Apr 14, 2015

TCM Classic Film Festival 2015: Day Two

I  went light on the movies the second day of TCMFF. Only at a film festival can you say that seeing four flicks in a day is a "light" viewing schedule.

After the Christopher Plummer hand/foot print ceremony (which I wrote about here), I had planned to see The Proud Rebel (1958) with Alan Ladd and Olivia deHavilland. I was suddenly very hungry and tired though, and decided to have some lunch and take a quick break at the hotel instead. It's so hard to slow down once you get rolling at TCMFF, but you really have to take the occasional break.

Jeanine Basinger. Can you believe this woman is 80?

Since I'd never attended a Club TCM event, I thought I'd check out Jeanine Basinger's Films & Facts: Whose Responsibility? after my break. In retrospect, I can't believe I didn't plan to all along, because I adore Basinger. 

My first year at the festival, I was warned that I'd be depressed when I first got home, so I figured I should have something movie-related to look forward to upon my return. Basinger's free online course about marriage in the movies, in support of her book I Do and I Don't: A History of Marriage in the Movies, and hosted by Wesleyan University seemed like a perfect idea. Though I barely had time to complete the course, it was immensely enjoyable, both because of the content and how soothing it was to watch Basinger's video lectures. There's something about her voice that always relaxes me.

Anyway, I was reminded of how amazing that experience was when Basinger came out on the stage. The woman just has a presence. You don't think academia when you see her. She's brilliant, but also relaxed and down-to-earth.

I loved Basinger's talk about truth and "truth" in the movies. She talked about the different ways history is approached in film, and how the importance of the truth depends upon several factors, including genre, the nature of the subject matter and the methods of the filmmaker. She said that on film, "history is a partly a matter of opinion." and by that she added, she meant interpretation. 

For example, the version of Madame Curie's life starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon is highly romanticized, but not completely false. Basinger said that what is being sold affects how facts are important, and in that case, the audience expected a love story as much as a biopic.

It was wonderful to hear the thoughts of one of my heroines and I am definitely planning to attend more Club TCM events at future festivals.

After the presentation, I stepped out to the lobby to check out Ann-Margret's interview with Ben Mankiewicz. It was too noisy for me to hear a lot of what they said, but I was mostly just trying to get a glimpse of her. I can't believe she's in her seventies. She's as gorgeous as ever!

Then I hustled down Hollywood Boulevard to get in line at The Egyptian Theater for The Cincinnati Kid (1965), my first movie of the day. It was a hot day, and I really appreciated that TCM staff were handing out cold bottles of water. 

Once I got inside, I connected with Angela of Hollywood Revue. Since we were in the dark for the next couple of hours, we didn't realize that we were wearing the same dress in different colors:

Great taste is contagious no?

Back to the theater. Ben Mankiewicz' interview with Ann-Margret was as much fun as I expected. The actress talked about her daredevil ways in the most demure, hushed voice. It was almost hard to believe that she was the same woman who had such a passion for speed--including a 2am motorcycle drive at 120 mph down Mulholland Drive--that she was actually forbidden by her studio to ride her bike. Costar Steve McQueen encouraged her to ignore that order, as he did. I wrote more about the interview in my Stars post.

I don't remember being impressed by The Cincinnati Kid the first time I saw it, and did find I lost my focus a bit during the long gambling scenes, but for the most part this is a really interesting film. Just the juxtaposition of different generations of actors fascinated me. There's Tuesday Weld, Steve McQueen and Ann-Margret representing one generation and Joan Blondell and Edward G. Robinson another. I guess Karl Malden falls somewhere in between. 

What I liked about this set-up was how well the younger and older generations complemented each other. Watching Steve McQueen stare down Edward G. Robinson across the gambling table, I thought how remarkable it was to see this young actor holding his own with one of the greatest screen stars. And Robinson isn't diminished a bit, he is as nuanced and emotionally raw as ever.

Of course, Blondell steals the film. It doesn't matter that her role was small. She steals everything. It's just the way it is.

