Monday, 24 March 2014

Jazz Goes to the Movies - Live at The Jazz Room

I was lucky enough to have a sold-out crowd at a recent Valentine's
Day jazz concert. Many of the songs I programmed had their beginnings or
became famous in an Old Hollywood classic. I made a compilation of some
of the movie songs in the concert for your enjoyment.

Song Selections:

-"There Will Never Be Another You" from Iceland (1942), starring ice skater Sonja Henie. The song has become a very famous jazz standard, and is a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable film.

-"Just in Time" from Bells Are Ringing (1960), starring the late, great, underrated Judy Holliday and Dean Martin. Holliday reprised her iconic Broadway role as Ella Peterson for this MGM film, and it became one of the last musicals ever to be produced by the studio.

-"Almost Like Being in Love" from Brigadoon (1954), sung and danced to memorably by Gene Kelly in the classic musical.

-"Long Ago and Far Away" from Cover Girl (1944), a Jerome Kern standard that Gene Kelly introduced to the world with his lovely Irish tenor voice, while singing to the gorgeously glamorous Rita Hayworth.

-"Love Me or Leave Me" from Love Me or Leave Me (1955), sung famously in this film by the one and only Doris Day in what may be her greatest screen role ever as singer Ruth Etting.

-"Too Late Now" from Royal Wedding (1951), introduced by Jane Powell in the film, but written for Judy Garland. She was slated to reunite with Fred Astaire in this film, but health problems forced her to drop out of the film, and rendered her unable to sing this gorgeous ballad by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner. She did perform the song beautifully years later on The Judy Garland Show, and demonstrated that had she introduced the song, the song would no doubt have become a perennial standard.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Dedicated to those who do what they love

To start off, this is a very different kind of blog post than you will usually see on this site. Feel free to skip it if you wish!

I feel extremely blessed in my life to be following my chosen path, doing what I feel destined to do, and creating a life and “job” for myself by doing what I love. I am also extremely lucky to have a partner who supports my endeavours 100%, and to have my family and close friends (both musicians and non-musicians), who love me unconditionally and constantly cheer me on.

Despite the support that comes from both my own willpower and those around me, I have still had a version of the following conversation, which I have transcribed below, many times. I’m sure many of you can relate to what follows.

This is dedicated to those who have endured a conversation similar to this.

This is for those who pursue what they love, no matter the consequences or judgement from others.

THEM: So, what do you do? (The Dreaded Question)

ME: I’m a jazz singer.

THEM: (Puzzled Look) Oh! That’s cool (Still Confused). Where did you study?

ME: (Oh, Great, The Education Question). The University of Waterloo. There is a small but mighty music program there at Conrad Grebel University College.

THEM: (Really Confused) Oh, you didn’t go to Laurier?

ME: (In My Head… “Sigh”). No, I made the decision to attend UW based on the great professors there, the welcoming atmosphere, the excellent vocal training provided, etc.

THEM: Oh! So, is there enough work ‘out there’ to be a singer full time, then?

ME: Well, I perform on average 2 or 3 times a month. But, I also have a voice studio, and prepare curriculum resources for TIFF and the Reel Canada Film Festival. I supply teach as well.

THEM: (Somewhat Relieved) Oh, so you want to become a teacher?

ME: Well, no, I went to teacher’s college. I enjoy teaching in the school system, but I don’t want that to be my full-time work. I care too much about performing to make teaching my career, and feel like I would be doing students a disservice if I made a career in teaching just for the financial stability.

THEM: Oh, but supply teaching is a really good step to getting something more ‘permanent.’ That’s really smart that you’re taking the step to becoming a full time teacher. (Translation: “I’m really glad that eventually you’ll get a ‘real job.”’)

ME: But, I’m REALLY happy right now with where my life is. I get to be my own boss, make my own schedule, do a day or two of supply teaching when I want to, but not be tied to that every day. It gives me the freedom that I need and want in my life. I also can’t risk straining my voice standing in front of a classroom of students every day. I can’t take that chance as a singer. I need to protect my voice. Teaching in the school system is great for a few days a week, but it’s not my chosen career.

THEM: So, you don’t ever worry about not having something more ‘permanent,’ then?

ME: No, I do what I love, and I really love being autonomous, and being self-employed. I like that I can decide when I want to teach, but also have the ability to take time “off” to prepare for an important concert, seek additional training out of town, rehearse out of town, or have freedom to go out of the country for a week or so to travel and/or perform.

THEM: Well, you’re lucky to be in a position where you’re able to do that! (Translation: “Good thing you’re in a relationship with someone with a real job.”)

ME: Yes, I’m lucky to have such a supportive partner who believes in me and 100% understands that following my passion matters to me. But, even if I didn’t have that, I would make it work. I would follow my heart regardless of circumstances.

Here are my thoughts:

I totally get that my not having a typical 9-5 job may be difficult for somebody to comprehend. Still, I believe that we should applaud EVERYONE who pursues a vocation they love, regardless of hours worked per week, how stable a person’s job is (or how stable their job may APPEAR to other people), or how “official” one’s job may look to other people. 

