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TCMFF 2018 Hits the Ground Running

TCMFF 2018

2018 marked my fifth year attending the TCM Classic Film Festival and over the years, I’ve sort of fallen into a routine. I fly into town on Wednesday morning, a day before the official festival activities really get started, and use that extra time to get settled, catch up with my friends, and try to adjust to the time zone difference. Aside from the travel aspect of it, it’s typically a pretty quiet day for me. This year, I feel like I got into town and got into full festival mode right off the bat.

Once I got into Hollywood, I dropped my things off at the hotel and headed over to the Roosevelt to pick up my media credentials and get a badly needed lunch at 25 Degrees. Before I knew it, I’d made four new friends at lunch (shout out to the first-timers from DC!), said hi to Ben Mankiewicz, and saw Eddie Muller as I was getting ready to leave 25 Degrees. If you’ve never been to the festival, I feel like this really sums up the general atmosphere of being there. When you’re at an event like this, you have something in common with everyone so it’s really easy to get into conversations with people you’ve never met before. And randomly running into TCM’s on-air hosts in places like Starbucks and other restaurants in the area is absolutely something that happens.

Cora Sue Collins Andrew Yang TCMFF 2018

Later in the day, I stopped by an event by the Hollywood Roosevelt’s pool hosted by the Going to the TCM Classic Film Festival Facebook group.  I wasn’t there for the whole event, but what I did catch was absolutely remarkable. When I got there, Barbara Rush and Cora Sue Collins were telling stories about their careers and boy, did they ever have stories to tell. Between the two of them, I got to listen to them talk about people like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, William Powell, Hedda Hopper, and Loretta Young. For example, Rush talked about how Crawford gave her advice on dealing with her publicity photos while Crawford was a good friend of Collins’s mother. After the discussion with Cora Sue and Barbara, there was an appearance by Andrew Yang, the great-grandson of Mary Astor, who had brought Mary’s Oscar with him.

Martin Scorsese Eva Marie Saint and Cicely Tyson TCMFF 2018 Red Capret

Martin Scorsese, Eva Marie Saint, and Cicely Tyson on the Red Carpet

The festival got into full swing the following day and I started things off by watching the red carpet arrivals for the 50th anniversary screening of The Producers. I’m a big fan of doing this because it gives me a chance to see a lot of the guests I don’t get to see otherwise during the festival, plus a few others who are just there for the big opening night screening. This year had a really fun group of special guests. Of course, Mel Brooks was there and it’s always a treat to see him in person. Since Martin Scorsese was being awarded the first Robert Osborne Award, he was also there — very briefly, but as a big Scorsese fan, still enough to be very exciting for me. Eva Marie Saint, Cicely Tyson, Mario and Melvin van Peebles, Norman Lloyd, Ruta Lee, Diane Baker, Rosanna Arquette, and Paul Sorvino all also made appearances. Paul Sorvino even gave us an impromptu opera performance! Since Dennis Miller was introducing a couple of movies during the festival, he made an appearance on the red carpet and seemed to be having the time of his life — he even came into the bleacher section and started shaking hands with people.

Toshiro Mifune Throne of Blood

I decided to skip the first block of movies in favor of getting some dinner before checking out Throne of Blood. Even though I love foreign films, I feel like I don’t often get around to seeing them at the festival so I was really happy to be able to make my first movie this year a foreign one. It wasn’t my first time seeing the movie, but getting to see it on the big screen was a real pleasure. There was a lot in the sound that I hadn’t fully appreciated by watching it at home. And I loved being able to see it with a crowd of people audibly gasping during the legendary arrow scene. All in all, it was an excellent way to start things off.

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Let’s Get FilmStruck

FilmStruck

While many people have been quickly abandoning physical media in favor of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, classic cinema enthusiasts have largely been left out. With a few exceptions, most mainstream streaming services typically favor more modern movies, meaning fans of classic film have mostly been forced to stick to their DVDs, blu-rays, and even VHS tapes if they want to watch something made prior to the 1970s. But FilmStruck fills a major gap that had existed in the world of movie streaming services.

