The fourth annual TCM Classic Film Festival was a fast and furious affair that paid tremendous dividends for Golden Age cinephiles. Cultural Transmogrifier‘s chief film critic, Drew Morton, and writer Nicole Alvarado break down their experiences (which included over twelve movies across four days, celebrity Q&As, and too many cocktails by the Hotel Roosevelt pool). You can view our days one, two, and three coverage as well.
DAY FOUR: SUNDAY
Sunday started off with the premiere of a digital restoration of Terrence Malick’s Badlands, one of the hallmark films of the 1970s. The film follows two young lovers (Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek) – modeled on murder Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate – as they drive, rob, and murder their way across America. Yet, despite its heavy subject matter, Malick’s poetic eye towards nature, the film’s score, and Spacek’s narration place Badlands in the lighter stylistic sphere of hazy daydreams. It’s a magical film and, along with his follow up Days of Heaven, marks the best of his output in my opinion (remember my dislike of Tree of Life?). Preceding the screening, producer Edward Pressman and editor Billy Weber shared a couple of anecdotes regarding their work with Malick on the film. Amongst the remembrances, Pressman’s (Pressman’s family owns the Pressman Toy company, which helped finance the film) reveal that disgruntled employees almost convinced his mother to withdraw funding on the project was initially startling. However, as both Pressman and Weber noted, Malick’s footage made them more than confident in the project.
Along with Jane Fonda and Albert Maysles, TCM also honored several other celebrities including Max von Sydow. We attended the Q&A before a screening of The Seventh Seal of his first collaboration with director Ingmar Bergman (von Sydow consistently referred to his directors by the formal title of Mister, be it Bergman, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, or Martin Scorsese, so he’s straight up class). The Seventh Seal screening distressed me because the theater was only about 2/3rds full and, between the stature of the honoree, the masterpiece status of the film, and the 35mm print, I couldn’t imagine a better way to see it. While I’m hesitant to judge other TCM Festival goers, there seemed to be a marked difference in attendance between the classical Hollywood fare and foreign screenings. As much as I admire the TCM demographic for heaping much deserved love and attention on American classics, I also wish more of them would reach outside their geographical comfort zones. This suspicion, which would be difficult to completely validate due to the small selection of foreign fare in the program, gained some confirmation when von Sydow drew a full house for the Sydney Pollack spy thriller Three Days of the Condor.
Condor is one of the thrillers that is emblematic of the 1970s, drenched in paranoia and widescreen imagery that is often shot with a telephoto lens, blurring everything around the subjects (see also The Parallax View, Marathon Man, and The Conversation). The film is solid, featuring a dashing Robert Redford as a CIA researcher who struggles to put the pieces together when assassins (led by von Sydow) murder his co-workers, yet never reaches the level of paranoid perfection that The Conversation holds. Still, the steamy score by Dave Grusin (featuring a whole lotta sensual saxophone), the abstracted love scene with Faye Dunaway realized through the cross-cutting of body parts and nature photography, and von Sydow’s clinical assassin make it one hell of a genre thriller.
We capped off our TCM Film Festival experience with our favorite screening of the weekend: Buster Keaton’s silent film classic The General with a live accompaniment by the beloved Alloy Orchestra on the main stage of the Chinese Theatre. I had seen Nosferatu with the Alloy Orchestra in another picture palace (the Oriental in Milwaukee) back in 2002 and that instantly became one of my top five experiences at the movies. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see The General (even if it meant missing a 3D screening of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, another one of my tough calls). Like Notorious and several other full blown classics mentioned here, it’s difficult to say anything new about the film. It is a film that stands as both a masterpiece of physical comedy and action films (I can’t wait to screen it for my class on action films and show students how effective long-take action montage and choreography can be more effective than the quick cutting of the Bourne films). The film was screened along side One Week, a Keaton short which I had never seen before but exhibits a hilarious fear of domesticity as the newlywed Keaton and his wife built a house from a box (not too far removed from a piece of Ikea furniture) only to discover that homeownership can only bring pain. The 90 minute program was a stunningly beautiful conclusion to a busy weekend of cinema going.