The City of Dreadful Joy: NOIR CITY 16, Los Angeles – March 21st to April 6th, 2014

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Los Angeles, California: the landscape for a criminally high number of films noir and the premiere setting for an unwieldy number of hardboiled novels and crime fiction. Of this urban environment, Aldous Huxley once remarked, “Thought is barred in this City of Dreadful Joy, and conversation is unknown.”

As a native Angelena, I quite like that my home has been labeled a “City of Dreadful Joy” and that any kind of exchange of words is somewhat mysterious. These elements (and other similarly toned descriptors) have always deeply connected me to crime fiction and its cinematic equivalent. Los Angeles has a long history with noir cinema. This film-based city and its highly urban-centered film genre/film cycle practically share genetic material. In other words, one thing would not be the same without the other.

Thusly, for a local such as me, it makes it even more exciting and appropriate when, once a year, Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation bring NOIR CITY to the City of the Angels and spend some time with us at the American Cinémathèque!

I’ve been going to this festival for YEARS. Some of my dearest and greatest film memories were created here. It was here where I decided that I wanted to be a film archivist. NOIR CITY Los Angeles is the location where I have seen the vast majority of the films that knocked me out to the point of me chatting about them for the remainder of the year, until the next fest came along! My genuine joy with the quality of the prints, the acting and the stories just overflows every year. And it has been a social/film community thing, too- NOIR CITY allows me to spend a healthy amount of time in one of my favorite LA theaters, getting to see people that only come out for this festival. The Film Noir Foundation has provided quite a bit up until this point in this manner- for me and all my friends and colleagues.

I’m also in a unique position this year. As many of you may be aware, I was honored by the Film Noir Foundation in January with an award that really only happens in a noir fan’s (and recently graduated archivist’s), greatest dreams: I became the first participant in the Nancy Mysel Legacy Project, meaning that I will be working with the FNF on their next restoration project. I don’t think I have to tell you how thrilled I am. It’s all I’ve ever wanted and more.

This brings a new layer to attending this year’s NOIR CITY Los Angeles for me. It’s my home festival! For those of you in Los Angeles who may have not had the chance to go to NOIR CITY before, or may not have considered it, I would ask you to join me. Not just because it truly is one of the best film festivals, but also so that you may see what it is that I am completely and totally head-over-heels in love with, and have dedicated my life to preserving. These are incredibly special and wonderful pieces of cinema. I would love to spend some time with you experiencing these films and reveling in the dark. Shall we do so?

Last thing I will say before I go into the films themselves: since I have been to the festival quite a bit before- I have to say that this year in particular is pretty spectacular. GREAT 35mm prints, wonderful international work, exquisite restorations. And these are all things that I would say even if I were not involved somehow with the FNF.  Seriously, the line-up is truly mind-blowing, and I am so excited! Hope to see you there! Oh and one last thing- I would highly suggest buying tickets for the shows ahead of time. They have been known to sell out. Your link to buy said tickets to get you into the marvelous dark mayhem of NOIR CITY can be found right here and if you want other info about the Egyptian theater itself (parking, etc), that may be found here.

NOW, AS THEY SAY, ON WITH THE SHOW!!!!

 

Friday – March 21, 7:30 pm

Introductions by Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation!

Too Late For Tears

Too Late For Tears

 

TOO LATE FOR TEARS – 1949, 99 min, USA, Dir: Byron Haskin – 35mm

Restored by the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film & Television Archive, featuring Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea, this film is the film noir you didn’t know you were missing and the restoration you didn’t know could look this great! Unbelievably thrilling LA-footage and unforgettable characters!

LARCENY – 1948, Universal, 89 min, USA, Dir: George Sherman – 35mm

More Dan Duryea, and there’s nothing wrong with that! A rare one with Shelley Winters and the first film work of John Payne, the title may seem dishonest but the quality is straightforward good stuff!

Larceny

Larceny

Saturday – March 22, 7:30pm

Introduction by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation

Born to Be Bad

Born to Be Bad

BORN TO BE BAD – 1950, Warner Bros., 94 min, USA, Dir: Nicholas Ray – 35mm (print from the George Eastman House collection)

Two words: Nicholas Ray. Two more words: Joan Fontaine.  If those things mixed with a healthy slap of Robert Ryan doesn’t throw ya, I couldn’t imagine what would. This one’s going to be a doozie!

IVY– 1947, Universal, 99 min, USA, Dir: Sam Wood- 35mm

The second in this “Joan Fontaine double feature,” this film is not available on DVD so this is definitely not to be missed. Additional factoid: the role that Fontaine plays in this was originally supposed to go to her sister Olivia de Havilland! Oops!

Ivy

Ivy

Sunday – March 23, 7:30pm

Introduction by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation

Two Men In Manhattan

Two Men In Manhattan

TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN (DEUX HOMMES DANS MANHATTAN) – 1959, Cohen Film, 84 min, France, Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville – DCP

Part of the monthly Cohen Film collection series, this Melville film is also part of NOIR CITY’s new focus this year on international noir works. This film is in French and English with English subtitles, and promises to be a real treasure!

RIFIFI – 1955, Rialto Pictures, 122 min, France, Dir: Jules Dassin – 35mm

A French heist picture directed by an American noir professional, this is globally considered to be one of the classics in crime cinema. French with English subtitles.

rififi

Rififi

Wednesday – March 26, 7:30pm

It Always Rains on Sunday

It Always Rains on Sunday

IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY – 1947, Rialto, 92 min, UK, Dir: Robert Hamer – 35mm

Somewhere between kitchen sink drama and noir is this film. Googie Withers really brings it in this exciting British entry to NOIR CITY!

BRIGHTON ROCK – 1947, Rialto, 92 min, UK, Dir: John Boulting – 35mm

The baby-faced and ultra-young Richard Attenborough plays one of the most sinister and blood-curdling characters in all of film noir in this film: Pinkie. Every bit of this film is fulfilling in a way that is, once again, wholly British, reminding us of this year’s international theme.

Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock

Thursday – March 27, 7:30pm

Caged

Caged

 CAGED – 1950, Warner Bros., 96 min, USA, Dir: John Cromwell – 35mm

If ever there was a film that depicted women in prison, CAGED is one of the most star-studded and powerful. The first entry in the Eleanor Parker double feature, this film also showcases Agnes Moorehead, Jan Sterling and many others. Will not disappoint!

DETECTIVE STORY – 1951, Paramount, 103 min, USA, Dir: William Wyler- DCP

Another great performance from Eleanor Parker, matched only by the presence of one, Kirk Douglas, and directed by William Wyler. This film was nominated for several awards. Come and see why!

Detective Story

Detective Story

Friday – March 28, 7:30pm

Introduced by Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation

Jenny LaMour

Jenny LaMour

JENNY LAMOUR (QUAI DES ORFÈVRES) – 1947, Rialto Pictures, 102 min, France, Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot- 35mm

A fantastic police procedural by the director of such gems as Diabolique and The Wages of Fear, this film is another look into how film noir was explored in the country of the term’s birth. In French with English subtitles.

ANGELS OVER BROADWAY – 1940, Sony Repertory, 79 min, USA, Dir: Ben Hecht, Lee Garmes- 35mm

This incomparable Ben Hecht-penned & directed film features Rita Hayworth & Douglas Fairbanks, Jr in a film about cons, gambling and moral devastation. You know- noir standards! Hecht was nominated for this screenplay- come and see why!

Angels Over Broadway

Angels Over Broadway

Saturday- March 29, panel at 6:30pm, film at 7:30pm

6:30pm – Southern CA Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America meet for a discussion on Los Angeles in noir and literature. Featured panelists: novelists Eric Beetner (Dig Two Graves), P.G. Sturges (the Shortcut Man series), and Steph Cha (Follow Her Home). Book signing will occur in lobby, shortly after the panel.

Introduced by Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation

Southside 1-1000

Southside 1-1000

 SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 – 1950, Warner Bros., 73 min, USA, Dir: Boris Ingster- 35mm

Watch a brand-new 35mm print that highlights the dangers of counterfeiting and criminality within many fantastic Los Angeles locations, from downtown to Hollywood itself! Exciting!

