TCMFF 2016, Day 3: My Day of Presentations

Saturday, April 29

Shaw & Lee at 90th Anniversary of Vitaphone Presentation TCMFF 2016

Photo Credit: TCM

In addition to being a chance to see a whole lot of movies, TCMFF is also a great chance to see some film-related presentations. While Friday was my busiest day of the festival for movies, Saturday was my busiest day for presentations.

I started the day off what turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of the festival, the 90th Anniversary of Vitaphone presentation at the Egyptian Theater. Since I loved the Dawn of Technicolor presentation at last year’s festival, a presentation on Vitaphone seemed like it might be right up my alley. Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project was on hand to give a brief but delightful presentation on the history of Vitaphone and to introduce a series of restored Vitaphone shorts, including a couple that had just very, very recently been restored.

Vitaphone shorts were often referred to as “canned vaudeville” back then since Vitaphone shorts were a way for people to get to see performances by some of the biggest stars of the time, even if they didn’t live near a theater that could afford to pay astronomical performance fees for people like Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor. As a result, many Vitaphone shorts showcase stars who were big at the time, but are now largely forgotten. But there are also many Vitaphone shorts that show stars who went on to have extremely successful careers in show business. The shorts we saw during this presentation were a mixed bag of both of those types.

We were treated to shorts featuring familiar stars like Rose Marie, Burns and Allen, and Molly Picon, but I was more fascinated by some of the shorts featuring stars who aren’t so well known today. There was Zelda Santly, the celebrated impersonator, in the “Little Miss Everybody” short, which allowed her to showcase her impressions of stars like Fanny Brice and Mae West. (This short also ended up being a bit of fashion inspiration for me since I adored the dress she was wearing in it.)

But my personal favorite Vitaphone short was “The Beau Brummels” starring the vaudeville comedy duo Shaw & Lee.

Almost 90 years after this short was originally filmed, Shaw & Lee still managed to win over the Egyptian Theater. I absolutely loved their surreal, surprisingly modern style of comedy and their timing was absolutely impeccable. When I got home from the festival, one of the first things I wanted to do was learn more about Shaw & Lee, but alas, I haven’t been able to find much information on them.

Laraine Newman TCMFF 2016

Laraine Newman reading the story of Anita Loos’ Hollywood arrival

After the Vitaphone presentation, it was off to the Roosevelt Hotel for the first of a few presentation in Club TCM. First up was Cari Beauchamp’s “My First Time in Hollywood” presentation. “My First Time in Hollywood” is a new book by Beauchamp, which is a collection of stories written by some of the biggest stars and other power players of Hollywood’s classic era such as Anita Loos, Colleen Moore, Harold Lloyd, Noel Coward, Marie Dressler, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Myrna Loy, just to name a few, about what it was like for them to arrive in Hollywood. To bring these stories to life, Beauchamp invited Saturday Night Live star Laraine Newman, Bruce Goldstein, David Ladd, Suzanne Lloyd (granddaughter of Harold Lloyd), and Sunset Boulevard star Nancy Olson Livingston to come up and read a few stories aloud.

Nancy Olson TCMFF 2016

Since Sunset Boulevard is in my top 5 favorite films, I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to see Nancy Olson in person (and she is still absolutely stunning). But it truly was fascinating to hear the stories of what it was like to for so many Hollywood icons to come to this town for the first time. Hearing Bruce Goldstein read Ben Hecht’s story was priceless! I enjoyed the presentation so much that I couldn’t resist stopping by Cari Beauchamp’s book signing so I could pick up a copy of the book.

Serge Bromberg Club TCM

Serge Bromberg explaining how different prints are combined during restoration

Although I’m a huge fan of silent films, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it to any of the silent film screenings during the festival. So to get my silent film fix in, I decided to stick around Club TCM for the presentation by noted film archivist Serge Bromberg. This presentation focused a lot on the restoration process and how prints from various sources are combined to create restorations of films, which he demonstrated by using Chaplin’s The Bank from 1915 as an example. He also screened several clips of rare films that have been restored, including 5 minutes of outtakes from Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms, a rare Stan Laurel short named The Whole Truth, and the complete version of the infamous Laurel & Hardy pie fight known as The Battle of the Century.

The description for this event mentioned a special world premiere surprise, which ended up being a clip of Laurel & Hardy that was only shown at a convention for film salesmen in Paris in 1936. It had only been publicly shown that one time, so this was the first time that footage had been seen in 80 years. Remarkably, this footage was found in a collection of random clips of footage that were all thought to be junk!

Serge Bromberg is a truly remarkable presenter. Not only is he incredibly knowledgeable about film, he can also play piano to accompany the films he talks about. If you ever have the chance to see him give a presentation, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Elliott Gould and Alec Baldwin

After Serge Bromberg, it was time for the Conversation With Elliott Gould. After you’ve been going to TCMFF for a few years, it becomes extremely evident that all of the hosts you see during the course of the festival have different styles of interviewing people. Alec Baldwin was conducting this event and when you see him interview another actor, there’s a good chance that it’s going to focus a lot on what it’s like being an actor and the industry and that’s very much what his conversation with Elliott Gould was like. If you wanted to hear more in-depth comments on specific movies, you would have been better off going to see him at either M*A*S*H or The Long Goodbye, assuming those were the movies you wanted to hear more about, but given his prolific career, it was still very interesting to hear everything that he had to say.

