Well, the day has finally arrived. In a couple of hours, after finishing up my office work and the last of the housework, time to hop the train to Hollywood and the first official day/night of the 2014 Turner Movie Classics Film Festival. It’s hardly to believe that the festival is five years old this year. What’s even harder to believe, especially for me, is that I’ve been there for every day of every year so far (thanks to the generous sponsorship of Keith Uhlich, Ed Gonzalez and Slant Magazine).
And some of the memories made there are ones that I will carry with me and recount and brag upon for the rest of my life— Esther Williams and Betty Garrett interviewed poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt on the inaugural night of the festival in 2010, after a synchronized swimming display and just before a screening of Neptune’s Daughter; that same year, Donald Bogle introducing an eye-opening series of out-of-circulation cartoons, including the notorious “Coal Black and De Sebbin Dwarves;” in 2011, getting up at the crack of dawn for an 8:00 a.m. screening of the great pre-code Jimmy Cagney melodrama Taxi and feeling, along with the half-filled house, like we were the diehardiest of the diehards; that same year, rare screenings of Went the Day Well? and, initiating a Clara Bow crush that has yet to subside, Hoop-la; having my eyes opened in 2012 to Paul Fejos’ Lonesome (1928) and (Clara Bow again!) John Frances Dillon’s rip-roaring Call Her Savage, Black Narcissus looking more magnificent than ever, and seeing Rio Bravo in the presence of Angie Dickinson; last year, watching Deliverance after a moving and often hilarious Q&A featuring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and John Boorman; and best (and most exhilarating/exhausting of all), having the single greatest movie-going day of my life on the Friday of last year’s TCMFF, starting with The Swimmer at 9:00 a.m., followed in tight succession by Voyage to Italy, I Am Suzanne!, It Always Rains on Sunday, Ruggles of Red Gap, Hondo (in 3D!) and the capper of all cappers, Plan Nine from Outer Space at midnight.
If 2014 at TCMFF is anywhere near as good as even that one day last year, I expect to be treated very well indeed. In fact, I stand to take in, if all goes well and nothing get sold out and my regimen of vitamins and energy bars does its magic, about 20 movies this year, which would be a record for me. (Last year, just that one Friday, which held seven movies, left me the next morning feeling like I’d been leveled by a very big truck.) And make no mistake—I am expecting big things. This is, for me and many film fans, the big blow out, the grande bouffe of the year. (I look forward to the utterly appropriate screening of Marco Ferrerri's film at some future festival.)
Here's what's on tap for today.
After I pick up my credentials this afternoon, I’ll grab some lunch and had over to the Hollywood Museum where Joe Dante and Rick Baker will be hosting a presentation called “Sons of Gods and Monsters.” I don’t need to know any details. Just those two names and that title is enough to make this the first must-see of the festival. Tonight’s first movie will be Gregory La Cava’s Fifth Avenue Girl (1939) starring Ginger Rogers and Walter Connally. But the big attraction tonight is the reportedly eyeball-burstingly gorgeous restoration of Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), hosted by producer and movie historian Michael Schlesinger. Starting from the first year of TCMFF, I established a rule I’ve followed each year that has never steered me wrong—follow Schlesinger wherever he goes. In previous years he’s introduced such personal festival highlights as Murder, He Says, Who Done it? and one of my all-time favorite movies, Billy Wilder’s One Two Three. I say, if Schlesinger’s introducing it, I’m seeing it.
This year’s Friday, on paper, looks like this: Clive Brook’s On Approval (1944), which wins a slot because a) I’ve never seen it (always go with the unknown and the rarities) and b) it stars Googie Withers, whose grand spirit has hovered around the festival for a few years now, no more gloriously than in last year’s It Always Rains On Sunday. I’ll follow with Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey; 1937), A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; 1946) and Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder; 1944) I know, I know, the Billy Wilder classic is kinda familiar, but Barbara Stanwyck trumps all, and it’s been shown in the same auditorium-- the big (newly renovated) Chinese-- as my follow-up feature, which will make it easy to get in line for a good spot to see… Blazing Saddles (1974) introduced by Mel Brooks. When I was a kid, I dreamt of coming home to Los Angeles, walking down and magically bumping into Mel Brooks just so I could tell him how crazy I was about his movie. In 1987 I actually did bump into him in a movie theater, but I restrained myself. And I suspect I will do so again tomorrow night. But, man, of all the opportunities I cannot miss, to hear Mel talk before Blazing Saddles, and then to see one of my favorite movies, and hear an audience roaring at it again, all in the very theater in which the climax of the movie takes place—well, just don’t get in my way, that’s all I have to say (for now). And Friday night gets topped off by Eraserhead (David Lynch; 1977), which I believe will be the very first time I’ll have seen this notorious midnight movie classic… at midnight.
Saturday, if I’m till ambulatory, looks like it might shake out something like this: a date with Barbara again for Stella Dallas (King Vidor; 1937); followed by a 60th-anniversary restoration of the original Japanese version of Godzilla (Ishiro Honda; 1954—and how it thrills me to know that an Ishiro Honda movie is playing at the TCMFF); Maureen O’Hara will be present to speak before a beautifully restored How Green Was My Valley (John Ford; 1941), screening at the magnificent El Capitan Theater; then it’s back across the street for Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk; 1956), which I can’t wait to see big and wide—this and Johnny Guitar promise to be the Tru-color/Technicolor marvels of the festival; after Sirk, a fairly rare pre-code Ginger Rogers comedy, Hat Check Girl (Sidney Lanfield; 1932), a heretofore unknown-to- me World War II romance from Edgar G. Ulmer called Her Sister’s Secret (1946) and, if my stamina holds up, a midnight screening of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), which I’ve never seen projected.
Sunday starts off slowly at 9:00 a.m., with Tokyo Story (Yazujiro Ozu; 1953), which I have also never seen on the big screen, the perfect and only way to fully immerse oneself, I would think, in the stillness of Ozu’s frames. After that, I’ve given the entire afternoon over in hopes of catching some of the films I had to pass up on the previous three days during the traditional Sunday afternoon slots that, at this writing, have seen yet to be announced. (The announcements usually don’t start trickling in until sometime on Saturday.) And for the closing night feature, I haven’t yet decided whether to see the restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent classic The Lodger (1928), featuring live accompaniment of the score performed by the Mont Alto Motion picture Orchestra, or to make my choice Hobson—Hobson’s Choice (David Lean; 1954), that is. A bunch of people I know are headed to Hobson, so I may take comfort in company as the fifth-annual TCMFF winds to a close.
Then it’s a final train trip and off to my hospital bed and a nice, steady IV drip, where I will begin prep for TCMFF 2015.
I’ll be in touch here and there, with a full article for Slant ready to go early next week. Talk to you then! And I’ll definitely watch one for you!