Dustin Hoffman

TCMFF 2015, Day 2: Early Technicolor, Dustin Hoffman, and BOOM!

Today involved making a lot of my hardest decisions of the entire festival. In a way, it was actually kind of nice to get those done and out of the way, but still, the decisions were tough. When it all came down to it, I ended up spending the majority of my day hanging out at the Egyptian theater, getting out of one movie and getting right back in line for the next one. The line-up there that day was just incredible.

David Pierce Dawn of Technicolor TCMFF 2015

David Pierce at the Dawn of Technicolor presentation. Photo courtesy TCM/Tyler Golden

The day started with a presentation called “The Dawn of Technicolor” given by James Layton and David Pierce, authors of the new book “The Dawn of Technicolor.” Although their book isn’t specifically focused on early musicals, this presentation was mostly focused on early Technicolor musical numbers as well as information about the early Technicolor process and some of the problems that came along with it. Now, I’ve always had an odd fondness for the look of early two-strip Technicolor, so I was relieved to find out that I am not alone in that. The Egyptian seats about 600, making it the third largest venue at the festival (behind the Chinese theater and the El Capitan) and it was a pretty full house. It was pretty exciting to see so many people who were willing to get up early to go see examples of early Technicolor; it made me feel a little less alone in my nerdiness.

Most of the clips featured in the presentation were extremely rare; the only one I had seen before was “The Lockstep” musical number from the scrapped revue The March of Time, which was featured in That’s Entertainment! Part 3. The clips they showed ranged from entertaining to downright baffling. The “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips” number from the mostly lost Gold Diggers of Broadway gave us all an idea of why that movie was such a rousing success in 1929. A color version of the “Meet My Sister” number from 1929’s The Show of Shows was really fun to watch and featured appearances from Loretta Young, Dolores Costello, and Ann Sothern in her second film. We were treated to a restored version of 1930’s The Sultan’s Jester, a 10-minute short produced by Warner Brothers which features a lot of bad jokes and some pretty wild acrobatics. If you ever have the chance to see Layton and Pierce give this presentation, I very highly recommend checking it out.

Dustin Hoffman Lenny

One of the hottest events of the entire festival was Friday’s screening of 1974’s Lenny with Dustin Hoffman in attendance. I had been really interested in the Christopher Plummer handprint ceremony at the Chinese theater, which was immediately before Lenny started, but ultimately, I decided to skip it to get in line for Lenny since Dustin Hoffman is one of my all-time favorite actors and the star of some of my favorite movies. This proved to be a good call because I don’t think I would have been able to get in if it weren’t for the fact that I was able to get out of the Technicolor presentation and immediately get in line for Lenny; a lot of people were shut out of this one.

Prior to the festival, I had never seen Lenny and didn’t know anything at all about the real Lenny Bruce, so I can’t talk about how accurate the movie is at depicting Lenny’s life, but Hoffman was amazing. I’m not sure why I haven’t heard this movie discussed more, but it’s definitely time for more people to rediscover it. Hoffman’s performance was a real tour de force and he had a terrific co-star in Valerie Perrine as Honey, the wife of Lenny Bruce.

Following the film, there was a discussion between Dustin Hoffman and Alec Baldwin about what it was like making the film and about his career in general. Hoffman was an absolute delight to listen to; he was funny, honest, candid, even showed a very heartfelt moment of vulnerability when talking about his late friend Robin Williams.  This was an interview I could have listened to all day; I so adore Hoffman as an actor, it was the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to hear him talk about how he researched the role of Lenny Bruce and what it was like to work with Bob Fosse. He and Fosse didn’t always see eye-to-eye on his performance, but Hoffman admitted that ultimately, Fosse was always right and joked that he’ll admit to a lot of things 40 years later. (If you’d like to see a clip of the interview, someone has uploaded a clip onto YouTube, but I will warn you that this clip is the most R-rated bit of the interview. But you do get to see both Hoffman and Baldwin doing their best Buddy Hackett impressions.)

