to watch anything.
Now I just need to watch the 1917 John Barrymore version...
Ronald Colman photos from this awesome site
May 20, 2016
When I saw that Movies Silently was hosting a Classic Movie Ice Cream Social Blogathon, spotlighting movies with the "power to cheer you up when you’re feeling down," I knew I HAD to blog about Sunday in New York. It's a comedy from 1963 starring Jane Fonda, Rod Taylor, and Cliff Robertson, and it's been my favorite movie for about six or seven years.
I feel like we've been together forever though. I've seen other movies that I like better, or (obviously.. I mean, it's a 60's sex comedy, it's not Citizen Kane) movies that are just better movies. But something about Sunday in New York stuck with me; it is my filmic comfort blanket. It's like a cup of tea and a book during a thunderstorm, a shoulder to cry on on a bad day, a scoop of ice cream on a hot summer afternoon.
I've seen Sunday in New York countless times, so much in fact that sometimes I'll try to play the movie in my mind, running through each scene and seeing how much I can remember (The answer here is "all of it," something that's either very impressive or very embarrassing.) I had the immense pleasure of seeing this on the big screen at the 2014 TCM Film Festival, introduced by Robert Osborne in person. I cried happy tears afterwards, it was such a moving experience for me. And last year when I got a portable projector and movie screen for the backyard, deciding which movie to pick for the inaugural screening was a cinch.
So what is it about Sunday in New York that makes it so great? Why is this the movie that, above all else, cheers me up when I'm feeling down? I can give you a list of reasons (and I will, in a second) but, I think our relationships with movies are similar to relationships with people (stay with me) in that we each have our own chemistry with film. Sunday in New York appeals to me, it set off a spark in my brain that's impossible to quantify. I fell in love with it, and despite any attempts to make sense of my infatuation, I've come to accept that it just is. You can't help who/what movie you fall for, sometimes it's Alain Delon, sometimes it's a very silly slightly sexist 60's romantic comedy that's also kind of an ad for Peter Nero. If that sounds like it might be your cup of tea (or ice cream cone!) too, here are some reasons why I think Sunday in New York is awesome:
- If you have to escape for a few hours to a different reality, escaping into one that takes place in this apartment is a very good idea.
- It utilizes a lot of standard rom-com devices, but in a very fresh way. Jane Fonda and Rod Taylor have not one, but TWO very cute meet-cutes. And there is your standard confusion-arising-from-misunderstandings but it's hilarious, not eye-roll worthy. And while a few complications-to-move-the-story-forward happen, they don't last long. When you're watching a movie to cheer you up, you don't want to experience any of those frustrating movie moments that get you yelling at your screen.
- It talks about sex, double-standards, and the pressure of expectations on girls in a very frank way (albeit laced with some sexism that's to be expected from this type of movie from this particular era)
- There's a second storyline involving Cliff Robertson and Jo Morrow that's almost as funny and adorable as the Taylor and Fonda plot. (Sidenote: if anyone doubts Robertson's sex appeal, watch him answer Morrow's complaint that it's cold in Denver with the line "I guarantee that will not be your problem...." Yeesh!!)
- The cast members have an excellent rapport with each other. Jane Fonda and Rod Taylor make a fantastic pair and really should have been their generation's Doris Day and Rock Hudson (Taylor was actually paired with Day a couple times but I feel like he works so much better with Jane Fonda.)
- If you don't like Peter Nero, this isn't really a plus, but it's basically an ad for Peter Nero. Fonda brings Robertson's character one of his albums as a gift, Fonda and Taylor discuss the new Nero album on their date, he orchestrated the soundtrack for the movie, and when they go to a nightclub I'll give you one guess who's there performing live. Go on, guess! ;) I like it, though, I think it's kind of a throwback to the 30's and 40's when a lot of movies would feature a band leader like Ray Noble or one of the Dorsey brothers.
- It's a feel-good movie. If you know me, it might actually be a shock that I'd choose a feel-good movie to cheer me up, lol! My friends literally preface recommendations with "It's depressing, you'll love it!" But as much as I might like my films dark, morbid, and gloomy, when it comes to my "ice cream social" movie, I want something that leaves me grinning like an idiot when it's over. Sunday in New York is planted firmly in happy-ending, smiles for days territory, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
May 17, 2016
In 2009 I started a series called "Discovering Dirk Bogarde" where I documented each new-to-me Bogarde film that I watched. The last entry was in August of 2010. Did I simply slack off in the post-writing-department and consume the remainder of his filmography without chronicling my thoughts on this blog? No. Sadly, I haven't watched a single new-to-me Bogarde movie since 2010. I have no idea how that's possible, but here I am, SIX YEARS LATER, still discovering Dirk Bogarde.
I wish I could say that I loved The Damned, but I honestly still have no idea how I feel about it. It confused the HECK out of me, for one thing. I felt like a complete idiot -- I couldn't figure out who was who or how anybody was related. My ego was comforted a bit when I read some reviews afterwards, though --
"..so many characters introduced so quickly that one part of your mind will spend the rest of the movie just trying to sort them out." - The New York Times
"Characters and plots keep slipping away from us, as in a frustrating dream. We are never quite sure where we are." - Roger Ebert
I want to revisit the movie at some point (not right away though, it's an experience that nobody should subject themselves to more than twice in the span of a few months) and I think I'll grasp the plot a lot better with this handy dandy family tree that I whipped up today:
It took me hours sifting through reviews and synopses to break this down, and even then it was still puzzling. Some articles cite Konstantin as Joachim's son, while others refer to him as "an unscrupulous relative" and make reference to Sophie's ex-husband as Joachim's "only son." Who knows.
