Adventures of a TCM Fest-Goer

festopener3Last weekend, I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival as just another movie-lover in the crowd. The 2014 festival featured appearances by big-name stars Maureen O’Hara, Mel Brooks, Alan Arkin, Shirley Jones, and Jerry Lewis (left, at Grauman’s Theater with Quentin Tarantino). Interestingly, while waiting in line with other fest-goers, conversations drifted to the rapidly declining roster of Hollywood legends available to attend these events. Perhaps it was the recent death of Mickey Rooney, who was honored with a screening of National Velvet, that prompted these solemn conversations. Fest-goers speculated on what could possibly replace the interviews and appearances by these incomparable stars. Some presumed that TCM would showcase the films of younger stars and then reach out to them to appear in person—along the lines of the Richard Dreyfuss tribute this year. Others speculated that offspring of the major stars could step in to honor a famous parent, as Fraser Heston did for his father, Charlton, and Suzanne Lloyd did for her grandfather, Harold.

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Burt, Bogle, and Big Screens: Notes from the TCM Classic Film Festival

tcmopener2Once again, I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival as a civilian; that is, a regular fan who went for the movies, the stars, and the camaraderie. The festival was held at the end of April this year, which meant that it coincided with the end of the semester for me. I must have looked peculiar sitting on the floor in the queue lines grading final exams, but I would not have missed the fest’s four intense days of nonstop movie-going for anything.

The 2013 festival differed from last year’s in that it featured more tried and true classic films that are regularly shown on TCM, and it included several big-budget spectaculars with long running times. For those reasons, I did not see quite as many films as I did last year, but that is a minor quibble. The fest was still a highlight of my year, and I plan to go again in 2014. I thought I would share some treasures and surprises from this year’s fest for those who might like to attend but are still on the fence.

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Searching for Old Hollywood, Part 2

The Hollywood Museum is located on Highland Avenue near Hollywood Boulevard. The innocuously named museum was formerly the Hollywood History Museum, which likely sounded too dry or dull for tourists. Before that it was the Max Factor Museum, because the building is the original Max Factor headquarters where many a Golden Age star developed her signature look, from hair color to makeup design. My friend and I decided to check out the Hollywood Museum while attending the TCM Classic Film Festival in April. Visiting the museum became part of my quest to find some remnant of the glamor and mystique of the Golden Age among the noise and clamor of today’s Hollywood.

The rose-colored lobby and first floor of the 1935 Max Factor Building have retained its original Art Deco look. The primary make-up rooms have been preserved and restored with the original chairs, settees, lights, and multi-angled mirrors. It was enlightening to stroll through the rooms where Billie Burke, Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, and dozens of others were given the star treatment. The rooms suggested the kind of lavish attention the stars must have received: Each of the four primary rooms was devoted to women of a specific hair color: Blondes, Redheads, Brunettes, and Brownettes. The color of each room was selected to flatter the hair color. The rooms reminded me that the stars’ personal looks were extensions of their images, and it was their images that the studios were selling. The stars’ images were not only used to lure people into theaters to see their films but also to promote products in magazines. Ads featuring virtually every major star of the Golden Age lined the walls of the hallways.

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Searching for Old Hollywood, Part 1

I am still “reeling” from attending last month’s TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. As  a film historian, I have been reflecting on the relationship between the past and present—not only the connections between classic and contemporary films but also the lingering echoes of the film industry’s mythic, glamorous past amongst today’s crass, noisy Hollywood.  As I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard the first evening, I felt that nothing was left of that enchanted Hollywood of the past that exists mostly in my imagination! The traffic was worse than rush hour in Chicago, festival attendees crowded the shops and restaurants, and, tourists with children clogged the sidewalks to take photos of their little darlings posing with “actors” costumed as movie characters and superheroes. It’s next to impossible to race past a group of people dressed like Transformers.

