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Day 2 of the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival: Special Presentations and Silents Galore

April 23, 2024

Welcome to my day 2 recap of the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival! To catch up on day 1 and my pre-fest activities, click here.

 

Friday started bright and early with a very special presentation. 

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The stars of the Vitaphone presentation: A synced projector and turntable. (Picture by Kim Luperi)

FRIDAY 4/19

That’s Vitaphone!: The Return of Sound-on-Disc

I had the opportunity to speak with the four men who presented this program, Steve Levy, Bob Weitz, Bruce Goldstein, and Shane Fleming, and that interview will be published soon, so keep your eyes out. For now, I’ll say that this was one of the most unique and memorable events I’ve ever seen at TCMFF—and I’ve been lucky to see a lot! I was astonished by the sound from these restored Vitaphone discs; as they mentioned in the panel, it truly fills the theater. Digital Vitaphone shorts played in between the 35mm selections as they prepped the projector and turntable for the next film and disc, and the difference was astonishing. I don’t ever think I’ve heard classic films sound this good! 

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Ben Burtt, Sandy Descher, and Craig Barron at the presentation preceding Them!. (Picture by Kim Luperi)

Them! (1954)

This block was a struggle: There were three, yes THREE, things I wanted to see. An attempt was made for all three and I made it to two, so I consider that a win. Ben Burtt and Craig Barron’s presentations are always a priority for me because of their sheer entertainment value. This program offered that, as usual: a look behind the scenes to reveal what sounds made up those eerie ant noises and rarely seen images and video of the giant ants being operated by crew members. In addition, two surprise guests from the movie showed up, one via video and another in person—and one brought home movies from set! It was a truly terrific program, and I’m so glad I made it in. I’ll be writing a full post on this event soon, so look out for that.

 

The TCM Archive Project

Them! started late, so I only caught about 30 minutes of this conversation with Darcy Hettrich, Gary Freedman, Alexa Foreman, and Jeannie Twila Franz. That meant I missed the intro where the panel shared how the TCM Archive Project came to be, which I was very interested in hearing about. That said, I got to hear more star stories, including ones from interviews with Dennis Hopper, Diahann Carroll, Karen Black, and more, along with interview snippets. It’s always a joy to hear these little-told tales, and I was happy to catch what I did. 

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Swedish posters for the win! This is from Paths to Paradise.

Dad’s Choice (1928)/Paths to Paradise (1925)

I hopped in line early for Dad’s Choice and Paths to Paradise, but it turned out I didn’t need to; while the theater was crowded, it wasn’t sold out. Any opportunity to experience silent film on the big screen with live accompaniment—Ben Model provided that here—is a treat. Model, who created a Kickstarter to preserve these films, chatted with Leonard Maltin before the screening. He told us that Harold Lloyd’s production company and crew worked on Dad’s Choice, and we certainly saw that on screen. While Edward Everett Horton is not known for physical comedy, the wild situations he got himself into in this short, along with his facial expressions, fit in well with the Lloyd company vibe. 

 

Model informed us that Paths to Paradise originally played with seven reels, but unfortunately the last is lost. That said, he was able to track down the continuity and other archival materials at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, so in the restoration, they provided title cards that detailed the action and dialogue that was missing in that final reel. 

 

While star Raymond Griffith was a famous, now mostly forgotten, silent comedian, I thought we were in for a drama considering how the film started. But thieves started double crossing thieves in hilarious ways, and it wasn't long before Griffith’s quietly sophisticated schtick started shining. Model told us that reel six featured a finale of sorts, and he was right! Basically, Griffith steals a diamond from a man planning to gift it to his daughter following her wedding. Along with former rival thief Betty Compson, they make their getaway down the California coast to Mexico… starting in San Luis Obispo! That sign got some laughs from those who know California, because they made it seem like Mexico was so close when it was hours away, and soon enough, police cavalcades from Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego descended upon the couple to join the race through mountain and coastal roads. I was astonished by the cinematography here; we were taken along the wild ride twisting and turning down the coast by cameras seemingly perched high… somewhere! It actually was a little dizzying. From there, the thieves’ tire gets shot out (they change it in record time on the road), and they run out of gas (conveniently, a gas truck is driving next to them, so Griffith hops on and gases up while both vehicles are in motion!).  

 

It was a hilarious, action-packed, extremely well executed chase that really put the audience in the picture. Plus, it was quite fun seeing coastal California locations almost a century ago; besides a few dirt roads, not much has changed in those areas. Somehow, the missing reel upped the ante. Though we didn't see the action, titles cards informed us that the duo, now feeling guilty once they finally reach Mexico, turn around and do it all again the other direction. This time, their car jumped a cliff, survived an explosion, and narrowly dodged a train, all to deliver the diamond and clear their conscience. What a ride!

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A shot from the Multiplex, where I spent most of my time. (Picture by Kim Luperi)

The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936)

This was a new-to-me title, an underappreciated John Ford film, that I was excited to see… until I realized it started only 45 minutes after Paths to Paradise got out—AND it was playing in theater 4, the fest’s tiniest venue. I collected a queue card but narrowly missed getting in. I figured that would happen, so I treated myself to a real sit down dinner instead.

 

The Bellboy (1960)

Initially, I was ambivalent about the films in this time slot. Then, as fest fatigue started to set in, I decided to go with a 72-minute comedy that got out just after 10pm.

 

At least, that was the intention. I was number three in line, and about 45 minutes before the show, I got out of line to meet with my boyfriend and say hi to his friend, a fellow archivist and filmmaker, and his friend’s friend, a doc filmmaker whose work I admire. We got to chatting, and as I could tell this screening was not going to be full, I intended on walking in right before showtime. And then I found out the doc filmmaker directed a short about my former boss, and goodbye Bellboy. I ended up chatting with them for another two hours. While I would have enjoyed seeing The Bellboy, it’s always a treat to make new friends and share wonderful, enlightening conversations with good company. 

That's all for day 2 of the fest! I'll be back with my day 3 recap soon.

thanks for stopping by!

I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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