FilmStruck is a streaming service curated by Turner Classic Movies that launched in November 2016. Targeting fans of classic cinema, foreign films, and cult movies, FilmStruck features a wide range of movies from the Criterion Collection, Janus Films, Kino Lorber, Milestone, and more. I signed up for the service the day it became available for Roku players, so by now, I’ve been using it for several months and have had plenty of time to get familiar with all that it has to offer. And I can safely say that it is, by far, my favorite movie streaming service.

As a FilmStruck subscriber, you have your choice of two subscription tiers: the basic tier which gives you access to the main FilmStruck service and a more expensive one that gives you access to the Criterion Channel in addition to the main FilmStruck section. The whole idea of being able to stream movies from the Criterion Collection was one of the things that interested me most about FilmStruck, so naturally, I went with the option to get the Criterion Channel.

Regardless of which subscription service you choose, you’ll have a huge variety of movies and extra features to enjoy. While you can always just search for a specific movie, actor, director, or genre, one of the things I love most about FilmStruck is the fact that movies are also grouped together based on a common theme. This is such a great way to discover new movies. In the time that I’ve been using it, I’ve seen FilmStruck do spotlights with themes like punk films, films by Powell & Pressburger, Howard Hawks screwball comedies, movies made by Vivien Leigh before Gone With the Wind, LGBTQ movies, British noir, and directorial debuts, just to name a few. There’s also a Cinema Passport series which highlights movies made in different countries around the world. It’s worth noting that all the spotlights I just mentioned were/are available on the basic FilmStruck service, so even if you don’t go for the Criterion-level subscription, you’re still getting a lot of amazing programming. In addition to the movies, some titles have extra features such as introductions, scene commentaries, trailers, and featurettes.

With the Criterion Channel, you’re able to stream a selection of movies released by the Criterion Collection, complete with all the bonus features included on the DVD/blu-ray release. If you’re a big fan of Criterion Collection discs like I am and often find yourself wishing you could check a disc out before buying it, this lets you have a chance to do just that.

The Criterion Channel also features a lot of original content and special features not available on the basic FilmStruck service. My personal favorite is the weekly Friday Double Feature, which suggests a pairing of movies that share a common theme. This is something I never even knew I wanted in a streaming service until FilmStruck came along. But now every Friday when I get home from work, one of the first things I do is check to see what the new double feature is because there’s a very good chance it could be what I’ll end up watching that night. They also do something similar on Tuesdays where they pair a short film and a feature-length movie.

Like most other streaming services, movies are only available on FilmStruck for a limited amount of time. But I’ve consistently been impressed by how frequently new movies are added to the service. I also greatly appreciate the fact that both basic FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel have a list of the movies that will leaving soon. I’m sure many of you have experienced the disappointment of adding a movie or show to your watchlist on other services, only to have it disappear from the service without warning, so this is a big help. There’s also a list of movies that have recently been added, which is great. On the main FilmStruck section, there’s even a list of movies that are recommended for you.

On the whole, I really don’t have any complaints about FilmStruck. I’m extremely happy with the variety of movies it offers, I love the original features, and the themed collections are very interesting. Perhaps the only criticism I have of it is that I find it easier to browse its contents by either going to the website or by using the mobile app, but I can also say the same thing about Netflix. All in all, this is the streaming service I’d been waiting for. I’m still a huge fan of physical media, but FilmStruck is an excellent way to discover movies, whether you’re just starting to explore these sorts of movies or you’ve been a fan of these sorts of movies for years.