War-and-Peace-level character confusion aside, it's a... strange film. I think it's probably best known today for all of the shocking elements that made it a cult classic, including (but not limited to!) a gay Nazi orgy, pedophilia, incest, rape, child suicide, and drug abuse. Fetch my smelling salts! While I tend to prefer my movies pedophilia-free, I can understand things like that being included when they're essential to the plot. This didn't feel necessary though, it seemed like it was intended to shock, and that's it. The only truly outrageous deed that felt like it was crucial to the plot was the incest (now THERE is a sentence I never thought I'd type!) but honestly even that could have been replaced with an equally horrendous but less gag-inducing act and still been effective.
The acting was occasionally too dramatic (mostly Reinhard Kolldehof, who I've seen likened to George C. Scott but I felt like he was much more Lee J. Cobb) but overall any issues I have with the movie fall squarely on Luchino Visconti's shoulders. While a lot of the lighting is beautiful, especially a few scenes shot with an eerie green pallor reminiscent of early two-strip technicolor horror films, the camera movements remind me of home videos when my parents would hand the camera over to me or my brother. Zooming in on a face, then quickly zooming out, panning over to the side and then back up to someone else.. while I get that the intended effect is a kind of operatic level of drama (sort of like the exaggerated zoom-to-close-up of a soap opera) it just struck me as too erratic. Visconti would also be responsible for the fractured script --originally 4 hours, then cut down to 2.5. Somehow it's simultaneously too long to enjoy but not long enough to fully spell out anything that's happening in the story.
I'll give him points though, for two things -- the cast and the lush visuals (despite my annoyance at how exactly those two things were filmed.) Even Reinhard Kolldehof, in all his overacting pompous glory, was perfectly cast. Dirk Bogarde's character is a mild-mannered employee that's thrust into a number of unsavory predicaments, constantly working that meek mouse/conniving genius balance that Bogarde pulls off so well in so many films (I'm looking at you, The Servant!) And despite my opinion that most of the shocking elements were unessential, Helmut Berger indulges in pretty much all of them with a finesse that's as mesmerizing as it is unsettling.
I definitely want to give this one another shot, I just need some time to recover first...
May 14, 2016
Whenever my parents would plan family vacations, they'd always fall into one of two categories -- relaxing vacations and busy vacations. Relaxing trips would be places like the Jersey Shore, the Winterthur estate in Delaware, and small-town day trips (Lambertville, NJ, Burlington, VT, New Hope, PA, etc.) where you mosey along and generally just kick-back. Busy trips are places like Disney World, New York, Washington DC, Toronto, Montreal -- places that require a lot of walking, museum-visiting, shopping, hustle and bustle!
I've never preferred one type of vacation over the other, so when I plan my own trips nowadays I try to fit both into my schedule. A little bustle, and a little mosey. And in the last two years I've found both of those trips in the form of TCM vacations. Last fall I went on the TCM Cruise, and this spring I attended the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood.
Since they're run by the same company, it can be hard not to compare them in your head. The festival has more movies but the cruise has a better location. The cruise has better food choices but the festival has more celebrities. The cruise is less crowded and frantic, but the festival is where you're more likely to run into all of your online film friends.
But something Anna Karina said at The Film Forum last week stuck a chord with me. She was asked to choose favorites numerous times (her favorite of her own films, her favorite Godard film, her favorite classic movie) and each time she apologized and said "I just can't choose!" She compared it to preferring one of your children over the others -- one might be the most pretty, one is the funniest, one is the most intelligent -- each has their own qualities that make them special, so you just can't compare. I have a habit of ALWAYS picking a favorite and reducing subjects to a matter of THIS or THAT. Godard or Truffaut. Gina or Sophia. Frank or Bing.
But this doesn't have to be like that. While all signs seem to point to the cruise being a relaxing vacation, and the festival being a busy one (something I was obviously hung up on until Anna Karina opened my eyes) they can each give you the best of both worlds.
If you want to attend the festival, but you aren't cut out for a whirlwind of activity at the moment, take it easy! Nobody is forcing you to see five films a day. This year I managed to watch 11 movies total (I'm not going to beat the world record by any means, but it was still a lot for me) and I took time each day for at least one sit-down meal. Almost every day I spent a little me-time at the hotel, just listening to music and chilling. My hotel didn't have a pool this year, but if it had you'd better believe I'd have been there at least once or twice. If you find a hotel behind Hollywood Blvd. you can cut through the Hollywood and Highland center and avoid most of the sensory overload of Hollywood Blvd. I brought my kindle with me and finished a whole book over the course of the week just while I was standing in lines for movies or grabbing a bite to eat. It CAN be a very fast-paced, hectic week, a non-stop movie marathon with no time for food or sleep. But it doesn't have to be.
