After a whirlwind weekend of movies, the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival comes to a close. A nonstop orgy of films, celebrities, and all things movie, the seventh annual festival offered a little something for everyone, particularly those just learning about classic films or who have just general knowledge of the subject. Basically a celebration of all things movie, the festival is light, breezy, and completely entertaining.
This year’s festival featured the theme “Moving Pictures,” concentrating on films that take flight, sound a call to action, arouse emotion, offer inspiration, or take us to new worlds. The packed schedule kept guests on the run themselves, with little time to rest, catch a real meal, or visit with friends before queuing for the next program.
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Francis Ford Coppola puts his hands in concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre during TCM Classic Film Festival 2016.
With such a packed schedule one can see only a few films a day, what with waiting in line and the like, but virtually every genre is offered. Some guests attend to see and hear celebrity guests, something unavailable in the cities where they live. Some come to see classic films that run perennially on TCM on the big screen. Others come to see new restorations or obscure film titles recently rediscovered. Many come just because they love film.
Programs seemed even more interactive this year, geared to younger audiences or those with short attention spans. Events included book readings by celebrity guests, screenings by the Roosevelt pool, a Smell-O-Vision program, trivia games, interactive photo standees, and the like. While there were some hour or longer interviews with celebrity attendees, most lasted only 10-15 minutes at the most, an appetizer preceding the film. Many actors or authors introduced films with a short five-minute or so description, just whetting the surface. Virtually every program opened with the same introduction thanking marketing partners or introducing new products that will require a fee, branding at its best.
The festival appears to be possibly becoming a victim of its own success, with many posting on various Facebook pages about long lines queuing for films and many not getting into screenings. some turned away from author signings or prevented from taking a photograph with celebrities due to the events taking place in theatre lobbies or outside their entrance. Perhaps more venues are needed for screenings like the Pantages, Montalban, and El Capitan Theatres, or specialized locations like the Hollywood Heritage Museum, Hollywood History Museum, or the like to deal with the influx of people.
I saw several features, special programs, and Club TCM presentations, each with interesting points. I attended the 1933 Fox Pre-Code “Pleasure Cruise” as my first film of the 2016 festival. Starring perennial second bananas Roland Young and Genevieve Tobin, the movie featured many elements that would be verboten a few years later after the Legion of Decency and other conservative political groups claimed motion pictures contained too much racy dialogue, nudity, or other situations, basically forcing the industry to censor themselves.
The film concerned a recently married couple, with house husband/novelist Young growing jealous over the possible dalliances his wife could be enjoying at her work. He suggests she take a pleasure cruise while he fishes, but he follows her on the trip to check on her faithfulness. The film featured a plethora of regular British character actors like Robert Greig, Una O’Connor, Herbert Mundin, and Ralph Forbes along with Minna Gombell, Theodore von Eltz, and Arthur Hoyt. Beautiful sets and costumes enhance the somewhat racy dialogue and situations, with some lovely dissolves and elegant cutting techniques.
Maria Falconetti in “Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc.”
Later that evening I attended “Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc,” what the composer Richard Einhorn called “an opera with silent film,” with the motion picture functioning only as the staging for the oratorio. First composed 23 years ago, “Voices of Light” compiles mediations by female mystics like Hildegard von Bingen, Joan’s letters, and other spiritual works as a meditation on the life of Joan of Arc, meant to complement but not accompany Carl Theodor von Dreyer’s classic 1928 work.The work is inspired by the life and work of Joan of Arc.
While gorgeous, stirring music on its own, it often overwhelms the images it plays with, becoming a spectacle in itself rather than an invisible voice behind the film. Composer/historian Jon Marsalis states that silent film music is meant to underscore the picture, neither overwhelming its visuals nor its emotions, and Richard Wagner argued that music should never be privileged over other elements and composed in conjunction with the dramatic needs of the work it accompanies, not vice versa. “Voices of Light” features lush melodies, haunting choruses by the UC Berkeley Alumni Chorus, and lovely playing by the orchestra while only occasionally melding with image. The music in the torture room roars like Mozart’s “Dies Irae” in his Requiem, full of fire and brimstone, but neither completely resolves into “Requiem” nor “Agnus Dei” sections. Oddly, a baritone solo stands in for Joan when she is led outside for the first confrontation. A dramatic, overwhelming visceral experience, the score becomes the experience, with the film merely a footnote to its playing.
