TCM Film Festival 2017 – Day 1 & 2
Adam recounts his first two days at the TCM Film Festival 2017.
Wednesday aka Day Zero of the TCM Film Festival 2017 was easy. Press credentials procured. Scheduled completed with Plan B’s, C’s and D’s.
Thursday I was set … a Nitrate Print of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. Then the announcement that Scorsese was going to introduce it… blissful heaven. Then a personal issue came up. I will spare you the details but needless to say that I missed that showing. I was more thankful my personal issue was turned into nothing. Needless to say my four days of classic film bliss was not starting out on the right foot.
Friday came and after a very late start I was off. I missed my first screening (Beat the Devil) BUT I had a three word interaction with Edgar Wright. He too was running late for a festival screening. I took it as a good omen. Though your festival experience may get messed with you have to allow yourself these small contrivances of missing screenings. It’s always for a reason and leads you to other opportunities. Last year I wouldn’t have seen A Face in the Crowd if another screeening wasn’t filled. I would take back watching that Kazan classic for anything. I now consider A Face in the Crowd among my favorite films of all time.
It’s only taken a few minutes to get into “festival mode” but not making it to that filled to capacity screening did it. Rather than seeing something else I wait for Panique.
Simple and elegant. Panique from director Jules Duvivier based on the novel by Georges Simenon is the type of film you hope and pray you see at any film festival; an undiscovered gem. A bitter pill of a film on par with Ace in the Hole with its view of humanity writ large. Taking an age old troupe of the duplicitous couple duping an unsuspecting mark, but spinning it with such humanity and knowing of the ugly nature of people especially en masse. The film could be released today to much fanfare and discussion as it’s ending leaves one speechless (in the best way possible). The film works beautifully as a whole leading up to that ending. The film though obstentively a crime film noir, it plays out as a drama or romantic triangle. Similar in the vein of Henry James Wings of the Dove, the film’s heart is a broken soul in the form of M. Hire aka Dr. Varga. Played by Michel Simon there is a quiet duality at play that challenges your expectations. Director Duvivier dares you to think of Hire as a creep. As you do the film makes you as complicit as Alice (Vivaine Romance) for assuming based on his looks. Though never implicitly stated the film is a powerful condemnation of antisemitism. The film was recent restored by Rialto pictures (mmmmm, Criterion Collection anyone?) and looks gorgeous. The film played like a sucker punch. By the end when a young man begins to sing, you could feel the audience collective breath taken away. Panique is required viewing for any Francophile or any Cinephile period. It’s vitality and messages are even more prescient than they were when it was released 70 years ago.
Right after that it was right into queue to get my queue card for Broadcast News with James L. Brooks in attendance. After a wait I got my queue and was off to get hydrated. They let us in at 5:00pm just in time for the 5:15pm Q&A to start up. Ben Mankiewicz took the stage to introduce James L. Brooks. That wasn’t all though. They had a surprise for us that wasn’t on the program.
When Mankiewicz announced it the crowd went wild and gave Brooks a standing ovation. Both Brooks took their seats. Over the next forty minutes we were treated to both men in rare form. Mankiewicz covered various topics about the film and specifically about how Broadcast News managed to capture a zeitgeist moment of when TV news was changing to infotainment. James Brooks was very honest about that change and how they saw it (thus him writing about it) but never imagining it would go where it would go. Both Brooks confirmed they are still “news junkies”. Albert Brooks let it slip that Made in America was going to be released by The Criterion Collection (one hopes they’re doing the same with Modern Romance). James Brooks told a story about Albert during his Oscar race for best supporting actor regarding Sean Connery that was hilarious and very telling of the era that the film was released (btw, Brooks should have won over Connery). The Q&A ended with Albert Brooks discussing a very classic stand up he did on The Tonight Show in the 70s that is one of the funnier moments of the festival thus far ending with Brooks saying, “When you have eyes painted on your breasts you go on!”
The smartest comedies of the 1980s is still the smartest comedy of the era but now has become more prescient than even upon its release in 1987. James L. Brooks takes a love triangle concept and a work place drama and merges them into a confection that’s smart and funny (albeit not all that romantic, which is fine). The film is written to a tee, Brooks having researched the film in DC with real reporters and producers. It shows. There’s an authenticity laid in through even the comedic moments. Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt play the complicated love triangle with so much wit, intelligence and charm you can’t help but root for everyone as much as you despise everyone. They each etch characters both human and fallible. Hurt isn’t afraid of playing Tom not stupid but dim. It’s amazing to see him work and how perfectly modulated he is always giving the anchor a sense of dignity. Hunter makes being a Type A Personality an endearing trait. Brooks is perfectly comedically petty as Alan who uses the moral and intellectual high ground as a weapon as much as he uses it to charm. The film is filled with wonderful performances by Joan Cusack, Robert Prosky and Jack Nicholson (who’s work is what makes a lot of the film work as an anchor we mainly see on TV monitors). It’s a brilliantly funny film filled with the sort of complicated adult relationships and themes that are becoming rarer and rarer commodities is Hollywood Studio filmmaking.
Next up was two different choices for me; Cat People or Twentieth Century. On one hand you had one of the most influential horror films. On the other you had a Howard Hawks film I’ve never seen. If you know me or have listened to The B-Movie Podcast then you know the choice is simple; Howard Hawks.
I’m glad I saw Twentieth Century and with a crowd. The early sound Howard Hawks screw ball comedy entry. Carol Lombard and John Barrymore are aces in the film about a starlet and theater director at odds and fighting on the Twentieth Century limited from Chicago to New York (that’s a train for folks not on the QC). It’s zippy dialog and rat-a-tat-tat delivery and editing makes it a robust 90 minute entry. Those unfamiliar with of the era comedies will have to forgive some of the more troubling aspects that are “of the era”.
By the time I exited that screening it was 11:15pm and to say I was punch drunk was an understatement. I was to go home but four words called to me;
Sean. Connery. In. Zardoz.
This film defies logic or conventional story conventions. A true cult g because like the best cult movies it’s intention was to be a normal straight ahead blockbuster. Sean Connery as the last man on earth should be a straight ahead sort of film. Zardoz has nothing conventional on its mind. Connery is in full 70’s mode; mustache and ridiculous outfit (describing it, you wouldn’t believe me). It was a great time to see a film I’ve only seen at home projected on a giant screen to an audience (it was smaller). Sometimes just taking it all in and basking in a personal cult favorite is all you need.
By the time I got home in the very early morning I was dog tired but happy. After close to a year it’s great to be back at the TCM Film Festival. Seeing Classic Cinema on the big screen is as necessary as seeing new releases in the theater. Maybe even more vital than newer releases. These films were always intended and designed to be seen on the big screen. Each of these films proved just that. That we should be seeing as many films as possible on the big screen. If only every weekend was like this film festival. If only…