Apr 29, 2022

TCM Classic Film Festival 2022 Back to the Big Screen, Woo Hoo!

 

I had to fly in late for TCM Classic Film Festival 2022, but getting there on Friday ended up being a great thing. From being on a plane for the first time since 2019 and around more people than I had been for the past two years to re-connecting with several friends and seeing so many films and guests, three days was exactly what I could take. 

It was good to be back. I’ve never been more grateful to be able to cover this festival. While it wasn’t lacking in any way, TCMFF felt appropriately more subdued this time around. There was a feeling of TCM getting its feet wet again as it moved back into the complicated task of producing a film festival. All the essentials were in place though.
I saw ten films, the lowest number I’d seen for a TCMFF, and I liked the easier pace. It was good to sleep in a couple of mornings and take time for meals and relaxing at Club TCM, the gathering space in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. 

It’s been interesting, and a bit bittersweet, to see the roster of guests change over the years. When I first started going to the festival, I would see stars like Maureen O’Hara and Christopher Plummer. But time moves on and now there are many newer films on the program because they feature the stars that are still with us.
For that reason, the only pre-1970s films I saw were Queen Bee (1955), Cocktail Hour (1933), and After the Thin Man (1936). I loved the first because I forgot how campy it is and the film was new to a lot of the audience so it was fun to hear the astonished reactions. I found the pre-Code Cocktail Hour a little dull, though star Bebe Daniels is always wonderful to see; it was my one mild disappointment of the festival. I’d never seen a Thin Man flick in a theater before and now I’d love to see all of them. All films play differently in a movie theater compared to home viewing, but this one was especially rich because there’s always so much going on in this series and you can easily miss little details. 

As for the rest of my schedule, I focused on Midnight screenings and guests I wanted to see. Otherwise I could have easily filled my time with studio-age films; that kind of film still made up the bulk of what was on offer.
I always make a point of seeing the Midnights. There’s a fun party atmosphere in the theater and these kinds of flicks are always my go-to in daily life. Miracle Mile (1988) is an odd movie: it’s so bleak and yet it has the sweetest emerging romance at its core. I’ll admit it was a rough watch after having been awake for almost 24 hours, but given the anxiety in our current world, it was a perfect choice.
Polyester (1981) was a more light-hearted and raunchy affair. Mink Stole and Mario Cantone struck the perfect tone before the screening. I love how Stole has been in all these wild films for John Waters and yet her vibe is solidly fun aunt. 

The crowd was a lot rowdier than in past Midnights. People shouted out and talked often; it felt a bit like everyone was letting off steam after being away for so long. I was sleepy, but this is one of my favorite Waters films because he’s so good at puncturing the domestic American Dream and the cast is hilarious, especially Divine and Tab Hunter.

Cooley High (1975) 

My festival highlight came early with the cast and director reunion of this funny and heartbreaking independent classic. I started tearing up almost as soon as the panel began because I was so overcome by the charisma and chemistry up on the stage. 

It was wonderful to finally see the Hollywood Legion Theater. I’d missed seeing anything there when it was first a part of the festival in 2019. It’s a gorgeous old theater with beautiful classic details and seeing a film there felt almost intimate despite it being spacious and open in the auditorium. I was sad to not have time to see the basement speakeasy. Next time!
This incredible reunion included director Michael Schultz and cast members Cynthia Davis, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Garrett Morris, Glynn Turman, and Steven Williams. Jacqueline Stewart did an excellent job giving everyone a chance to speak, while letting them run a little wild at the same time. Williams in particular was a character! Such a funny man, trash talking and cutting up like a born performer. 

Overall there was such a warm feeling to this gathering. All of the cast members have remained friends and their mutual respect was truly touching to see. 

I hadn’t seen the movie for a while and had forgotten how fun and funny it is. It has some gut-wrenching moments, but for the most part it’s about kids growing up, having fun together, dancing, and enjoying their youth despite the challenges around them.
The Last of Sheila (1973) 

While I’d recently reviewed the Blu-ray of this twisty, amusing film, I couldn’t miss the chance to see Dave Karger interview Richard Benjamin. I’ve admired him for a long time and having recently heard a great episode of Gilbert Gottfried’s (RIP) podcast in which he and longtime wife Paula Prentiss were guests, I knew he would be sharp and entertaining. 