Not long after the conversation with Elliott Gould, it was time for one of my favorite annual festival events — Hollywood Home Movies! I’ve gone to this every year that I’ve attended the festival and I’ve never been disappointed. The home movies we see are pulled from The Academy’s collections and not only show movie stars at home, but behind the scenes of their movies and at other events. This year, we got to see footage of Joan Blondell as a WAMPAS Baby Star, behind the scenes footage of On the Waterfront in color, Ginger Rogers at home, and Lupe Velez on the set of The Squaw Man. One of the biggest highlights was getting to see some incredible behind the scenes footage from The More The Merrier. There was also quite a bit of interesting Disney-related footage that included director Federico Fellini visiting Disneyland (which is a concept I’m now rather fascinated with), a brief glimpse of Walt Disney with a cigarette (he was usually very strict about not being photographed smoking), and a bit of footage of some of the original Mouseketeers, including Annette Funicello.

The biggest highlight of Hollywood Home Movies was getting to see home movies from the Nicholas Brothers. This included some truly incredible footage of the Nicholas Brothers with people like Carmen Miranda, Dorothy Dandridge, and Ethel Waters. There were even some very rare clips filmed inside the Cotton Club. Every year at Hollywood Home Movies, they try to invite some of the people who donated this footage to the Academy, which is very often family members of the stars. This year, Tony Nicholas was on hand to talk about the Nicholas Brothers. While Tony did much of the talking, many other Nicholas family members were there. Some of the younger generation is keeping the family’s dancing legacy alive through an act called The Nicholas Kids, who kindly gave us an impromptu performance. The entire Nicholas family was so remarkable; they truly made this year’s Hollywood Home Movies an incredible event. I could have listened to their stories and watched those kids dance all day!

My first actual film of the day didn’t start until after 9:00 PM, but it was one of my big must-sees of the festival — Band of Outsiders introduced by Anna Karina. It was my first time seeing the movie and I enjoyed it, but of course, the big treat was getting to see the one and only Anna Karina in person. Her introduction included stories about things like how she met director and future husband Jean-Luc Godard and how he offered her a role in the French new wave classic Breathless, but she turned it down because the part required nudity.

The last movie of the day for me was the newly restored sci-fi flick Gog, presented in 3D. I’ll admit, I fell asleep for some of it so I’m a little hazy on the details, but fortunately for me, I didn’t miss the scene where Herbert Marshall gets to wield a flamethrower. No, really, I’m not making that up, Gog really did include Herbert Marshall with a flamethrower, which absolutely delighted me. Now I’d love to have a Herbert Marhsall action figure with flamethrower accessory. And I must admit that they did a fantastic job of restoring the movie! Before they actually started the movie, they showed us a comparison of what it looked like before restoration and what it looked like after and it’s a very, very nice looking restoration.

Day 2 of TCMFF 2016 Goes Out With a “Roar”

Friday, April 29

Roar 1981

One of the things I always look forward to seeing on the TCMFF schedule every year is what the midnight movies will be. I don’t always stay awake for the whole movie, but it’s always fun to go to them anyway. In the past, they’ve shown classic midnight movie staples like Eraserhead and Freaks and last year, we got to see the spectacularly odd and terrible Boom! This year’s midnight movie selections did not disappoint. Although Gog was fun (more on that tomorrow), it was awfully hard to top Friday night’s screening of Roar.

Roar is a movie I’d heard a bit about, but never actually seen, so I was intrigued when I saw it made this year’s TCMFF schedule. It’s a movie that has a level of infamy for being a movie that was plagued with production problems (it spent 11 years in production) and for using live, untrained animals, some of which actually lived with stars Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, Noel Marshall, John Marshall, and Jerry Marshall. Many of the cast and crew were injured by the animals over of the course of production. For everything I’d heard about it before, nothing could have truly prepared me for the sheer insanity of what the movie is actually like.

Roar 1981

Roar is pretty thin on plot. Noel Marshall stars as a man who has decided to go off to Africa so he can study lions, tigers, leopards, and other big cats by living with them in this big house out in the middle of the wilderness. Tippi Hedren plays his estranged wife who brings their kids (Melanie Griffith, John Marshall, and Jerry Marshall) out to see him. But is he home when they arrive? Nope! So the wife and kids arrive to this house full of big, wild cats who begin terrorizing the family and they all have to avoid the cats by doing things like hiding in cabinets and iceboxes. This goes on for quite a while, then they all fall asleep and wake up with a whole new perspective on the situation. They figure that if the animals really wanted to kill them, they would’ve done it while they were sleeping and the movie ends with a big montage showing the entire family living in peace with the cats. I’m not kidding, the family just sort of gets over the whole being terrorized by wild animals thing and it suddenly ends in a happy montage.

