The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review, Days 3 and 4
May 10, 2016
Here's a recap of my 3rd and 4th days at TCMFF 2016. For my review of the first two days of the fest, click here.
Day 3: Saturday 4/30
90th Anniversary of Vitaphone
After collapsing into bed around 1am Friday night and not falling asleep easily - thank you, last 20 minutes of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - I knew Saturday morning would be rough. And it was. I welcomed our Social Producer breakfast and COFFEE with open arms and mouth before hightailing it to the Egyptian for Ron Hutchinson’s 90th Anniversary of Vitaphone presentation.
I didn’t really have to run, because the Egyptian holds over 600 people, but I knew this event would be crowded, and it sure was, which is still astonishing for 9am. Ron shared several interesting details about Vitaphone, the only widely used sound-on-disc system during the late 20s and very early 30s, including the challenges of synchronizing dialogue and sound in those days and how many likeminded attempts were made before success was achieved. The presentation included many restored vaudeville-like shorts, some of which were only recently re-discovered, such as 1929’s Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder, 1928’s Temperamental Tillie with Molly Picon and my favorite, The Beau Brummels (1928) with Al Shaw and Sam Lee. Though all these films were very simple, plot and production wise, the talent and use of technology evident in each piece certainly impressed.
Shaw and Lee in The Beau Brummels.
A House Divided (1931)
We left the Vitaphone presentation early to ensure an early-ish arrival back to the Multiplex to hop in line for theater 4 and A House Divided. Though the film screened early, at 11:30am, the movie’s slow pacing in the beginning, rather unusual for a short pre-Code, lured me in and out of sleep. However, as Walter Huston’s character fell deeper down the rabbit hole, I started to perk up and stay with it. All three lead performances in this bleak, dramatic father-son love triangle, from Huston, Helen Chandler and Kent Douglass (aka Douglass Montgomery), were strong in their respective ways, and the film’s climax on the high seas was particularly enthralling in terms of both early sound use and special effects. I’ll go into a bit more detail on this one in my upcoming pre-Code piece…within the next few months.
Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934)
This screening of the second film in the Bulldog Drummond series marks my first big detour from my festival schedule. That is, switching out movies for other selections. As I explained in my brief TCMFF recap post, my intentions for this block laid firmly in Serge Bromberg’s Club TCM court. However, after reading about Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back - which I didn’t do before, for some unknown reason - I decided to take a chance on the pre-Code. Seriously, WHEN WOULD I NORMALLY SAY THAT? Never. Anyways, I’m glad I skipped out on my (imaginary) French archivist boyfriend because the whole audience, myself included, really got a kick out of Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back.
To add to the film's appeal, before the screening archivist Mike Schlesinger provided some interesting background as to why Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back has only been seen twice in the last 80 years in LA. (More on this in my upcoming pre-Code fest post.) However, by this point in the afternoon, three back-to-back movies sans coffee #2 really started to wear me down, and I began nodding off near the end of the film. Luckily, I would have a chance to make up for that on Sunday…
Academy Conversations: The War of the Worlds (1953)…No War, Just Peace
With only three movies and presentations under my belt so far that day, I knew my body would not take kindly to the three more films with special guests I had scheduled on Saturday's docket. So, I decided to skip out on the movie portion of this program and stay only for Craig Barron and Ben Burtt’s tech discussion beforehand, because I can’t miss out on a Burtt and Barron event! I usually cover their demonstrations individually, and even though I didn’t watch the movie, this year will be no different, so keep your eyes open for my write-up on their War of the Worlds presentation (and star Ann Robinson's brief appearance) soon…ish.
No aliens for me this time around.
The Endless Summer (1966)
After grabbing a coffee and a quick rest, I was refueled, recharged and ready to go for Bruce Brown’s legendary documentary on surfing. I love documentaries, and I adore anything related to travel, but nonetheless, the leisurely pace of The Endless Summer made me a bit nervous, sleep-potential-wise. To my astonishment, the film's laid back tempo did not lure me to sleep but rather put me in a lovely calming mood. Though I think the doc could have been edited tighter (read: shorter), I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie and Bruce Brown’s intro as well.
Band of Outsiders (1964)
The announcement of French star Anna Karina as a guest at TCMFF 2016 seemed to throw the internet into a frenzy. Thus, I prepared myself accordingly for a long line and even a potential shut out, but to my surprise, neither of those occurred. Sensing a smaller turnout when I hopped in line, I picked up my queue number and headed to Johnny Rocket's for some sweet potato fries and a quick chat with my friend Nora. It was a few minutes after they opened the house by the time I walked back over to the theater, and I had no trouble finding a seat in the half-full venue. More people filed in before the show began, but overall I was shocked the theater wasn’t packed.
