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!!