Are there days I wish I made more money? Of course! But who doesn’t have those moments, regardless of their career choice and stature? Are there days I wish I could have the stability of a “real” job? Sure. But I know I wouldn’t be happy. I’d just be mad at myself for not following what my heart is telling me. 

I feel most alive making music for people. I love telling a story through beautiful lyrics. I feel honoured to interpret the art of insanely talented composers. I was born with a voice (I have no idea where it came from), but I feel I was put on this earth to use it. 

We all contribute to each other’s lives, and to our world, in different ways. Some keep our country safe. Some keep the economy afloat. Some protect the earth from the detrimental effects of humans. Some devote their lives to research (medical, environmental) to protect future generations.

And some make their mark by attempting to make the world more beautiful through their art, through whichever form they express themselves.

I dedicate this post to whoever believes in (and practices) what they do. 

Whether you’re a multimillionaire, or fighting every day to make a go of it, I salute you.

Let’s all love each other and appreciate each other’s contributions to this crazy life that we only have one shot at. 

Let’s make our one shot worth it.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

2013 Holiday Picks! My Old Hollywood Faves

I spoke of some of my favourite Christmas movies on this blog back in 2011. Here are my favourites as I watch through them all this year!

White Christmas (1954)
1) White Christmas (1954): I just saw this on the big screen last night, and this quintessential Christmas musical just never loses its magic. With a wonderful cast, gorgeous Edith Head costumes, classic Irving Berlin tunes, and capable direction by Michael Curtiz, this movie just can't miss. My favourite moments: Rosemary Clooney (in a gorgeous, hip-hugging Edith Head mermaid gown) singing "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me", Vera-Ellen's rapid tap dance to "Abraham", Bing's beautiful rendition of "White Christmas" at the beginning of the film, and any scene where Danny Kaye's voice cracks! ;) My most favourite may be Vera-Ellen and Danny Kaye's dance to "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing", choreographed by the one and only Robert Alton.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
2) Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): While this perennial Vincente Minnelli classic takes us through all the seasons in the life of a turn-of-the-century St. Louis family, the most memorable scenes are in winter. Especially memorable is when Judy Garland serenades us and introduces us to Martin and Blane's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". Who can imagine Christmastime without this holiday standard? And who better to introduce the song to the world than Garland, the greatest songbird. More special to me is the fact that this song was introduced to the world in World War Two. Imagine all those who were fighting and got to hear this over the radio, hearing that "someday soon, we all will be together". Brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it!

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
3) Christmas in Connecticut (1945): I love Barbara Stanwyck in a comedic role, and this may be one of her best. Teamed up with a great cast including Dennis Morgan, S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, Sydney Greenstreet, and Reginald Gardiner, this film has many genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck) is a journalist who pretends to be a gourmet cook, and is forced to make herself look the part when a soldier (Morgan) visits her Connecticut "farm" and her boss (Greenstreet) presides over the events. Hilarity (truly) does ensue, with the supporting cast making all the escapades even more amusing. A wonderful Christmas comedy, with Edith Head (again) providing some beautiful holiday outfits for Stanwyck.

An Affair to Remember (1957)
4) An Affair to Remember (1957): You may be thinking, "What??!" when you see this film on my list. But, to me, it's a perfect holiday romance. Two lovers (Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr), both involved with other people, meet on a cruise and agree to reunite 6 months later at the top of the Empire State Building. Their meeting is interrupted by a tragic accident. It doesn't sound like a Christmas movie, does it? However, the last pivotal scene (which I won't spoil for anyone who hasn't seen it) takes place on Christmas Day. And, the lovers agree to meet 6 months later on New Year's Day. The themes of togetherness and reuniting are actually perfect for the holiday season, and who doesn't love seeing Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr both humourously, and then, tragically, in love? It's one of my all-time favourite romances, and one I always tend to watch around the Christmas season.

Holiday Affair (1949)
5) Holiday Affair (1949): An underseen holiday treat, this adorable comedy features Janet Leigh at her most natural and charming, and Robert Mitchum in a good-guy role. Leigh plays a comparison-shopping widow with a young son, and Mitchum is a sales clerk who gets fired because of Leigh returning a toy train set to his department. It sounds corny (and it is), but Leigh is so believable as a young mother struggling with her identity after losing her husband, and Gordon Gebert is so adorable as her son Timmy, that we can't help but enjoy the ride, and wonder what will happen to these characters. And Mitchum and Leigh falling in love doesn't hurt either! Running at a mere 87 minutes, it's a perfect holiday film to watch when you just want a quick dose of Christmas cheer!

Honourable Mention: These films are also worth a viewing every Christmas!

1) I'll Be Seeing You (1944): An adorable and extremely unique wartime Christmas romance with the wonderful Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten.

2) In the Good Old Summertime (1949): Despite the title, this remake of The Shop Around the Corner (1940) with Judy Garland and Van Johnson actually mostly takes place in the winter.

3) The Bishop's Wife (1947): Haven't you always wanted to see Cary Grant play an angel? I thought so! This film is almost too saccharine and corny, but the wonderful cast (Loretta Young, David Niven, Monty Woolley) saves it from becoming that way. Definitely worth a look!