It was amusing to see this gentle, kind man after he’d played a dramatically different role in the movie. Dyan Cannon’s role in the film was based on the agent Sue Mengers, who was also Benjamin’s agent. Apparently she accepted the role for him before he had a chance to read the script (she also did that for Westworld, so the woman had good instincts). Fortunately he wanted the part! 

It was touching to hear Benjamin talk about his five-decade marriage with Prentiss. What a rarity in any case let alone Hollywood. How lucky that they found each other.


Somewhere in Time (1980) 

I’ve got a soft spot for this swoony romance and seeing Alicia Malone interview Jane Seymour was on the top of my list for the festival that was cancelled, so I was glad she was able to reschedule her appearance for this year. She was every bit as elegant and charming as I expected. 

Seymour had a wonderful time during the production of the film. She and costar Christopher Reeve even fell in love, though he broke her heart when a girlfriend announced her pregnancy with him and he had to break up with Seymour. The two remained friends throughout the years though and he was never far from her thoughts. I was moved that real life had mirrored the film in some ways. 

I thought that I was going to be an emotional wreck watching this movie on the big screen, but I left completely dry-eyed. Not sure why, but I am guessing it just hits different when viewed with a crowd. Still, I loved seeing it in a theater and it was as great a moment as I’d hoped.

Heaven Can Wait (1978) 

I hadn’t seen this remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) for years and couldn’t remember if I liked it (the soundtrack was distractingly dated, but it was charming overall), but I wanted to make sure I saw at least one film in the grand and gorgeous Chinese Theater and I thought it would be great to see Warren Beatty. 

One of the things I love about Beatty is that at a certain point he put aside his career to enjoy his personal life. With a thriving marriage and grown sons, he expressed his happiness at taking the time to be with them. Despite not making many films for an actor, director, and producer of his stature, he certainly hasn’t missed out as far as making great work and finding artistic satisfaction. 

I’ve always had an image of the young Beatty in mind; the mischievous guy who constantly chased women. It was interesting to see the mature man, full of wit, wisdom, and a knack for living life. 

Drunken Master II (1994) 

The second-to-last film on Saturday night is generally when I start to lose my mojo at TCMFF (it's always the day I see the most films), so it was fantastic to see a flick so full of energy. 

I used to watch Kung-Fu movies in theaters all the time in the 90s when Jackie Chan became a US sensation with Rumble in the Bronx (1995) and Super Cop (1992). It was great to see Hong Kong action on the big screen again and I hope TCM will program more genre classics like these at future festivals.

I took it easy on Sunday, but made sure to go to Alicia Malone’s book signing since I hadn’t been in town to say hello to her at the media mixer. It was great to chat. She’s been one of my favorite podcast interviewees so far. Such a wise and kind person! 

We posed in this goofy way in memory of how much the Zoom froze when we did the interview. Of course she looked fabulous every time she froze! 

Afterwards I caught a bit of the panel Reframed: Exploring the Complex Topic of Art vs. Artist in Club TCM. The discussion with Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Nancy Wang Yuen, and Roxane Gay was fascinating, but predictably the chat offered more questions than answers. Still, this was a productive conversation and I especially appreciated Gay’s balanced perspective. She is a great thinker.

Coffy (1973) 

WOW. What a fantastic way to end the festival. Just when I’m ready for a long winter’s nap, Pam Grier comes in literally dancing (to James Brown no less) and blows everyone away with an everything-but-the-kitchen sink interview. Jacqueline Stewart wisely let Grier go for it as she was all over the place, but was also often profound and had some fascinating life stories to share. 

After Coffy I had another chance to spend time with friends and soak up that last bit of festival atmosphere at the closing night party. I’ve always found this event to be crowded and stressful, but moving it to poolside completely changed the experience me. I lingered much longer, was able to see people I wanted to catch up more easily. It was all more purely enjoyable. 

I’m glad I went back to TCMFF in these strange times. I came home healthy, happy, and ready for next year!

Apr 27, 2022

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: April Round-up


Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast
April 4, 2022 

I was heartbroken to hear of Gilbert Gottfried passing. His podcast was one of my favorites; I have featured it many times on Watching Classic Movies. He was closing in on 700 episodes! What a loss to no longer have his voice. This was a great chat with You Must Remember This host Karina Longworth. His Dick van Dyke episode was legendary. Other memorable episodes: Carl Reiner, Stacy Keach, Malcolm McDowell, and married stars Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss.