Roar 1981

In most cases, when you see dangerous stunts and acts of violence in films, it’s pretty easy to understand that it wasn’t real. Roar, on the other hand, perpetually lulls you into a false sense of security. When you see these people actually interacting with the animals (and occasionally being injured by them), you have that moment of thinking, “It’s just a movie.” But then you remember that these were not trained animals and that actor who is bandaging themself up on screen is bandaging themself up because they were actually injured by an animal and you’re simultaneously horrified and amazed that this movie even exists. It truly is like a completely deranged version of Swiss Family Robinson with a little bit of Grey Gardens thrown into the mix.

Not to mention that there are a lot of moments that are kind of hilarious, but you’re not entirely sure you should be laughing at this movie. While watching actors get attacked by wild animals in and of itself isn’t funny, the fact that this movie has a paper-thin plot, a ridiculous musical score, and terrible dialogue that’s made even funnier by Noel Marshall’s hilariously bad line delivery makes it comedy gold.

The whole thing is just so completely and totally off the rails and incomprehensible, it’s one of the most genuinely unforgettable movies you’ll ever see. Not to mention, it’s probably one of the most OSHA-unfriendly movies ever created. If it’s been a while since you last saw a movie, you might say, “Yeah, I think I might have seen that one once a while ago.” Roar is not one of those movies.

One of the first things I did when I got home after the festival was order a copy of Roar on blu-ray. Not only will I always remember the experience of watching this with my friends, but I now feel compelled to tell as many people as possible about this bit of cinematic insanity. When the blu-ray arrived, I noticed that one of the bonus features was a Q&A session with some of the cast and crew, which I figured would be a good thing since I had a whole lot of questions about that movie. The Q&A session didn’t answer any of my questions, but it actually made the whole thing seem even more insane than I already thought it was. A lot of the Q&A session covered what it was like living with/working with the animals and includes tales of things like Noel Marshall distracting the people from Animal Control when they showed up at their house while Tippi and Melanie were in the backyard shoving lions into neighboring yards.

If you ever have the chance to see Roar on the big screen, I totally recommend going. Or get the blu-ray and watch it with some of your friends. In any case, it’s got to be seen to be believed and it’s way better to watch it with other people.

TCMFF, Day 2: The Day Where Everything Was a Highlight

Friday, April 29

Have you ever had one of those days where everything you did was just flat-out awesome? That was what my first full day of TCMFF 2016 activities was like. When people ask me about what the highlights were for this year’s festival, I feel like the short answer would be, “Everything I did on Friday.”

Marlene Dietrich Shanghai Express

When your day starts out with seeing Marlene Dietrich on the big screen in a new restoration of Shanghai Express, you know it’s going to be a good day. This restoration was done ahead of a new blu-ray release that will be coming soon, and I think I’m going to need to buy that blu-ray when it comes out. The print is absolutely flawless and exquisite; I certainly hope other Dietrich/Von Sternberg collaborations will be getting the same treatment.

Shanghai Express was introduced by Nicholas Von Sternberg, son of Josef Von Sternberg. He talked a bit about his father’s life, his career, and how his father worked with cinematographer Lee Garmes to create the completely unforgettable look of Shangahi Express. But when asked if he had any memories of Dietrich, all Nicholas had to say was that he used to sit on her lap as a child and the crowd went absolutely wild.

The Way We Were Streisand Redford

After Shanghai Express, it was time for a quick Starbucks run and The Way We WereThe Way We Were isn’t one of the all-time great films, but if I’m in the mood for something super dramatic and heavy on the schmaltz, The Way We Were never fails to hit the spot for me. I’ve never seen it on the big screen before, but I’m really glad I did if only because I got so much fashion inspiration from it. I’m not typically a big fan of the 70s-does-other-decades styles of fashion, but I was really feeling the 70s-does-40s style looks in the movie. Barbara Streisand really got to wear some pretty fabulous accessories in it and I think I need to find a brooch that’s very similar to the red brooch we see her wear in the beginning of the film. She wore a lot of red accessories and red nails throughout the movie, which I’m sure was a supposed to be a callback to Katie’s communist leanings.

Cary Grant Grace Moore When Youre In Love

From The Way We Were, it was off to see a new restoration of the rarely-seen 1937 Cary Grant movie When You’re In Love The movie certainly wasn’t one of Grant’s finest, but I still enjoyed it well enough. The movie should be getting some more attention in the near future (I know it will be airing on GET TV soon), so if you’re going to watch it, there are a couple of things you really should know about it: that it’s a musical and it’s more of a vehicle for Grace Moore than it is for Cary Grant. If you’re not a fan of operatic musicals, you’re probably not going to be a big fan of When You’re in Love and since the movie spends a lot of time showcasing Moore’s singing talents, you might be a little disappointed if you’re expecting Cary Grant in peak leading man form.

Cary Grant’s daughter Jennifer was on hand to introduce When You’re in Love. To give you an idea of how rarely seen this movie was up until recently, Jennifer hadn’t even seen it until about a week before the festival. She had nothing but warm memories to share of her father. He really seemed to set aside the movie star persona when he became a father, but she did tell a cute story of watching one of his films with him when it was on TV when she was a child. She was so young at the time that she didn’t understand that her father was acting, so when she saw Deborah Kerr kissing her father, she walked up to the screen and smacked Deborah Kerr.