Likewise, if the cruise seems a little TOO slow, think again. Movies are programmed all day long, with pool-side screenings running way into the wee small hours. There are plenty of fast food options (I mean food served fast, not like there's a Burger King on board) so you can grab a quick bite and then high-tail it over to your next movie. Even when the ship pulls into harbor for an excursion, they're still doing things on the ship if you want to keep the TCM momentum going and forgo the tropical part of the experience. And while the still quiet of the ship's top deck was like a drug to me, I totally understand if that can be off-putting for people who prefer to be surrounded by action. Hang out by the pool or in the lounge and you won't have to worry about the soundless vacuum of the sea.
So do I have a favorite? Not anymore. I can see why each one is appealing, and in a perfect world I'd do them both every single year. (And if you have the money, I say go for it!! Do both!) But if you're currently doing some hard core penny-pinching, like me, TCM can really give you the best of both worlds in one single trip. All of the relaxation from the cruise can be found at the festival, and all of the buzzing energy of the festival can be found on the cruise.
May 10, 2016
One of my favorite parts of my 2014 trip to the TCM Film Festival was my visit to the Larry Edmunds Bookshop on Hollywood Blvd. I picked up a few books on both trips (this time my favorite find was Francois Truffaut: Interviews, which I'm just about finished with. I highly recommend it!) but what I was REALLY excited about was their extensive collection of 8" x 10" stills and promotional photos. I came prepared with a short list of stars and films that I wanted to look up, and I walked away with 13 photos.
My absolute favorite is this picture of Monica Vitti. I think this photo really captures both facets of her onscreen persona -- her inimitable coolness, the chic and distant quality that's present in her Antonioni films, as well as her coy playfulness that's more evident in her comedies. Part of me wants to hang this up in my dressing/makeup area so I can be inspired by her when I get ready, and part of me feels like this is just so unattainable that it needs to go in my office instead, so I won't be crushed by my inferiority complex each morning.
Dirk Bogarde and Anna Karina in one photo -- sold! Confession: I actually still haven't seen Justine. It's craziness since it stars two of my all-time favorite people, but I've been sort of reserving it for my future self. Does anyone else do this? I know it might sound insane. Even though I love re-watching my favorites, there's really nothing like seeing a movie for the first time and I don't want to run out of fresh films too early in the game.
Young and Innocent!!! I did NOT expect them to have a photo from this movie, it's always so hard to find any kind of memorabilia. It's my favorite Hitchcock film, and one of my top-5 favorite movies of all time. I would have bought pretty much anything they had on this film, but what a fantastic bonus that the photo is so great! I love that Derrick De Marney is technically in the picture, too.
"Lighthouses, John. Lighthouses in a foggy world."
Casey and I were discussing our favorite James Gleason roles the day beforehand, and I said my favorite movie of his was Meet John Doe, and my favorite SCENE was the "lighthouses in a foggy world" scene. Then the next day I managed to snag a still of that exact scene! So fantastic! I love posed stills (like the Monica Vitti one) but I especially love stills that capture an exact movie scene that I love. When you have it hanging on your wall it's almost like it brings the movie to life whenever you glance at the picture.
I need to stop writing such long captions for these or this post is going to be WAY too long. Here's Julie Christie from Shampoo. Not my favorite of her films, but what a photo!
Alain! Purple Noon! Their Alain Delon folder was EMPTY (understandable, I mean, look at his face) but they did have this fantastic still from Purple Noon. And, like Meet John Doe, I love this scene from the film so it's a nice reminder of the movie!
Why yes, that is Dean Martin and Alain Delon in a western. And yes, that is Joey Bishop in the background. Don't even ask.
This was in the folder for The Sicilian Clan, which they took out for me in my rabid hunt for Alain Delon photos. The collection was lacking in the Delon department, but I couldn't pass up this badass shot of Jean Gabin. [*SPOILER ALERT* He's actually shooting Alain Delon in this scene, so you'd *think* I wouldn't want to be reminded of that all the time, but honestly he kind of deserves it, and if anyone can get away with shooting him on screen and still having my sympathies, it's got to be Jean Gabin. *END SPOILERS*]
Ideally I'd love a shot of Truffaut playing the director in Day For Night (especially since Jean-Pierre Leaud is my least favorite of all the New Wave regulars) but I love the movie so much that I couldn't pass this up!
There he is! Please don't hate me for saying this, but I'm not someone who really loves kids (like, they're okay and everything, but I'm not like "awwww!" whenever I see kids, and I don't want to have any myself) and I don't get all gaga when I see men with babies or toddlers. THAT BEING SAID. I find Truffaut's love of children absolutely adorable and this picture captures that love so well. (Remind me to relate the story about his relationship with the child actor in The Wild Child at some point. IT IS ADORABLE.)
This movie was so bad I have no idea why I continue to buy photos from it (I already have two sets of stills and then I just added this to the collection) but I can't help myself. In theory the idea of a 1960's movie about the middle ages starring Monica Vitti still fascinates me, despite the fact that I've seen the movie and know for a fact that it's horrible.
One more Alain Delon photo! And um... I haven't watched this movie yet, either! OOPS! It's another one that I'm saving. I think I only have two Alain Delon movies left that seem legitimately good (this one, Is Paris Burning?, and The Leopard) Most of the other ones I have left are the obscure 70's or 80's crime flicks that never had proper home video releases.