4) Holiday Inn (1942): Fred Astaire dances with fireworks, Bing Crosby introduces "White Christmas" to the world... what more do you want? Delightful film that focusses on many holidays besides Christmas!

And, finally, if you haven't seen Jimmy Stewart in one of his best roles of all time and perhaps the best Christmas movie ever in It's a Wonderful Life (1946), you absolutely must!! Finally, finally, Miracle on 34th Street (1947) is also a perennial classic that all must view at least once!!

Enjoy and let me know your classic Christmas faves!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Leave Her to Heaven: A Technicolor Film Noir

Gene Tierney as Ellen Harland in Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

I rewatched John M. Stahl's classic Leave Her to Heaven last night, and then realized I have never posted my essay on the film that I wrote for a Film Noir course a few years back. Here it is, for your reading pleasure! Please comment if you so desire! I am also almost done reading the original source novel, which I highly recommend for anyone wanting an even deeper understanding of the characters!

In John M. Stahl's haunting and memorable 1945 film Leave Her to Heaven, a dark noir atmosphere is unconventionally created in glorious Technicolor, while typical noir characters are evident with Ellen Harland as the psychologically unstable femme fatale, Dick Harland as the unsuspecting husband caught in his wife’s web, and Ruth Berent as the innocent young woman. The elements of the visual world of colour photography and character combine to produce one of the most unique film noirs ever made.
One of the most striking aspects of this film is the fact that the visual atmosphere is a complete juxtaposition to the typical black and white noir film we are accustomed to. For instance, the film lives largely in daytime and sunlight as opposed to the night and rain we are accustomed to in the black and white noir films. Also, the film takes advantage of its colour photography by setting the action in beautiful non-urban environments of cottages and lakes. Thus, inserting familiar noir characters into this setting puts us off balance and a truly unique noir world is created for Ellen to weave her web.
A key example of demonstrating Ellen’s femme fatale ways in an atypical atmosphere of bright colour and sunshine is the chilling scene where she lets Dick’s disabled brother Danny die and then pretends that it was an accident. She sits absolutely still as he drowns in the lake, in hopes that his death will lead to her husband Dick devoting all of his time to her. The drowning scene takes place on a gloriously sunny day; the sun even glistens on the water as Ellen sits in the rowboat and watches Danny swim to his death. It is an uncharacteristic visual setting in noir for such a dark event and it works to the film’s advantage. The atypical environment creates a distinctive and unexpected moment in the canon of noir.
Furthermore, instead of this scene showing a dark world in the external environment, Stahl shows us that the darkness comes from within Ellen herself. The setting of a sunny day represents the joy Ellen is feeling inside as she realizes that this beautiful natural world provides the perfect opportunity to get rid of Danny. As she puts on a pair of sunglasses while rowing the boat behind Danny, it becomes clear that the darkness comes from within her. The ominous atmosphere of this scene is not reflected in the external environment like it is in black and white noir, thereby making the evilness of Ellen’s character even more evident. Showing a physically glum world is not necessary, since Ellen is such a dark character itself. This scene is crucial in that it officially defines Ellen as the femme fatale of the film. She does not wanting anyone else to have her husband’s attention, even if it is a helpless and ill boy. The drowning scene in stark daylight chillingly presents Ellen’s horrible web that she is beginning to weave.
While Leave Her to Heaven is in Technicolor, the noir convention of using light and shadow to establishing character and atmosphere in black and white noir is still very much in evidence. However, the use of light and shadow is presented in a way that takes advantage of colour. A scene that exemplifies this unique use of light and shadow is the scene in which Ellen proposes to Dick. As Dick enters the room, he is immersed in a shadow in a room surrounded by a red glow. The red light symbolizes Ellen’s encompassing power and danger as a femme fatale, and the shadow that engulfs Dick is an indication that he is unwittingly succumbing to her dangerous ways. The orange-red aura that provides the visual backdrop as Ellen professes “I’ll never let you go” demonstrates her commanding influence over Dick, and his inability to resist her sexual, fiery spirit. The red light is a unique alternative to the black and white contrasts lighting in typical noir, and wonderfully outlines the uniquely strong command that this particular femme fatale possesses.  
The exploration of how noir conventions are fashioned in Technicolor is certainly fascinating in this film, but the most striking aspect of Leave Her to Heaven is how Leon Shamroy’s masterful Technicolor photography and keen eye for the Technicolor palette conveys the darkening emotional world of the film. The slowly darkening world occurs due to Ellen’s increasingly unhealthy jealousy for anyone who gets in the way of her relationship with Dick. To demonstrate this, Shamroy’s photography moves from a glorious, bright Technicolor at the beginning of the film, to a more muted Technicolor as Ellen’s actions produce negative consequences for the characters involved.
Vibrant Technicolor is seen at the beginning of the film in the scene where Ellen is first introduced to us through Dick’s smitten eye. As the camera introduces us to Ellen, we see the stunning face of Gene Tierney, with her hair and face glowing from the backdrop of sunlight creeping in from the outside world. Her bright green eyes pop out against a blue-green backdrop. The danger of Ellen is not yet known to Dick, and so he is completely enamoured by her striking beauty. Ellen is a gorgeous woman, and we understand Dick’s fascination in not being able to take his eyes off of this stunning Technicolor creature. To emphasize Dick’s feelings, the setting is complete sunlight; a perfect day is shown to us through bright Technicolor hues. Their encounter appears very normal; they are even wearing beige outfits to indicate that they are supposedly everyday people. But, the Technicolor also reveals that Ellen is wearing deep red lipstick-- a foreshadowing of the danger that Ellen possesses within her. In addition, Stahl incorporates the convention of noir of the outside world being shown through blinds. Therefore, even though it is sunny outside, and Dick being smitten with Ellen seems harmless, they are meeting in an enclosed world. This foreshadows that Dick will eventually become trapped in Ellen’s possessive web. But, in the sunny, vivid setting of their first encounter, Dick is not yet privy to Ellen’s dark side.