Ann-Margaret at the TCM Film Festival

Ann-Margaret at the TCM Film Festival. Photo courtesy TCM/Tyler Golden

Following the screening of Lenny, I went outside and got right back in line for The Cincinnati Kid, which would be introduced by Ann-Margaret. Gambling movies aren’t always my thing, but with a cast like Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Blondell, Karl Malden, and of course, Ann-Margaret, it was hard for me to resist. But the movie held my interest the whole time and had lots of suspense. It also gave Joan Blondell a lot of opportunities to be the ultra-sassy type of character I always love watching her play in her early 1930s films. And being able to see Ann-Margaret in person was a treat. She talked about things like making her film debut along with Bette Davis in Pocketful of Miracles and how wonderful Bette was to her, her love of motorcycles, and working with Steve McQueen, who she recalled saying, “Eh, let them worry, it’s their job,” when the studio asked him to stop riding his motorcycle to work.

Steamboat Bill Jr

After The Cincinnati Kid, it was time for me to get in line for Buster Keaton’s classic Steamboat Bill, Jr. with live music conducted by the great Carl Davis. Steamboat Bill, Jr. wasn’t a new movie to me, but it’s always incredible to see one of the great silent film comedies with a big audience, especially when the music is being conducted by one of the top composers of silent film scores. It’s truly an experience unlike anything else.

The Bank Dick WC Fields

I finally got a break from the Egyptian Theater after Steamboat Bill, Jr. when I went over to the TCL multiplex to see 1940’s The Bank Dick, introduced by Allen Fields and Ronald J. Fields, two of W.C. Fields’ grandchildren. Being able to see his grandsons was a real trip because one of them looked and sounded so much like W.C. Fields. In all honesty, my memory is a little hazy of this screening since I dozed off at a couple of points, but what I do remember of the movie, I immensely enjoyed.

Elizabeth Taylor Boom

I was willing to stay up til midnight to find out the context of how and why this hat was worn.

Oddly enough, one of the biggest highlights of the entire festival was the midnight screening of Boom!, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s film adaptation of Tennessee William’s “The Milk Truck Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.” Boom! is best remembered for being the only movie Taylor and Burton made together that lost money. And the movie does completely miss the mark in every conventional way, but that’s what made it so much fun to see in a theater. Boom! is the kind of movie that is best watched late at night after you’ve had a few drinks. John Waters has called the movie “so bad, it’s the other side of camp,” and everything else he has said about the movie is completely dead on. To give you an idea of what Boom! has to offer, I’ll quote the awesome Anne Marie of The Film Experience:

I know a lot of other people at the festival read John Waters’ comments about the movie and were totally sold on the movie by them. And judging by how many times I heard people around the festival doing their best imitations of Elizabeth Taylor shrieking, “WHAAAAAT!” I think it’s safe to say Boom! was a success. John Waters was right — it’s really best seen with an appreciative audience and this audience was, indeed, appreciative.

On that note, I will leave you with the trailer for Boom!

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.

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Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson: The Parts That Almost Got Away

Dustin Hoffman Ann Bancroft The Graduate

The Graduate is a movie I love every single aspect of. To me, it’s about as close a movie gets to perfection. By far, one of my favorite aspects of it is the cast. Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson are two of my favorite performances ever committed to celluloid; a career-defining film for both of them.

Nobody has ever played an awkward young guy quite as brilliantly as Dustin Hoffman did in The Graduate. He projected just the right amount of nervous energy and uncertainty. Mrs. Robinson is such a wonderfully rich role for a more mature woman and Anne Bancroft played that very complex character to the hilt.

Last week, I talked about how it’s hard to imagine The Graduate without songs like “Mrs. Robinson” and “The Sound of Silence,” but neither of those songs were originally intended to be used in the film. It’s even harder to imagine The Graduate without Anne Bancroft or Dustin Hoffman, but remarkably, neither of them were even close to being the first choices for their roles.

Jeanne Moreau Lana Turner Ava Gardner

Jeanne Moreau was director Mike Nichols’ first choice to play Mrs. Robinson, but the producers didn’t want her. Lana Turner, Shelley Winters, Susan Hayward, Patricia Neal, Angela Lansbury, Judy Garland, and Doris Day were all considered for the part. Ava Gardner was very interested in the part, but Nichols wasn’t very interested in her.