Real quick though, can I just discuss the cast and crew of Is Paris Burning? Because it's more star-studded than anything else I can think of (which actually doesn't usually bode well for the quality of a movie, but it certainly makes it interesting!)
Okay -- the cast: Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Kirk Douglas, Leslie Caron, Orson Welles (!!!), Charles Boyer, Anthony Perkins, Simone Signoret, Glenn Ford, Romy Schneider, Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Robert Stack. The crew: Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Gore Vidal. Directed by Rene Clement. Score by Maurice Jarre.
Isn't that fantastic?!
Last but certainly not least, is this photo of Anna Karina. Isn't it just beautiful?
And that wraps up my TCMFF souvenirs! I also bought a couple things from the TCM Gift Shop (a lapel pin and a vinyl tote bag) and a Hollywood snow globe (I was embarrassingly excited to discover that you can pack snow globes in your checked baggage.) but the photos were definitely my favorite. They're such unique souvenirs, and I love that they simultaneously remind me of my favorite movies AND my trip to the TCM Film Festival.
Now I just have to hope that the staff at Larry Edmunds took me seriously when I pleaded with them to stash away some Alain Delon photos for me for next year... ;D
May 09, 2016
Photo from the TCM Film Festival website
And here we are, the last day of the festival. I have to admit I was feeling kind of high-strung and very homesick at the start of the day. And I actually wasn't feeling super great for most of the trip. I way over-worked myself in the weeks leading up to the festival, and then my asthma was bothering me a lot, too (Somehow I forgot my inhaler in 2014 AND 2016?!) It took me a couple days after I got home before I didn't feel out of breath anymore. I don't know if it was the LA air or what, but my lungs were not happy campers. One of my top choices for the festival was Scent of Mystery, in Smell-O-Rama but I just knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with my friends for the walk to the Cinerama so I opted to see All That Heaven Allows instead.
This was one of those movies where I never would have chosen to watch it if it weren't the only movie that fit my schedule at TCMFF. When given the choice, a 1950's melodrama is usually one of the last things I'd ever choose to watch. So wasn't I shocked -- flabbergasted! -- astonished! -- astounded!-- to find that I enjoyed All That Heaven Allows, and tremendously at that. I really loved it. You could have knocked me over with a feather!
Being that the 1950's is the decade I know the least about movie-wise, I may be wrong in my assessment here-- but from what I understand, Douglas Sirk's melodramas subverted the genre and served as a critique on upper-middle-class suburban life. So rather than just presenting a sappy, shallow, technicolor spectacle, his films were sharp, biting indictments on suburban values. I went into this expecting something like Susan Slade but what I got was much, much deeper and still relevant if you're familiar with the "little boxes" life.
Growing up in suburbia in a family of suburban misfits, this movie really struck a chord with me. No, my mom never had an affair with our gardener (we never even had a gardener, as our misshapen hedges and crab grass lawn will attest to) but the catty 50's housewives, archaic societal standards, and "keeping up with the Joneses" atmosphere of the film is all-too familiar to me. It was a welcome relief to see those staples of residential life depicted in the savage, hurtful, and unwelcoming ways that I've known them to be in reality.
At some point in the day I realized that after seeing All That Heaven Allows I had officially watched at least one film from the 1930's, 1940's, 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's during the festival. So it was only logical that I watch The Kid, from 1921, to make that list even more complete.
It's probably very clear at this point in my recap that I don't actually plan out my schedule all that well. A few weeks before TCMFF I made a list of my six must-see movies, and only ended up seeing three of them. A lot of my choices were made spur-of-the-moment, but I think that spontaneity adds to the enjoyment of the festival! On Saturday night I honestly had no idea that I'd be watching a newly restored copy of Charlie Chaplin's first feature-length film, so it was almost like I surprised myself with it.
And what a surprise! The last time I saw The Kid had to have been at least ten years ago, when the Arts Council of Princeton used to show silent comedies every winter. Going into the movie, I could still remember what an emotional rollercoaster this movie takes you on -- for a comedy it really packs a punch! But I was totally unprepared for seeing a 1921 film look so... new. Before the screening, archivist Serge Bromberg* described the restored print, detailing how Edna Purviance's dress that once looked flat black could now be seen in all its velvet glory; how you could now make out each cobblestone in the street. And he wasn't kidding! It looked as if this film had been shot yesterday, it was so crisp and clear. I think this might actually be the first silent movie I've ever seen in this kind of quality, and it was absolutely mind-blowing.
*His name isn't listed in the TCMFF program guide entry for The Kid, nor on the TCMFF website, and I forgot to write down his name during the screening. I am 99.9% sure Bromberg is the one who introduced it but if I'm remembering incorrectly please let me know and I'll update the post.
After The Kid I hurried over to Club TCM to see an interview with Gina Lollobrigida. I got to see about 10 minutes of the event before a combination of rude people (they were probably less rude to me than I *felt* they were, since my emotions were on overdrive that day) and homesick hormones sent me back to my hotel for a tiny cry and a nap.