One of the first signs of the darkening world of the film as Ellen becomes increasingly obsessed with Dick occurs when Ellen and Dick, newly married, are in their cottage at Back of the Moon. We see the couple sleeping in their beds and the glowing orange sun is creeping in only to illuminate their sleeping bodies. Therefore, the sun seems to shine only for the newlywed lovers as they share an intimate moment to start the day. The dark and jealous feelings of Ellen begin to be shown visually, however, as she becomes aware of Danny’s presence in the cabin when he yells, “Good morning,” and interrupts the couple’s kiss. Upon hearing his voice, she stands up and steps into a dark shadow; she is no longer illuminated by the glowing sun. Therefore, we see the beginnings of Ellen’s obsession with Dick; she hates the idea of anyone else loving him or wanting to spend time with him. The use of shadow is very much like we would find in black and white noir, but the bright glow of the sun makes the contrast of the dark shadow all the more powerful in Technicolor, and the emerging anger of Ellen is explicitly clear.
This gradual descent into darkness continues in the following scene, as an increasingly manipulative and possessive Ellen starts inquiring to Leick Thorne about Enid Southern, one of Dick’s old girlfriends. Even though this scene is later in the morning than the scene that precedes it, therefore assuming that the sun would shine even brighter, the cabin is darker than the previous scene. Curtains prevent the sun from entering the cottage, and therefore, the inviting colours of the living room do not stand out. This visual storytelling informs us that the darker side of Ellen character is starting to emerge with greater intensity.
Furthermore, once Danny dies about halfway through the film, the vibrant world of Technicolor that, while slowly not being illuminated as intensely but still always present, largely disappears. Shamroy photographs the Technicolor in more muted tones in the scenes following Danny’s death. The season changes from the brilliant colours of summer to the muted tones of late autumn and the placid, green waters of Back of the Moon are replaced by the gray, choppy waves of Bar Harbor. This change of colour palette demonstrates that Ellen’s manipulative staging of Danny’s death has caused the vibrant Technicolor world to no longer exist. Furthermore, Danny’s death has not brought Dick and Ellen closer. He becomes withdrawn toward her and begins to spend time with Ellen’s virtuous cousin Ruth. This causes Ellen’s jealousy to be more severe than ever before, and she propels the world of the film into an even darker visual place.
The muted visual world becomes very clear when Ellen decides to purposely kill her unborn child in the hopes of Dick returning his attention toward her. We see muted gray tones and a windy world through her bedroom window as she prepares herself for a fall down the stairs to miscarry the baby. The dark side of her character is again represented with the colour red as she slowly and deliberately applies red lipstick. Therefore, even though her actions are making the world around her become gloomy, her evilness is as vibrant as ever. Also, shadows of the staircase on the wall reinforce the darkness of the act that she is about to commit. Finally, as she sticks her shoe under the carpet to make it look like she has tripped, we see her red toenail polish right as she is about to begin her descent. This confirms, then, that her power to weave a web of deceit comes solely from within.  
After Ellen loses the baby, Shamroy’s photography informs us that she has made the world irrevocably dark. While there was still a small element of sunlight peaking through the windows when she took the fall to kill her baby, when she emerges from gray wavy waters after a swim a few scenes later, the clouds are almost black. She has caused the elements of nature to no longer be sunny. The only strong colour that is evident in the scene is the deep red bathing suit she is wearing. Therefore, her brave choice of colour for a swimsuit in what is such a dark time for the other characters and her ear-to-ear grin informs us that she still believes her actions will result in Dick devoting himself to her.
However, in a scene occurring soon after, we see Dick finally confronting Ellen about Danny and the baby’s death. He is no longer the unassuming man caught in her web; he realizes the evil acts Ellen has committed. Their grim exchange of dialogue as Ellen confesses to her crimes and Dick listens, defeated, is set against a pale beige backdrop. Also, Dick is in a black suit, and even Ellen is dressed in a pale pastel robe; her signature red colour is no longer evident. Thus, the vibrancy of their first meeting is completely gone, and Ellen knows she has lost. As Dick leaves the house, signalling the end of their relationship, the camera reveals a room full of muted pastel pinks and greens. It is in this moment that Ellen realizes the only way to have control over Dick is to end her life and control him from the grave.
Finally, because Leave Her to Heaven lives in a Technicolor world, it uses the colour photography to its advantage to present an ending unlike one we are used to in noir films. While Ellen has tried to frame her death on Ruth and has caused Dick to have to do jail time, the film avoids the noir convention of presenting a pessimistic world so typical of black and white noir. The final scene of the film shows us that Dick intends to start a new life with the young, innocent Ruth. Shamroy’s Technicolor photography is dreamlike in the final scene. The soft colours at sunset show that a world without Ellen is attractive. With Ellen gone, the increasingly muted Technicolor is no more, and the beauty of the Technicolor is evident once again. As Dick paddles toward Ruth, the camera captures her image and the cottage as a perfectly composed Impressionist painting. Technicolor photography has never been more breathtaking than in this final scene. Furthermore, the virginal Ruth is illuminated by the setting sun behind her and as they finally embrace, the sun creeps through the sky. It seems that a new day is dawning for these two characters who have been victimized by the femme fatale. Happiness and beauty is achieved at last.
            Or is it? Stahl hints through the Technicolor in this scene at the possibility that Ellen will never be out of their lives, and will continue to weave her web from the grave. While Ruth is photographed with the glowing sun behind her, when Dick simultaneously approaches Ruth, it is cloudy and the colours are once again muted. So, will Ellen eternally be a presence (hinted at by the odd glow in the sky in the final frame) and never let Dick be happy with another woman? While Ruth and Dick have left Ellen to Heaven and intend to start anew, Ellen, among the clouds in the sky, will never leave them.

