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 day one coverage here.
DAY TWO: FRIDAY
Friday started with one of the many tough choices I had to make throughout the festival: The Night of the Hunter or I Know Where I’m Going. The combination of a recommendation from Henry Jenkins and my newfound admiration for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger sealed the deal on the latter. Expecting a gloriously bright and sensual Technicolor experience, I was surprised to find that I Know is a black and white film. Yet, while the defining stylistic trademark of their later films is absent in this one, the film still exhibits P & P’s interest in expressionistic landscapes. Set primarily on a foggy and rainy Scottish island, I Know is a romantic comedy about a woman (Wendy Hiller) drawn into an engagement to an older man because of her love towards the finer things in life. Yet, when severe storms put a kink in her travel (and marriage!) plans, she slowly finds herself drawn into the local culture of the lower-class isle, including the arms of a dapper young service man (Roger Livesey, who later went on to appear in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp for P & P). While the characterization is a bit thin with regard to their one-track minded protagonist, the film certainly looms like a giant over the lesser film genre of the romcom.
I followed up I Know Where I’m Going with a double-bill of thrillers: Richard Fleischer’s The Narrow Margin and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, both of which were screened on 35mm. Narrow Margin is the story of a cop who must escort a mob widow from Chicago to Los Angeles so that she can testify against the institutions behind organized crime. The detective and widow are stalked on the train by a team of mafia assassins tasked with killing her before the the train arrives. It’s a lean and mean noir, with Charles McGraw’s gravelly cop rubbing up against femme fatale Marie Windsor (who also put in a simmering performance in The Killing) while trying to romance and protect a young Jacqueline White, who has been mistaken for the target. White and noir czar Eddie Muller introduced the film and shared a big piece of the film’s production history: the film had a delayed release because producer Howard Hughes liked the b-film so much that he initially wanted to remake it as an a-list picture with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell.
As for Notorious, what else can be said about one of Hitchcock’s perfect films? From the romance between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman – and their long kiss! – to the fluid camera work (my favorite flourishes involve the introduction of Grant’s character and the famous reveal of the key in Bergman’s hand after a long crane shot), the film requires little introduction. Despite the film’s iconic status however, the screenings of Notorious and Margin were two small stumbles on TCM’s part. Both 35mm prints were fairly messy, full of splice created jump-cuts (especially Notorious), missing soundtrack elements, and a reel-change complete with countdown leader (which created an awkward break in Narrow Margin). To be fair to TCM, many of their prints are borrowed from other collections and they normally work with the best they can get their hands on. That said, the fault for these rests as much upon the Academy Film Archive (who provided a “new print” of Narrow Margin) and Walt Disney Studios (whose Notorious print would have made the Master of Suspense weep) as it does with the TCM prep team.
Fortunately, that double-bill was really the only misstep from a technical standpoint. Later that evening, cinematographer Haskell Wexler introduced master documentarian Albert Maysles for a screening of the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter. The sound for the screening was, as it should be, loud and clear. The doc, which follows the Stones during their 1969 American tour, ends with the Altamont Speedway show where violence marked the end of the Woodstock moment. We watch as Mick Jagger and the band work with the Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin in the editing room, reviewing footage of a member of the Hell’s Angels stabbing a man with a pistol to death. The filmmakers, in a slight deviation from the Maysles formula of direct cinema documentary (strict observation, no participation on behalf of the filmmakers), occasionally intervene to talk to the band members. However, they never pass judgment on their subjects. It is left up to the viewer to decide who is to blame for the events that transpired outside of San Francisco. The post-screening Q&A provided one killer piece of movie trivia (George Lucas – yes, that George Lucas – photographed the final shot of the film) before it was quickly derailed by an audience member who decided to throw out idiotic questions and declarations like “Where did you get the name for the film?” and “I think it is important to note the Vietnam War context for the film.” Thanks, Captain Obvious, for those nuggets of insight. Now, shut the hell up and let the grownups talk.
I capped off Friday with a midnight screening of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, the legendary film often known for being the worst film ever made. Comedian Dana Gould, who introduced the screening, made the observation that it may be bad, but at least it is bad in interesting ways (he also shared anecdotes about the late Vampira, a personal friend of his, who disliked wearing her dentures and once confided in him that Orson Welles gave her the clap). Gould may be right that Plan 9 is bad in interesting ways, but my initial interest wore thin by the 30 minute mark. I’m not a cinemagoer who often relishes in going to hate-watch bad movies. I’d rather just watch good ones or, in this case, Ed Wood. However, judging from the reactions of the other audience members, I was in the minority.