Generations X and Y Pay Homage to the Classics: Discussions of Youth and Remakes at the TCM Classic Film Festival
May 9, 2014
There was a lot of talk - and representation - of youth at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival from festival patrons, TCM staff, and even special guests. Personally, I overheard and/or took part in several conversations remarking upon the number of young people waiting in standby lines, and several writers and bloggers also noted the trend: NY Post Film Editor Lou Lumenick shared on his Twitter page that the number of pass holders in their 20s and 30s attending the festival was higher than ever before. Even TCM host Robert Osborne touched upon the subject in his press conference, as Raquel at Out of the Past recorded him as saying that "at least 50% of people who attend the events are below the age of 30 (he said 25-30)."
Based on some of the screenings I attended this year, I definitely believe those numbers.
TCM does a fantastic job of inviting quality guests to introduce and discuss several of the films that play each year. Many screenings in the past have featured presenters directly involved with the making of a particular film, whether as an actor, director, writer, or other crew member. In the absence of these special guests, TCM has also asked family members of cast or crew, noted film historians, archivists, or other famous celebrities to provide insight into the making, restoration, or legacy of movies included in the lineup. Sometimes a member of the TCM team delivers the introduction, but in any case, each screening is accompanied by a personalized and observant look into the movie's significance in the world of classic cinema.
No, Miss Sondergaard was not a guest speaker. This is just key art from this year's festival. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
While TCM brought in a great lineup of golden age guests for their 5th festival - including Maureen O’Hara, Shirley Jones, Margaret O’Brien, and Richard Sherman, among many others – this year, I happened to catch several screenings that featured speakers hinging on the younger side: Greg Proops (Bachelor Mother), Jason Lee (City Lights), Anna Kendrick (The Women), and Gareth Edwards (Godzilla). The first three guests were simply fans of the films they introduced, while Edwards had another connection to Godzilla: he directed the remake, which comes out in theaters this month.
The Women at the El Capitan Theater. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
Though both Proops and Lee delivered funny and heartfelt introductions, Kendrick and Edwards sat down for longer discussions - Kendrick with TCM co-host Ben Mankiewicz and Edwards with film scholar Eddy Von Mueller. To my surprise, both conversations focused in part on younger viewers and how audiences (and filmmakers, in Edward's case) react to classics being reinterpreted for modern day audiences.
The screening of The Women was originally high on my list - it's a fantastic film of course - but Kendrick's presence pushed it over the top. I was already a fan of her film work and knowing she loves classics just makes me want to be her best friend even more; it seems others in the audience were admirers as well: a group of girls next to me in the balcony were very excited for her introduction, to say the least.
Waiting for the screening of The Women to begin at the El Capitan Theater. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
Before Kendrick took her seat on stage, Ben Mankiewicz made a faux pas - he pointed out a woman's age! Of course, he mentioned Kendrick's birth year - 1985 - in a complimentary way in a sure quest to astonish some in the audience who did not know her; the host quipped "that's no joke" in response to some chuckles from the crowd when he revealed her age.
Though only in her late 20s, Kendrick's had a notable career so far: she was nominated for an Oscar in 2010 for Up in the Air, and, in an impressive tidbit Mankiewicz didn't mention, she's the second youngest Tony nominee: she was only 12 when she was nominated for her role in High Society. Given her vast accomplishments and talent, Mankiewicz said he could see Kendrick being a star during any decade: if she was born in the 20s, she would have been big in the 40s, if she were born in the 30s, she would have been popular in the 50s, and so on.
After bringing Kendrick out, Mankiewicz remarked that there aren’t a lot of young celebrities interested in classic films, but the woman sitting beside him was quick to prove that she truly has a passion for the classics, this picture being one of her favorites. Kendrick shared that her introduction to films such as The Producers and Casablanca came while she was working on the aforementioned High Society on Broad-way, as she pronounced it ("It's a douchey thing to say no matter how I say it." Ben: "They love you already!"). At the time, fellow cast members Lisa Baines and Randy Graff recommended several classics to the pre-teen, among them The Women. Kendrick took every word Baines and Graff said as "scripture," recalling their suggestion of The Women as more of a necessity, which "smart young women have to see and know."
Anna Kendrick and Ben Mankiewicz discuss The Women. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
However, being a normal 12 year old, the actress recalls that she would want to rent teen films - "no judgment," she warned - like Spice World (she made sure to emphasize "no judgment" a second time, even though a few people applauded the Spice World mention. Clearly, there were several of her own generation present). So, her father worked out a barter system with her: she got to pick one movie and he would select a classic like The African Queen. Consequently, early on Kendrick was “learning to understand the language of that era" and soon fell in love with the classics, The Women being among her favorites.
Kendrick shared an enthusiastic memory pertaining to The Women that I think many, particularly younger viewers, can relate to. After returning to Maine after her Broad-way stint, the actress, then 14, tried to “be normal,” but she quickly found that her admiration of The Women was making her rather obnoxious to her fellow teens. In the way one acts when showing a favorite film to someone who's not feeling it, Kendrick tried hard to get her friends to love the movie as much as she did by watching over their shoulder and making sure they understood what was going on. Her way of doing this in a film filled with a plethora of actresses who go through over 150 costumes? Pairing the characters with their corresponding animals from the title sequence, of course: “That’s the deer…that’s the cat, it’s not the panther, it’s the cat…are you watching?” she adorably recalled. I think any young classic film fan has a similar story - or 10 - of comparable attempts, which, at least to me, made Kendrick all the more relatable.
