Time has been flying by since I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival last month, but that’s okay with me because next year’s festivities can’t come soon enough! I was hoping to fit my accounts of the second and third days of the fest into part two of my festival coverage, but so much happened on Friday that I have to write about it all on its own. With all of the other projects that I’m working on at the moment, it may take a little longer than expected to roll out the final reports of my TCMFF experience, but rest assured they’re coming your way! Today, at least, I can share for your viewing pleasure everything that I saw on Friday, the second day of the fest!
Friday, April 27
Friday morning’s film offerings were tough to narrow down. In my picks for the festival, I was torn between watching a new-to-me picture, The Clock (1945), or one of my all-time favorites, High Society (1956). By the time the fest rolled around, I had come to the realization that I’d regret not seeing High Society (1956) on the big screen with other avid fans of the movie. On top of that, it was my only chance to catch a film screening at the festival’s newest venue, The American Legion Post 43 Theatre. The theater was stunning and spacious with ornate decor, stained glass windows, and a vintage cannon marking the entrance. It was truly like stepping back in time, but the biggest drawback about the Legion was the distance between the theater and the festival’s other venues. Sure, a fifteen-minute walk may not seem like much to some, but it’s an uphill trek that’s next-to-impossible for some of the festival’s disabled attendees. I wasn’t feeling up to walking in high heels so early in the morning so I ordered a Lyft which presented some transportation delays, but even after arriving about forty minutes prior to showtime I received queue card number thirty-four and had the pleasure of meeting another blogger in line for the movie: Laura, who pens Miscellaneous Musings as well as the Western Roundup column for Classic Movie Hub! She was such a wonderful person to talk to about blogging and the upcoming Lone Pine Film Festival, which is definitely on my bucket list to attend!
Despite the fact that there wasn’t much of a crowd, this screening was absolutely delightful. Kate Flannery, actress and star of The Office (2005-2013), introduced the film. I wasn’t really aware of her prior to her appearance at the fest and I wasn’t sure why she was chosen to introduce this feature in particular, but everything became clear as she spoke. She told the most heartfelt story about her family’s connections to the Kelly family; both she and Grace were given Catholic upbringings in Philadelphia, and Kate and her mother were friends of Grace’s younger sister Lizanne. Kate’s mother was so fond of Grace Kelly that she noticed her hairstyle change every time Grace’s did. The only time that they saw the Princess of Monaco in person was when she stepped out of her limousine and waved during an appearance in Philadelphia. At the time, they were unaware that it would be the final time that Grace would visit her hometown, and she passed away mere months later. Kate revealed that after Grace’s death, her mother never changed her hairstyle again. This heartfelt story was perfectly paired with some of the songs from High Society (1956) played by the trumpet player for Kate’s cabaret show, who was devoted to Louis Armstrong and had the privilege of playing two of his trumpets in the past. As another Philadelphian who shares a personal attachment to Grace Kelly, I sympathized with Kate’s story and admired it so much, finding it a perfect way into introduce a film that’s so close to my heart. As for the screening itself, High Society (1956) was as sublime as ever on the big screen. I was captivated by the vivid color cinematography and noticed so many hilarious bits of dialogue that evoked laughter from the audience, making this my favorite time that I’ve seen the picture for sure.
From there, I put my heels to use and made the walk straight from the Legion to The Egyptian Theatre for the festival’s very special screening of Sleeping Beauty (1959). Unlike High Society (1956), this Disney feature, the first to be screened at the fest in four years, brought a huge crowd. Even though I arrived about forty minutes early once again, I received queue card number three-hundred and thirty! There was quite a long wait to get in, but once I entered the theater and met up with my sister, we were treated to an introduction by Mindy Johnson, Disney historian and author of Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation (2017), alongside two of the original animators of Sleeping Beauty (1959), Floyd Norman and Jane Baer. The interview was exceptional, but unfortunately one of the three microphones wasn’t working, which led to Mindy and Jane sharing a microphone and subsequently making much of the interview inaudible. Eventually the issue was fixed and we heard some delightful anecdotes about Norman and Baer’s time at Disney Studios while Johnson shared fascinating photos of the two throughout their career. I learned that Norman was the clean-up artist for the three fairies while Baer worked on the animation of Aurora, though she adorably and proudly mentioned that she did some work on the candles of Aurora’s lopsided birthday cake and hoped that her animations were the ones that topped the cake in the final cut. Even sixty years later, it was easy to see just how attached the animators were to their characters, and some of the best parts of the introduction were Norman and Baer disagreeing about whether Aurora or the three fairies were the lead characters of the story and whether Aurora’s dress should have been pink or blue. The widescreen display of the restored film was spectacular, and I couldn’t have been more delighted that I got to see it in theaters.