I'm so glad that I got to see at least a little bit of the interview, though, since I had missed Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell the day before (food break!) and seeing her was a MUST for the festival. She was just as lively and spunky as I anticipated, if not more so! I will echo Raquel's suggestion that TCM make the Club TCM stage elevated next time. I was standing in the back of the room (the photo above was taken with my camera zoomed in as far as it could go, at an opportune moment when someone moved their head to the side just enough that I had a fleeting clear view) and someone behind me asked if I could crouch because they couldn't see past me -- and I'm only 5' tall. I had such a bad experience with the seating/crowd/view at this event that I don't think I'll attend any future Club TCM events unless a) the stage is raised or b) I'm able to somehow get a front row seat.
I consoled myself with some 1960's Alain Delon. Watching La Piscine on my laptop actually cheered me up significantly, and I was in much better spirits when I left the hotel to grab some McDonald's (another surefire homesickness cure, since I usually pick up an unsweetened iced tea & small fries every day after my post office run) and head over to the Chinese Theater to get in line for Cinema Paradiso, my last movie of the festival.
After Band of Outsiders, this was my most-anticipated film of the festival. I think Cinema Paradiso has to be the best movie for people who love movies. I was a little disappointed to see that the house wasn't very packed, but I think that has to be because it was programmed against Faye Dunaway introducing Network and a TCM fan favorite, The Band Wagon.
I really hope that TCM sees the low turnout as a reflection of the later release date (1988) and scheduling conflicts, and not the fact that it is a foreign film. Los tallos amargos and Band of Outsiders were both very well-attended foreign movies and there is definitely an audience there if the films aren't competing against giant stars or popular 50's musicals.
I really do wish that anyone who missed Cinema Paradiso at the festival would seek it out at home, though. Even if you're reluctant to watch "newer" films, this is one worth checking out. As of this writing it's available to stream on Netflix (and on Hulu or Amazon if you have their Showtime subscriptions) It's the story of a little boy, Toto, who befriends the local movie projectionist in their small Italian town. I really can't stress enough how magical this movie is if you love films. There are scenes that give me goosebumps every time I see them, even when I think of them, even while I type this.
The screening at TCMFF was preceded by a Q&A with Salvatore "Toto" Cascio, the actor who played young Toto in the movie. Most of the interview was conducted through a translator, but before he left he thanked the audience and TCM in adorably well-rehearsed English, and promptly melted the hearts of everyone sitting in that theater.
Casey, Millie and me after Cinema Paradiso. I'm always wary of sharing favorite movies with friends because I'm so worried they won't like it, but luckily Casey and Millie were totally sold on Cinema Paradiso. I think I detected some tears going on and it might be the only time I could ever say I was happy to see my friends crying...
After the movie we headed over to Club TCM for the closing night party. Again, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed myself. I'm very introverted and have a hard time talking to people that I don't know, but everyone was so friendly, kind, and welcoming, that I got along fine. It's entirely thanks to Raquel, who was not only my personal promoter -- singing the praises of my artwork and buttons to everyone who would listen -- but my human-interaction-support-system. I'm sure if it wasn't for Raquel I would have been huddled in a corner wrapped in a kindle-comfort-blanket for the entire night.
Raquel also told Ben Mankiewicz that I was the one who designed his fan club buttons as we were about to take this photo. He exclaimed, "I love those buttons!" then squeezed my arm tightly and said "God Bless."
And finally, there was Toto! I have a little photo album called "OMG" (I mean a real photo album, with printed pictures) and two photos from TCMFF made it into the album -- my kind-of-selfie with Anna Karina, and this one. I ADORE Toto. I love his performance in Cinema Paradiso, and I think he's just as adorable now. Right here I'm thinking "Thank him in Italian! Wait, what is the Italian word for it? YOU KNOW THIS. What is it? Okay say it in English. WAIT. What is the English word for it????" I was pretty nervous and excited, to say the least.
Considering that only a few hours beforehand I was a weepy homesick mess, I think this was a pretty awesome way to end the festival. After the party wrapped up, a bunch of us headed over to In-N-Out for a late night snack. I got to chat with Raquel about foreign films (although not nearly enough, we need to have an honest-to-goodness talk next year!) and try In-N-Out food for the first time (conclusion: milkshake was strangely lukewarm and I still prefer McDonald's) before everyone headed off in their separate directions to begin the long trip back home.
May 08, 2016
"He is embarrassed when life intrudes on his screen memories. One evening he was eating alone in a Paris restaurant when Marlene Dietrich made an entrance with a gossip columnist who waved at Truffaut as they passed his table. 'Is that François Truffaut?' asked Marlene. "Oh, but I adored The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim. I must meet him, do bring him over.' The columnist leapt to Truffaut's table to deliver the message. Truffaut blushed, shook his head, and said, 'No, no, no, no, no.' 'But just the other day you were telling me how you adored The Scarlet Empress --von Sternberg, Marlene married on horseback, her shimmering veil...' 'I can't,' said Truffaut, 'I admire her too much,' and he put his nose on his plate." -- New York Times Magazine, Sanche de Gramont, 1969
This anecdote was fresh in my mind last night when I attended a Q&A with Anna Karina at The Film Forum in New York. I went to the event with a short list of potential questions, but when the time came to ask, I was paralyzed. I just couldn't do it. Sometimes people are so significant, so seminal to your cinematic obsessions, that interacting with them feels off-limits, cosmically impossible. I had to put my nose on my plate.
