TCM Classic Film Festival (2017)

The Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival breezed in and out of Hollywood for an eighth consecutive year last week. The unique four-day festival, like the cable television channel and brand, is a focused, choreographed affair which is strictly a showcase for movies. TCM can be merchandised and monetized and spread across multiple platforms for streaming, home entertainment, experiences, books, articles and wine (and it is) but, however it’s sold, promoted and presented, Turner Classic Movies exists to show movies.

Club TCM at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Photo by Scott Holleran © Copyright 2017 Scott Holleran. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.

So does its Classic Film Festival, though TCM adds value by integrating scholars, movie stars (and those connected to them) and storytellers into the theatrical movie experience. TCM is, as General Manager Jennifer Dorian put it at the press conference, Hollywood’s “keeper of the flame”. That it is fueled by impeccable TV and classic movies professionals that appreciate classic motion pictures and their fans comes through. TCM’s fans and festival-goers, the passholders, are a hardy and uniquely American bunch; spending time with these people while waiting to watch movies and, then, watching the movies, is invigorating if you love movies (and probably boring if you don’t). This band of classic movie geeks, romanticists and individualists descend upon Hollywood Boulevard, walk purposefully to the Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard or Musso and Frank for lunch or Club TCM for a drink. They think fast, talk smart and they know exactly what they want.

So they tend to get noticed for not acting as if they want to be noticed, especially by those who work in establishments along Hollywood Boulevard, who would spot my TCMFF badge, stop and ask about the festival with a sense of wonder and respect. TCM passholders also tend to know which movies they like and they can often tell you exactly why. They’re generally discriminating about how they watch movies, too. Unlike other film festival guests, they pride themselves on choosing and knowing which, not how many, films to see, based on certain standards. By my estimate, after four days of hearing their travel tales, festival feedback and thoughts on classic movies and the programming built around them, TCM passholders are generally neither jaded nor pretentious. Like the best movies, especially classic movies, they are sharp, not cutting.

Much of this year’s excitement emanated from new nitrate screenings, especially Laura (1944), and also The Lady in the Dark (1944), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Black Narcissus (1947), all shown in American Cinematheque’s recently renovated theater, Sid Grauman’s The Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard. The original nitrate print showings were well received, despite the fact that government regulators apparently forced the Egyptian’s concession stand to basically shut down during renovations. The nitrate screenings were made possible through the Academy Film Archive, George Eastman Museum and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The projection process for nitrate, which is potentially flammable and dangerous, was paid for by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Turner Classic Movies and The Film Foundation in partnership with the American Cinematheque and the Academy Film Archive.

Dana Gould as Dr. Zaius attends Citi’s poolside screening of ‘Planet of The Apes’ during the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 8, 2017 (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for TCM)

Though a movie star or someone connected to a movie, historian or scholar attends each screening and appears at various events and tapings for TCM, passholders know that the TCM Classic Film Festival, more than other film festivals, revolves around the actual experience of seeing movies, not seeing who’s who, though inevitably there is some of that (predictably and mostly at the galas). TCM Classic Film Festival‘s exclusive founding partner, Delta Air Lines, is the official airline. Other sponsors include Citi, the official card (sponsoring poolside screenings, such as Planet of the Apes, which are fun) and Bonhams.

Screenings earning passholder enthusiasm this year include David Lean’s Oscar-winning The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Jean Harlow’s biting Red-Headed Woman (1932) and Ernst Lubitsch’s One Hour With You (1932). The latter two pictures were screened a second time due to high demand, though, to my knowledge, no one was turned away from a screening as has happened at past festivals. Howard Hawks’s Red River (1948) starring John Wayne, shown at the Egyptian, impressed those who’d never seen it. The same goes for Billy Wilder’s underappreciated Stalag 17 (1953) with William Holden. People also seemed to enjoy seeing Panique (1946), Cry, the Beloved Country (1951, with thoughts from film scholar Donald Bogle), The Palm Beach Story (1942, with an appearance from Joel McCrea‘s grandson, Wyatt McCrea) and, of course, Singin’ in the Rain (1952), with its references to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which seemed to be the main point of attraction. I heard universal praise among passholders for actress and occasional TCM hostess Dana Delany’s thoughts and facts on Love Crazy (1941).

Photo by Scott Holleran © Copyright 2017 Scott Holleran. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.