ROADBLOCK – 1951, Warner Bros., 73 min, USA, Dir: Harold Daniels- 35mm

In the world of noir tough guys, there is only one Charles McGraw and this film says that with a vengeance. Come see McGraw in a rare leading role, playing an insurance investigator, doing what he does best- steal that screen!

Roadblock

Roadblock

Sunday – March 30, 7:30pm

Introduced by Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation

 

Tension

Tension

TENSION – 1949, Warner Bros., 95 min, USA, Dir: John Berry- 35mm

We lost a real gem when we lost Audrey Totter last year. This first film in the Audrey Totter double feature shows how smoldering hot and delicious this woman could be and just what an incredible medium noir could be for women and the expression of female sexuality at the time, regardless of the…outcome.

ALIAS NICK BEAL – 1949, Universal, 93 min, USA, Dir: John Farrow- 35mm

More Audrey Totter. That should just be a slogan in life. And in a Faustian work with Ray Milland in tow? HOW can you go wrong?? You just can’t. DO NOT miss this on the big screen. You will truly regret it. This is a great film with everything in its right place and everyONE in their right role.

Alias Nick Beal

Alias Nick Beal

Wednesday- April 2, 7:30pm

Ossessione

Ossessione

OSSESSIONE – 1943, 131 min, Italy, Dir: Luchino Visconti

The Italian version of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Need any further coaxing? If so, let’s put it this way- this is a VERY hot film. So hot that it was banned by Italy’s fascist government and MGM confiscated and destroyed all the prints it could possibly find. This is a must-see. Italian with English subtitles.

Thursday- April 3, 7:30pm

Hardly A Criminal

Hardly A Criminal

HARDLY A CRIMINAL (APENAS UN DELINCUENTE) – 1949, Film Noir Foundation, 88 min, Argentina, Dir: Hugo Fregonese

Returning to our international theme, this is the first in our Hugo Fregonese double feature. A film that investigates Buenos Aires criminality, this Argentinian noir looks at prisons and “perfect crimes” in a very familiar manner, illustrating how film language may not change when it comes to noir- the darkness is universal.

ONE WAY STREET – 1950, Universal, 79 min, USA, Dir: Hugo Fregonese

More Fregonese. This time featuring the likes of James Mason and the illustrious Dan Duryea! See what these American noir figures are like in the hands of Argentinian direction.

One Way Street

One Way Street

Friday-April 4, 6:30pm for book signing, 7:30 for film

Philippe Garnier will sign copies of his NEWEST RELEASE, Goodis: A Life in Black and White*, at 6:30PM in the lobby.

* First American publication by Eddie Muller’s Black Pool Productions

Introduction by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation

Nightfall

Nightfall

NIGHTFALL – 1957, Sony Repertory, 79 min, USA, Dir: Jacques Tourneur

Rarely played and underappreciated, this Tourneur gem features the lovely Anne Bancroft and Aldo Ray gritting out every bit of the darkness of this Goodis-penned work. Considering the cinematography on this, you will definitely want to see this on a big screen!

AND HOPE TO DIE (LA COURSE DU LIÈVRE À TRAVERS LES CHAMPS) – 1972, CCFC, 99 min, France, Dir: René Clement

1970s France, direction by Rene Clement, Robert Ryan and a French-speaking Aldo Ray and a David Goodis story to boot? Just say YES. Master heists and criminal undercurrents at every turn, this film promises nothing but satisfaction. It is a NOIR CITY essential. In French with English subtitles.

And Hope to Die

And Hope to Die

Saturday – April 5, 7:00 intro and screening, 9:00 dinner and party!

This is the BIG NIGHT!!!! There is dinner (provided by The Kitchen for Exploring Foods) and dancing and a bar and all sorts of exciting entertainment after the show! So get those tickets now and get those fancy outfits together! It’s going to be a BLAST!  Advance tix are highly recommended. This is going to be so much fun!

 

Detour

Detour

DETOUR – 1946, Wade Williams, 70 min, USA, Dir: Edgar G. Ulmer

If you are unfamiliar with this film, it is a MUST SEE, even more so in a theater and with an audience. It is the classic B-noir and illustrates the brilliance of cinematic economy and perfect storytelling, visually and otherwise. This is a tight picture on a tight budget and one that Hollywood could still learn a great deal from!

For complete details about the party and the ticket arrangements, please go here. It’s an event that, much like DETOUR, you will not want to miss!

Sunday – April 6, 7:30

Introduction by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation. Discussion between films with author Mary Ann Anderson (‘Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera‘ and ‘The Making of The Hitch-Hiker‘) and Alan K. Rode.

M

M

M – 1951, Superior Pictures, 91 min, USA, Dir: Joseph Losey – 35mm

If the excitement of viewing a restored 35mm print wasn’t enough, the cast for this American version of Fritz Lang’s classic should make your hair stand on end. Norman Lloyd, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus, Howard DaSilva and more keep this piece loaded with brilliance, not to mention it’s done by one, Joseph Losey. Support restoration and great works! Check this piece out! Not on DVD!

THE HITCH-HIKER – 1953, RKO, 71 min, USA, Dir: Ida Lupino – 35mm

This breathtaking restoration by the Library of Congress will have you thinking that the film was printed yesterday. But that also could be due to the content, as well. Actress and filmmaker Ida Lupino was a stellar woman in filmmaking history and this is one of the most striking pieces in her oeuvre. Come see Mary Ann Anderson discuss her work and then see it large and in charge…and restored, care of NOIR CITY, and for the final film of NOIR CITY Los Angeles 2014!hitchhiker

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God, Men and Monsters: Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life

In 1956, Nicholas Ray made a film that was such a departure from the rest of his work that people still speak of it today.  Just one year after Rebel Without a Cause (a film that did remarkably well, snagging not one, not two, but three Academy Award nominations), Ray had leverage. As a result, he could do a film based on drug addiction and, more or less, get away with it. Sure, films had been done about drug addiction before (in the same year as Rebel, Otto Preminger’s Man with the Golden Arm had been nominated for three awards) but none had utilized drugs and addiction in quite the same way; ripping open the very fabric of the American dream, showing it to be what it really was: an American nightmare.

Did it do well at the box office? Not entirely. Is it interesting anyway? You bet!

Bigger Than Life starred, was produced and co-written by James Mason, and like many other films or television programs of the time, it was “based upon a real incident.” In 1955,  New Yorker magazine had published an article entitled “Ten Feet Tall” which was penned by a medical journalist named Berton Roueche. Shortly thereafter, this particular entry of their “Annals of Medicine” column became translated into Nicholas Ray’s epic, full-color CinemaScope piece, Bigger Than Life (1956). The originating article is a familiar story- a cautionary tale about the horrors of drug addiction and how it can destroy a family from the inside out. Nicholas Ray’s film, on the other hand, was much less polite (if addiction could ever be called polite). It skinned American suburban life like an animal and revealed it to be the diseased and fractured monster that it truly is, underneath all that smooth so-called “perfection.”

I would argue that,  in many ways, Bigger Than Life could be viewed as a horror film. It functions on fear, ideas of masculinity and the monstrous and postulates that true terror is catalyzed by the volcanic eruptions of a figure whose conflicts are drawn out by a severe chemical addiction. The lighting, color use and Joseph MacDonald’s cinematography only serve to enhance this, and the fact that it is a CinemaScope film makes it even more horrifying with every frame. As you watch this film, both the narrative and the visual sensibility will tell you that it lives  up to the title- this film really is Bigger Than Life.

I was lucky enough to see this film at the TCM Film Festival this past year, complete with a Q&A with Robert Osbourne and the leading lady, Barbara Rush (who was simply fantastic and looks like a million bucks!). I have to say- for the first viewing of this film, view it big or as big as possible. I’ve seen many other ‘Scope films that look great but didn’t use the lens as a narrative tool. Nicholas Ray knew what he was working with, knew what he could do, and he did it.

Because of the sheer magnificence of the CinemaScopic vision, a shot that would normally be passed off as simply the "happy car ride" becomes almost oppressively happy due to its epically large and colorful flavor. While the tone of the film at this point is a happy one, it should be noted that the claustrophobic intensity of this shot is not accidental.