Monday, 27 May 2013

My discussion on The History of the Production Code

A few months ago, I was honoured to be asked to present a talk on an Old Hollywood topic of my choice at an Ignite! Conference. The rules of the talk was that it had to be 5 minutes long, 20 slides, and no cheat notes allowed! I decided to present on the History of the Production Code (1934-1967), including a history of Pre-Code Hollywood from 1929-1934.

Video of my talk has just been made available, so I thought I would share it with y'all! Hope you enjoy and I welcome any comments!


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Reflections on the TCM Classic Film Festival

Billboard on display in Hollywood for the festival
I was absolutely thrilled to attend the TCM Classic Film Festival a couple of weeks ago for the first time. It has been my dream to attend ever since the first year, and my boyfriend and I were able to make it work financially for the first time this year. Travelling from an hour west of Toronto, Ontario to Hollywood, California is no small (or inexpensive) journey. But, oh, how worth it the journey was!! I can say with complete honesty that the festival was 4 of the best days of my life. I knew that I would love seeing the films in their full glory on the big screen, and that I would be in awe of being in Hollywood for the first time! But, what I didn't expect was the fact that I got to meet such amazing, passionate, and above all, kind classic film fans who I now consider my friends! In this blogpost, I'll do my best to condense my festival experience day-by-day, and highlight favourite moments!

TCL (Grauman's) Chinese Theatre, getting ready for festival screenings
We arrived in Hollywood on Wednesday, April 24th, the day before the festival officially kicked off. We decided to eat in a restaurant attached to the Roosevelt Hotel, which was the home base of the festival (many passholders chose to stay in this beautiful, historic hotel). The Roosevelt holds the honour of being the venue that hosted the very first Academy Awards Ceremony, in the Blossom Room. The Blossom Room was transformed into Club TCM during the festival, a room where passholders could gather and chat, and where various special festival events were held over the 4 days.

Blossom Room transformed into Club TCM for the festival
When we ate at 25 Degrees, the restaurant attached to The Roosevelt, we discovered (thanks to 2 darling passholders that we befriended over the course of the festival) that Robert Osborne was eating dinner in the corner booth! When he was done eating, he came over and welcomed all of us to the festival. He was so kind and courteous! I was shocked that the festival hadn't even started, and we had already encountered Robert! With that first evening, I knew we were in for a treat!


In our red carpet attire the night of the Funny Girl restoration at TCL (Grauman's) Chinese Theatre

Day Two was the first official day of the festival, the big event being the Funny Girl (1968) premiere opening night restoration. We spent the day getting our TCM Classic Film Festival gift bags, looking at the hand and footprints at Grauman's, exploring the Hollywood Museum (encountering several fellow passholders while we were there), and getting a chance to be on TV while Robert Osborne interviewed Susan Ray, wife of director Nicholas Ray, for a piece that would later air on TCM! Such fun! 

We then returned to our hotel to get "red-carpet ready" for the big opening night festivities! Club TCM hosted a small opening night party with appetizers and drinks before we walked the red carpet. I never thought in my life I would ever get the chance to walk a red carpet, and the experience was amazing! As I was walking, I looked to my left and saw that I was steps away from Marge Champion! What a thrill. She is 93 and still going strong. What an inspiration.