In comparing movies of the classic era to filmmaking today, Kendrick has an unique view behind the scenes. She noted that modern day movies don't possess the same classic sentimentality or style, partly because we simply live in a different time, and even though some try to make films in the classic style, they just can't do it. For example, the failed remake of The Women was briefly referenced and just as quickly dismissed as it was when it was released in 2008, and when Kendrick casually brought up the planned remake of The Thin Man, at one time set to star Johnny Depp, the mere mention received loud boos. She playfully scolded the audience: "Hey! You don't know that. It hasn't been made yet!"
The Women of 1939 (with director George Cukor), versus...
...The Women of 2008. Despite the modern fashion, the former holds up better!
And she's right. Classic film audiences are known for being fiercely protective of these movies and their legacies, particularly because remakes generally don't capture the original's spirit, let alone live up to the (almost impossibly) high standard the films are held up to. Though I feel many fans of the golden era understand and appreciate good filmmaking no matter the decade, because today's mentality is so far removed from that time, the result can never be the same (naturally, there are other factors involved as well). Cue cries of Hollywood's inability to come up with original material, which often follows.
The actress' introduction and the skillful way she handled the TCM crowd, which, as she saw firsthand can no doubt be tough at times, showed that she's on our side, and if movies can't be made the way they used to, at least there's those among the younger generation who can honor and carry on a love for the classics. In Kendrick's case, she's a great advocator who can hopefully use her celebrity to make youthful audiences aware of the fact that movies have been around longer than just the 80s or 90s. (More like the 1890s, actually).
Kendrick's brief discussion of remakes is a great segue into Gareth Edwards and Eddy Von Mueller's discussion earlier that same day before the world premiere restoration screening (with new subtitles!) of 1954's uncut Japanese version of Godzilla, in which they touched up the original monster movie and the remake coming out in theaters in mere weeks, a film in which Edwards is directly involved as director.
Edwards touched greatly upon the use of technology in modern day cinema, and it's interesting to note that he actually started his professional career in the visual effects sector. Godzilla marks Edwards' 2nd feature as director and his first major studio release: his previous directorial credit, 2010's Monsters, sits in a similar sci-fi-thriller-drama genre, though on a smaller scale.
Gareth Edwards and Eddy Von Mueller discuss the original Japanese Godzilla and Edwards' remake. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
A fan of the Japanese feature, Edwards (who recalled that the BFI version of the film was sitting in front of him when he got the call about directing the remake) noted the similarities, at least thematically, between 1954’s Godzilla and his movie. The Japanese film, made less than 10 years after WWII ended, was the product of a country that had become very atrocity-aware; events such as the dropping of the atomic bombs and the firebombing in Tokyo were still fresh in audience's mind, and the images in the film reminded them of recent traumatic events. Working on the remake, Edwards recalled a similiar mentality, as he tapped into the harrowing images of his generation, from terrorism to natural disasters and beyond. For him, it was impossible to keep those images away during filming; he remarked that when you try to take subjects like this seriously, those visions naturally pop up.
To Edwards, the best monster movies aren’t about the monsters; rather, they capture something in the zeitgeist that audiences identify with.1954's Godzilla surely did this, and he hopes his film will do the same. Despite the history of 60 years and two radically different cultures between the two movies, Edwards said a large parallel exists between the original and the remake, including the very relevant nuclear theme found in both, which helps ground Edwards' movie with “one foot in reality."
The 2014 remake borrowed at least some elements from the marketing of the Japanese original version. Interestingly, most of the promotional material I've seen for the remake has included the Japanese characters for 'Godzilla.'
Story wise, it's an honest attempt to bring the monster closer to the classic style of filmmaking, but Edwards admitted the same could not be done on the technical side of production. Though the physical effects found in the Japanese original may not look great to the younger patrons in attendance, they were in fact cutting edge in 1954, just as many of the visual effects used today also come with a 'state of the art' tag. To Edwards, there's a clear line drawn: before the boom in tech, everything was done in a particular way and then the evolution came (obviously more slowly but in recent years there has been a surge), granting filmmakers access to remarkable digital technology that existed only in dreams not long ago. Looking at his invisible tech timeline, the director found himself asking “how come most of the classic films where before then?”
Cue massive applause. Clearly, Edwards knew his audience well.
But that wasn't all he had. Though it's feasible to create almost anything digitally, Edwards insisted that’s not always a good thing. Digital filmmaking has opened a Pandora’s Box of excitement and possibility, but the power of those effects can easily bewitch filmmakers, which reminded Edwards of the age old adage that “just because you can do anything doesn’t mean you should.” Once again, he was preaching to the choir, so that line garnered another round of applause, prompting him to joke that he says something completely different at the VFX festival down the road!
In Edwards' opinion, there have been great movies released after the tech revolution, but he believes the entertainment industry has reached the end of the “shopping list” of what can be achieved digitally, which hopefully means filmmakers and studios can focus again on story and characters as opposed to eye popping effects.
This set must have looked weird! Life size Godzilla and miniature bridge from the 1954 film.
I know many people came out of the Godzilla screening discussing Edwards' points and take on the subject. Yes, everything he said about story and characters sounds great, but in the end, he was hired to make a massive studio movie in a time when, as he mentioned, anything is possible digitally, so a lot of flash is to be expected. I guess we’ll just have to wait until May 16 (in the US) to see how much - if any - of Edwards' stance on the topic made it past the studio gates.
In both the above cases, I think TCM did a fine job of picking two speakers who provided a fresh perspective to these movies that some festival attendees probably aren't used to hearing: admiration from much younger eyes and ears within the current day industry. Luckily, it seems these sentiments continue to echo the opinions of a larger and larger (and younger and younger) portion of the audience, which is great.