The shattered masculine image plays a huge part in the narrative. This shot emphasizes it even further by showing him staring at his own reflection in a vulnerable physical stance.

Mirrors are powerful objects in this film, and in this scene more than any other. Once more, we have the glory of the sophisticated technologies ('Scope lenses had only been being used for about 3 years when they made this film, so it was still pretty new!) to hammer in the point even more clearly: he knows he has become the monster, and he doesn't like it. But, like every other chemically-involved-monster (Jekyll/Hyde, Invisible Man), he bought a one-way ticket, and there's no going back now.

While this film could have been shot in black and white and an alternative aspect ratio, this shot is a perfect example of the power that Ray had by making the choices that he did. His experience in black and white and noir enhanced the shadowy/terror-like aspects while still wanting to keep the colored/lit bits for a balance. This is one of the most terrifying and visually stunning scenes in the film. This forced perspective shot also underscores the "Mason-as-Monster" theme, seeing as forced perspective shots are not unfamiliar territory within monster films!

Rush said that this film has been shown at various Film Noir festivals. I could see that, however I am still more on the side of the horror genre when it comes to Bigger Than Life. Without spoiling too much of the film, I would like to  bring up a few issues through which I believe that this film can be ultimately defensible as a piece of horror.

Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931), The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933) and most versions of Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde are recognized as parts of the horror film canon. They helped to establish a visual and narrative iconography which, in turn, built the monster world.  I would contend that in certain ways, Bigger Than Life is meant to inspire just as much terror as any of these monsters ever did. Nicholas Ray’s film plays to those monsters and their individual characteristics, features and attributes. The “monster” in Bigger Than Life calls up some of our greatest fears which were revealed in the early 30’s by the great horror masters and places them squarely in front of us, just as Whale or Fleming did. Horror is a device that exposes the ugliest and most devastating issues within society and the humans living within that society. By that definition, I believe that Ray has succeeded in making a horror film.

In Bigger Than Life, James Mason’s character, Ed Avery, becomes less human the greater his addiction. At first, the cortisone appears to be having a positive effect on his life- he’s stronger, has more energy, is filled with enthusiasm for life and everything in it. As the pill-popping increases, Ed Avery seems to disappear and The Monster comes out. The Monster abuses his wife and child, gets into virulent arguments at the workplace and eventually has himself convinced that there is only one way that this series of events that he has put in motion can go- it may not be good, but it’s right because The Monster couldn’t be wrong.

Meanwhile, his suffering wife Lou is playing a dual role- the victim of the nightmarish happenings as well as the “Fritz” or lab assistant in the creation of The Monster. In her own addiction to codependent behavior, she is no better than her husband with the exception that she finally comes to terms with her own “monstrous” behavior and, in doing so, is able to try to effect change on her son’s behalf (as well as her own, I would imagine).

Ed Avery’s flipping between personalities and wild unpredictability gives him somewhat of a Jekyll/Hyde sense. While we are aware that it is dependent upon the pills he is taking, the levels which he reaches throughout the film are so grand that by the climax of the film, it has almost become  Grand Guignol-type behavior, shown by his ludicrous propositions to Lou. I think that this may be one of the main reasons I’ve heard the film referred to as “campy” or “cultish.” By the time the tension has built, the surreal energy in combination with the elaborate colors and shot structure make it seem almost…too much. And yet, I don’t believe that it is too much. From where I sat, the ending seemed like a nightmare bathed in a fever-dream, but one that you may not awaken from.

Terror, pure and simple. And the terror came from the multi-faced monster of addiction itself. Addiction- addiction to substances, addiction to conformity and normalcy against the betterment of one’s family (Lou’s line “We musn’t let Bob think Ed is still sick!” gave me the chills), addiction to abuse, addiction to codependency and, significantly, addiction to power.

In James Whale’s The Invisible Man, the title character (played by Claude Rains), states simply, “The drugs I took seemed to light up my brain. Suddenly I realized the power I held, the power to rule, to make the world grovel at my feet. ” If one were to look at Ed Avery in Bigger Than Life, he seems to be saying precisely the same thing. What is most terrifying in Nicholas Ray’s film (moreso than Whale’s, in my mind) is that there is always a certain level of uncertainty that the chemical supplement is actually the  issue in the long run. Sure, Avery’s an addict. Sure, he’s getting more crazy and abusive due to the drugs. But when he looks at himself in the mirror in the shots shown above, and sees the shattered image, there is something that he recognizes- a fractured Monster Image that he sees with ultimate clarity. Somehow, this made for an even more uneasy scene. What if that Monster was really there behind the man the whole time? That kind of ambiguity is the scariest there is. It means that perhaps it isn’t so much that the drug creates the Monster, but reminds the Monster of what he knows is there all along.


Bigger Than Life‘s goals were to present a picture of the American family and suburban life that wasn’t quite standard for the time. To a certain extent, this trajectory was a little like Billy Wilder’s Ace in The Hole, due to its cynicism and biting social critique. While the film may not have fared well in the box-office back then, it has more than made up for that now in the fact that the horror and nightmarish-ness of each frame remain as singularly beautiful and terrifying as they were in 1956. Thank you, Mr. Ray, for this exquisite vision into the depths!

Born When She Kissed Me: Nicholas Ray Blogathon, 2011

So I didn’t hear about this until the last minute so the first piece I’m posting is a link to my previous piece on In a Lonely Place (1950), but I have much more to say about Nick Ray. He’s one of my favorite directors. I was introduced to his work while still an undergrad, and have only delved deeper over the years. Actually, this year has been quite a good “Nick” year for me, as the film noir festival and the TCM Film Festival here in Los Angeles both provided genuinely amazing Ray treats for me that I hope to write about for this blogathon.

That said, a small caveat on my In a Lonely Place piece- it was one of my very initial attempts at the blog world so it may not be as strong as later articles and it’s fairly dated as it deals with news issues that were happening at that time, but I like it and I’m very proud of it. I will also say that this film is one of my favorites, I have seen it screened theatrically more times than Star Wars and if you ever get a chance, the novel written by  Dorothy B. Hughes is brutal and simply terrific. With that, here is my article on Ray’s film. Keep checking back. I’m hurriedly prepping something else.

Made it, Ma! Top of the World!: TCM Classic Film Fest, 2011–PART 1

I guess I didn’t realize exactly how excited I was about the TCM Classic Film Festival until I got there that first day. I rolled in, locked up my bike, collected my pass, and sat down to get some food. I looked around me, and I realized that I was surrounded. It was like a scene from John Carpenter’s They Live, only instead of being beset by alien creatures I was actually surrounded by people who were, more or less, my people. They were the kinda folks that could chat at length with me about Ida Lupino’s career or discuss why Ball of Fire (1941) is probably one of the greatest examples of “ensemble cinema” ever created.

It was at that point that I started feeling like I was walking on air. THIS WAS IT!!! A full weekend-plus that was just full of film. I had done something right. Yep.

Last year I had just sorta gone about my business, running into pals and such, maniacally running from film to film, overflowing with anxious joy and wonder at the fact that I was getting to see such an astonishing number of my favorite films on 35mm. I had lived off the food and coffee provided me by the concession stand at the Chinese theater, and gotten little to no sleep. But I was more concerned about getting into the screenings due to the fact that I didn’t have a pass. I was on stand-by. This year proved to be, well, very similar. However, I had a pass. Did that make things easier? Not really. I still ate very little and pumped even more coffee through my poor sleep-deprived body. But having the pass definitely made me less stressed out about whether or not I was going to get into the screenings I wanted to get into, and that was worth every bit of it.

The postcards for this year...I like them so much better than last year!

So as I sat there, having one of the only relaxed nice meals I would have for the next 3 days, I was giddy. It was what I call “conference energy” and it was wonderful. I’ve done so many of these damn things, from purely academic to absurdly geeky and…the buzz on the TCM Festival went up to 11, in the way that Spinal Tap truly intended it to. EVERY table had the schedule out and was eagerly arguing and planning out their course of events for the next 3 days.