And, honestly, direct interaction isn't necessary to fully appreciate the presence of a person you admire. The Film Forum is a relatively small venue, which gave the event a certain intimacy that made you feel like you were part of a private party with Anna Karina. She was there for a full hour, telling fun stories I hadn't heard before, sharing her thoughts on directors-- including many who were not named Jean-Luc Godard, even listing some of her favorite classic films and stars (Rio Bravo, Gone with the Wind, Doris Day, and Judy Garland to name a few)! It was such a delightful evening that I couldn't stop smiling (I was living the Friends quote "you look like you slept with a hanger in your mouth!") and my poor dad, who accompanied me to-and-from New York since it was super late, got a full 90 minute train ride worth of Karina stories when I'm sure he would have much rather been napping. And now I can pass some of those stories on to you!
If you've been following her interviews during her promotional tour for the Band of Outsiders restoration, I'm sure you're familiar with Karina's story (I feel like I want to call her Anna, but do I really have that right???) about how she met Jean-Luc Godard. He spotted her in a soap commercial, and offered her a role in Breathless. After she realized it required nudity she immediately turned it down. He protested -- 'but you were nude in that soap commercial!' Not quite. She was wearing a bathing suit, he only *thought* she was nude! It's a cute story, but it was made even cuter last night because The Film Forum found that commercial and projected it onto the screen while she was there. Here it is:
I don't know if this makes me a huge creeper, but every time they projected something for us to watch with her, I watched her watching it instead. I did the same thing at The Paley Center last year when Robert Redford was shown some of his early tv roles. It's just so special, I think, to see their reactions. Karina had nothing but happy memories to share (even an anecdote about Godard going out to buy cigarettes and returning three weeks later was told with forgiving fondness) and it was clear from her giant smile that this video must have brought some of them back.
Sidenote -- although she had no idea where he went, and had no way of getting in touch with him while he was gone, during one of his disappearing acts Godard visited Ingmar Bergman in Sweden and returned with costumes for Karina to wear in Pierrot le Fou.
The Q&A was preceded by a screening of Band of Outsiders. Apparently the film was shot entirely using hand-held cameras, and that famous scene in The Louvre was improvised without permission from the museum. When asked if she ever sees her co-stars from the film, Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur, she said that when you shoot a movie you feel like family but then everyone has to go their own ways and you might not see each other for a long time. But whenever she reunites with them it feels like no time has passed at all, and they pick up where they left off. Maybe Band of Outsiders could finally get that sequel that was cheekily promised in the closing narration! ;)
Every time I've ever seen Karina interviewed, the bulk of the questions revolve around her relationship with Jean-Luc Godard, her ex-husband and the director of seven of her movies. It's understandable, since their collaborations hold such an important place in movie history, but she starred in so many non-Godard films, wrote novels, directed movies and even released a couple albums. I've always wanted to know more about the Godard-less parts of her life and last night that opportunity finally presented itself. I wanted to hug Film Forum director Bruce Goldstein when I spotted him in the lobby after the event, I was just SO happy that someone finally asked her questions about the rest of her illustrious career!
But um... first one more Godard anecdote because I hadn't heard it before and maybe you haven't either... Karina said that they fell in love over the course of the three month shoot for Le Petit Soldat. They kept making eyes at each other, but Karina had a boyfriend at the time. One night they were all out to dinner and Karina felt something poking at her leg. Godard was sitting across from her and was passing a note under the table. It read "I love you. Rendevous at The Café de la Paix at midnight?" Karina was sitting next to her boyfriend who saw the note and read it, asking "well, you aren't going to go, right?!" but she thought about it and said.. "no, I'm going to go!" When she arrived Godard was sitting at the cafe with his head hidden behind a giant newspaper. She said she knew it was him, even though she couldn't see his face, and she stood there for "what felt like an hour but must have been 40 seconds" waiting for him to notice she was there. When he finally put the paper down he said "what took you so long?" and the rest, as they say, is history!
After covering all of the Godard bases, Karina and Goldstein sat down in the front row of the theater and watched as they projected images of some of the posters from her other films. Then Karina would tell a small anecdote about each movie. This had to be my favorite part of the night!
- On The Stranger - Karina was so proud of this movie, and felt like it didn't get the recognition it deserved in France because the French didn't think Italian director Visconti could do French novelist Camus' story justice. Goldstein mentioned that the film hasn't been screened in America in a long time due to rights issues.
- On Laughter in the Dark - Richard Burton was initially cast in Nicol Williamson's part, but was fired after arriving to set late and inebriated one too many times. Karina cried when he was fired because she loved him so much, and then Williamson's lack of punctuality and sobriety rivaled Burton's, anyway!
- On Tonight or Never - This was the movie that proved to Godard that Karina was capable of comedy, and not long after he cast her in Une Femme est Une Femme (my personal favorite of their pairings)
- On Shéhérazade - She recalled that Godard had a small part in this film, in which he plays a character who walks on his hands. Evidently this was one of his talents, and he could even walk up stairs on his hands! Who would have thought! Goldstein remarked that he never pictured Godard being a particularly athletic person, but Karina protested and said he was also a very fast runner!
- On The Nun - Karina enjoyed working with Jacques Rivette and had actually played the same role in the theater production before making the movie. She won an award for her stage performance and some 50 years later was still absolutely BEAMING with pride when she mentioned it. It was adorable! The film version was banned in France for two years, which baffled Karina because she said Rivette's work was always so "pure."