If you’re a fan of Cary Grant’s classic style, Jennifer shared a little bit of news you might be interested in: a Cary Grant jewelry line will be launching soon. All the pieces will be based on pieces personally owned by Cary Grant or pieces he gave to his loved ones as gifts.

Adam West and Burt Ward in Batman.

After that, Nikki, Jessica and I headed off to one of my most highly-anticipated movies of the festival — Batman by the pool at the Roosevelt with Adam West and Lee Merriwether in attendance. I wasn’t even able to stay for the whole thing since I needed to get in line for The Manchurian Candidate, but it was still one of my favorite TCMFF events I’ve ever been to. Poolside movies are meant for fun movies you can sit back and relax with your friends and enjoy and Batman was the perfect poolside movie. TCM host Ben Mankeiweicz interviewed Merriwether and West and every single minute of that interview was absolutely priceless and hilarious. West and Merriwether were completely embracing the campiness of the movie and Mankiewicz was clearly having a blast talking with them.

Here’s a little bit of footage shot by Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood of the three of them discussing the amazing shark attack scene. It also includes the moment when Adam West did the infamous, “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” line. West also talked a bit about his work playing himself on the show Family Guy, which you see a little bit of in Jessica’s video, but what you don’t see is that when asked about why he decided to play a parody of himself on Family Guy, West replies that he liked the money, and the whole crowd started laughing. Mankiewicz said it was quite possibly the most honest answer he’s ever gotten in an interview.

I really wish we could have stayed at Batman for longer because it was so much fun to be watching it with a very appreciative crowd. But if we had stayed any longer, we probably wouldn’t have gotten in to see Angela Lansbury talk about The Manchurian Candidate. Since Danny of is a big fan of Murder, She Wrote, he joined Nikki, Jessica, and I to get in line. This was by far the longest line I have ever stood in for any event at TCMFF. When we left the Roosevelt, we headed over to the Chinese theater and followed the line as it made its way through the shopping center until it was right back in front of the Roosevelt. We actually would have had a much shorter walk to the end of the line if we had just gone out a different exit at the Roosevelt. Our numbers were in the 500 range and I don’t think I’ve ever had a number that high for any other TCMFF event.

Angela Lansbury Manchurian Candidate TCMFF 2016

Once we got inside, it was so packed that I’m surprised we were able to get 4 seats together. They were very close to the screen, which was definitely not an ideal angle to be watching the movie from, but it was a fabulous spot to be in while Alec Baldwin was interviewing the one and only Angela Lansbury. It’s hard not to be starstruck when you’re sitting that close to Angela Lansbury. She’s had such an incredible career and she’s so lovely and lively, just getting to be in her presence was something truly special.

I topped the day off by hitting the midnight screening of Roar. Stay tuned for a special post about Roar tomorrow because that was an experience that truly deserves a post of its own.

Kicking Off TCMFF 2016

Wednesday, April 27

Hollywood Heritage Museum

My first official event for the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival wasn’t a film, but a presentation by Jay Jorgensen and Donald L. Scoggins, authors of the new book “Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers” over at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of costume design in film, so this presentation was definitely something I wanted to see. I was thrilled that their presentation wasn’t just about the big designers like Adrian and Edith Head. One thing they discussed was some of the mysteries they had to solve in the process of writing this book, which I found really fascinating.

One such mystery they had to deal with was what ever happened to Clare West. Clare West was the first credited film costume designer and designed costumes for films like IntoleranceThe Birth of a NationThe Ten CommandmentsMale and FemaleWhy Change Your Wife?, and The Navigator just to name a few. West was a very celebrated and accomplished fashion designer outside of film, too. But after 1925, West simply seemed to drop off the radar. Jorgensen and Scoggins didn’t know what became of her and trying to find out what happened to her turned out to be quite a challenge. Scoggins is a probate attorney who routinely tries to piece together family trees to locate heirs, but even he had a difficult time finding her living relatives. When they were able to finally get the clues they needed, it turned out she had bipolar disorder, which wasn’t very well understood at the time, and that’s why she bowed out of the fashion world.

Not only was the presentation very informative and interesting, but getting to visit the Hollywood Heritage Museum was a real delight. If you love film history and happen to be in the Hollywood area, the museum is well worth a visit. The Hollywood Heritage Museum is located in the Lasky-DeMille Barn, which was one of the first film studios to be built in Hollywood and is currently the oldest film production facility still in existence in Hollywood. In December 1913, Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky began leasing the barn and the first film they produced there was 1914’s The Squaw Man.

The Hollywood Heritage Museum houses a great collection of film memorabilia, including a Charlie Chaplin Tramp costume (also worn by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd.), props from The Ten Commandments (1956), a costume worn by Ramon Novarro in Ben-Hur, a collection of Marion Davies dolls, one of Mary Pickford’s makeup kits, and much more. It even features a re-creation of Cecil B. DeMille’s office as it would have looked during the time he worked there.

Cecil B. DeMille Office

Thursday, April 28

Festival activities got into full swing on Thursday evening. While many people were checking out the welcome party and the poolside screening of Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman at the Roosevelt Hotel, I was with Jessica and Nikki watching the red carpet arrivals. My media credentials don’t actually get me into the big opening night screening, but watching the red carpet arrivals is always a lot of fun. Sean Cameron of Turner Classic Movies is the emcee of the red carpet and always does a great job of keeping the crowd entertained when he’s not talking to one of the festival’s many guests.