In fact, in the wake of the recent death of longtime host Robert Osborne, to whom TCM dedicated 2017’s Classic Film Festival, TCM’s on-air talent and heirs apparent was a top festival topic. Of course, fans fondly remembered Robert Osborne throughout the festival. A thoughtfully conceived wall for moviegoers to write thoughts on the distinguished host, journalist and former actor (to be shared with his surviving family) was a welcome addition. Upon reading fans’ posted notes and hearing from attendees, it becomes clear that Robert O. was highly valued for his wealth of knowledge, passion and accessibility about classic movies. Every other passholder made a point to tell me that they think this quality lacks among current TCM hosts. Passholders generally told me that they are fine with Ben Mankiewicz, whom they appear to regard as an innocuous stand-in or comic relief. Actress and sometime hostess Illeana Douglas, who, like Mankiewicz, is known and touted as being related by blood to a famous Hollywood talent, elicits both mild groans and sincere approval. Tiffany Vazquez, whom TCM hired last year to make weekend introductions and festival intros, is not popular among passholders, however, with most citing lack of inflection, engagement and passion. Part-time TCM hosts Alex Trebek, Leonard Maltin and Dana Delany all seasoned TV pros, earned higher praise among TCM’s most devoted fans.

Questions about Robert Osborne dominated the press conference, too, with journalists (including this journalist), asking about plans for programming, streaming and home entertainment of the host’s original movie introductions and his Private Screenings series. Programming boss Charlie Tabesh explained that airing the Private Screenings episodes is “very expensive” due to rights and he said that certain episode rights have unfortunately lapsed but that TCM’s goal is to bring them back. Turner Classic Movies’ General Manager Jennifer Dorian (who said she most admires Mary Tyler Moore in answer to a question about women in TV) announced a new online course, TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock, in association with Ball State. The six-week course on Alfred Hitchcock movies is free and runs in conjunction with TCM’s summer programming of Hitchcock movies. Dorian said that TCM is also giving a free, 30-day trial of its club membership for TCM Backlot and may explore other streaming options, such as iTunes, in addition to its proprietary streaming partnership with Criterion Collection, FilmStruck. TCM also has a new wine club, though I haven’t tasted the courtesy bottle of “deliciously spicy” Alfred Hitchcock Zinfandel.

The 50th Anniversary Screening of “In the Heat of the Night” (1967) Red Carpet & Opening Night at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival In Hollywood, California.

Movies screened during the festival include What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), So This is Paris (1926), America America (1963), The Awful Truth (1937) and The Great Dictator (1940). Three movies released in 1971—The Last Picture Show, Harold and Maude and Gene Wilder‘s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—were shown as well as Rear Window (1954) and the opening night picture, In the Heat of the Night (1967), which I’m told started over 30 minutes late due to tardy composer Quincy Jones, who joined producer Walter Mirisch, actress Lee Grant and director Norman Jewison for a discussion. The movie’s leading man, actor, producer and director Sidney Poitier (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), who is 90 years old, also appeared during opening night, though he did not participate in the exchange.

Other guest appearances included Michael Douglas (Streets of San Francisco, Wall Street, Falling Down) in the lead interview (last year’s guest was Faye Dunaway), talking about his career from acting on television to producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, recently, starring as Liberace. Dick Cavett entertained with tales about Muhammad Ali and others and interviewing Groucho Marx. Mel Brooks attended the 40th anniversary screening of his Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety (1977) and was congratulated by Albert Brooks and Billy Crystal. Other one on one exchanges featured Lee Grant, Peter Bogdanovich and Leonard Maltin. Father and son filmmakers Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner were recognized with a hand and footprint ceremony at the Chinese Theater forecourt. Actresses Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were remembered at screenings of Stanley Donen’s Singin’ In The Rain (1952) and Mike NicholsPostcards from the Edge (1990) with family members Todd Fisher and Billie Lourd in conversations at both screenings. Actor and screenwriter Buck Henry introduced a 50th anniversary restoration from Rialto Pictures of Mike NicholsThe Graduate (1967).

Photo by Scott Holleran © Copyright 2017 Scott Holleran. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.

This year’s festival theme, “Make ‘Em Laugh: Comedy In The Movies”, seemed incomplete without a single Buster Keaton movie (Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin scored just one movie each). The comedy theme also left out Abbott and Costello, Jerry Lewis and movies starring Bob Hope. To my knowledge, Richard Pryor’s only appearance was in 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues.

Hollywood Boulevard is as dodgy as ever, and is probably more dangerous, with not a single cop seen patrolling pedestrian routes on bike or foot, despite the risk of sidewalk crime. A thief struck a Starbucks while I was there. I know of worse crimes, too, in recent years. Several merchants told me about slow police response times. Disney and other area businesses employ private security to protect customers from street thugs and hustlers, including those obstructing walkways with snakes wrapped around their necks.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) presents movies, uncut and uninterrupted, from the world’s largest film libraries. TCM airs programming such as The Essentials, and annual themed movies, such as 31 Days of Oscar® in February and Summer Under the Stars in August. TCM also sponsors separate TCM Classic Film Tours in New York City and Los Angeles, produces books and DVDs about classic film, maintains a movie database at tcm.com, a mobile app to pair with one’s cable TV subscription, and other tie-ins such as Backlot, FilmStruck and an excellent monthly mini-magazine, Now Playing. It’s a division of Turner, a Time Warner company, which also owns CNN, TBS, TNT, truTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Turner Sports and is owned by the corporation that owns Time, Warner Bros., and Warner Home Video.