:::NIGHT ONE:::

“I kissed you because I loved you…for a minute!”–THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN

I finished up, tipped my good-looking waiter, said good-bye to the Gregory Peck that was playing on the screen. Timely as ever for film-related events, I entered the welcome party in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel just at the perfect moment to hear Robert Osbourne give the “Welcome to the TCM Classic Film Festival” address. I schmoozed a bit, met up with some lovely folks that I had gotten to know due to the wonders of the internet such as the lovely and wonderful Sales on Film (who I was also lucky enough to spend some quality time with over the weekend), and ran into some old and dear friends like my good pal Eric Caiden of Hollywood Book & Poster.  Looking at  the time, we realized

Not gonna lie. As many times as I could, I saved my silly ticket stubs. They make for good copy! And, well, that archiving thing ya know...

that social time was over and Film Time was ON. So…we scrambled over to the Chinese and grabbed seats for Night at the Opera (1935). The guests that they had were Robert Bader and Groucho’s grandson, Andy Marx. The Q&A was lovely, with a good discussion about different parts of comedy and the place that it had within the relationship between Andy and his grandfather.

One of the things that interested me most was the discussion that Bader and Marx had about technology and comedy routines. Having recently watched the Bill Hicks documentary and cried my ever-loving EYES out (if you haven’t seen it, see it. NOW. Even if you don’t know who Bill Hicks IS), I’ve been thinking about good comedy quite a bit and so their revelations were most enlightening.

The two men discussed how they used to record people’s comedy routines off of the television and play them back and memorize them that way. Marx said he used to do that with his grandfather’s own work. To me, that kind of translatory learning is fascination. Visual learning is one thing, but to realize that comedy, good comedy is so damn multi-faceted…that is clearly another. And while the Marx Brothers are incredibly physical comedians, their other major strength is in the pure, unadulterated speed and complicated linguistic play that took place within their dialogue- something that could only be learned through an aural reification.

After the Q&A, and just before the feature, they showed the Warner Brothers’ cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” As many of my friends can attest, I am a junkie for old cartoons and this was a REAL WINNER. As my research showed, it was indeed what I thought: a condensed version of Wagner’s operas. You can’t get much cooler than that. And with Chuck Jones at the helm? HELL YES!!

Merris Melodies does Wagner!

Then it was time for a complete change around. From the zaniness and chaotic anarchism of the Marx Brothers, it was time for Joseph Von Sternberg’s The Devil is a Woman (1935). While this film is notorious for a multitude of reasons, it is apparently most well-known for the fact that it really hit a nerve with the Spanish government officials who hated it with a passion, due to its portrayal of the police guard. They threatened to ban all Paramount pictures completely if the studio didn’t do something about Von Sternberg’s film so…Paramount pulled the picture and destroyed the master. Because, ya know, it’s important to throw the baby out with the bathwater (I know, I know, different time…different time…).

Paramount also decided, in their infinite wisdom, that it would be a good decision to release Von Sternberg from his contract early. And once again, hindsight is 20/20, but GOOD LORD. What hindsight!! Can you imagine what the situation would have been if…this had not been Marlene’s favorite movie? The thought gives me chills. Because this was one of the best films I saw over the course of the festival and it is one of the best Marlene movies ever. Don’t get me wrong- she’s done great stuff- but her out-and-out petulance and lust for life in this film is incomparable. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I’ve watched a good deal of old movies with great divas, Dietrich included.

Asked why this film was her favorite, Marlene Dietrich simply replied, "Because it is my favorite."

The Devil is a Woman is a film that stands apart. It is to be noted that the festival background gives it a flavor of defiance and exoticism that is all-at-once erotic and, in the Bakhtinian sense of the word, Carnivalesque. Ideas of the fool and the grotesque populate the film as often as the drippingly sensual flowers carefully placed within Dietrich’s hair. It would be dismissive to call this film a “movie.” It is, by my count, both a stunning prayer to the alter of Marlene (and we all know the Von Sternberg-Dietrich thing, so…) and an exquisite exploitation of the cinematic medium.

The woman who came up beforehand, Katie Trainor, is the Film Collections Manager (read: killer moving image archivist and who I wanna be when I grow up!!) at MoMA, and is a total rockstar. She explained that although the master of the film had been destroyed, per Paramount’s instructions, Marlene Dietrich actually had a print of Devil in her bank vault. She gave the print to MoMA, who restored the film a while back, but restored it again now, this time to polyester film stock, making it good for another 300 years! Of course, I was sitting there while she talked about this stuff geeking out mercilessly, hoping she would continue talking about it for a good time more. Luckily, I was able to hear her speak one more time during the festival, but sadly I was not able to talk to her in person.

After the films were completed, we all went our separate ways in order to get some sleep in preparation for Friday- a day that I knew was going to be exciting, difficult, and invigorating all at once. It proved to be all of these things.

:::DAY 1::: 

“That’s Neat! I like That!”–BECKET

I got up incredibly early. Like REALLY early for me. Having not had to get up early for a very long time, this was a challenge. But, surprisingly, it went incredibly smoothly. Got up, showered, dressed, got on the bike, grabbed a breakfast sandwich & a huge bucket full of espresso (4 shots and the rest filled with coffee, please…yes, I do know how many ounces it holds, I’ll be drinking from this all day, I appreciate the concern!) and I was off.

When I got to the Egyptian, I was actually surprised to see that there was a mass of folks that had gotten there WAY before I did, and we still had about an hour and change to go before we got let in!

It's all about the Saxons. And the Normans. And...well, the O'Toole of course!!!

The doors to the Egyptian finally opened, and I shuffled up to the front of the theater. It may be a little intense for the screen, but if I want to see a guest at the Egyptian…I’m gonna try to be at the front. And so? I found myself a lovely little chair and patiently waited.

For me, this was a fairly big thing to check off my list. I had DVR’d Becket (1964) a few months back, but when I heard that it was going to be at the Festival, I had quickly erased it and been anticipating this moment the whole time. Especially since I knew that Peter O’Toole himself was going to show. At this point, I can’t wait to see what O’Toole film TCM Fest’ll play next year, since last year I saw The Stuntman (1980)! In any case, there we all were, waiting, anticipating, patience dwindling to nothing like a 10-year-old child’s on the tram to Disneyland. You could literally look at the people beside you in the theater and they had the “Are we there yet?” look on their faces. Considering the various age-ranges (a good percentage retirees or thereabouts), the look of wonder and child-like excitement was fantastic. It gave the audience a wonderful sense of democracy that technical generation gaps were not permitting.

And then it happened. Ben Mankiewicz appeared and the crowd went nuts. He came out and chatted a bit, making a few jokes about the Royal Wedding that had happened the night before and the film Royal Wedding, since that was going to be presented later in the day (all I could think at that point was how hard that made me laugh and…oh boy- I must be a really BAD film nerd if those are the jokes that get me! I’m sunk for good!). Mankiewicz was even more charming and a hellovalot smarter and cooler than he is on tv, and I like him on tv, so that’s saying a lot!  After his initial presentation, he gives a bit of historical background on Becket and they run the film.

Is the film good? It’s better than good, it’s great. When I call this the first “bro” movie, I’m not kidding. I say that in a slightly off-the-cuff joking way, but I do mean it in the sense that it does discuss all the issues that pertain to that which we have come to look at as “bro” culture. Perhaps not what it is now, in that it has completely been degraded and turned in upon itself in some kind of commodified and trivialized way (like most other things), but in the sense that there is a sense of loyalty and masculinity that two men can share with each other that women have no place in.

On the other hand, I recognize that there is a highly sexual element of this film, between Henry and Becket. It is quite exciting and enthusiastically celebrated, in fact. This may be one of the first films that I have seen in a long while where, with one notable exception, women are portrayed as horrific, evil creations, and I’m…almost down with that struggle. Mostly because I am so dearly and desperately in love with the relationship as it evolves/devolves between Henry and Becket.

The colors were beautiful. The story exquisite. I could write about this film alone for an entire entry. However, I cannot do so, as I have to discuss the actual in person visit from Henry II, himself! You know a film is good when it closes and it feels like a lover pulling away in the morning…you know they have to go, but that doesn’t make it any easier. And thusly, Becket wrapped for me, and Mankiewicz returned to the stage.