If there’s a star at the festival you really want to see, but you aren’t sure if you’ll have a chance to actually see them during the festival, watching the red carpet arrivals might be your best bet to see them. Not all the special guests at the festival walk the red carpet, but a lot of them do. This year, I had the pleasure of seeing guests like Darryl Hickman, Ted Donaldson, Chris Lemmon, Gina Lollobrigida, and Salvatore Cascio, all of whom I would not have been able to see in person otherwise. Norman Lloyd and Roger Corman also walked the red carpet, even though they weren’t introducing anything at the festival or doing any other events.

TCMFF Red Carpet Arrivals 2016

Top Row: Carl Bernstein, Chris Lemmon, Darryl Hickman, Gina Lollobrigida, James Cromwell
Bottom Row: Lee Merriwether, Norman Lloyd, Roger Corman, Salvatore Cascio, Ted Donaldson Click to enlarge.

My favorite story from the red carpet involved Anna Karina. Since Band of Outsiders was on my list of festival must-sees, I was definitely excited to hear she’d be on the red carpet, too. When she walked down the red carpet, she didn’t stop to talk to Sean Cameron and she wasn’t introduced. When she reached the area where we were sitting, she walked by very shyly. I barely even had time to realize who was walking by when I heard Kendahl yelling, “Je t’aime Karina!’  She walked by so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to get a picture of her on the red carpet. I was sitting on the far end of the bleachers, close to the sidewalk, and a couple minutes later, I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw Anna Karina standing on the sidewalk just a few feet away from me. I was able to snap a couple of pictures of her through the bars on the end of the bleachers.

Anna Karina at TCMFF 2016

After watching the red carpet arrivals, I had been planning to go see Dark Victory, but since I stayed a little bit longer at the red carpet than I had originally planned to so I could see Gina Lollobrigida, I would have had to make a very frantic dash to the TCL Multiplex to get there in time. But I was pretty hungry by then and so were Nikki and Jessica so we all decided to skip the first block of movies in favor of dinner. As much as I would have loved to see Dark Victory on the big screen, I’m kind of glad I opted for dinner.

When we were done eating, we headed over to the multiplex and Nikki and I got our numbers for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. By that time, we had a little bit of time to kill before the movie started so we headed over to the bar for a drink. Just as Nikki was handed her drink and the bartender started working on mine, the fire alarms started going off. Everyone in the multiplex had to be evacuated, including the people who were in the theaters. The first block of movies was extremely close to ending at the time. Outside the theater, I talked to a person who had been in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn who said there was only about 15 minutes left of the movie. Another person who was in Dark Victory said the alarms went off right as Bette Davis was about to go in the house and go upstairs.

Fortunately, the fire alarms were only set off because someone had vandalized a fire extinguisher and not because there was an actual fire. So while the whole incident wasn’t an ideal way to start the festival, the staff handled it all exceptionally well. Everyone who had been in theaters when the alarms went off was able to go back and see the end of their movies and the next block of movies was only delayed by about half an hour.

Katharine Houghton TCMFF 2016 Red Carpet

Katharine Houghton on the red carpet.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was introduced by Katharine Houghton, who starred as Joey. Houghton was an excellent guest and had a lot of fascinating things to say about her experience making the film. Although many people assume it must have been fun for her to work with her aunt, Katharine Hepburn, she says it was actually rather difficult. Since Spencer Tracy was so frail at the time, that was taking a toll on Hepburn. There were problems with the studio, who were not only concerned about Tracy’s health, but because they didn’t initially realize that the film dealt with interracial romance. Tracy wasn’t interested in making the movie at first, but changed his mind after director Stanley Kramer said to him, “You can either spend your final days rotting away, or you can spend them doing something that’s really going to make a difference.”

At the time Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was being produced, interracial marriages were still illegal in 14 states. According to Houghton, the movie was made with the intention of appealing to people who weren’t completely sure where they stood on the issue and trying to persuade them to take the more progressive stance. Unfortunately, Houghton became a target for many people who did not agree with the film’s message. Stanley Kramer had warned her that she would likely find herself in the middle of controversy by appearing in the movie, and that certainly ended up happening — Houghton received some death threats over the film.

Houghton was the type of guest I could have easily listened to for much longer. I had only seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner once before the festival and that was quite a while ago, so it was almost like getting to see it for the first time all over again. All in all, it was a great way to start off an incredible festival.

Guess Whos Coming to Dinner Screen

My Picks for TCMFF 2016

TCM Film Festival 2016

The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival is just a little over a week away, and like many other attendees, I’ve been poring over the schedule for the past week trying to figure out what, exactly, I want to attend this year.

This will be my third year attending and this year’s schedule was, by far, the most difficult for me to decide on. Every year, there are always lots of amazing things happening at any given time, but this is the first time where there were so many blocks of time where I was literally interested in everything.