This year, the Spotlight Pass ($2,149) included gifts and privileges, priority entry to all screening events plus entry to the opening-night party following the red-carpet gala screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and more; an Essential Pass ($799) featured gifts, privileges and opening-night screening; the Classic Pass ($649) included access to all film programs except the opening-night screening and the Palace Pass ($299) gave the passholder access to all screenings and events excluding the opening-night screening. The venues were fine, as usual, with the ArcLight Hollywood, The Egyptian, Pig ‘N Whistle and host Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel being the most friendly, accommodating places.

Faye Dunaway on Turner Classic Movies (2016)

Faye Dunaway, 76, recently made history when she named La La Land as 2016’s Best Picture with Bonnie and Clyde co-star Warren Beatty at the Academy Awards—the winner turned out to be Moonlight—but one of the screen’s most glamorous modern movie stars had already reappeared in Hollywood last spring for a taping of a rare television interview in Hollywood. The Academy Award-winning Dunaway, star of Network, The Thomas Crown Affair and Chinatown, sat before an audience attending the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival (the interview is scheduled to air on Turner Classic Movies on April 3; check local listings). At one point during the two-hour interview with host Ben Mankiewicz, Dunaway, who discussed Bonnie and Clyde and Warren Beatty, The Towering Inferno and director Elia Kazan, reminded her host: “You said I’d get a break.”

At that, the audience laughed and applauded, as the 1970s’ leading actress smiled, waved and left the stage, only to return a short time later to resume the interview with a brief statement to the audience that she knows she’s made mistakes—”I’m not going to talk about those”—and acknowledged without specificity that mistakes are part of her career. Accordingly, Mankiewicz, in his first major festival interview for the network, made no mention of Mommie Dearest, the 1981 creative and commercial disappointment based on a salacious bestseller in which Dunaway portrays Forties movie star Joan Crawford. Among movies mentioned and covered were Dunaway’s hits and pictures opposite Dustin Hoffman (Little Big Man), Mickey Rourke (Barfly) and Frank Sinatra in his last motion picture (The First Deadly Sin).

DunawayTCMFF2016

Faye Dunaway being interviewed at TCM’s Classic Film Festival 2016 at Hollywood’s Ricardo Montalban Theatre.

The interview started with an exchange about Faye Dunaway’s breakthrough role in Arthur Penn’s shocking, violent Bonnie and Clyde, the 1967 film about the 1930s crime spree and mass murders by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The Oscar-nominated performance caused a fashion trend and earned Dunaway, who had also appeared that year in The Happening and Hurry Sundown, consideration for both the best commercially and creatively viable productions. She co-starred the following year as an insurance investigator in Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen, which she admits in the TCM interview “might have been my absolute favorite movie,” referring to the original as more sensual—and less overtly sexual—than 1999’s Rene Russo-Pierce Brosnan remake.

The native of Florida’s panhandle told TCM that she related to Bonnie, the small town Southerner who goes on a bank robbery rampage with her boyfriend, Clyde, and described co-star Warren Beatty, who produced the film, as “indefatigable”, adding that she had previewed and enjoyed his latest picture Rules Don’t Apply.

After Bonnie and Clyde catapulted Faye Dunaway into movie stardom in those final months of Hollywood’s glamorous years—she told the audience she’d auditioned for director Arthur Penn at the now-controversial Beverly Hills Hotel, where she would be photographed a decade later on the morning after she won the Best Actress Oscar for Network—her roles became more complex. Dunaway played an oilman’s daughter who fights to own and operate his oil fields in Stanley Kramer’s Oklahoma Crude with George C. Scott. She earned another Oscar nomination as the mysterious femme fatale in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (which she called “mercurial neuroticism”). She played the villainess in Richard Lester’s 1973 hit adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and its sequel, The Four Musketeers, which she said was released without the cast’s knowledge or consent. She played a skyscraper architect’s romantic interest in 1974’s biggest hit, The Towering Inferno, a civilian in Sydney Pollack’s surveillance state thriller, Three Days of the Condor, with Robert Redford in 1975, and a self-centered television executive in Sidney Lumet’s and Paddy Chayefsky’s prophetic Network in 1977, for which she won the Academy Award as Best Actress for playing soulless Diana Christensen, who domineers the TV network to showcase a circus of reality-distorting programming. Dunaway observed that the character also had a certain poignancy.