The Academy Museum Podcast 
March 25, 2022 

I love this new show; it’s beautifully produced and host Jacqueline Stewart is an excellent interviewer. I was moved by the memories of the night Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Halle Berry all brought home Oscars. The sound of Berry’s emotional reaction to her win still moved me to tears; I remembered every sniffle.


Cinema Junkie 
March 23, 2022 

The Godfather is so famous for being an ensemble piece; it was a treat to get a few personal memories from cast member Robert Duvall on the 50th anniversary of the film. In this brief episode he pays tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s sense of humor and remembers his favorite moments making the movie.


I Saw What You Did 
March 29, 2022 

When I saw it in the theater, I thought the 1998 remake of Psycho was goofy and pointless. Only Millie and Danielle could make me suddenly so interested in seeing it again. In comparing the Van Sant film with the original, they find new things to consider about both versions.

Apr 21, 2022

Going to TCM Classic Film Festival! What I Plan to See and How to Follow Me

 


I'm excited to return to the TCM Classic Film Festival after two years away! I'm flying in a bit later this time, Friday morning, but I will have the opportunity to see plenty. 

My priorities: 

Friday-- 
Queen Bee 
Cooley High 
Miracle Mile 

Saturday-- 
The Last of Sheila 
Somewhere in Time 
Heaven Can Wait 
Drunken Master II 
Polyester 

Sunday-- 
After the Thin Man 
Coffy 
TBA? 

I'm going to keep the rest of my schedule fluid. Lots of free time for mask breaks outside, getting meals, etc. 

Here's where to follow me during the festival: 

Apr 20, 2022

Fourth Season of TCM's The Plot Thickens Podcast to Feature Pam Grier

 


While I'm not going to Hollywood until Friday, I've been getting TCM Classic Film Festival news here and there. The best thing I've heard yet? It was announced at the media mixer today that season four of the TCM podcast The Plot Thickens will feature actress Pam Grier. 

The first female action star of the modern era (and the first black female action star in Hollywood as her precursors in the silent era were all white), Grier has always had a lot more to offer than exploitation fare and eventually she was able to show that. However, those first films are the the most exciting of her work. Her screen presence was an explosion of charisma and sharp wit, and the source of many iconic moments. 

I can't wait to hear more about Grier, because I know she's a fighter and has overcome a lot. Now I am extra excited to see Grier interviewed before Coffy (1973) as my last film of the TCM Classic Film Festival!

Apr 15, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast Special Episode: How I Navigate TCM Classic Film Festival


Every year before the TCM Classic Film Festival, I see festival newbies planning and speculating about their first visit and I think I'd like to give them the benefit of my experience, but in a more thorough way than can be achieved with a Tweet. So I recorded this short episode with a few words of experience that I hope will be helpful. I also compiled several of my photos from the 2014-19 festivals to make it more of a video essay for my YouTube channel:


   

Transcript: 

I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival for the first time in 2014 and almost immediately I knew I would return. And I have for every festival since. My first year had some bumps. It took a bit of time and a lot of trial and error to learn how to enjoy this event to the fullest. 

With so many options, I found it was easy to burn out. But I did learn. 

This is how I navigate the TCM Classic Film Festival. 

Since it’s a festival made specifically for classic film fans, there’s always going to be a lot you want to see. The first time you look at the schedule can be overwhelming. So many options! Some people will watch a movie in every time block. I quickly learned that was too much for me. 

Sometimes you also don’t have a choice about seeing a film. It hasn’t happened to me much, but a theater can fill up before you get in. Be prepared to adjust. 

My best strategy has been to pick my must-see films and guests and make sure I line up an hour ahead of time for them. Generally, that is enough time. Once I have made my choices, I try to keep it easy with the rest of the schedule. Having a sense of spontaneity at this festival can lead to wonderful surprises. 

Anyone in this fandom knows how bittersweet it can be when it comes to the performers we love. So many of the guests I saw in my early years at the festival have now left us. Taking the time to queue up for them has always been worth it. 

In fact, one of the best aspects of the festival is meeting fellow film fanatics in line. As introverted as I am, I’ve had some amazing conversations over the years. This isn’t the grocery store, these are your people, and they all want to talk movies. 