Ron Hutchinson opened Saturday, April 30 with an entertaining program of kitsch and Americana on the 90th Anniversary of Vitaphone, highlighting the great vaudeville, burlesque, and stage performers of the early twentieth century. The Vitaphone system featured a 33 1/3 LP disc which was synced with motion picture film to create the first reliable sound system. While some features were recorded in Vitaphone, the vast majority of work composed for the system consisted of one-reel shorts recording for posterity the work of early American popular performers.
Shaw and Lee in “The Beau Brummels.”
Hutchinson presented a quick overview of the system and its work marrying Vitaphone discs with the motion picture film it accompanied, followed by seven widely different but fascinating shorts. The shorts included girl belter Rose Marie, hot singer/comedian Georgie Price, the incomparable nonsense songs and patter of Shaw and Lee, impersonations of Ted Lewis, Fanny Brice, Mae West (four years before she appeared in films), and Maurice Chevalier by Zelda Santley, the gentle give and take of George Burns and Gracie Allen, widely diverse performances by Jewish theatre veteran Molly Picon, and the knockdown, drag-out hilarious performances by Myrtle Glass and Jimmy Conlin, accompanied by unseen production staff, echoing his comments of “Ho!” “Huh” and the like.
Later in the morning I attended the 1931 Universal film “A House Divided,” the second sound film directed by William Wyler. It starred Walter Huston and Kent Douglass, later Douglass Montgomery as a fisherman and his son fighting over a gorgeous young woman. The film featured lovely camerawork, nice ambient use of music two years after sound came in, and fine performances. Walter Brennan and Gibson Gowland play very small parts in the movie. Czar of Noir Eddie Muller conducted a fascinating short interview with David Wyler, the director’s son, before the movie.
In the afternoon, I attended the Club TCM presentation by French archivist/historian Serge Bromberg, who gave one of his usual informative and humorous presentations about discovering and preserving previously lost silent film. Bromberg described how four prints were combined to create the restored Chaplin 1915 short “The Bank,” and played a scene from the 1918 “Shoulder Arms” discovered in 1982 and not seen in over 30 years.
He described how film historian Jon Mirsalis miraculously discovered the previously lost two minutes of the largest pie fight on film in Laurel and Hardy’s “Battle of the Century,” along with a recently restored 1923 Laurel short, “The Whole Truth.” Bromberg concluded with a very short segment showing Laurel and Hardy addressing a French film exhibitors’ convention in 1936.
Elliott Gould offers advice to actors during the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival.
I heard parts of Alec Baldwin’s articulate, thoughtful interview with erudite Elliott Gould, who displayed a wry sense of humor as well before seeing Randy Haberkamp’s “Hollywood Home Movies” in Club TCM, featuring never-before-seen footage of stars clowning around at home or on the set, or surreptitiously filmed by visitors to the set. There were excerpts from the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1931 with Joan Blondell, Frances Dee, Rochelle Hudson, Anita Louise, Lilian Bond, and Joan Marsh, Behind the Scenes of the 1931 “The Squaw Man” with Cecil B. DeMille, A 1938 visit to Los Angeles that included visits to a RKO George O’Brien set, a Hollywood drive-in, and footage of a Shriners film parade at the Coliseum, Ginger Rogers at home, Gilbert Roland, David O. Selznick, John Garfield, Constance Bennett, and others playing tennis, making of “the More the Merrier,” footage from the shooting of “On the Waterfront” in color, vintage Disneyland home movies from the late 1950s showing Annette Funicello and Jimmy Dodd among others, excerpts of home movies shot on the “Marjorie Morningstar” set, and Nicholas Brothers home movie excerpts showing them performing onstage with Carmen Miranda, Duke Ellington, and closing with family and friends.
On Sunday, May 1 I attended only one program, the Club TCM presentation by renowned film composer Michael Giacchino, who described how his life experiences shaped his composition career. After obtaining a film degree he worked in publicity before going to music school, began composing for video games, and later moved into composing for films. He described the process of creating themes and cues for films, employing footage shot of him consulting with director Pete Docter for Pixar Animation films “Up” and “Inside/Out.” At the conclusion he showed a short silent reel that he, Docter, and others ad-libbed and shot during a tour of Laurel and Hardy film locations, which I was lucky to be a part of. He graciously listed everyone who attended the tour that day in the end credits.
With a plethora of films, presentations, star interviews, and special events included in its mix, the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival offers something for every type of film fan, young and old, who come together to celebrate the glory of film.