With so many hard choices to make, here are a few ways I like to narrow down my options:

  • I skip movies that I’ve been to screenings of recently or that I know will be coming up at theaters back home
  • I try to prioritize unique experiences that I’ll be unlikely to have at home
  • Silents and foreign films have an edge since I typically have fewer chances to go to screenings of those at home
  • If torn between a lesser-known movie and one that’s more famous, I’ll try to go with the lesser-known one
  • Whether or not I’ll have time to make it to the next movie/event
  • Is there a special guest I’m particularly interested in seeing?

As my schedule currently stands, I’m a little light on the silents this year, but I’m pretty darn happy with it. It looks like I’ll have a nice mix of old favorites and new-to-me movies, plus I’ll have the chance to attend some pretty awesome events.

Before I break my choices down day-by-day, here are my two big must-see events of the festival: The Manchurian Candidate introduced by Angela Lansbury and Band of Outsiders introduced by Anna Karina. I love The Manchurian Candidate and Lansbury is absolutely brilliant in it, so I was thrilled to hear this was on the schedule. I’ve never seen Band of Outsiders, but I am a big fan of 1960s French cinema and I have fairly few chances to see foreign films on the big screen at home, let alone see an icon from that era/genre in person. Needless to say, I’m hugely excited for that one.


From Screen to Stage: 42nd Street

42nd Street

It’s hardly unheard of for a movie to be adapted for a book or for a hit play to be turned into a film; it’s a practice that’s been around for practically as long as narrative cinema has existed.  For a movie to be turned into a stage play or musical is less common, and is often less commercially successful, but it’s certainly happened several times over the years. 42nd Street is a case where the story has existed in all three forms over the years: a book, a film, and a stage musical. Even over 80 years after the story of 42nd Street first came into existence, audiences continue to be drawn to it.

Recently, a traveling production of 42nd Street stopped at the Fox Theater in Detroit and, as a huge fan of the movie and other Busby Berkeley musicals, I couldn’t resist buying a ticket to check it out for myself.

When a story is adapted for a different medium, it’s almost inevitable that there will be differences between that and the original version. I have never read the book 42nd Street was based on, so I only have the movie to compare it to. If you’re a fan of the movie, the good news is that the basic story of the stage version is pretty much the same as it is for in the movie. There are some little differences here and there, but it’s basically the same aside from a slightly different ending. The stage version also features songs from other Busby Berkeley musicals like Gold Diggers of 1933 and Dames, but they add a lot to the show; they certainly don’t detract from anything.

Of course, the biggest thing I was interested in finding out is how they were going to translate those legendary musical numbers for the stage. The musical numbers are absolutely mesmerizing in the movie version, but you do have to be willing to suspend a huge amount of disbelief that they ever could have been performed on an actual stage.

So, how did they go about it? In the case of the production I saw (I can only speak for the 2015/2016 touring version) they were smart and didn’t try to completely re-enact what Busby Berkeley did. If you go to see the stage version of 42nd Street, you’ll get to hear songs like “The Shadow Waltz,” “Dames,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “We’re In the Money,” but the performances bear no resemblance to how we know them from the movies. Some songs are included as musical numbers in “Pretty Lady,” the show-within-a-show of 42nd Street, while others are used to further the story. In the movie, the “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” number is the one that’s most believable as a stage number and the stage version stays pretty true to that.

If you have the DVD for Gold Diggers of 1933, it includes a featurette about how 42nd Street transitioned from book to film to stage. This includes clips of interviews with people who were involved with the 2001 Broadway revival and they talk about how they did a more literal Busby Berkeley homage in one song. Although I thought that idea was really clever, it just wasn’t part of the production I went to.

However, just because most of the musical numbers in the stage version aren’t exactly what we know them to be from films, that doesn’t mean they’re any less dazzling. The audience was just as enthralled by the musical numbers as we’re supposed to believe the audience in the movie was; only they’re actually meant to be performed on a real stage. In the production I saw, the big “42nd Street” number was an absolute showstopper; a truly remarkable way to bring the show to a close. The sheer amount of energy that went into that number was just incredible. If you’re a fan of Busby Berkeley musicals and ever have the chance to see the stage version, I very highly recommend it. The show is a very loving tribute not only to 42nd Street, but to Busby Berkeley musicals in general.

Frank Ferrante in “An Evening With Groucho”

Frank Ferrante An Evening With Groucho

One of the biggest downsides to being a classic film fan from the Millennial generation is that you often never have the chance to interact with or encounter many of your favorite stars. Most of my favorite stars either died before I was born or when I was really young and didn’t have a chance to appreciate them yet. So I never got to go to a Judy Garland concert, see Chaplin on the stage in his vaudeville days, see Bette Davis in one of her stage performances, see Garbo walking around New York City, or write a fan letter to Joan Crawford. And I definitely never had the chance to see the Marx Brothers perform live, whether it was in their vaudeville days, during their Broadway career, or when they were on the road testing out material for A Night at the Opera.

