TCM Film Festival 2017

TCM Film Festival 2017 – Day 3

Adam rounds up his third day at the TCM (Turner Classic Movies) Film Festival 2017.

Again with Festival life always have a Plan B  along with a Plan C, Plan D at a minimum. It came full force today when I walked into the Hollywood Chinese Theater at 7:45am for a 9:00am showing of The China Syndrome with a Michael Douglas Q&A. The line was ridiculous and I knew I wasn’t getting in. With my Plan B in place I walked across the way where I had a much better chance of getting in.  When you are at a festival like TCM, something like Stalag 17 is your Plan B. 

I saw down and was delighted by Alex Trebek (yes, that Trebek) introduction and his knowledge of William Holden and a few great tidbits about Holden’s hard drinking life. His affair with Audrey Hepburn and the reason it ended (which I wasn’t aware of). 

Stalag 17

The Billy Wilder POW thriller is still as crisp and taunt as the day it was released.  The director’s characteristic unsentimental streak is what keeps the film fresh after close to 60 years.   Even modern big budget studio film wouldn’t have the courage to go where Stalag 17 does.  Rather than it being about escaping the POW camp (like the John Sturges classic The Great Escape), this film finds the drama inherent between men on the same side.  The film tells of internal “witch hunt” between the U.S. POWs looking for the double agent within their ranks.  The film worked beautifully on the audience.  My viewing of the film prior (always without an audience) played like a terse thriller.  Here at the festival it played like a rousing action thriller punctuated by moments of comedic perfection.  This viewing also reminded me of just how much of Wilder’s work was crowd pleasing and cynical often at the same time.

Post Stalag 17 screening I lined up for The Last Picture Show. Having never seen the Peter Bogdonavich classic on the big screen this was an opportunity to see it with the best (and largest) audience possible.  Ileana Douglas introduced the film and had a wonderful conversation with Bogdonavich. Always the fascinating conversationalist Bogdonavich gave a few juice tidbits about the film; 

  • Bogdonavich was told by John Ford that Ben Johnson hated dialog and would get grumpy any day he had dialog. True to the statement Johnson was grumpy every day on set because he had too much dialog (if you’ve seen the film you know how sparse his dialog scenes are). 
  • Bogdonavich wanted to shoot deep focus similar to the way Orson Wells’s and Greg Tolland shot Citizen Kane. He asked the legendary director/star how to achieve the look. Welles simply answered “shoot black and white” 
  • When Bogdonavich countered with that it would be difficult shooting in Black and White. Welles countered, “name me a great performance that wasn’t shot in black and white”.  
  • Bogdonavich recounted how he came to cast Cybil Shepard.   How hard the shoot became once he started his affair with her, at the time he was married to Poly Platt (who was the production designer on the film), “Hardest shoot of my life”.
  • He gave much love to co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry, who’s novel the film is based on, “he’s one of the best writers and the best writers of regional dialog ever”. 
  • Bogdonavich also let us know he’s releasing another book. This one based upon the diaries he kept from 1966 – 1971 which should be out in 2018. 

Bogdonavich was as charming and loquacious as ever. I did get a chance to inter act with him later during the festand he’s as gracious and generous as you could imagine.  

The Last Picture Show 

The film still feels as fresh and iconic as it did upon release in 1971. The classic style, the stark photography, the unsentimental tone all contribute to a film that feels alive and unfettered by conventional “coming of age” troupes. The trio of teens portrayed in this film are real teenagers that don’t make all the right moves.  Point in fact they make some horrible decision as do most teenagers.  The film is messy and alive in the best way possible.  Jacy (Cybil Shepard) and her burgeoning sexuality feels more accurate than most films today and the matter-of-fact manner in which they deal with her and sex is frank, bold and refreshing. Seeing her relationship with her mother (Ellen Burstyn) is shocking at how “mostly” functional it is. Duane (Jeff Bridges) and his jocular stupidity even has soul, never living up to the typical jock/bully type that many a film would portray him as.  His relationship with Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) is one of the hearts of the film. Sonny is this film’s soul; a kid trapped by both his love and responsibility to a dying town and a dying father figure in Sam “the Lion” (Ben Johnson). Bogdonavich understands never to raise anything above a whisper in the film. Even at its hardest moments it’s never arched. The only moment Bogdonavich allows for a full-on breadth of emotional release is at its devastating ending. Bottoms in those final moments was never better. Even after seeing the films numerous times I welled with tears in those moments.  The air sucked out of the theater followed by applause as the credits rolled. Forty five years later, Bogdonavich’s masterpiece retains its luster and power. 

With any kind of festival a lot of time it’s about a counter programming. I purposely countered that gut punch with King of Hearts, a film I only knew because of the festival and reading about its reputation. I’ve not talked about the lines in my last post but… the lines at this Festival and any Film Festival for that matter happen to be as great as the movies themselves. It allows you to be in your element with like minded film geeks. The people that come to TCM are some of the most film literate and jovial film geeks I’ve had the honor of getting to know. Everyone is willing to start up a conversation of what they’ve seen or what they’re seeing.   

The great Alicia Malone hosted the screening with short Q&A with Genevieve Bujold.  Malone during her introduction discussed how the film drew world wide praise and became a huge anti-war film.  So popular in the late 60’s and early 70’s that played the repertory circuit for years including one theater for 3 years straight. They discussed the performances in the movie and how Bujold came up with such an iconic character that hardly speaks. Bujold discussed how much she loved TCM and how it allowed her to venture into world cinema like she hadn’t before. 

King of Hearts

This was by far and away my favorite film of the festival.  Affecting me on a chemical level.  I am still trying to find the right words as nothing seems appropriate.  The more I think of film the more it’s stolen my heart.  Every person that becomes obsessive about film remembers their first cinematic high.  In some way we all chase that feeling.  Searching for a film that will bring us back to that first cinematic experience that hooked us.  Everyone has felt it though may not be able to full articulate it.  That feeling where everything receded in the background and all that is left is the reality of the film.  Like that first stolen kiss between newly minted lovers.  The excitement of a child awaiting Christmas Morning.  King of Heart is one of those films.  It is the cinematic equivalent to mid-60’s era Beatles song.  Deliciously pop on the outside.  Heady and beautifully constructed to be more than just pop on the inside.  Speaking to the human soul in a way that after experiencing it, other pop seems inconsequential.  It’s perfect beautiful ending and the final words spoken, “The most beautiful journeys are taken through the window” made a fitting end for my Saturday at the festival.

I left the film festival after that showing.  Not wanting to temp fate by seeing another film that would ruin what was a perfect way to end a day of seeing films.

Read my coverage of Day 1 and 2 here.

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