TCM Classic Film Festival (part II)
As I write this I am sitting in LAX waiting for my flight back to JFK following a head spinning, exhausting, highly enjoyable, educational and gratifying four days at the “TCM Classic Film Festival” in Hollywood. Yes, I flew to the other side of the country to see a bunch of old movies that I could just as easily have watched at home on TCM (cable channel Turner Classic Movies) or on DVD. So why do it? Well, for one thing how likely am I to sit down and watch all of these movies at home? I need only look at my shelves of unwatched DVDs and VHS tapes to answer that question. That is why I need and prefer to see movies in a theatre, preferably with a full and appreciative audience, uninterrupted and without the distractions of daily life. Seeing the films on the big screen also made the difference for me and fellow festival goers to whom I spoke.
My plan for the festival was to strike a balance between titles I had already seen and movies I had not yet seen. Movie director Peter Bogdanovich said, as he was being interviewed by critic Leonard Maltin at a festival event, “If you haven’t seen it, it’s not an old movie.”
So here is a small sampling of what I saw and thought:
King Kong (1933). “King Kong” is such an iconic movie that I felt I was way ahead of it. I knew the story about the beast undone by his love of beauty personified by Fay Wray. However seeing this digitally restored and projected screening of the film on the huge screen of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre where Kong had had its 1933 premiere was a revelation. I was struck by the efficiency of the story telling as well as the film’s ground breaking special effects. By today’s standards the film’s stop motion effects are considered pre-historic but I actually found them to be quite compelling in the way in which they built Kong into a very sympathetic character. I actually found that the effect’s hand made quality delivered an emotional resonance greater than the smoother CGI (computer graphics imaging) seen in current movies.
North By Northwest (1959). Up until seeing NBNW at the festival I had not considered it to be one of my favorite Hitchcock films. I had always found its story to be contrived. However seeing it on the big screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with a full audience that “got” it made me realize that the movie, while a thriller, has a lot of humor and that what seemed like contrivances on home video was really part of the film’s conceit. I was reminded of a quote from Hitchcock, “Some movies are slices of life. My movies are slices of cake.” My enjoyment of the film was enhanced by the fact that NBNW cast members Eva Marie Saint and Martin Landau did a pre-screening interview with TCM host Robert Osborne in which they recalled their experiences making the film.
The Good Earth (1937). Actress Luise Rainer, age 100, flew in from her home in England to introduce her movie. Following a standing ovation from the sold out screening at the Egyptian Theatre she explained that her hearing aid had broken. TCM host and interviewer Robert Osborne improvised by writing out his questions for Rainer to read. The audience of several hundred leaned forward in its seats in rapt silence as Ms. Rainer spoke in a manner that was clear, deliberate and sincere as only someone a century old can speak. She talked about her approach to acting and how she did not want to become a star but wanted to do beautiful things and be a person with whom people could identify. She expounded on her philosophy of life and the audience was very moved.