Robert Redford Anthony Perkins Warren Beatty

Before Dustin Hoffman came into the picture, Mike Nichols had considered Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Burt Ward, Robert Wagner, George Hamilton, Anthony Perkins, George Peppard, and Jack Nicholson for the part of Benjamin. Robert Redford was a top contender for the part, but ultimately Mike Nichols didn’t think audiences would find him believable as an underdog type.

When Hoffman was approached about auditioning for Benjamin, Dustin thought he was so wrong for the part that he wondered if he was being made fun of.  After Nichols convinced Hoffman it wasn’t a joke, he agreed to come in for a screen test with Katharine Ross and the result was nearly disastrous. When he arrived for the screen test, Hoffman looked so common and unpolished that producer Joseph E. Levine mistook him for a messenger. The test was supposed to be a love scene and at the time and not had Hoffman never done a love scene before, he was convinced that someone like Katharine Ross would never be interested in a guy like him. Dustin was certain he had failed miserably, but he got the part because he had the awkward quality they had been looking for all along.

Fashion in Film: The Graduate

Benjamin Braddock

Benjamin Braddock Diagonal Tie The Graduate

The whole premise of The Graduate revolves around Benjamin lacking direction.  Nothing says, “I’m feeling completely out of sorts” quite as clearly as wearing diagonal stripes.

Ties in The Graduate

Benjamin’s diagonal striped tie and unbuttoned jacket certainly don’t fit in with the other men at his graduation party. All the other men we see have their jackets buttoned up and are either wearing ties in solid colors or with a floral/geometric print.

Benjamin Braddock The Graduate White Shirt

Before Benjamin starts seeing Elaine, Benjamin is mostly seen wearing white dress shirts. But after Elaine finds out about Benjamin having an affair with her mother, he falls into a deep depression. From then on, his basic day-to-day uniform becomes a black shirt with khaki pants and a tan or khaki jacket.  This whole ordeal has had a huge impact on him and his sudden change in clothing reflects that.

Benjamin Braddock The Graduate

 

Mrs. Robinson

Mrs. Robinson Animal Print Clothes

Mrs. Robinson sure loves her animal prints.  Tiger print, leopard print, giraffe print, she doesn’t shy away from any of them. Animal prints are definitely something that command attention and Mrs. Robinson is a woman who desperately wants to be noticed.

Mr. Robinson Benjamin Braddock The Graduate

When we meet Mr. Robinson, his outfit makes it loud and clear that he and Mrs. Robinson are no longer on the same level.  While Mrs. Robinson has her hair done and is dressed to the nines in her fabulous cocktail dress, Mr. Robinson appears to have just come home from a round of golf at the country club and looks like he’s ready for a low-key night at home.

Mrs. Robinson The Graduate

Mrs. Robinson also tends to wear a lot of black. Black can be a very powerful color and in Mrs. Robinson’s case, the color seems to signify two different things.  Like an animal print, black is a very bold thing to wear. But black is also a color that is often associated with death and mourning. The person Mrs. Robinson wishes she could have been is dead and she knows she’s never going to be able to have the life she wanted for herself when she was younger.

Mrs. Robinson The Graduate

When Elaine finds out what has happening between Benjamin and her mother, Mrs. Robinson is wearing a black robe, but there’s nothing strong about it. She looks like a mess, her life is a mess, and she’s literally backed into a corner. It’s a moment of total defeat.

Elaine Robinson

Elaine Robinson Benjamin Braddock First Date The Graduate

Elaine Robinson starts out dressing like the polar opposite of her mother. For her first date with Benjamin, she wears a cream colored coat with a pink dress.  Not even a hint of her mother’s fondness for animal print or black to be seen here. She looks very young and fresh.

Elaine Robinson Bus The Graduate

Unfortunately, we don’t get to see much of this vibrant, more innocent version of Elaine Robinson. After she finds out about Benjamin having an affair with her mother, she heads into a much darker place and her wardrobe reflects that. Just like Benjamin, she starts favoring darker clothes — black boots, brown coats, black and dark blue shirts and sweaters.