After the movie, it was great fun have a snack and spend some time in the Egyptian forecourt with blogging and Twitter friends:

Photo credit Aurora
We were all in line to see one of the most eagerly anticipated screenings of the festival, Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) with a new score by silent film music maestro Carl Davis.

Leonard Maltin introduced the screening. I always enjoy his introductions, because he is a great storyteller and has often had in person interactions with the stars he talks about. He shared his memory of tracking down Keaton at a New York film shoot as a teenager. While their conversation was awkward, the actor was kind and even helped him to identify the film in a Keaton still the young Maltin brought with him. 

Steamboat Bill Jr. is low on my list of Keaton favorites; I've tended to appreciate the amazing stunts in the final part of the film more than the movie as a whole. It was a much more satisfying experience with an audience, as I picked up on gags I hadn't noticed before. 

The score was great, and played beautifully by an enormous ensemble. My only complaint was that the guitar used for one short scene had a hokey 60s-sitcom sound that seemed out of place for the time period. But overall I was impressed yet again by the genius of Carl Davis.

Then I ran down Hollywood Boulvard to see George Lazenby before On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). I was certain the screening would fill up and I wouldn't get in, but as it turned out, there were plenty of seats by the time I got there. And thank heaven I did get in, because watching Ben Mankiewicz interview the Devil-may-care Lazenby was one of the best experiences of the festival. (I posted about their chat here.)

The film itself was as entertaining as ever. It's been my favorite Bond since I first saw it, mostly because I love Diana Rigg, but it's also much better made than the other entries in the series. For once, Bond is portrayed as a human and his romantic interest has a personality beyond being his sex toy. It's also a great action flick, beautifully filmed and with Telly Savalas as an unforgettable villain. 

It was a thrill to see Savalas' lair on the big screen, because I'd actually been there! The Swiss location is now a tourist attraction, made somewhat less sexy by the fact that they now serve lasagna to tourists in a restaurant on the top floor. Now that I think about it, that adventure is worthy of its own post.

I don't know why I thought I had to do this, but I rushed out of Her Majesty's Secret Service mid-car chase to get in line for the midnight movie Boom! (1968). Even though I got into everything that I wanted to last year, for some odd reason I was anxious about getting into several films this year. 

The anxiety was unwarranted too. 

Especially for a midnight movie. Most people aren't crazy enough to stay up that late. I've always been that crazy though. The fact that I was especially eager to see this film because John Waters loves it only proves that.

Boom! is a gorgeous mess. Based on the unsuccessful Tennessee Williams play The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, it stars Elizabeth Taylor in a role meant for an old woman and Richard Burton in a part written for a young man. That alone sets everything off the rails. The fact that the stars also seem to be drunk and probably not heeding any directorial advice just adds to the insanity.

Taylor is a wealthy, ailing widow who is suffering through her last days in a gorgeous, isolated Mediterranean villa overlooking the sea. She receives an unwelcome visit from poet Burton, who is notorious for visiting wealthy ladies before their deaths and making off with their jewels. As annoyed as she is, the acidic widow is attracted to the trespasser and hopes to make him her last lover.

I didn't take much note of the plot though. I enjoyed the beautiful scenery, and Taylor throwing medical equipment and trays full of food, Noël Coward howling like a wolf and the way our heroine could turn the film's soundtrack on and off at will. 

It's a spectacle, beautiful, campy, full of long speeches that will try the eyelids of any Midnight movie attendee. 

While I'll admit that it doesn't work on a conventional level, there is some poignancy to Taylor's performance. The actress must have sensed the familiarity of this woman suffering from illness, the survivor of multiple marriages, pampered, spoiled and yet strangely restricted. Every time she threw a tray or made a fit, I thought of the shy MGM child star, being lauded, but also leading a stressful studio life from a young age. I was happy to see her cut loose.

It was a strange experience, and I ended up buying the film when I got home to be sure of what I had seen. While it is sort of an endurance test, I enjoyed it. Boom! was a highlight of the festival for me, if anything because it is that rare cinematic treasure that somehow works despite its many failings.

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