When I looked more closely, however, I did find Old Hollywood: It was integrated, intertwined, and infused with the present day, right under everyone’s noses. Uncovering it reinforced my belief that—for better or worse—the past is always part of the present, whether people see it or not. It also made the noise, clamor, and tackiness of modern-day Hollywood more tolerable. My thoughts have inspired a two-part post on the ghosts of old Hollywood that still linger among the noise and tourism. Today and next week, I will offer a few observations on this notion in addition to a little history and a bit of reflection.

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Adventures at the TCM Classic Film Festival

Recovering from the TCM Classic Film Fest, which was held last weekend in Hollywood, took a few days, but it is now a glorious memory. The fest proved to be a communal experience, a learning opportunity, and a chance to reflect on the power of movies to connect us as a society and culture. Watching 14 movies in four days was exhausting but also rejuvenating.

LOST ON THE MEAN STREETS OF FILM NOIR. The fest included ten programming themes, and my friend Maryann and I managed to see at least one film from six of the programs. (By the way, attending with a friend is a must, because the urge to talk about the movies immediately after the screenings is overwhelming.) However, one theme attracted us more than the others—The Noir Style, programmed by author Eddie Muller, who is also the founder of the Noir Foundation. We watched four of Muller’s selections: Criss Cross, Cry Danger, Gun Crazy, and Raw Deal. In addition, we caught Fall Guy, a rare noir film that was not part of Muller’s program.

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My TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule

Today marks the beginning of TCM’s Classic Film Festival taking place April 28-May 1. A number of people have asked me if I’m attending the festival this year but unfortunately I’m stuck at home writing about it. Personal budget constraints make my attendance impossible but there are a lot of film screenings and events taking place at the festival that I wish I could see. I thought it would be fun to imagine how I might have planned out my trip to TCM’s Classic Film Festival this year and share a few movie recommendations in the process.

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Borzage Through Fresh Eyes

Color me green with envy after reading all those positive reports from all over about the recent TCM Classic Film Festival. While giving friends who attended the third degree to extract every droplet of vicarious enjoyment from their accounts of that long, delirious weekend in LA, one of the things that stands out in their reporting is the mention of the large number of young people in the audience, as well as the “lifers,” (aka those of us who have been movie-mad since childhood).  Recently, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of a youthful filmmaker who could be representative of this fresh wave of classic film lovers on the horizon.

From the viewpoint of most of us, Rebecca Bozzo, a twenty-something graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, is already a working film professional, but her ebullient enthusiasm for what she describes as  the  “collaborative energy” of movie making has an infectious quality that blends real knowledge and a joyous passion, even as she describes the sometimes arduous but invigorating process of collaboration with diverse people. Growing up in a household where her supportive parents exposed her to great films from Hitchcock, Cukor, Stevens, and Minnelli, her father was particularly involved in the National Film Society efforts to preserve films. With this cinematically aware family background, a growing desire to be a part of the film industry as a director and producer almost seems inevitable.

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A Memorable Woman’s Face (1941)

“The director who, hands down, helped me the most was George Cukor. He didn’t just help me do better in the films he directed me in, but he helped me be me. His words stayed with me always, so he was actually directing me later when I did films with lesser directors, and everyone was a lesser director compared to Mr. Cukor. I heard his words in my head, even words he never said, but which I thought he would have said…He had a profound effect on me.  If I could have selected a man to be my father, he would have been George Cukor.” ~ Joan Crawford

On Saturday, April 24th at 3:30 PM at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, the audience at the TCM Classic Film Festival will have an opportunity to see director George Cukor’s effect on Joan Crawford when A Woman’s Face (1941) is introduced by Illeana Douglas, the granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas, and Casey LaLonde, the grandson of Joan Crawford. For those of us who won’t be able to make it that day, this movie may still be worth exploring on DVD and whenever it appears on the TCM schedule.

Seeing A Woman’s Face (1941) for the first time a few years ago made me realize all over again why Joan Crawford was–like her or not–more than a movie star: She could act. The actress cited this film as one of the performances that ultimately helped her to earn an Oscar as Best Actress later in this decade for Mildred Pierce (1945). A Woman’s Face may be her among her best films. It deserves a bigger audience.

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