But recently, I had the chance to see the next best thing to seeing Groucho Marx perform live when Frank Ferrante brought his “An Evening With Groucho” show to the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township, Michigan. Ferrante is a long-time Marx Brothers fan who has been performing as Groucho on stage in various shows for about 30 years. He was discovered by Groucho’s own son, Arthur Marx, while he was a drama student at the University of Southern California and was cast as Groucho in Arthur’s off-Broadway show “Groucho: A Life in Revue,” covering Groucho’s life from age 15 to 85. Ferrante’s performance drew lots of acclaim, including rave reviews from Groucho’s children and colleagues. He went on to play Groucho’s roles in productions of “The Cocoanuts” and “Animal Crackers.” Over the years, Ferrante has performed as Groucho over 2,500 times.

Ferrante’s act is no ordinary tribute act. Although his shows are, indeed, very loving tributes to Groucho, he does so much more than just put on the greasepaint mustache, pick up a cigar, and do his best rendition of “Hooray for Captain Spaulding.” Ferrante manages to bring Groucho’s stage persona to life again. He has Groucho’s voice, all the signature movements, and all his mannerisms down perfectly; it’s absolutely uncanny.

The “An Evening With Groucho” show is full of some of Groucho’s signature quips, stories, movie lines, and songs. But during the show, Ferrante gives himself plenty of chances to interact with the audience and ad-lib and he does so in pure Groucho style. If you’re going to ad lib while performing as Groucho, you have to be as quick witted as Groucho and Ferrante nails it. It’s all so incredibly dead on, when you watch Ferrante perform, it’s quite easy to forget that you aren’t actually watching Groucho Marx. Morrie Ryskind, who co-wrote The CocoanutsAnimal Crackers, and A Night at the Opera has said of Ferrante, “(he) is the only actor aside from Groucho who delivered my lines as they were intended to be.”

If you ever have the chance to see Ferrante perform as Groucho, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’ve ever found yourself wishing you had a time machine so you could go back and see the Marx Brothers perform live, this show lets you feel like you’ve had that experience. “An Evening With Groucho” was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. It’s been a few days since I saw this show and I’m still laughing about random parts of it that pop into my head. I’m still in awe of what a brilliant job Ferrante does in playing Groucho. It was an absolutely delightful show that I’d love to see again someday.

My Picks for TCMFF 2015

TCMFF 2015It’s that time of year again! The annual TCM Classic Film Festival is just around the corner and attendees are poring over the recently released full schedule, carefully making their choices and wondering how long they can go between meals. I am no exception to this.

Honestly, I think I’m more excited about this year’s schedule than I was about last year’s. I had a tremendous time last year, but I had a tendency to see things I had already seen before and only ended up seeing a couple of new-to-me movies. This year is shaping up to be the total opposite. If I stick to my plans as they currently are, I’ll only be seeing a few movies I’ve seen before. So I’m very excited to check out some movies I’ve never seen before because I’ve been really bad about watching things I haven’t seen before lately. It really will be awesome to make lots of discoveries this year.

Much like last year, I’m going into the festival this year fully expecting my plans to change at any time. If you’ve never been to TCMFF before, one of the best pieces of advice I have to give is to stay open to changing your plans. Things come up and you might not always end up sticking to your original schedule exactly, but that’s okay because you could end up doing some other awesome thing instead.


Rita Moreno and West Side Story at the Redford Theatre

Rita Moreno West Side Story

The Redford Theater in Detroit has a great history of rolling out the red carpet whenever a movie star visits the theater. In the past, I’ve attended unforgettable VIP events when Tippi Hedren and Karolyn Grimes were there and I’ve seen how they rolled out the red carpet for Pam Grier and Shirley Jones for screenings of Foxy Brown and The Music Man. When Rita Moreno came to town over the weekend for screenings of West Side Story, the reception was exactly what I have come to expect from the Redford.

Before the movie on Saturday night, I had the honor of attending a VIP event with about 200 other fans where we were treated to desserts and a special discussion and Q&A session with Rita Moreno.  To be in the same room as Rita Moreno is an electrifying experience. At 82, Moreno remains incredibly vibrant, hilarious, and so full of energy that you can’t help but pick a little bit of it. As I was standing in line for dessert, I was standing just inches away from her and I saw multiple people come up to her in awe of how amazing she looks. She must have heard it a few more times after that because when she came out on stage, she came out jokingly asking, “I look good?”

If you ever have the chance to listen to Rita Moreno talk about her life and career, you really need to listen to what she has to say.  She’s a remarkable storyteller and has so many insights about what it was like to be an immigrant and to be a Hispanic performer in show business. Early in her career, the only roles open to her were horrifyingly stereotypical roles as Native and Hispanic women; all roles she despises. She very un-affectionately refers to those as her “dusty maiden” roles and denounced them harmful, degrading, and humiliating. Over the years, she’s heard the suggestion that she simply should have done something else if she didn’t like the stereotyped roles she was being offered, to which she explained that she didn’t have anywhere else to go. When she was cast in Singin’ in the Rain, she had hoped that would open doors for her to get away from the stereotypical roles, but unfortunately, it did not. She later spent years in psychoanalysis, due in no small part to years of having those offensive images forced upon her.