My priorities: must-see guests, seeing at least one film in the magnificent Chinese Theater, and catching the wild party that is the Midnight screenings. This framework ensures I get what I want most out of my festival experience. 

I’ve always had a lot of snacks with me at the festival, and that’s kept my energy up and my stomach from grumbling in packed screenings, but I’ve learned I need to take time for at least one meal away from the theater each day, both for a break and to have something more substantial than protein bars. The Hollywood and Highland mall has many quick and delicious options. I’m obsessed with the rice bowls at Jinya Ramen Express. 

There are a lot of other ways to take a break from screens during the festival too. You can queue up to get a view of the stars from the stands on the red carpet opening night, or line up to watch the honoree of the year put their hand and footprints in cement for the forecourt of the Chinese Theater. I’ve had incredible moments at both events. 

I love to spend time at Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel because it’s such a calm environment compared to the chaos of Hollywood Boulevard and the multiplex. If only there were a club like this I could go to year round! In addition to the great programming, there’s always lots of art, costumes and film artifacts to admire. 

On the other hand, it pays to branch out into the neighborhood. Look for your favorites on the walk of fame, buy way too many books and stills at Larry Edmunds Bookshop, check out the bizarre contraptions and beautiful costumes at the Hollywood Museum. 

I like to give my schedule some breathing room so I can wander. One year I decided to get a flattened penny from every machine on Hollywood Boulevard, there were a lot. At the end of my journey, I even taught a trio of Japanese tourists how to use one of the machines. 

One of the things that fascinates me about this festival is that there are so many ways to approach it. When my friends and I compare schedules it always blows my mind how different our experiences have been. 

The best years, I’ve gone in with a plan and enjoyed the various diversions instead of resisting them. There’s so much going on that there is always something to compensate for the disappointments. It’s always an amazing time. 

I’ve made some of my best memories here and that’s why I keep coming back.

Apr 13, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast: Talking Bill Gunn and Ganja & Hess with Christopher Sieving


 

In 1973, filmmaker Bill Gunn’s vampire/addiction movie Ganja & Hess was a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival. Starring Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, musician Sam Waymon, and Gunn himself, this mysterious, fascinating film should have been an arthouse sensation in the States. Instead it played a single New York theater for two weeks, before it was pulled and eventually re-edited in a more conventional manner for the exploitation market. I talked with Christopher Sieving, author of Pleading the Blood: Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess, about the film, Gunn’s greatest works, and the career that this remarkable director, writer, and actor should have had. 




The soundtrack for Ganja & Hess has been released by Howling Wolf Records.

The show is available on SpotifyPocketCastsBreakerStitcherAnchorGoogleRadio Public, and YouTube.

Watching Classic Movies podcast is also available on Apple Podcasts! If you are enjoying the show, please give it a 5-star review and share it with your friends.

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Apr 6, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast--Alicia Malone, TCM Host and Author of Girls on Film: Lessons From a Life of Watching Women in Movies

My guest this episode, Alicia Malone is a TCM host and the author of Backwards in Heels: The Past, Present, and Future of Women Working in Film, The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made by Women and her latest Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life of Watching Women in Movies. We talked about her journey to embrace her authentic self, what she’s focusing on next in her remarkable career, and how her perspective on film has grown and changed over years of movie fandom. 


 

To learn more about Alicia's latest book go to Mango Publishing.

***

The show is available on SpotifyPocketCastsBreakerStitcherAnchorGoogle and Radio Public.

Watching Classic Movies podcast is also available on Apple Podcasts! If you are enjoying the show, please give it a 5-star review and share it with your friends.

Like the podcast? Want to hear more frequent episodes? Click on the Support button here



Apr 4, 2022

On Blu-ray: Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950) and Lewis Milestone's Edge of Darkness (1943)


 

In an especially intense time where world events are concerned, it was a bit much to watch this pair of films full of tension and fear, but I enjoyed them for their good qualities, despite feeling thoroughly drained in the end. 

Stage Fright (1950) 

I always do a double take when I see Alfred Hitchcock’s customary cameo in Stage Fright. I think “oh yeah, this is a Hitchcock.” It’s an unusual film in the director’s filmography: less perverse, lighter on the thrills, and more focused on quirky characters. It isn’t a top Hitchcock for me, but I enjoyed revisiting the film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

Stage Fright is set in the theater world. Richard Todd is Jonathan Cooper, an actor having an affair with singing stage star Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich). In the opening scene, she shows up to his flat in a blood-soaked dress and tells him she has killed her husband. He soon finds himself being hunted for the crime and turns to fellow thespian Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), who has a crush on him, for help. 