"They found Burton at the Pair of Shoes and I was under a piano at the Garrison club. They had to get us all dressed up like a king and a priest again for those final shots. We were very confused."

And then came the man. There’s no getting around it. I’m prejudiced. His eyes and his acting got me one day and…I was sold.

Well, I wasn’t any less sold that morning. He was elegant and charming, and seemingly surprised at the film. I don’t think he had been there the entire way through, but he mentioned that it was quite something to hear the way he sounded “all those years ago.”

The discussion wound its way through all sorts of topics: theater, Lawrence of Arabia, drinking, Burton, their relationship, cricket, and Katharine Hepburn. The most memorable moments, of course, were when O’Toole would go “off the script” as they say, and add something that truly was a personal touch. When discussing Richard Burton, he asked Mankiewicz if he was familiar with the cricket expression a “pair of safe hands” (the generosity of this made me smile- Americans? And cricket? I love you, Mr. O’Toole!). When Mankiewicz replied in the negatory, he responded that it referred to someone who was reliable and could be counted on not to make a mistake, someone who would back you up properly. “I knew with Richard Burton it would be like that,” O’Toole said.

His stories were wonderful. I could have listened to them for hours. But the one that stuck with me the most was the one that he told about Lawrence of Arabia. “I find acting very difficult,” O’Toole commented, and then discussed David Lean in some detail. “To sit on a camel, in the non-existent shade, covered in vermin, is not my ideal platform. But I came out, and David said, ‘It’s an adventure!'”

And Peter O’Toole himself is an adventure. Even as an older gentleman his eyes sparkle and his wit is sharp. “It’s an adventure!” No doubt. His life could not have been more of one and his films could not have expanded that if he had tried. Seeing him before me that morning was a dream. Theatrically, scholarly, and filmically, Peter O’Toole will remain one of the greatest actors in the world and I feel irascibly lucky to have been able to see him have a live Q&A after the masterpiece that was Becket!

I rushed out of there like a house on fire, unlocked my bike, and slid amongst Friday morning cars along Hollywood Blvd on my bike. I have to say- it was SO much quicker than walking! I love my bike! So I found a place to lock her up, and charged straight up to the Chinese 3 for Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life (1956). Some of you may remember that I have written about Nicholas Ray before or know my passion for his films, so you can imagine how excited I was. Well, quadruple that. It was a spectacular event, in the true meaning of the word spectacular originating from “spectacle.” Not only was star Barbara Rush there to do the Q&A with Robert Osborne, but it was in glorious DeLuxe color and Cinemascope.

Words fail to describe how good Barbara Rush looked. The fact that a woman who is in her 80’s looks like she just popped off the screen is almost unfathomable. Yet there she was, plain as day, gorgeous, funny, bright and quick as hell!

For a young actress to work with Nick Ray was a big thing, but James Mason...that VOICE!

When Robert Osborne asked her to talk about some of her leading men, she quipped back in the middle of his question, “I had ’em all!”

Her discussions on Paul Newman’s aspirations to character actorhood were especially enlightening. due to the fact Indeed, looking at his career and certain roles he chose to take on, you can see that desire manifest itself more than once. However, due to the fact that he was deadly good-looking,  he lost the character-actor lottery and was more leading-man stock (can’t say I’m complaining much). She said that he always really wanted to be Wallace Beery.

Rush was also on very good terms with Sinatra, too. He made sure to let her know that he had her back, no matter what. “Kid,” he said, “If you ever need help…” to which Rush replied “You would be the last person I’d call! You’ll kill ’em!!”

For someone who was extremely unfamiliar with her work, this Q&A was a godsend. Not only was she delightful and funny, but she was informative, incisive and analytical about the Hollywood system then and now. She stated, pure and simple, “There were no Lindsay Lohans because of the Studio System. They would give them picture after picture, shape them and mold them, protect them.” It was an interesting and saddening thing to consider. It’s not like people were partying any less back then. It’s just that the Studios and the Agents and the assorted folks in and around that circus authentically cared more (not about the person, mind you, about their product/commodity) and that, in effect, prevented a great deal of mishap. Don’t get me wrong, bad things still happened, but the covering up and shaping/molding/continuing to provide pictures after scandal may have saved more lives than we think.

Then there was the film itself Bigger Than Life is aptly named. And no, it could not have been shot in black and white or any other aspect ratio. It was a deliberate use of tools for a deliberate study on addiction, psychosis and different kinds of abuse-related traumas. It felt like a Douglas Sirk movie that had gone to the circus but in that upside-down, ten-in-one, freakshow kind of way, not the cotton candy and ferris wheel. It was dark and twisted and over the top, and while many might see this as the basis for a cult film and cause for laughter, I saw it as hauntingly beautiful and uncontrollably disturbing. It was meticulously thought out in the way that only a Ray film is, and is very clever at disguising itself as simply the American dream gone wrong. The issue is that this is the American dream gone to Hell in a handbasket. It deals with drug abuse, sure, but it deals with all kinds of other abuses and their repercussions on the psyches of the most vulnerable. We’ll put it this way- I adored the film and will be writing on it more at a later date, I’m sure.

So I believe I might have had something to eat at that point. I honestly don’t remember. I think I did, but that seems highly unlikely seeing that there was no possible way that I was going to miss the next screening. The bits and pieces in between the screenings at the Festival seems so meaningless unless you are in the company of fantastic and awesome people (which I was for good portions of the weekend) or getting to know some new ones, so anything less than that pales.

The next thing I knew, I was making my way into the Chinese 3 again, when who should I see but my good friend and companion, writer-on-film extraordinaire, and all around excellent being with opposable thumbs, Dennis Cozzalio. I was THRILLED to pieces. I always love spending time with him and so every time I see him it’s like some cool holiday. I snagged a seat right by him, sat down, and we immersed ourselves in the glory, the magic, the unbelievable brilliance  that is The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). In my notebook, as I was watching, I scribbled the following phrases:

1) Indiana Jones and Goonies totally bit off this!! Dude!!

2) Pixar for nerdy grown-ups!! [ok, so maybe I shoulda written Aardman. SUE ME.]

3) Who let the dragons out? Who? Who? Who? [YES. I went there. TO MYSELF. In the movie. THANKS.]

My decision, right then and there: any film that has such beautiful and skillfully battling skeletons has won my heart. Now I know you might say- hadn’t you seen Harryhausen’s work before? The quick answer is yes. The longer answer is a) never a full film (but many clips, pieces of documentaries, and virtually hours of footage on the making-of stuff) and b) NEVER ON A BIG SCREEN.

Never let anyone tell you that the big screen doesn’t change the way you seen a film. Even one you have seen a bazillion times. It is a complete falsehood. Seeing this film on the big screen with Bernard Herrman’s excellent score ripping its way through my ears was life-changing. The 13-year-old boy in me was doing cartwheels and flips. It was so brilliant. I’m surprised that my seat remained in one piece considering how much I was bouncing around in absolute glee.

Delightful doesn’t begin to describe this film. ROCK an ROLL comes close, but…that doesn’t sound too scholarly, now does it. Perhaps we shall split the difference?

When that came to a close, I walked out into the lobby with Dennis and we ran into a friend of his. As it turned out, his pal John is finishing up the same program that I will be starting up in September! So after a bit of movie dishing, Dennis moved towards his next film and John and I chatted about film archiving and all sorts of fun stuff. Also how fencing/fighting skeletons essentially just rule. After grabbing some coffee with him, I made my way down to the courtyard in front of the big Chinese, so that I could get in line for Spartacus (1960).

It wasn’t so much that I felt a need to see it on the big screen (although seeing anything in the big Chinese is almost like seeing the face of a god…well, maybe a junior deity, seeing as it’s all digital now and I’m a sucker for a good print. But still- stuff in the big Chinese? GREAT) as I wanted to see Kirk Douglas. I love the man. Lonely Are the Brave (1962) (Douglas’ favorite film of his career, by the way!) is possibly one of the best modern Westerns to grace the silver screen, and Ace in the Hole (1951)? Well, let’s just say I still don’t go to church. It still bags my nylons. I’ve also read his autobiography (the first one, anyways) and have a very keen sense of him due to my minor obsession with the blacklist and blacklist history. So aside from the fact that my mother had seen the very same film in the very same theater when it came out, 50 years ago (sorry for outing your age, mom! Forgive me for the sake of journalism?), I had my excitement gauge set firmly to “Elder Statesman of HELL YES I RULE” Douglas. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.