“Paddy named Diana after Diana Rigg, who starred in [Chayefsky’s 1971 movie] The Hospital,” Dunaway told TCM. By the turn of the 20th century, she had worked with the best and brightest, from actors Hackman, Brando and Depp to directors Kramer, Jewison and Kazan. Dunaway told TCM that she had learned from the masters, crediting a particular acting tip from Anthony Quinn, whom she says advised Dunaway during filming of The Happening to “work harder off camera than on.”

Mankiewicz brought up details of Dunaway’s early life and career, from her attendance at University of Florida and a teaching scholarship to Florida State University to her time at Boston University and working with Elia Kazan in New York City. Kazan was “invaluable” to her, she explained, telling her what to do off camera. Dunaway said that his counsel prompted her to do her own work studying the characterization. Working with Kazan on a cinematic adaptation of his own novel, The Arrangement, she says she matched a Billie Holiday poster with a relevant thought for her character, Gwen, from one of the blues singer’s recordings, putting it as a caption to the poster. It was what Holiday said to her husband when he came home with lipstick on his collar. The caption reads: “Take a bath, man. Don’t explain.”

Faye Dunaway said that delving into a character’s imagined background and philosophy is part of her job as an actress.

“That’s when I’m happiest,” she told Turner Classic Movies. Citing her iPhone’s Bob Dylan collection in an exchange about her critically acclaimed performance as an alcoholic in 1987’s movie version of Charles Bukowski’s Barfly, she emerged during the course of the TCM Classic Film Festival interview as a freethinking loner and individualist. Indeed, though she will now also be remembered as the presenter who called out the wrong Best Picture winner, Dunaway came across last spring as a woman of the world, starring in Marc Forster’s Hand of God on Amazon, using Uber and enjoying life in Los Angeles, though she admitted to Mankiewicz that, on some days, LA can disappoint.

“I went to the [movie theaters at The] Grove the other day and there wasn’t a [single] movie I wanted to see,” she said in the interview, which will air on Turner Classic Movies on April 3. When asked what she does to keep finding depth in new roles, Faye Dunaway replied with this thought: “Fill yourself up again.”

The Pope Proposes to Hollywood

The Pope has reportedly proposed a merger with Hollywood.

According to an industry trade publication report, Pope Francis wrote to top movie industry players and pitched a conference on influencing movies, television and show business to spread faith, religion and positive views of the Catholic Church. The proposed meeting, which the Pope apparently wants to include a powerful agent with connections to the Obama administration, would convene at the Vatican this fall.

Among those apparently on the invitation list are the brother of Chicago Mayor and ex-Clinton and Obama staffer Rahm Emanuel, Ari Emanuel, and his co-CEO at William Morris Endeavor, Patrick Whitesell, producer Brian Grazer (Inside Deep Throat), Oprah Winfrey (Selma), Matt Damon (Hereafter) and industry titan David Geffen. Pope Francis seeks to discuss “how the church is perceived by Western media influencers and ways to improve its portrayal in entertainment” according to the report, which also notes that the Vatican is apparently working with the nonprofit Varkey Foundation, a charity launched by Bill Clinton with ties to UNICEF, Oxfam, an Arab state, Amnesty International, the Clinton Global Initiative (Bill and Hillary Clinton‘s troubled charity) and something called the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

It’s bad enough that Big Government is expanding its pernicious influence and intervention in Hollywood, as I wrote when Mrs. Obama intruded upon the Oscars, and the mixture of Hollywood, faith and religion is not new, but an official convergence of faith, religion and state with the entertainment industry is truly a putrid notion to any respectable artist, studio or legitimate show business. Whatever the merits of their work and whatever their collectivist-altruist political philosophy, these titans of one of America’s greatest industries, with its dismal record of standing for individual rights including the freedom of speech unmolested by the state—especially a religious state—ought to break with its track record and reject this proposal in the strongest possible terms.

Pushing faith, religion and their strong influence on statism into movies, TV, publishing and music is an abomination which calls to mind Clinton’s proposed V-chip, the Moral Majority, Tipper Gore and the endless campaign of puritanical fascists such as feminist Gloria Steinem and traditionalist Phyllis Schlafly to impose the equivalent of speech codes, censorship—and today’s insidious version, a ban on “hate speech”—on everything Americans see, watch, read and listen to. Better artists and show business industrialists than this bunch ought to speak out against the Pope’s proposal. Bad ideas silently sanctioned by the worst purveyors of sludge and mediocrity can infect the rest of Hollywood. Having Winfrey, Geffen and Grazer bow before whatever robed mystic runs the Vatican this fall may pre-determine—and contaminate—what you read, watch and consume next fall and in the future.

Everyone decent in Hollywood (and the West), whatever his personal beliefs, should defend the principle of free expression and urge Hollywood to reject the Pope’s proposal to influence and propagandize the movie industry. In other words, speak up for freedom and turn the Pope down.