This is a tricky story, famous for upsetting audiences due to a notorious deception, but it somehow never catches fire. The main appeal is in the cast: Alastair Sim is drily amusing as Eve’s father and actresses including Sybil Thorndike, Kay Walsh, Joyce Grenfell, and Patricia Hitchcock give the proceedings a comic, ghoulish tone. While Todd didn’t affect me one way or the other, Jane Wyman is well-cast as a sharp, but na├»ve actress, and Marlene Dietrich adds a shot of glamour and sings several songs (she also looks amazing because Hitchcock let her dictate her own lighting, something he seems to have thought she did much better than acting). 

It’s an entertaining if minor entry in the Hitchcock oeuvre. Special features on the disc include a trailer and a short DVD feature-carryover making-of documentary that has major spoilers, so watch after seeing the film.

Edge of Darkness (1943)
 

I almost couldn’t bear to finish watching Edge of Darkness. In a time where yet another nation came under attack, it was difficult to watch a drama about the wreckage war has brought and continues to bring in our world. It is an excellent movie: beautifully filmed, impeccably cast, and effectively blunt, but it is brutal. 

While director Lewis Milestone’s breakout film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) passionately echoed the pacifist message of its source novel, this World War II era follow-up is about fighting back. That said, both films firmly communicate that no one wins in war. The loss and suffering are too great for victory. 

It is the story of a Norwegian village under occupation and how the villagers fight back against the Nazis. The film is relentless in its approach; from the first scene, showing the town strewn with dead bodies to the final, chaotic battle scene. Before that shocking opening moment, there are a few moments of tranquility: a shot of glistening water, snow-covered mountain peaks, and low clouds drifting in the atmosphere. This is how it was before the troubles began. 

The cast is uniformly outstanding, with Errol Flynn a revelation in an atypically reserved performance and Walter Huston is solid as the stubborn but wise town doctor. This is a film for women to shine though; there’s a stunning array of complex, strong female characters. Ann Sheridan, Judith Anderson, Nancy Coleman, and Ruth Gordon are all at their best in devastating and fascinating performances. 

Despite its horrors, Edge of Darkness is a beautifully made film. Cinematographer Sidney Hickox (To Have and Have Not [1944], The Big Sleep [1946]) does his best work here, finding a balance between the fairy tale quality of the village setting and the horrific nastiness of battle. The Franz Waxman score is also magnificent, capturing the heart and spirit of the determined villagers. 

I can recommend this film, but it isn’t an easy watch. As with All Quiet on the Western Front it captures the best of us and the worst of us and that’s a lot to process. 

Special features on the disc include the short Gun to Gun, the cartoon To Duck…or Not to Duck, and a trailer. 

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review.

Apr 1, 2022

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: March Round-up


 

I enjoyed a nice variety of shows this month, though you could call those last two episodes a child star double feature. All episode titles link to the show: 

Nitrateville Radio 
January 28, 2022 

Dana Stevens, the author of a new book about Buster Keaton, has a lot of interesting things to say about the comedian’s love for doing television and the high points of his late career. Farran Nehme also shares insightful comments about the pre-code actresses featured in a series she programmed for MoMA.
Black History for White People 
February 22, 2022 

This is a fascinating history of Sidney Poitier. The hosts are amazingly in sync and full of empathy and great insights. I’m even more astounded by what this remarkable actor accomplished now that I know his roots.
The Industry 
March 15, 2022 

I was thoroughly charmed by this interview with Steven Warner, who played the title role in the Stanley Donen musical The Little Prince (1974) when he was seven-years-old. Fortunately his time on the production is a happy story, though the film would ultimately do poorly at the box office. It’s an intriguing flick though and it was interesting to learn how it all came together.

Maltin on Movies 
February 25, 2022 

Karen Dotrice (Mary Poppins [1964], The Gnome-Mobile [1967]) is a riot in this interview with Leonard and Jessie. She shares sweet memories of how Walt Disney treated her with fatherly regard and spoke to her like she was an adult. Dotrice is also kind, but honest about the troubles her co-star in her two most famous films, Matthew Garber caused on the set and how he struggled later in life.