Kirk Douglas has had multiple strokes over the years which have made his speech difficult to understand. I can’t say I got everything, but I got most of it. His poise was brilliant. His timing? SPOT ON. Whatever neurological explosions happened within the Douglas anatomy, they have not, for even one instanteffected his ability to turn on a crowd and keep them going.  People were laughing at his jokes (damn funny), murmuring in agreement at his statements and watching intently as he discussed certain elements of his life now in comparison to back then. He actually said that he was happy that he had the strokes, as they taught him to stop taking things for granted.

"I think for a guy who can't talk, I'm saying a lot!"

My favorite story that he told was when he called Stanley Kubrick and wanted to make Paths of Glory (1957) (another GENIUS performance from this man). He said he had to cajole Kubrick into it a little, and his stance on Paths when he decided that he wanted to make it, verbatim, was: “This picture won’t make a nickel. But we have to do it.” That attitude ruled his career and it still rules him. It was inspirational to see clips from his one-man show and to know that this man has the strength of a thousand winning armies. Kirk Douglas is Spartacus, still.

He received a standing ovation in response to his statement about breaking the blacklist by using Dalton Trumbo’s name as an actual credit and making sure that Trumbo was let on the lot when no one had the balls to do that, and with that we said our farewells to the man who changed Hollywood (and my personal film life) forever, and got on with the show.

Spartacus itself was quite enjoyable. It was made a little less enjoyable by the people in the audience who persisted in taking pictures of the screen. I knew when the flashes would go off, too. It was like clockwork. People’s credits at the beginning? FLASH. Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis in the now-infamous “snails-oysters-bathing scene” FLASH FLASH FLASH.

I do understand that there were a ton of people attending this festival from different cities, states and countries. I also understand that those places may not have theatrical screenings of these films, thus you make the journey to the seriously amazing TCM Classic Film Festival. But…it was quite distracting and disappointing. There are amazing screen captures that you can get online. It is entirely unnecessary to disrupt other people’s film-going experience by shooting pictures through it. If the staff could’ve done something, I think they would have. But quick flashes in a large group of people…well, not much you can do.

Spartacus is truly an amazing film. Due to the emotional attachment to storyline/characters I am always guilty of when I go to the movies, I tend to forget how many extraordinary actors are in it together. You can probably play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and connect him to any one of these actors because of this one picture. How poignant, too, that I was seeing another Tony Curtis movie at the TCM Festival, as last year I had seen one of my ALL time favorites, Sweet Smell of Success (1957), and he had been the guest for the Q&A beforehand.

As the film let out, I had to throw in the towel. I was spent. This broke my heart because I was so looking forward to seeing William Castle’s The Tingler (1959) at the Egyptian. Castle is one of my 100%, no-question-about-it, favorite humans to have come into the world of the cinema. But I had to admit defeat, and so I biked home, opened my door, put the bike down with my stuff, and promptly passed out completely. It was necessary. I’m kinda glad I did, too, as Saturday turned out to be the biggest and most movie-filled day of ’em all!!

****WATCH THIS SPACE SOON FOR PART 2 OF THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL SAGA!!!!!!!****

TCM Classic Film Fest, 2011-Initial Preparations and Looking to the Past

And so it goes. A year passes, things change, and…here we are. About to enter the insanity that is the TCM Classic Film Fest once again.

I experienced it last year, and submitted my review to a local magazine. It ended up going unpublished,  however, that doesn’t mean I can’t post the review here, one year later, right? In short, I would like to share with you my experiences from the TCM Classic Film Fest 2010.

First of all, let me preface this by letting you know that when I wrote this, I was still on my “festival high” and the magazine audience that I was writing it for not nearly as advanced as I feel that this one is. So I apologize if the tenor of the piece feels somewhat…less. In any case, you are a forgiving audience (I feel), so I will give you the writing and hope that you will at least be cheerleaders along with me.

I will tell you this: The TCM Film Festival of 2010 was remarkable in so many ways that I have to publish this piece before I let you know what my plans are going to be this upcoming weekend. So here goes….

Firstly, I must confess: I am not a morning person. It takes me a while to get out of bed. However, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Film Festival that took place at Grauman’s Chinese and the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd, from April 22-25, was a whole different story. In fact, all I needed to know to jump out of bed that first day was: my breakfast is going to be made out of Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and Gloria Grahame and cooked up by Vincent Minnelli in 1952. While most people I know can barely make it to work by 9:00am, I had gotten on my bike, booked it up to the Walk of Fame, bought a ticket, and was in my seat ready to watch one of my favorite films: The Bad and The Beautiful.   

And it was worth every little bit of sleep lost, as there was so much gained! First off, there was a Q&A with Robert Osborne and Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner’s daughter. Most famous for her, um, “run in” at 14 years old with mommy’s gangster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato, (she showed her approval of the relationship by stabbing him to death), Crane was actually most charming and spoke lovingly of Turner. But it had nothing on the film itself. This motion picture can knock any modern day movie trying to “expose” Hollywood’s evils flat on its proverbial ass. Twice. The bad?  Waking up early after being out way too late the night before. The Beautiful? Seeing a gorgeous 35mm print of this, pristine and larger than life…the way it was meant to be seen!

After this, I blasted through hell incarnate (read: tourists and people dressed like SpongeBob Squarepants) to get much needed sustenance and garner a spot for one of THE best and THE most cynical and downright nasty films ever placed on celluloid: Sweet Smell of Success(Alexander Mackendrick, 1957). It was in the Grauman’s Chinese, large and in charge, with a Q&A with one of the stars, Tony Curtis.

The man, the myth, the legend. See Sweet Smell of Success. Just do it.

I shouldn’t say much about this except that it was a disappointment and it was not Tony’s fault. The guy is 84 years old, and he’s more than welcome to ramble. But if you are the Q&A guy, your JOB is to keep him on track. Oh, and…try and make sure he keeps the microphone up to his mouth. It was tragic, as I would’ve liked to have had a good Q&A for this film. If you have never seen this film, you must. Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, etc) really likes it. He’s used several lines from it in Tomahawk songs.

The remainder of the festival was amazing. Later that first day, I saw Mel Brooks present The Producers, and that was phenomenal. He’s sharp as a tack, funny as hell, and had great stories.

Mel Brooks outdoes everyone and probably will...forever. Flanked by Mitch Glazer on the right and Vanity Fair's Sam Kashner (who, thankfully, let Brooks have centerstage as well he should have!)

I did another 9:00am run on Saturday to see Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd (but I’d do almost anything for a Billy Wilder screening…you should too), and Nancy Olsen was there, looking barely any older than she did in the film! It was impressive. I visited the Egyptian Saturday night to see Donald Bogle (read his book “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: A History of Blacks in Film”- educational and extremely well-written!) present some of the most exquisite 35mm transfers of out-of-circulation cartoons (such as “Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves”)

The 35mm prints of these cartoons were magnificent and the historical discussion by Donald Bogle was beyond that.

done by folks like Bob Klampett and Tex Avery. That show blew my skull apart and made me simply ecstatic to live in a city where I could bear witness to this on a big screen!

Then there was Three Alarm Sunday. Heard of a three alarm fire? I have 3 alarms to wake me up. I used ‘em for Sunday. One was Good, one was Bad, and one was Ugly. Because that was the film I saw. It was life changing. Out of all the films I have seen in my life (and I have seen a ton), I had never seen this, and I had especially never seen it with 94-year-old Eli Wallach doing the Q&A. What do you want me to say? He was witty, funny, charming. He let loose an “I’ll stop acting when I die!”