- On The Magus - Anthony Quinn hated the way that the French pronounced his name, since it sounded like Anthony "Queen"
- On La Ronde - Roger Vadim complained that no matter what he put her in, no outfit made Anna Karina believable as a maid.
- On Justine - George Cukor wasn't particularly fond of French food and would say to Karina that he wanted to go get a burger, a nice big burger.
The slideshow stopped at Chinese Roulette and Karina exclaimed that they had left out so many of her movies! Goldstein replied "if we kept going we'd be here for days!" I'm pretty sure nobody in that audience (save, perhaps, Karina, since she had an early flight to Paris in the morning) would have objected to that, though..
They screened two more clips for us; Les Fiancés Du Pont Macdonald, the short silent feature that Godard and Karina starred in for Agnes Varda, and the opening sequence from Une Femme est Une Femme.
It's funny the things that get to you. As I wrote about earlier this week, last Saturday I had the immense pleasure of seeing Anna Karina at the TCM Film Festival. I sat in the front row, a mere feet away from her during her interview with Ben Mankiewicz. My stomach was in knots before, during, and after. I was excited in that "this doesn't seem like reality" kind of way. It almost felt like an out of body experience, like it wasn't ACTUALLY happening. But last night as I saw Anna Karina watching Anna Karina, as Charles Aznavour sang the opening lines of Tu t'laisses aller, it suddenly felt very real. And it got to me.
Une Femme est Une Femme was the movie that got me hooked on Anna Karina, and one of the first films that sparked my obsession with foreign cinema. I've spent years emulating her style in that film, listening to Aznavour records and pretending that I'm way cooler than I could ever actually be. It's a role that surpasses terms like "favorite" because it isn't just a movie role or an actress, it's a summation of everything I want out of movies, everything I want to be, everything I want out of life. It's one of those movie experiences where something in your brain clicks "on" and you think -- yes. THIS.
To see her in front of me while that paramount piece of my cinematic existence flickered behind her...
Update: The Film Forum has posted the entire audio from Anna Karina's Q&A on their website! You can listen right here.
May 06, 2016
For part 4 of my festival coverage I'm going to rewind a bit and go back to Anna Karina Day. While I did spend 99.99% of that day thinking about and planning for the Band of Outsiders screening, my brain took an Anna break for two hours to indulge in some pre-code goodness!
Admittedly I haven't been a good pre-code fan for the past few years (a quick glance at my letterboxd history reveals an paltry 7 pre-codes since I started logging movies in January 2015. YIKES!) It's weird how sometimes you don't even realize you've neglected something you love until you're literally keeping a diary that tracks your daily habits. I love the pre-code era (hence my blog title, although you'd be hard-pressed to find evidence of my affection in my recent archives) so it was a pleasure to revisit it on the big screen during the festival and reignite a flame that needed a little oxygen.
My first movie of the day was A House Divided, which was introduced by film noir expert Eddie Muller and director William Wyler's son, David Wyler. While A House Divided is firmly planted in pre-code territory, it also exhibits a lot of the stylistic elements that later distinguished the film noir genre -- it hearkens forward (is that even a thing) to those seedy, grainy, rough-around-the-edges movies, the ones that feel raw and prickly, not the polished noir of The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity.
The film stars Walter Huston in a doozy of a role, playing a tough, rough alcoholic who decides to mail-order a bride to do the housework after his wife passes away. Before the screening his performance was described as a "force of nature" and I couldn't agree more! He was practically reverberating off the screen in every scene. And his wicked energy just makes you like his son -- played with delicate subtlety by Douglass Montgomery -- even more.
What initially drew me into watching this was this part of the description from the festival guide, "Wyler also made creative use of sound in the climactic storm scene and an early sequence in which two young men leave their mother’s funeral only to stop at the sound of dirt hitting her coffin." [sidenote: it's actually a father and son, not two young men, but anywayyyyy] The scene was just as powerful as I anticipated, and I'm glad it was singled out in the review or I might not have a) even seen the movie and b) noticed that innovative use of sound! All in all I'm really thrilled I caught this (and on 35mm to boot!) When it turns up on the TCM schedule I highly recommend checking it out.
Next up was one more pre-code, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, which turned out to be my favorite new-to-me movie of the festival. I actually didn't read the festival write-up on this one, so I went into the screening with no background information whatsoever. To be honest, I saw "Ronald Colman" in the cast list and was like, "SOLD!" I didn't need to read any further.
The film was introduced by Michael Schlesinger, who informed us that this was only the second screening of this movie in California in the last 80 years. Not only that, but it apparently has never been shown on tv, and never officially released on DVD. I'm not entirely sure if I have this completely correct, but my understanding is that 20th Century Fox owns the movie, Criterion owns the Bulldog Drummond property, and MoMA owns the print of the film. So in order for this to be released on DVD, it would have to go through three different parties. Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure every twitter-user in that audience was whipping out their phones to pester Criterion as soon as the credits rolled on Bulldog Drummond Strikes Again. It's practically impossible to watch this movie without wanting desperately to watch it again.