Update: Very shortly after publishing this review, it was announced that FilmStruck was partnering with Warner Brothers and that all content from the Warner Archive Instant streaming platform would be moving over to FilmStruck. They also launched the new TCM Select collection, which features a rotating selection of major golden age classics like Casablanca, Now Voyager, and And American in Paris. Like watching on TCM, movies in this collection feature an introduction from Ben Mankiewicz, as well as other related video clips from the TCM archives.

These new features and partnerships have already brought a lot of valuable content to the service. Today, I came home from work to see a great collection of Bette Davis movies had been added, as well as all the Astaire/Rogers movies. These are all available on the main FilmStruck platform, so this is another great example of how much amazing stuff you get access to even with the basic subscription option.

Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016)

Dawson City poster

It’s estimated that about 90% of all films made prior to 1929 are lost and many of those are very likely gone forever. With those kinds of odds, it’s no wonder that classic film fans get so excited over news that a print of a thought-to-be-lost film has been found. But if there’s anything more exciting than finding a print of one lost film, it’s finding a whole stash of them, and that’s exactly what happened in Dawson City in 1978.

At its peak during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, Dawson City was home to over 30,000 people. One year later, that population had dropped to 8,000 and today, the city’s population is approximately 1,300. But throughout all the ups and downs the city has encountered over the years, one thing has remained consistent: entertainment has remained an important part of the town.

Dawson City was hardly the only city to have its own movie theaters, but what makes Dawson City unique is that, because of its location, it was at the end of the distribution line for films and newsreels. Returning films after screening them would have been very expensive for the distributor and, at the time, it wasn’t widely believed that film had any long-term value. So when a movie arrived in Dawson City, it likely stayed there. Since there was nothing else to do with them, the city eventually became overwhelmed by reels of film. Physically storing them all became difficult and every once in a while, people would hold bonfires fueled by excess film and heaps of film would simply be thrown into the Yukon River to be carried away. At one point in 1929, hundreds of film reels were put into a former swimming pool, which was then boarded up to be used as a hockey rink.

The film reels that ended up under the hockey rink remained there until 1978 when the lot was being leveled. What ended up being unearthed at that site was a priceless treasure trove of movie reels and newsreels from the early 20th century. It was a find Vanity Fair dubbed “the King Tut’s tomb of silent-era cinema.” Many of the films discovered there were believed to have been lost and included some of the biggest names of the silent era, such as Harold Lloyd, Fatty Arbuckle, and D.W. Griffith. Since the highly-flammable nitrate prints had been stored in permafrost, they weren’t prone to spontaneously catching on fire the way reels stored through more conventional means were.

Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time isn’t a documentary solely about the big film discovery; it chronicles the entire history of the town. Morrison primarily uses footage uncovered in Dawson City to tell the story of the city from its earliest days to the height of the Gold Rush to the modern day. Appropriately, most of the documentary is presented similarly to a silent film, without narration and a haunting musical score. If you’re a fan of silent film, being able to see some of this footage is a real treat. Not only is it exciting to see it at all, it’s absolutely fascinating to see the footage used so imaginatively.

While the Dawson City discovery included priceless finds involving major Hollywood stars, the newsreels they found there are every bit as important. Some of these newsreels include footage of well-known historical events such as the 1919 World Series, the year of the infamous Black Sox scandal. Speaking as someone who doesn’t follow baseball, or any other sport for that matter, being able to see that footage was pretty amazing. Not only do you have the chance to see some of the players involved in the scandal, it also gives you a chance to see how fans would keep up to date with games in an era before ESPN was a mainstay in bars around the country.

Dawson City: Frozen Time had been a movie I really wanted to see at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival, but I ended up not being able to make it. Everyone I had talked to who did see it described it as a fever dream, and that’s a pretty accurate way to describe it. It’s haunting, it’s surreal, and it’s absolutely incredible. If you’re like me and love hearing the stories of how lost films are uncovered, Dawson City: Frozen Time is well worth your time. I’m really glad I finally had a chance to see it.