Once we got into Grauman's, I was overwhelmed that I was actually inside this legendary theatre. It was more beautiful than I ever imagined. You could feel the vibe of Old Hollywood the minute you stepped into this gorgeous building. And the screen was simply stunning! Pictures can't do it justice!

While I know that secretly, a lot of us were hoping Barbra Streisand would surprise us all and be in attendance, we were all satisified when William Wyler's daughter read us a letter from the legend, stating that she hoped we'd have as much fun watching the film as much as she did making it. Well, to say we enjoyed it would be an understatement. The newly restored print was simply stunning, and the depth and breadth of Streisand's Oscar-winning performance can really only be completely understood and appreciated when seen on the big screen. She is luminous, hilarious, heartbreaking, and to quote her first line in the film, "gorgeous!"

Robert Osborne was of course on hand to introduce the film, and then paused to introduce his "Friday night girlfriend." We all looked at each other wondering, "Could it be?" and then Cher came up to the front to greet Robert. Cher really knows her films, and her appearance was a thrilling surprise!

After the screening, we went to Musso and Frank's Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. They've taped a couple of episodes of Mad Men there! We treated ourselves to a couple of drinks and dessert before retiring for the night to prepare for our first full day at the festival!

Eva Marie Saint being her perfectly charming self, with Robert Osborne smiling in the background
On Friday morning, we decided to see The Swimmer (1968), mostly because we knew that Marge Champion would be there to talk about the film. I had never seen this movie before, and I have to confess that I have never been a huge fan of Burt Lancaster. But, this movie was a huge surprise for me. I loved the film, and Burt Lancaster gives the best performance I've ever seen him give in this film. Given that the film was made in the same year that the current season of Mad Men is currently exploring provided a very interesting viewing experience for me. For one, Lancaster plays an ad men in denial of his current reality, and his character is essentially in decay. Parallels to Don Draper, anyone? Watching a film from 1968 also demonstrates how right Mad Men gets everything. But, The Swimmer is a great film unto itself, and I need not compare it to anything. With great performances by everyone in the cast (including a young Joan Rivers, Janice Rule, and a small appearance by Marge Champion), this screening did not disappoint. Champion, who was in attendance for the screening and had never seen it again since its 1968 premiere, discussed the film after it screened. She provided some interesting insight into how she got the part, and working with director Frank Perry before he was replaced after a disagreement with Lancaster. Champion, being her adorable self, stated after about 15 minutes that she thought we had better things to do than listen to her (I could have listened to her talk for hours), and that she wanted lunch. Thus, we moved onto our next event of the day. 

After seeing The Swimmer at the Chinese Theatre Multiplex, we raced down to the Avalon Theatre at Hollywood and Vine (where the television series Hollywood Palace was filmed), to line up for the live taping of a very special interview with the lovely Eva Marie Saint. We were the first ones to arrive in line (3 hours early!), but I didn't mind waiting to be guaranteed a seat. Plus, we were lucky enough to see Eva Marie Saint and her husband arrive in her car! (I didn't have the courage to ask for an autograph). We also met some lovely people in line. You make friends fast when you have a couple of hours to kill, and the people you are talking to understand everything you're saying about old movies!!

Seeing Eva Marie Saint being interviewed by Robert Osborne was an undeniable highlight of the festival. We were sitting right in front of Eva Marie's husband, who made some lovely remarks about his still-stunning (88 year old!) wife during the interview. I don't want to spoil much of what she said, since the interview will be airing on TCM next year, but I will say that her mind is as sharp as a tack, she has a wicked sense of humour, has a special preference for leading man Yves Montand, and seems to have beautifully balanced her career with her very stable and happy family life. Be sure to watch the interview next year!

Beautiful Mitzi Gaynor at Club TCM for Hollywood Home Movies
From the Avalon Theatre, we headed back to Club TCM where we watched the special Hollywood Home Movies event. In attendance was the beautiful and talented Mitzi Gaynor (one of my favourites), who joyfully and comedically narrated some of home movies from behind-the-scenes of her film My Blue Heaven (1950). It was adorable to see Mitzi clearly crushing on Dan Dailey in these behind-the-scenes shots. Mitzi also has very fond memories of the film's director, Henry Koster. Also in attendance was Fay McKenzie, famous for her cameo as the laugher and cryer in the party scene of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). She did some USO Performance Tours with Desi Arnaz during WWII, and narrated some footage of their fun outings together. What was striking to me during the showing of these movies was how stunning the Old Hollywood stars were, even on a day off. Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Marlene Dietrich, and more all looked beautifully put-together even when filming at the studio was the last thing on their minds, and even without the meticulous lighting Old Hollywood was known for. Perhaps it's true that people were just more beautiful back then!

Friday night was a highlight for me, one, because I stepped into the Egyptian Theatre for the first time, and two, because I got to see On the Town on the big screen from the Egyptian balcony! It is one of my all-time favourite musicals (it was Gene Kelly's personal favourite of his films, as well)! A highlight of ALL the festival screenings was the fact that the audience was so engaged and "in-the-know" about the movies they were watching. What I mean by that is, they would applaud the entrance of each star of the film (even character actors) when they appeared on screen. During the screening of On the Town, the audience applauded each star's name that appeared before them on the credits, and eagerly clapped after each musical number. They seemed to have a special appreciation for Ann Miller's tour-de-force Prehistoric Man tap number, and for Betty Garrett's great one-liners.