It's actually a bit of a send-up on other Bulldog Drummond (and I guess most murder mystery) films, with Ronald Colman poking fun at his super suave character, bodies constantly disappearing, and Una Merkel having the most hilariously frustrating wedding night in movie history. Not to mention pre-code Loretta Young (my favorite kind of Loretta Young), and some first rate second bananas like C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Butterworth and E.E. Clive.
And can we talk for a second about how the audience burst into applause when C. Aubrey Smith appeared onscreen? Warm fuzzies doesn't even begin to describe how that feels. "I have found my people."
Before I headed back to the hotel to change into my Anna Karina inspired outfit I ducked into the famous Musso & Frank Grill for a light lunch (and by "light" I mean a whole basket of bread, french fries, and spaghetti with tomato sauce) As much as I love food, though, the real appeal here is the history. A little bit of background from their menu:
"Early on, Charlie Chaplin dined at the restaurant so often that he was given his own booth, which still occupies the southwest corner of the restaurant. His party regularly included Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Rudolph Valentino."Not being an expert on geographical coordinates, and always too shy to ask when I'm curious about something, I glanced around the edges of the room... my eyes settling on each booth as I pondered which one was situated in the southwest corner.
"It was not uncommon to see Greta Garbo discussing a new script with Gary Cooper, or Humphrey Bogart dining with Dashiell Hammett or Lauren Bacall. From Orson Welles to Jimmy Stewart, a star-studded cast filled the dining room and bar from the silent film era through the 'Golden Age of Film' and beyond."
May 04, 2016
On Day 2 of the TCM Film Festival I started with a screening of The Way We Were. A few years ago TCM and Fathom re-released Christmas in Connecticut in theaters, and while I've always found it funny, there was something about seeing it on a big screen that made it ten times more hilarious. I had a very similar experience with The Way We Were.
I've watched this movie countless times over the years. I recorded it from TCM on VHS (clearly a long time ago, I'm basically a dinosaur) and practically wore out the tape. I obviously enjoyed watching it on my little tv screen, but this is one film whose magic intensifies when it's projected in a giant theater! Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand have so many subtle mannerisms that are lost on a small screen. And I always thought they made a good pair, but on a big screen their chemistry is absolutely electric! I hope that this one gets a Fathom release eventually, too, so people who didn't attend the festival can have the experience of seeing it at the movies!
Originally my plan was to follow that up with a screening of When You’re in Love with Cary Grant’s daughter, Jennifer Grant, in attendance. But the more I obsessively consulted my TCMFF schedule the more I realized that I really wanted to see The Conversation instead.
Confession: This was my first Francis Ford-Coppola movie. I KNOW. The Godfather is on my 30 Before 30 list this year, and there are so many others I need to catch up on as well! But I thought, what better way to introduce myself to his films than to see The Conversation at The Chinese Theater, preceded by a conversation (haha) with Francis Ford-Coppola himself!
As soon as he said that the film was influenced by Antonioni's Blow-Up I knew I had made the right decision! (Sidenote - he kept referring to Antonioni as "Michelangelo" and my heart practically exploded.) The Conversation was a slow-paced but riveting story about a surveillance man who becomes obsessed with one of the conversations he records for a client, certain that one of the parties is in mortal danger. I think this was also my first time seeing a movie with Gene Hackman, and I thought he was excellent! He was so quietly obsessive (a quality that reminded me a bit of the titular character in Mr. Klein) and paranoid, but in a very believable way. Oftentimes paranoia can be portrayed in a caricaturist way, but this was very real and sort of heartbreaking.
My Sophie's Choice of the festival was The Manchurian Candidate vs. Pride of the Yankees. I ended up deciding at the last minute to go with Pride of the Yankees. I love Angela Lansbury, but mostly because I love Mrs. Potts, and I didn't really want to potentially take a seat that could have gone to someone who loved her way more than I do.
And then there's Gary Cooper (sigh) I couldn't pass up Gary Cooper. And I'm a Yankee's fan (I'm pretty sure I was the only one in attendance, actually. When Ben Mankiewicz made the remark [I'm paraphrasing] "Come on, is anyone actually a Yankees fan?" I started to clap and then realized I was completely alone...) so it was the logical choice. And I'm so glad that I made this decision! I enjoyed the movie so much (although, if you're familiar with the story of Lou Gehrig then you'll understand why I didn't actually enjoy the last 20 minutes or so.) This movie always leaves me weepy, so in the end I was kind of glad that I was flying solo for this screening. I always feel so weird crying in front of people I know!
Anyone who joined me in the strange choice to skip The Manchurian Candidate was in for a treat, though -- Michael Uslan brought along the actual baseball bat that Gary Cooper used in the movie, the one that he gifted to Lou Gehrig's widow after shooting. As I was leaving the theater I passed by Uslan on the steps, wishing so badly that I had the nerve to ask if I could see the bat but feeling pretty confident that there was an invisible [yet glowing, blinking, neon] sign reading "DO NOT TOUCH!"
My last screening of the day was Roar. I honestly don't have any words to describe what I saw here. I'm hoping that Millie will do a write-up on it because I'm not sure anyone else could do it justice. It wasn't nearly as traumatizing a midnight screening as Eraserhead was in 2014, but it's definitely one of the strangest movies I've ever had the misfortune/pleasure (still not sure which) to watch.