Simpson Sunday: Frankly, My Dear…

Gone With the Wind Rhett Scarlett

Season 10, Episode 20: The Old Man and the “C” Student

After ruining Springfield’s chances of hosting the Olympics, Bart is forced to volunteer at the nursing home where their Grandpa lives as part of a community service project at school. During his time volunteering there, he and Lisa watch Gone With the Wind with the residents. Only this is an “edited for seniors” version of the movie where anything unhappy has been cut out. Instead of hearing Clark Gable’s infamous last line, they hear dubbed-in dialogue that alters the ending so that Rhett declares his love for Scarlett and says they should remarry. Almost everyone loves the new ending, except for Bart and Hans Moleman who notice some glaring omissions.

Bart Simpson Watching Gone With the Wind

Hans Moleman Watching Gone With the Wind

Head (1968)

Head The Monkees 1968

“Hey, hey, we are The Monkees

You know we love to please

A manufactured image with no philosophies

We hope you like our story

Although there isn’t one

That is to say there’s many

That way there is more fun”

Attempting to explain the plot of Head is truly an exercise in futility. The above quote comes less than 10 minutes into the movie, so you certainly can’t say this movie makes any false pretenses. Pretty much everything mentioned in this chant is what Head delivers. (Although I wouldn’t say it’s a “no philosophies” movie since it does have some political moments in it.)

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the members of The Monkees got together with Jack Nicholson and spent the weekend taking drugs and brainstorming ideas for a movie, look no further than the movie Head. No, really, that actually is how this movie came about. Apparently every crazy idea they came up with made it into this one movie.

You could say that Head is an abstract satire of TV/music stardom, but there really isn’t one main story; it’s more of a series of vignettes and musical numbers that deal with themes like free will.This is a movie that truly has a little bit of everything: Davy Jones doing a parody of Golden Boy with Annette Funicello, Mickey Dolenz assaulting a Coke machine, a parody of The Perlis of Pauline, a cameo by Frank Zappa, The Monkees being terrorized by a giant Victor Mature, lots of 60s psychedelia, and of course, lots of music.

Given the non-linear nature of the film, Head simply isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But despite that, I’m one of the people who loves this movie. It doesn’t make sense in the way that people traditionally expect movies to, but it has a lot of interesting things going on in it. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. In terms of editing and visuals, it’s a really fascinating movie to watch. There’s plenty of comedy in it. All things considered, this movie is endlessly entertaining to me. The fact that it doesn’t have a conventional plot, but still manages to be so entertaining, makes it the kind of movie that’s perfect to watch if I’ve really mentally exhausted myself at work that day. I don’t have to think about it, it makes me laugh, and I love the music in it — after a long day, it’s pretty much everything that I could possibly want. But just because I don’t have to think too hard about it doesn’t mean it’s totally without meaning; I really do like the way it handles the themes of freedom.

What’s on TCM: September 2014

Melvyn Douglas Greta Garbo Ninotchka

Happy September, everyone! Summer Under the Stars is always a tough act to follow, but TCM does an awesome job of doing so. There are two huge things that I am very excited for. The first of which is Melvyn Douglas as Star of the Month. I have always loved Melvyn Douglas and he never seems to quite get as much credit as he deserves. There’s also a ton of his movies I’ve never seen, so I’m really happy to have the chance to see more of his work.

The second thing I am so, so excited to see is that every Friday this month will be a 24-hour marathon of pre-code movies! That’s right, 24 glorious hours of wild, fast-paced, innuendo-laden movies! Friday Night Spotlight isn’t just for prime time this month! With my annual 30 Days of Pre-Codes event, it’s no secret that I adore the pre-code era. If you have yet to explore much of this wild and fascinating era of film making, this is a golden opportunity because you’ll have the chance to see so many of the pre-code essentials (Baby Face, Three on a Match, Red Headed Woman, Design for Living, just to name a few) as well as many other great ones. Don’t miss The Story of Temple Drake on September 12 at 2:30 AM or Call Her Savage September 26 at 2:15 AM. They’re on late at night so it might be easy to overlook those, but they’re a couple of my favorite pre-codes and I don’t see them on TCM very often. If you only know Clara Bow as a silent film star, you’re going to be in for a real treat with Call Her Savage. 