Writing all this down, I can't believe how much we did on Friday, and how much we saw! What a day!!

Robert Osborne and Jane Fonda discuss On Golden Pond (1981)
Saturday morning began with a screening of the original Cape Fear (1962), with an amazing performance by the underrated Robert Mitchum. While I had seen this film before, I felt as though I was seeing it for the first time on the big screen. The TCM staff member who introduced the film described Gregory Peck's performance as his warm-up for Atticus Finch, and I couldn't agree more. Peck to me always represents the upstanding moral gentleman, and this is certainly his character here (even though he is dying to bend the rules). But the real star of the film is Mitchum, whose portrayal of Max Cady is almost too real, chilling, and terrifying. Mitchum is another star, like Lancaster, who I've never really "gotten." But I "got" Mitchum after seeing him in this role on the big screen. What an underrated and powerful actor. The fact that he never seemed to realize the depth of his own talent is truly sad. Barrie Chase, who plays Cady's victim Diane Taylor in the film (also famous for being Fred Astaire's TV dance partner in the late 1950s and early 1960s), was on hand for a discussion after the screening. I was so glad that she brought a personal letter addressed to her from Peck, in which he stated that he was sorry her great performance was in a "not-so-great" film. Interesting that the mixed reviews of the film initially impacted his own opinion of the film. Now, of course, the film is seen for what it really is, and not for the horror film it was marketed as in 1962. 
From Cape Fear, we headed to the Conversation with Tippi Hedren event at Club TCM. The interview provided an opportunity for Hedren to be completely candid about her troubled (not romantic) relationship with director Alfred Hitchcock. Hedren proudly stated that while Hitchcock might have ruined her career, he did not ruin her life. It seems that Hedren has persevered through those difficult years with Hitchcock, and become a very strong woman and humanitarian. It seems that stardom was never truly important to Hedren, and that she's always had a head on her shoulders. Hats off to you, Tippi!

We headed back to The Egyptian Friday afternoon for a screening of On Golden Pond (1981) with Jane Fonda (fresh from putting her hands and feet in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre) on hand to introduce her father's last film. Witnessing Jane Fonda emotionally discussing the making of this film brought tears to my eyes. Jane saw the play version of On Golden Pond and thought it would make a great vehicle for a film she could make with her dying father (he died just a few months after the film wrapped). What a perfect film for Jane and her legendary father to make together. As Fonda said during the introduction, she was able to act out the difficult relationship she had with her father, and come to terms with their relationship. How healing that must have been for her. She stated that in the scene where she tells her father that she wants to be his friend, she desperately wanted to get some real emotion from her father. She said that she left it for his close-up to touch his hand after that line, and she said that she saw her father shed a tear that he wiped away before the camera could get at it, because he didn't want to appear that vulnerable. But, the important thing is that she saw it, and I'm so grateful she shared this story with the audience in attendance. 

Of course, Katharine Hepburn is also a key star of the film, and Fonda described her as "prickly." This attitude was no doubt based on the fact that she was jealous of Fonda's youth and talent, and the fact that if Fonda won an Oscar with this performance, she would be tied with Hepburn with the amount of Oscars won. Fonda said that when Hepburn won that year, and Fonda lost, she called Hepburn to congratulate her. Hepburn's response? "You can't catch me now!" According to Fonda, however, Hepburn wasn't always prickly. During the pivotal "I want to be your friend" scene, Hepburn was on set (even though she didn't have to be), and when Hepburn sensed that Fonda was having trouble in the scene, she cheered her on from the bushes off-camera, whispering, "You can do it! You can do it!" Clearly, Hepburn had empathy as an actress to a fellow actress, and as a mother to a daughter figure. She wasn't always prickly.

Fonda couldn't stay to watch the screening (she says it's too emotional for her to watch it, even after all these years), but I'm sure she would be moved to know that at the close of the film, when Fonda and Fonda embrace, the audience burst into applause. I know my eyes certainly weren't dry, and I know I wasn't the only one crying when witnessing that beautiful scene on the big screen. 

Ann Blyth with Robert Osborne, introducing Mildred Pierce (1945).
Saturday night was yet another highlight, with Ann Blyth (Veda herself!) appearing to introduce Mildred Pierce (1945). Beautiful, kind, charming, and serene, it's hard to imagine the woman we were seeing interviewed by Robert Osborne could be so brilliantly menacing and evil onscreen! The audience jokingly hissed Blyth when she stepped on stage, and she hilariously retorted, "I don't care!" Mildred Pierce is a film that was totally enhanced by watching it with fellow fans. The audience totally rooted for Joan Crawford throughout, and applauded her in the famous scene when she slaps Veda. The audience was also totally in love with the wonderful, wisecracking Eve Arden, and applauded many of her signature one-liners. Jack Carson was an audience favourite as well. I have never enjoyed Mildred Pierce so much as I did watching it with such a great, supportive audience! It was a perfect end to an amazing day.


