TCM Film Festival 2017 – Day 4
Adam rounds up his fourth and final day at the TCM (Turner Classic Movies) Film Festival 2017.
The final day of the TCM Film Festival came so quickly. The biggest problem with the festival is that all goes too quickly. This particular Film Festival could go a full week and I would not tire of it. The chance to see films in a new light it an almost too intoxicating proposition to pass up. My closing day films were limited to two but they were two that I wanted guaranteed entry to.
I was in line for Dr. Stragnelove by 7:00am Sunday morning. Seeing Kubrick on the big screen is even a rare treat for those of us lucky to live in Los Angeles. Seeing one of two comedies that he directed, even rarer still as often times in LA the only Kubrick films that are screened are 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining. Add to the fact that none other than Edgar Wright would be introducing the film, made this particular screening a must for me.
Those of us up early enough were treated to Wright in rare form. The director was funny, enlightening and charming. The man did not shy away from the recent political and military news making this film so shockingly prescient right now. Wright began with listing off headlines as though they were the plot to much laughter in the audience. He then segued into some pretty great thoughts and points (some he had gotten from friend and fellow director John Landis). The Baby Driver director definitely setup the film for us and had joked that he was going to try to make it through the entire picture awake (he had stayed for the Midnight showing of The Kentucky Fried Movie the previous night).
I have always felt a distance to Dr. Strangelove. It was never a favorite Kubrick of mine. I thought it was enjoyable, perfectly made but something was missing. I hate to confess but it was because I felt it was never funny. Everything about the film though meticulously designed and directed felt … flat.
That changed with this screening.
To be in this packed out. After the news of U.S. carriers being sent to North Korea, Russia pressuring the U.S., Morons running the Whitehouse… This was as close as one could have gotten to a screening circa 1964. The laughter was tense and explosive. Moments became more terse, the film alive with meaning and counterpoints. Dr. Strangelove did not play as a fifty year old film. It played like a modern evisceration of our uncertain political times.
The audience wanted to laugh and laughed they did. There was an intangible energy as the film played out. You could feel the air being sucked out of the room as General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) gave his lunatic speeches, only to laugh as he punctuated them with his obsession with “bodily fluids”. George C. Scott’s Gen. Turgidson and his “ra-ra” political totems of “we need to get them before they get us” were stupider with our current political landscape. At the center the brilliant Peter Sellers playing three roles that could be ripped from today’s headlines. 1. An ineffective bald president. 2. A British Officer impotent to doing anything. 3. An ex-Nazi Scientist with arm that appears to be still a fascist. Take those as you will but Sellers kills in each making them each completely different but equally brilliant portrayals of the ineffectiveness of white males.
As Vera Lynn sang “We’ll Meet Again” I was struck by how my opinion had yet again changed about Dr. Strangelove. No longer was I someone who looked at the film from a clinical distance not understanding. I understand now. This screening changed me; juxtaposition of political anxiety and laughter was what had been missing from my viewing. There was an energy in the room that made this film work for me like never before. In the midst of it you could hear Edgar Wright’s unmistakable laugh in unison with the rest of us.
The next screening was Postcards from the Edge with a post screening Q&A with Todd Fisher and Richard Dreyfuss. Rather than seeing anything else and miss my chance getting into the screening I stayed in line to guarantee a spot. That included missing my chance to see the Lucile Ball film Lured, which was something I was interested in seeing. Any film where we get Ball in a dramatic role, add that it’s a noir crime thriller. It was my one regret of the festival but, thanks in part to TCMFF it is on my radar to catch the next time I get (be it on TV, Blu-Ray/DVD or another Screening).
Michael Nichols adaptation of Carrie Fisher’s brilliant novel is a great showcase for Meryl Streep and Shirley McClaine. Fisher’s own screenplay for Edge still retains her wit and sharp tongue but some of her interior observations are lost which seem almost impossible to add in a filmed adaptation. The script is a gold mine for both Streep and McClaine who play a Hollywood mother and daughter both dealing with life, addiction and career.
Nichols brings out the best in both actresses and his entire cast. McClaine and Streep go toe to toe in the film as mother and daughter with a loving if combative relationship. Its fertile ground for the actresses as they ebb and flow as a real mother and daughter would. Nichols understands this is a love story between mother and daughter and no one else. The love interests that Streep’s Suzanne are refreshingly just cannon fodder. Though the matters do help when the fodder is a very game to be a sleaze Dennis Quaid and set to maximum charm with minimal work Richard Dreyfuss. Fisher and Nichols understand that this story is not about finding someone and never turns into something a boring as a rom com, though some would expect this. Because Postcards from the Edge avoids the typical clichés of this sort of film it still feels fresh.
Though the film is about addiction, Nichols only lightly touches upon the subject. Those expecting a Trainspotting style treatment of the subject matter will be disappointed. Those expecting a one to one adaptation of Fisher’s brilliant biting and darkly comedic novel will also be disappointed. Nichols chose a lighter consistent tone rather than Fisher’s dips into darker territory which she would mime so brilliantly for her stage shows and non-fiction work. The film was a great treat and something we rarely see nowadays; a studio produced brilliantly pithy and well-drawn character study about two women.
After the screening Richard Dreyfuss and Todd Fisher took the stage for a highly emotional Q&A with Ben Mankiewicz. Dreyfuss post screening was visually shaken having for the first time spoken about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds publically since the Memorial Service. A close friend to both Dreyfuss recounted some great stories and brutal truths that Carrie Fisher had imparted to him during their decades long friendship. Dreyfuss was very frank about his bouts with mental illness and how Fisher had helped him during those dark times.
Todd Fisher and Mankiewicz both brought some levity to the Q&A. Fisher talking about the film and how his sister and mother both disliked certain aspects of the film, specifically how Nichols gave more strife to a relationship that even in the book wasn’t as critical. Fisher had said that his sister and mother both disliked this as they always had a loving relationship.
After such an emotional Q&A and the doldrums of work calling for a very early wake up call Monday Morning I bid the TCMFF a fond farewell until 2018. This year as in years prior the festival is the perfect counter point to normal movie going experiences. TCMFF allows you to lose yourself in past cinema. To see classic films the way they were designed to be seen; on the biggest screen possible in a packed house. Often time’s reviewers and audiences nowadays are so focused on being the first person to see a film it’s become a sport. I am guilt of this. The TCM Film Festival is there to remind those that have forgotten that film viewing or critiquing is not a race to be first. Film is not a race. Film is an art. TCMFF reminds all those that go of this very fact.