Elaine Robinson Benjamin Braddock The Graduate

When characters have a connection in some way, particularly in a romantic way, it’s common for costume designers to dress them in ways that reflect that connection. Benjamin and Elaine’s costumes in the last half hour of The Graduate are a prime example of that. For the first time in the movie, Benjamin looks like he’s finally found a person he really connects with.  Elaine hates to admit it at first, but she connects with Benjamin in a way she doesn’t with anyone else in the movie. At least Elaine looks like she has more of a connection with Benjamin than she does with Carl Smith:

Carl Smith The Graduate

 

Benjamin Braddock: Moving Against the Current

The most prominent theme in The Graduate is not wanting to wind up trapped in a world that isn’t right for you.  Benjamin Braddock is one of those people who was raised with the expectation he would follow in his parents’ footsteps rather than be his own person.  His father is a successful business man, so of course it’s assumed Benjamin would naturally want to go down the same road. Benjamin’s father seems absolutely shocked by the notion that Benjamin might not want that for himself. Note that at the graduation party, Benjamin doesn’t seem to have a single friend his own age there, only his parents’ friends and business partners.

Benjamin doesn’t know what he wants out of life yet, he just knows he doesn’t want to live his father’s life. He resists being pushed into that world so strongly that he spends much of the movie not going anywhere at all. Although there are lines of dialogue addressing Benjamin’s aimlessness, The Graduate also does a brilliant job of conveying that feeling without words.

The Graduate Opening Credits

Most notably, during the opening credits, we see Benjamin in motion without actually getting anywhere.  As Benjamin walks through the airport, he steps onto a motorized walkway. If the camera stayed in one place, Benjamin would be moving across the frame from right to left. Since we read from left to right, seeing something move from right to left tends to feel a little unnatural. But since the camera moves to keep Benjamin in the far right side of the frame, it creates the feeling that he’s like a fish trying to swim against the current.

The Graduate Hotel Door

Later, as Benjamin tries to enter the hotel after calling Mrs. Robinson, he opens the door only to have a long line of older people walk out, blocking him from getting in.  Again, here’s Benjamin trying to move against the current.   In this case, he’s literally facing an onslaught of people who are probably the types of people his parents aspired to be when they were his age.   It’s worth noting that after the line of older people cleared, a handful of younger people hurry in, heading in Benjamin’s direction.

My favorite scene in The Graduate is the montage of Benjamin emotionlessly moving through his existence of floating in the pool, shutting himself off from his parents, and Mrs. Robinson. A masterpiece of match-action editing. The montage opens with Benjamin idly laying near the center of the frame. He keeps getting up and moving around, but no matter what he does or where he goes, he just keeps ending up right where he started — laying still in the middle of the frame.

Ten Little Things I Love About The Graduate

The first moment we see Mrs. Robinson at the party.

Mrs. Robinson The Graduate

She looks so utterly lost and alone even though she’s surrounded by friends, just like Benjamin.

The Robinsons’ bar area.

The Graduate Mrs. Robinson

Mrs. Braddock’s poolside outfit.

Mrs. Braddock The Graduate

Although I’m sure that jacket would cause some really unfortunate tan lines.

The beads of sweat on Benjamin’s forehead when the clerk at the hotel desk asks if he’s there for an affair.

Benjamin Braddock The Graduate

Alice Ghostley!

Alice Ghostley The Graduate

This shot.

Benjamin Mrs. Robinson The Graduate

Mrs. Robinson’s leopard print coat.

Mrs. Robinson The Graduate

“Oh, it’s not. It’s completely baked.”

Benjamin Braddock The Graduate

Richard Dreyfuss!

Richard Dreyfuss The Graduate

The fact that Harold Lloyd was an advisor for the final sequence of the movie, which was inspired by his movie Girl Shy.

Benjamin Braddock Elaine Robinson The Graduate

My Top 100, 10-1

We’ve made it to the final ten favorite movies!  I hope you enjoyed reading about my hundred favorite movies as much as I enjoyed writing about them.  I’m definitely thinking that I might have to do some more big lists like this in the future!  Thanks again to Colin from Pick ‘n’ Mix Flix Reviews for suggesting I do this list in the first place!  Now, with further ado, my final ten favorites…

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