Club TCM as it looked for the Closing Night Party 

The final day of the festival got off to a scorching start as we saw Rita Hayworth in her iconic performance as Gilda (1946). I have always adored Rita Hayworth (she is one of my favourites), and I seem to have this in common with actress Debra Winger, who was on hand to provide a short, but sweet, introduction to the film. Hayworth is a star BORN for the big screen, and she literally sets the screen on fire with her legendary role. There are many subtleties of her performance that can only be fully realized and taken in when watching her on the big screen. She is such an underrated actress. Glenn Ford (a fellow Canadian!) is also excellent in this film, and his performance in this film really came alive to me for the first time as I watched him on the Egyptian screen. I must give a shout-out to costume designer Jean Louis, because his gowns for Hayworth burst into life on the huge screen. Audiences applauded Hayworth's iconic screen entrance to the film, and also started clapping even before she started performing her clothed striptease to Put the Blame on Mame. If a star was ever perfect for the big screen, and for Old Hollywood, it was Rita Hayworth. 

After Gilda finished, we walked down to the Cinerama Dome where there was already a huge line to see the 50th anniversary screening of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Karen Kramer, wife of director Stanley Kramer, was present to introduce the film, as well as stars Barrie Chase, Marvin Kaplan, and living legend Mickey Rooney. It was very emotional for me to see Mickey Rooney in a wheelchair (though he walked up the stairs to get to his seat onstage). He is still a very lively presence! Rooney has great memories of the film, especially being reunited with his Boys Town costar Spencer Tracy. Karen Kramer stated that the Cinerama Dome was built for the premiere of this film, and that JFK and Jackie planned to attend the premiere, but were re-routed to Dallas, where, of course, tragedy struck. Kramer made the very apt judgment that she thinks the film screened non-stop in the Cinerama Dome for two years straight because the country desperately needed to heal, and this comedy healed a nation. Watching this comedy in a gorgeous 70 mm print provided the perfect finale to four days of movie-watching heaven, and we were so sad to see it end. 

Meeting Ben Mankiewicz at the Closing Night Party!
After a few hours of sightseeing, we returned to Club TCM for the Closing Night Party, where we were reunited with all of our new friends. Such fun! And we got to formally meet Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz! They were both extremely kind and generous with their time. I said to Osborne, who had been going non-stop for 4 days, that he must be exhausted! Ever the gentleman, he replied by saying that it's wonderful to meet all the passholders and see how passionate they are for classic film.

Robert Osborne asked me at the Closing Night Party if I had a good time at the festival. I responded, "They were the best days of my life!" That wasn't a lie. I feel so blessed and honoured that I was able to attend this year (and hopefully every year from now on!) and I can't wait to start communicating by email with my new classic film friends! TCM has given the classic film audience a great gift: an opportunity to experience classic film with fans who truly understand the importance of what they are watching. What could be better than that? Nothing, I say! Nothing! Thank you so much, TCM!!

With Robert Osborne at the Closing Night Party!!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Movie Memories: Building a New Audience for Classic Film

Recently on Twitter, I happened upon an amazing initiative. Movie Memories is a non-profit organization dedicated to introducing new audiences to classic film, through film retrospectives, and an amazing school program, dedicated to getting youth involved in the discovery of classic film.

Headed by Maria Ciaccia, a film historian responsible for hosting programs in partnership with American Cinematheque (2008) in Los Angeles at the Egyptian Theatre and the Dryden Theatre (2006) in Rochester, New York, this is sure to be an organization that is well-researched and full of passion and drive. Ciaccia is also the author of many books on film. I have had the pleasure of communicating to her via email and she is very passionate about making this program succeed!

The Film Retrospectives branch of the organization is committed to getting movie theatres agree to host a compilation of films about a specific film figure: right now, the focus is on actor Tyrone Power's centenary.

The School Programs facet will strive to expose youth to the art and beauty that was The Golden Age of Hollywood. I work part-time for the Toronto-based Reel Canada Film Festival, an organization dedicated to exposing high school students to Canadian-made film. I have seen first-hand the benefit this program has on eager high school students, in expanding their film vocabulary and getting them to appreciate film they may not have otherwise seen. To me, Movie Memories serves the same purpose, in getting students' minds opened up to a whole other world of film that came before them, but is still so relevant as it is the foundation on which current films are based.

Since Movie Memories is a new initiative, the organization is launching an online fundraising campaign through Indiegogo. The link to Movie Memories' fundraising page can be found here. I urge you, as classic film fans and appreciators of Old Hollywood, to support Movie Memories' amazing endeavour to garner a new audience for classic movies. I believe that we, as the eternal fans of great cinema, have a responsibility to preserve this film legacy in any way possible!

Donate today, and help an amazing organization get off the ground for all of us to enjoy! You may also contact Maria on the contact page of the Movie Memories website to get more information about her goals and what she is striving for!

Thanks for reading, and let's work together to make Movie Memories happen!!

Tyrone Power and Kim Novak in The Eddy Duchin Story (1956)