Ben Mankiewicz’s interview with Anna Karina bordered on comical – on his boyish, flirtatious side – and I got the impression that the star is definitely a private person, as her short, broad answers seemed to indicate. I’ve only seen a few Godard films, and when this announcement was made, I figured what better way to watch one of the director’s “most accessible works” than on the big screen with the star in attendance. Well, I can tell you a better way to watch this French New Wave classic for the first time, and that would be any viewing that does not take place late at night after a full day of programming. That said, I definitely need to revisit this one again.
Anna Karina in Band of Outsiders.
Day 4: Sunday 5/1
Holiday in Spain (1966)/Scent of Mystery (1960)
This special Smell-O-Vision presentation was high on my list of festival must-sees. Luckily, the event began at 10, which gave me a little extra time in the morning (in reality, about 15 minutes) to sleep in before catching the bus to Hollywood for the Social Producers breakfast. From there, I walked over to the Cinerama Dome, met up with my friend Nora and hopped in line. This screening was a HUGE production, one that I'm going to dive into much more detail on in a later post. Though for now, I will share that the scents from the screening stayed with all of us long after the event was over - what a lovely takeaway! Well, that actually depended on the smell you were given (luckily mine were pleasant: yellow rose and orange grove).
A Conversation with Gina Lollobrigida
Since Smell-O-Vision ran over into the second block of programming, I enjoyed a leisurely walk back to the Roosevelt, along with a stop for lunch, and caught Gina Lollobrigida’s afternoon chat with Leonard Maltin in Club TCM. Though I got the chance to speak to the star briefly on the red carpet, I missed out on both of her introductions and screenings at the festival, so I figured it would be nice to hear her speak at length about her life and career instead. To be honest, I didn’t know much about her or her work until this conversation; suffice it to say, I’ll have to watch some of her movies now! Highlights from her interview will definitely be included in a later post.
Gina Lollobrigida at Club TCM. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Turner)
The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966)…Maybe Another Time
Somehow, it was already Sunday afternoon, which meant there were only two blocks of programming left in the entire festival. TCMFF flew by so fast this year that it still felt like Friday to me (a very long Friday). However, I had planned on catching two films that ran over two hours long during those final blocks, and let me tell you, watching one movie with a two hour runtime is hard enough for me, let alone two in a row (with the final one in Italian with English subtitles, no less).
At this point, I simply didn’t think I’d make it through both films, so I stayed only for Eva Marie Saint’s introduction to The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming. Eva’s been a guest at the festival before, but I’ve never attended one of her screenings. I was certainly glad I made it to this one, though, because at 92 Eva still displays such passion, vigor, charm and warmth. She had several nice things to say about the movie, TCM, and her life, some of which I’ll share in an upcoming post.
TCM Backlot Event
I read on the brand new TCM Backlot site that they were hosting a special VIP event at 5pm on Sunday night with food and drink. Food and drink was all I needed to know. After listening to the intro for The Russians Are Coming…I walked back over to Club TCM, where I ran into my friend Danny. Fellow Social Producer Elise, who was headed to the TCM Backlot event too, joined us, and we all made our way to a fancy, tucked away bar in the Roosevelt (I swear that hotel has at least 100 hidden rooms/bars/chambers) for some free booze, little bites and lovely conversation.
I think this is one of the only pictures of me at TCMFF this year, at the TCM Backlot party with Danny from pre-code.com. (I totally stole this from his Twitter, and I don't know who took this photo!)
Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934)…Yet Again
I’ve never seen Cinema Paradiso (1988), which was why I picked the picture to close my festival experience this year. However, with my track record the past weekend, I felt I wouldn’t quite stand a 2.5 hour long Italian movie (which also screens next month at UCLA), so I opted to join Danny for his first viewing, my second (1.5 is more like it) of Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back. I managed to stay awake (mostly) this time and caught more of this pre-Code’s witty dialogue and comically self-reflexive asides, which was a perfect way to cap off the TCMFF 2016 experience for me.
Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back was the first film in that final block to let out, so we returned to the Roosevelt and hung out with a few others before the Closing Night Party officially began. Just like my early-late night aspirations for the Formosa event on Wednesday evening, I planned on leaving Sunday night's festivities by 10:30 or 11pm, since I had to work the next morning. And as usual, I didn't get home until about 1am, after a bunch of us topped off TCMFF 2016 with none other than In-N-Out Burger. I may have regretted that culinary decision the next day but not the chance to hang out with a bunch of cool people for just a few hours longer.
I have to admit, I’m kind of exhausted just writing all of this down, but I’d still do it all over again in a heartbeat (or two).
Catch you next year, TCMFF! I already can't wait to see everyone again in Hollywood to celebrate the classics together, crazy movie marathon style.
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.