Afterwards my sister and I headed over to the TCL Chinese Multiplex Theatres to get in line for our only silent film screening of the festival, Sunrise (1927). As a film scholar, I usually adore hearing lots of trivia and discussion about the making of the feature I’m about to see, but my sister and I agreed that Kerry Brougher’s introduction was possibly our least favorite of the festival. I would never discredit his prestige or movie knowledge as first director of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles and as the curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution. However, it’s one thing to know a great deal about a film and another to tell others about a film in an interesting way, and he fell short of accomplishing this second feat. I went into this movie knowing little about it aside from its Academy Award honors, being a fan of lead actress Janet Gaynor, and appreciating the genius of F.W. Murnau. I didn’t even know the name of the leading man until the opening credits rolled, but after Brougher’s introduction I still felt like I learned nothing beyond what I already knew. What’s worse, the trivia and knowledge that he did share with the audience made us feel like he was reading from a textbook.
If you’re familiar with film historians like Jeremy Arnold, Eddie Muller, and the late and great Robert Osborne, you’d understand that it’s not impossible to recite trivia and inside information without sounding tedious, and I would have rather seen any of these outstanding movie sages introduce Sunrise (1927) for my first-time viewing. As for the picture itself, I admit I was first drawn to it because of Janet Gaynor and she gave an exemplary performance, but it was George O’Brien who makes this film his own as the weary farmer looking for a better life without understanding what that means. It’s easy to see that the romance in this film reigns supreme. My favorite scene was the one in which Gaynor and O’Brien’s characters stroll through the city in an attempt to reunite as a couple and decide to get their pictures taken. This movie about love lost and eventually love renewed is perfect for the festival’s theme of “Love in the Movies”, and I couldn’t be more glad that it was included this year. Despite watching many classic films with my sister before, I had hardly ever seen any silent pictures with her, so I was afraid that she would find it inferior to the movies produced in the golden age of cinema. As we exited the theater, I hesitated asking what she thought of Sunrise (1927), but I was so delighted when she told me that it was her favorite out of the movies we had seen so far!
After Sunrise (1927) we were originally going to rush downstairs to the TCL Chinese IMAX for a screening of Steel Magnolias (1989) with special guest Shirley MacLaine, but prior to the festival actually starting we found out that she had cancelled. When it was first announced that Shirley was going to attend, I was hoping that she would be introducing not only Steel Magnolias (1989), but also something from her earlier work like The Apartment (1960), The Children’s Hour (1961), or even What A Way to Go! (1964). Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, so we decided to skip Steel Magnolias (1989) because Shirley was the only reason why I was going to attend the screening. There weren’t any other films that we were dying to see during this time slot, so we decided to take the time to finally see Club TCM. It was so lovely to walk through the Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room once again, and it was even lovelier to see none other than my favorite actor Tyrone Power gracing Club TCM’s walls! I had to stop and get a picture with him, and what’s more they had the costumes that Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland wore in They Died With Their Boots On (1941) on display too!
While we were hanging out at the Roosevelt, we noticed a friendly Warner Archive representative giving out classic movie DVDs, so I couldn’t resist the urge to grab a copy of Inside Daisy Clover (1965), which I still haven’t seen despite my deep adoration for Natalie Wood. Maybe now I’ll finally get the chance to watch it! After that, we finally had our only sit-down meal of the day at the nearby, new-to-us establishment Mel’s Diner. While we were digging into some malts, nachos, and burgers, I received the notification that Gena Rowlands had cancelled her appearance at what was my most-anticipated screening of A Woman Under the Influence (1974). I spent the rest of the dinner commiserating, completely stunned that the two guests that I was most thrilled to see weren’t going to show. On one hand, I hated to miss out on the film just because Rowlands wasn’t going to be there, but on the other hand I knew that I would be far too distracted wishing that she was there to really have a joyous time, so I sat at the diner with my sister working out the next day’s schedule.
Luckily I was able to chase my blues away with one more film on Friday: a fascinating world-premiere restoration of Anthony Mann’s seminal western Winchester ’73 (1950). I’ve mentioned recently on my blog that I’ve become a bit of a western addict lately, finally feeling ready to jump into the genre spearheaded by visionaries like Mann. I don’t know if other festival attendees care about such a trivial thing, but I’ve always wanted to be first in line and receive the first queue card for a screening. I was fairly close last year when I arrived at the same time as another gentleman for a showing of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), but he rudely nudged his way in front just so he could brag to me about getting card number one. Little did I know that arriving just an hour and a half in advance for Winchester ’73 (1950) would finally grant my wish of being first in line fair and square. What was even better was that my sister and I showed up together for the picture, making her second in line!
I spent my time waiting talking to a lovely lady who was waiting behind us and snagged some epic selfies of our victory before heading inside. The picture was introduced by none other than the aforementioned Jeremy Arnold, who couldn’t have written or delivered a more perfect start to the film. He perfectly blended the intriguing facts about the production of Winchester ’73 (1950) with his own thoughts on why this has become a unique yet lasting part of James Stewart’s legacy, also discussing how audiences were able to sympathize with an unsavory character hell-bent on avenging the murder of his father because they believed that someone like Stewart could never do something inherently wrong. The screening of this new restoration funded by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg was truly something to remember; this edition was crystal clear and truly heightened the action of this fast-paced revenge thriller. My sister wasn’t much of a western fan, but it’s hard for me to dislike just about anything that stars Stewart. With a gripping shooting competition that continues to be my favorite western scene to a twist that was incredibly unique for the time, I couldn’t have recommended a better way to end my second day of the festival.