"I'll stop acting when I die!"

and brought along a birthday card someone sent him that played the beginning theme from the film. The movie and the music were so beautiful that they made me cry. Not once, not twice, but several times. I felt lucky to have eyes and ears, and thanked Italy and Mr. and Mrs. Leone for having some sexy times to create Sergio. I walked out of Grauman’s a changed woman, and will never forget that morning.  While I saw several more films that day, including The Stunt Man (Richard Rush,1980), Murder, He Says (George Marshall, 1945) and one of my all-time-favorites, In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950), The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a film that went beyond the pale, and really “tied the room together, man.” Thank you TCM, and thank you Los Angeles for providing me with a nice little film vacation! Can’t wait until next year!

And so we have come full-circle. It is now next year. I have been chatting excitedly with my good friends Karie Bible from Film Radar and Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and we all agreed in our different conversations that this year’s schedule is *just* as difficult to prioritize as last year’s. Realistically, the fact that I even have a pass to go to the thing makes me feel like Charlie Bucket getting a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.  That said, when you put certain things against each other at the same time, it truly is like a filmic Sophie’s Choice. That said, I am going to now present you with what I feel will be my schedule for the TCM Classic Film Festival 2011. Feel free to comment on it at will!

THURSDAY, April 28th

7:15- A Night at the Opera with What’s Opera, Doc? on 35mm, guests: Andy Marx and Robert Bader

-I’m not sure if I have seen a Marx Brothers film on the big screen before. So…I’m gonna make sure that I have.

10:15-The Devil is a Woman on 35mm, guest: Katie Trainor

-totally problematic, TOTALLY Von Sternberg/Dietrich, and to quote the TCM site- “When Spain threatened to ban all Paramount pictures over the film’s depiction of their police guard, the studio pulled it from worldwide distribution and destroyed the master. They also released von Sternberg from his contract prematurely ending a level of artistic freedom that the director would never enjoy again.”  This is the world premiere of a new restoration from MOMA. Can we say excited, boys & girls?

FRIDAY, April 29th

-9:00am, Becket on 35mm, Q&A/Discussion w/Peter O’Toole

-I am getting up SUPER early in order to be able to see this. If I do not get a good seat for this I will be crushed. I am soooooooo looking forward to this it’s kinda silly. As I have commented to friends of mine, this is kinda one of the first “bro” movies. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the kind of “bro” I LIKE watching. Peter O’Toole in person. Need I say more???

-12:45pm Bigger Than Life on 35mm, guest: Barbara Rush

-It’s on scope. It’s by Nicholas Ray. It’s got Walter Matthau. 2008 restoration. I’ve never seen it. It’s about drug addiction and the ripping apart of the “picket fence” thing. I’m SO IN.

-3:45pm The 7th Voyage of Sinbad on 35mm, guest: Bruce Crawford

-DUDE. Harryhausen. 35mm. Are you out of your mind?? I may resemble a female in all the ways I am supposed to, but when it comes to things of this nature, I WANT ADVENTURE AND BIG MONSTERS ON THE BIG SCREEN. I will not hide the 14-year-old-boy that resides in my brain. And he gets treated to some rockin’ good times with this. Thanks. I could lie and tell you that it was just because I wanted to write about the Bernard Herrmann music, but why beat around the bush???

-8:00pm Spartacus, digital, guest/Q&A: Kirk Douglas

-So I have dreamed of seeing Kirk Douglas in person since…oh…forever. I love that he is a man that doesn’t let anything keep him down and I love his dedication and his passion. I just want to see him in person. I have also never seen Spartacus on the big screen. There is something somewhat romantic to me about seeing it at the Egyptian. So…I am going to do this. I am *hoping* that it will let me out early enough to make the midnight at the Egyptian, however….

-12:00am The Tingler, 35mm, guest: Bruce Goldstein

-I love William Castle. I love Vincent Price. I make it a point to never miss a chance to see a Castle movie when it is being projected, if i can help it. So…if I can help it, I’m gonna try to make it! If I can’t then, ah well.

SATURDAY, April 30th

-9:30am This is the Night, 35mm, guest: Jennifer Grant

-It’s the film that launched Cary Grant’s career, got Thelma Todd in it (aka “Hot Toddy” who died under very mysterious circumstances), it’s pre-code-era, and it’s a new restoration from the UCLA Film & TV Archive. Sounds good for breakfast!

-12:00pm The Outlaw Josie Wales, digital

-Clint Eastwood. Big Chinese. Need I say more?

-3:45 Went The Day Well?, 35mm, Guest: Kevin Brownlow

-OK, so this is where it gets super painful for *me*…I need to see Outlaw Josie Wales so therefore I cannot go to the “Conversation with Kevin Brownlow” that they are having. This part SUCKS. If you don’t know who Kevin Brownlow is, he’s the guy I wanna be when I grow up. He got an Academy Award for the work he’s done with film preservation, ok? So instead of the “Conversation with…” I’m going to see this film. Don’t get me wrong. This film looks incredible!!! It’s loosely based on a Graham Greene story, it’s a North American premiere of a new restoration, it has all the right stuff. And Brownlow is going to speak on its merits! But…it’s playing at the same time as Carousel, one of my favorite musicals in the entire world, a film I have NEVER gotten to see on a big screen, and a film that never PLAYS on a big screen. Yeah, Sophie? You and your choices can go to hell. I’m still loving my Golden Ticket, though. Oy vey.

***here’s my two options that I haven’t decided on yet:

-6:15 Niagara, 35mm, guest: Foster Hirsch

-Love me some Hathaway, great dark Marilyn film, and Foster Hirsch is a badass mofo when it comes to film noir-y writing and that kinda stuff. I would LOVE to see him talk about this film. To be honest, 50% of the draw of going to Niagara is Hirsch. But…I haven’t decided yet.

OR

-6:30 Pennies From Heaven, 35mm, guest: Ileana Douglas

-Don’t think I’ve seen it on a big screen, wonderful film, Steve Martin…pretty irresistible. This slot is a REALLY HARD CHOICE. I may not know what I’m going to until a little while before I go…

-9:30pm One, Two, Three, 35mm, guest: Michael Schlesinger

-It’s Wilder. We do not miss Wilder. It is a rule. Kinda like breathing. ‘Nuff said.

-12:00am The Mummy, 35mm, guest: Ron Perlman

-I think I would have to be mildly stupid to miss seeing the 1932 film The Mummy at the Egyptian theater. If I can make it there in enough time from the Wilder…I’m there. Plus…uh, RON PERLMAN?????? Yeah.

SUNDAY, May 1st

-9:15am The Sid Saga, 35mm, guest: Ross Lipman

-I’m not going to lie. I’m going to this purely because of the film preservationist/restorationist. Ross Lipman is fantastic and everything he has worked on is so fascinating and to me that I pretty much trust his name at this point. He’s also an incredibly nice guy. I am very much looking forward to watching this piece. Once again, it looks like another really exciting and super cool film preservation achievement.

-12:30pm Bright Boulevards & Broken Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood, Speaker: Donald Bogle

-I’m a sucker for a film academic who can entertain while also educate. And Donald Bogle fits that bill to a T. Therefore, I think I may go ahead and check him out again. He was awesome last year with the cartoons, so…sure! Let’s go for it!

-3:15pm A Place in the Sun, Guest: Rose McGowan

-Why Rose McGowan is the guest for this film…I have no clue. I know she was on TCM, so I have to conclude she digs this film a whole lot. To be perfectly frank, I’d rather have Alec Baldwin tell me why he likes George Stevens, but hey- not up to me, right? In any case, I’ve never seen the film and I just finished a book that uses it as a fairly central plot point, so I think it might be a good idea to finally see it.

So…there are a lot of TBAs still on Sunday, and I might catch Westside Story  or Manhattan, but I’m not sure. This is where my schedule is at this point. All I know is I’m going to be EXHAUSTED on Monday. This is like Comic Con, just less smelly and crowded and more (dare I say it?) nerdy! In any case it is equally so. And I cannot wait. So there you have it. That is my plan. Perhaps I will see you there?

Are you down with the sickness?: In a Lonely Place and Modern Traumas

Interesting times right now, I have to say.  And the synergy of my film viewing and the world at large is not going unnoticed by this rabid cinephile.

Tonight I went to the Silent Movie Theater to see In a Lonely Place, a film that I fell in love with back in college at UCSC, when my best friend Ray showed it to me. Since then, I have read the book it was based on, wrote a paper about it, and, better still, found an absolutely fucking BRILLIANT song that was based on it (using one of the best lines from the damn film).