When it came to talking about people she worked with, she really didn’t hold back. Of West Side Story director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, she described him as a man with a lot of self-loathing issues, which seemed to channel their way into the way he worked with people. But she also called him a genius and said that she wishes he was still alive so she could work with him again. Rita worked with James Garner on The Rockford Files and also had the distinction of being his screen partner for his first ever screen test. According to her, the screen test was a complete disaster for both of them. They were asked to do a scene Grace Kelly and William Holden had done together, so Rita was stuck wearing an awful wig and make-up that she said made her eyes look red and her teeth look yellow. As for Garner, she called him, “A beautiful man and a crappy actor…at first.” She explained that he needed to find his niche and that scene was definitely not it. Once he found his stride, though, he was wonderful and the two remained friends for a long time.

She also spoke with great fondness of her time working on The Electric Company and her appearance on The Muppet Show. She encouraged us all to look up her performance of “Fever” with Animal playing drums:

For the movie, it was a packed house; very close to sold out. The crowd was absolutely crazy for Rita, it was hard to get anywhere near her. As a special treat, before the movie started again after intermission, we were treated to an appearance by dancers from the Casali School of Dance, who did a performance of the song “America” while Rita watched from the audience. The dancers were amazing and Rita was so gracious. When she got on stage to take a picture with them after the performance, she couldn’t resist breaking out a couple of dance steps of her own.

Rita remains a very busy woman. Lately, she’s appeared on the TV Land sitcom Happily Divorced with Fran Drescher, which she said she really misses working on, lent her voice to the movie Rio 2, and just recently finished a movie for the Hallmark Channel. She is now working on a Spanish language album with Emilio Estefan.

Rita Moreno Autographs

A Few Final Thoughts on TCMFF 2014

TCMFF is more physically demanding than I expected.

As I was leaving the airport to come home, there were some employees standing near the entrance to the baggage claim area saying things like, “Have a nice day!” and “Enjoy your visit!” to people as they left. Not me, though. When I walked by, they said, “You’re almost there, you can make it!”  I’m sure I did look pretty exhausted by that point. I was coming right off a very long day at the festival, I was running on very little sleep, my shoe was starting to bother me and I was just ready to go home.

I knew the days would be long, but since I’m a person who likes walking and I generally walk a few hundred miles a year, I thought spending a few days running around within just a few blocks of Los Angeles should be no problem for me. Hahahahaha….no.  Maybe it would have been easy under normal circumstances where I’m eating normally, not jetlagged and not spending over 12 hours a day in theaters.  But I can’t wait to do it again.

The quality of prints were consistently very good.

During press day, Genevieve McGillicuddy and Charles Tabesh said that one of the biggest challenges of programming a festival like this is finding prints in acceptable quality.  Once the festival got started, I quickly appreciated how much effort they put into finding good prints.  The movies I saw were an even mix of digital and 35mm and they were all consistently very good, and in some cases, pristine. The lowest quality print I saw was National Velvet, but that’s completely forgivable considering it was a last minute addition.

The midnight movie selections were perfect.

Reactions to Eraserhead were generally…confused, but there’s no denying that Eraserhead and Freaks are two of the ultimate midnight movies.

You won’t be able to do it all, but what you will do will be amazing.

TCMFF is a bit like having your own On The Town type experience.  Only instead of having one day to do everything you want, you have four days and there will probably be at least two things happening at any given time that you’d love to be doing. (And that’s only if you come strictly for the festival events. If there are other things you want to see and do around town, I recommend either coming a day or two early or staying after the festival.)  I went into the festival with my list of movies and events to go to,  but I also went into it expecting those plans to change at any time.  And they did change, but I’m not sorry they changed, either.

I would have loved to have seen Maureen O’Hara, Jerry Lewis, and Quincy Jones in person, but the things I went to instead of those events and screenings were things I enjoyed so much that if I had it to do all over again, I would have made the exact same choices.  I realize that if I had gone to the Quincy Jones conversation on Friday like I originally planned to, I probably would have ended up missing either Why Worry? or Employees’ Entrance, and since both of those were highlights of the festival for me, I have no regrets.

The festival may be over, but I still have movies to watch.

Since it simply wasn’t possible to see everything, I came home with Fifth Avenue GirlSorcererOn Approval, Written on the Wind and Hat Check Girl on my list of movies I need to see.

The people are as exciting as the movies.

If you’ve been following other bloggers’ coverage of TCMFF, you’ve read a lot of people saying how appropriate it is that the theme for this year’s festival was “Family: The Ties That Bind” because there is a very strong sense of family among attendees.  At the risk of sounding clichéd, they’re all absolutely correct about that.

This was my first time attending the festival and even though I knew many people who were going to be there, it was also my first time getting to meet them in person. Despite the fact that I’ve known some of these people for years, there was still a small part of me that was a little worried that it would be totally weird to spend a few days going up to people and saying, “Hey, I know you from the Internet!”

Once I got there and started seeing people, I realized I had nothing to worry about. Excitement kicks in before you even have time to think of it as being potentially weird.  And after all, they know me from the Internet too and it’s fun for everybody be able to put a voice and a face to the blogs they read. No awkwardness, just an instant sense of camaraderie.  Even in cases where I had read a person’s writing but never personally knew the person behind the blog, it was still like running into an old friend.  I flew out there by myself, but once I got there, there was never a moment where I felt like I was alone.  Getting to spend a few days surrounded by so many friends in this classic film utopia was one of the most completely joyous experiences I’ve ever had.