Now, onto the rest of the schedule…

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The Outstanding Ensemble Cast of “Since You Went Away”

 

Since You Went Away Cast

There’s no way to talk about Since You Went Away without talking about how incredible the cast is as a whole. It’s one of those movies where virtually every actor who appears in it is extremely memorable. Lead roles, supporting roles, everybody makes an impact.

Since You Went Away Claudette Colbert

I’ve already talked a bit about how much I love Claudette Colbert’s performance in Since You Went Away, but her outstanding work doesn’t stop after the first scene. Claudette Colbert was initially hesitant to take the part of Anne Hilton because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be seen as old enough to be the mother of teenage daughters. But fortunately, a nice salary and the assurance that she would be boosting audience morale were enough to convince her to take the part. Anne may have been old enough to have teenage daughters, but it gave Claudette Colbert to prove just how much range she had. She handled everything from being warm and maternal to uncertain and afraid without missing a beat.

Jennifer Jones Robert Walker Since You Went AwayCasting actors who are married to each other to play a young couple in love hardly seems like a stretch. But if Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker’s relationship was ever like Jane and Bill’s relationship, those days were long behind them. By the time they made Since You Went Away together, Jones and Walker’s marriage was essentially over. They had separated in late 1943 and would be divorced a year after the movie was released. But their ability to put personal issues aside for the sake of the movie is extremely impressive and a testament to their talent. Their rapport is so strong and they made such a believable couple, I was very surprised to find out Jones and Walker were actually on the verge of divorce at the time.

Since You Went Away Shirley Temple

When she appeared in Since You Went Away, Shirley Temple, then 16 years old, hadn’t made a movie in two years. Although Shirley Temple is most widely celebrated for her work as a child actress, she proved to be more than just a cute kid in Since You Went Away. Temple gave Brig such a wonderful natural charm without being over-the-top precocious. All of the cast had great chemistry together, but I particularly love Shirley Temple’s scenes with Monty Woolley. The friendship between Brig and Col. Smollett never fails to warm my heart.

Since You Went Away Shirley Temple Monty Woolley

While Shirley Temple is associated with sweetness and light, Monty Woolley had the opposite screen image; best remembered for playing the acerbic Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Monty Woolley certainly had plenty of chances to do what he did best in Since You Went Away, but Col. Smollett is a character that let him show some softness as well. It’s a very well-rounded role that let him show how much talent he really did have.

Since You Went Away Agnes Moorehead

Agnes Moorehead plays Emily Hawkins, Anne’s snobbish friend, and boy does she ever excel at playing someone you love to hate. I tend to think of Emily as being like Sylvia Fowler: The War Years. Her haughty attitude, back-handed comments, and wardrobe would certainly make Sylvia Fowler proud. But while Sylvia Fowler is a total caricature, Emily Hawkins feels like someone you could actually meet, which makes the scene when she gets taken down a peg one of the best of the movie.

Since You Went Away Hattie McDaniel Joseph CottenJoseph Cotten was a perfect fit for the role of Tony, the handsome, charismatic friend of the Hilton family. It’s certainly not hard to see how someone like him would be so alluring to young ladies like Jane and Brig. I absolutely love his scenes with Claudette Colbert. Even though there is clearly an attraction and a little bit of history between Tony and Anne, Joesph Cotton never plays Tony as someone who is out to steal his friend’s wife. But there’s just enough of a spark to leave the audience wondering if they’re going to wind up together at the end of the movie.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Hattie McDaniel.  Simply put, Fidelia is a classic Hattie McDaniel role. She got to do everything that made her so likable.