This is undoubtedly a troubling film. There is no question in my mind that it is one of Bogart’s best performances, as you see his range of acting through an array of facial expressions that he rarely gets the opportunity to use in most of his more standard roles, however…it makes the film (and his character) that much more, well, disturbing.

See, there’s a murder, right? And it’s a noir, so there seems to be a wrong man thing, right? (And no, I’m NOT going to give anything away, I hate spoilers and ruining films for people with the heat of a thousand burning fires) And of course there’s a love story somewhere inside. All set within the confines of Hollywood and the film industry. Now, the WONDERFUL thing about many of the films in the ’40’s and ’50’s that were made about Hollywood is the way that they treated the landscape. Far from it being the environment where dreams come true and stars are born, it is diseased. Hollywood is sick and rotting, it is a corpse being slowly picked apart by the vultures who live there; beasts who feed upon it (some call those agents, but hey…) trying to gain some substantiation but end up with nothing but more contamination. My point is, that this film is about the sickness.

I am not a stranger to Hollywood, nor am I a stranger to infirmity, especially the kind discussed within the narrative of this film. I wish I could say that it was foreign to me, however, whether it was a personal experience or a friend’s, it is all too familiar. See, no matter how you cut it, Bogart’s character, Dixon Steele, is guilty. I know, I know, I just told you I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but hear me out- I’m not. The main issue in this film has to do with anger issues, and, more crucially, domestic violence. As the cops look at his case, they go through Dix’s files, they come across case after case of fights and brawls and assorted other socially “acceptable” male misbehavior. Then they come to one of his former girlfriends. She retracted the call she made about him, and said that she had broken her nose by “running into a door.”

This is the point where we start to worry and wonder. This is the part where we become disturbed. THIS is the part where the acceptable “guy-ism” of punching the other dude’s lights out doesn’t count. Because you hit a girl. Now I am a full-on feminist, but I don’t think that there aren’t extenuating circumstances to many situations and the term “hitting a girl” does kinda rub me the wrong way at times because it infers that, well, I couldn’t punch the fuck outta someone if I wanted to. However, I also realize that it is a biological FACT that most men are physically stronger than most women in many circumstances (minus weightlifters, bodybuilders, military, and probably a good percentage of the crazy nutjobs that survive Burning Man on a yearly basis, etc), and therefore? YOU DON’T HIT A GIRL.

Which brings me back to my main discussion. Nicholas Ray’s film and Chris Brown and Rihanna. Wh-wh-wh-what??

Yes, I wrote exactly that. Now the interesting thing is, as I was driving to the theater tonight, I was oblivious to the connection between the two (Gee, I dunno, film noir from 1950, R&B teeny-bopper couple from 2009…connection just *didn’t* immediately spring to mind…call me crazy), but as I watched the film unfurl, I was horrified to realize that there was Too Much There. Watching Dixon Steele unravel, watching Gloria Grahame respond, watching their relationship build to the crescendo that it does, the magnificence that is that film…I found more items inside of the diegesis alarming that I had before. Yet, I also found them more heartbreaking and more heartwrenching as well.  Because nothing is ever simple, nothing is ever easy, and love, above all, is the most difficult of all things. However, this film shows that love, with certain people, can be a combat zone, and does nothing to hide that fact. As a sidenote, it would seem to me that this at least partially stemmed from the fact that Nicholas Ray and his star, Gloria Grahame, were in the middle of ending their marriage during the making of the film (he slept on the set, actually, claiming the need to “work late”). However, like war, in this film love is hell.

However, it is not that simple. Especially not in real life. And especially not when the media gets involved (also one of the pivotal messages of the film- a critique of fame and the role that the media plays in making/breaking personal lives).  This very aspect of media involvement hit me like a jackhammer. Actually, it hit me more like the unending barrage of updates I’ve been seeing everyday at the gym about Chris Brown and Rihanna. And I was fascinated by the parallel issues that I was seeing within fiction and non-fiction, with the more than 50 years in between.

I had been listening to a piece on NPR about teenagers in LA and their responses to the Chris Brown/Rihanna thing right before I pulled up to the theater. See, it’s pretty phenomenal what fandom and fan culture will do to people and their synthesis of actual real life events. The way I see it, there are three main activities that fans regularly engage in that can be seriously and horrifically detrimental in situations like this.

1) Fans will intentionally ignore the negative/unacceptable in order to keep their image of their Perfect Idol “perfect”

2) Fans will actively search for and find “back up” evidence (no matter how outlandish it may seem) that defies the event in question in order to reposition and restore the Perfect Idol back to his/her “rightful” throne

3) Fans will vigorously disseminate their version of events as the absolute truth, as a result of their expert knowledge in that area

Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am a HUGE fan of Fandoms and Fan Culture. I study it, love it, AM it, to a certain extent. Each of the above things in and of itself is not inherently evil. However, when it comes to a situation like Rihanna and Chris Brown…it becomes very dangerous. These three things are, obviously, methods that fans use to intentionally distort the truth. This is not bad when it comes to the discussion of William Shatner’s toupees, but it is damaging beyond words when it comes to something like domestic violence.

Especially when there are, oh, no celebrities with the balls enough to stand up and say “Hey guys- this shit don’t fly. This was not good.” That certainly doesn’t help. So when KCRW has these teenagers discussing their feelings about whether Rihanna hit him first, and then whether she deserved to get hit back because she started it, and others disowning Brown altogether, you end up realizing that there is an entire generation of kids out there right now, struggling to cobble together some kind of reasoning and some kind of meaning from all of this with no guidance. Oh boo hoo, so Brown isn’t getting to do that awards show. Is that going to help these girls who love(d) him? Not really.  One of the girls said something to the effect of “Oh, he’s never going to be able to come back from this one. He’s being called Ike Turner, you don’t come back from that.”  Tragically, and especially after rewatching the film tonight, I have to play the cynic on this one. He’s already coming back. His PR people are working overtime to make damn sure that happens. Thus I say, welcome to the sickness. Welcome to the disease. Welcome to the virus-ridden place that used to be located in Hollywood, but has now been expanded to a meta-location called, simply, Celebrity.

inalonelyplace3791 I was going to post a picture of Rihanna and her face, but do you really need to see that? I mean, that is a physically embodied example of illness and malady, physically imposed and created, but sickness nonethless. But I thought better of it. We’ve all seen it by now, and if you haven’t, google it. NO ONE should EVER get beaten like that. I’m glad that picture got leaked though, even if her 21-year-old ass isn’t. It’s going to make a difference in someone’s life. I hope. But I’m not going to repost the damn thing.

Do we need to see more reiteration on WHY you shouldn’t beat another human being to a bloody pulp? I’m thinking….no.  So instead, I’ll end with a brief musing on the foreign poster I found for In a Lonely Place. I thought it was particularly fascinating because, well, the title change. I have a penchant for foreign film posters. BIG time. My favorites currently are the Polish ones. But this one is pretty interesting. The film’s “tagline” literally says “Of hatred? or of death?”  And the title? Well, this film is now called “Death in a kiss.”

Quite a different feel from In a Lonely Place, eh? The association of kisses with violence and death with hate and intimacies, all against the backdrop of what seems to be Bogart caressing Grahame’s face in his hands…It’s quite intense. Not unlike the film. Translations and updates can be funny things, not unlike language itself. It can change a film from having a semi-moody, melancholic title to one that connotes vicious violence and explosive passions. That very same language is also used to change one man’s actions of anger and violence into a simple “mistake,” or something that was “taken out of context,” with very similar effects: the entire scene changes.

At the end of the day, media is as sensitive as we are. However, as it seems to be continually proven, not all the people who are producing it these days, are. They are those vultures as mentioned earlier, circling, waiting. At this point it is just up to us really. We have to decide whether we’re going to be down with the sickness, or abscond to greener pastures and leave it for others to deal with, as the celebrities seemed to have done with the Rihanna/Brown case. Alternatively,  we can always try and revitalize this bitch, give it some blood, a new title and tagline perhaps. I don’t know about you, but those foreign posters? They always speak volumes to me.