Thursday, May 5, 2011

TCM Classic Film Fest Day 2

Ashley and I split up Friday morning to catch different screenings. I started the morning with a 9am screening of A Streetcar Named Desire starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. In hindsight, this was a really intense way to start the day, but I'm still glad I did it. Leonard Maltin (my imaginary intellectual boyfriend) introduced the film and set my fangirl heart aflutter. He talked about how the version we were watching was the complete version, with the parts that were cut by MPAA censors when it originally aired restored. I really believe that seeing a film on the big screen changes the way it's felt and perceived, and Streetcar did this for me. It felt overwhelming, almost suffocating, on a screen that big, in a theater that dark, and I noticed themes that I never had before when I watched it on TV. I would have loved to see it on film (it was a 4k digital projection), but seeing it projected perfectly in a beautiful theater was still a moving experience.

Next I went to Club TCM for a much-anticipated meet and greet and panel. First I went a little crazy with the TCM Film Fest social networking game. I tweeted, four squared, downloaded the TCMFF app and even broke my 2 1/2 year Facebook hiatus to leave a TCM-related status, all so I could get these sweet TCM clips. (I've since deactivated my Facebook account again.) 

Then I waited in line, heart pounding, to meet the one and only Debbie Reynolds! She's the star of Singing in the Rain (one of my all-time favorite movies) and was in Will and Grace (my all-time favorite sitcom and possibly favorite thing that's ever been on TV), and she's just an all-around awesome lady. She was visiting the festival to speak at the screening of her film The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and was kind enough to sign DVDs and books and meet fans. Ashley asked her if she would jump out of my wedding cake a la this moment:
But she didn't think she was spry enough to manage it anymore. I would kill for a better quality photo with her, but I still treasure these. Isn't she gorgeous?

 From there, Ashley and I stayed for the "Best Trailers Ever Made" panel, which we hoped would be about the history of movie trailers. Our classmate Sam is doing her thesis on the history and preservation issues of trailers and we wanted to take notes for her, plus it sounded like a fun panel. However, it turned out to be all about modern trailers for commercial films cut by studio marketing execs. It went from irrelevant to awful to infuriating rather quickly as they made gross generalizations about movie-going audiences (i.e. that women don't go to movies and if they do, only like rom coms) and insulted the opinions of audience members who thought more people would go to movies if trailers were better. It really proved what I already suspected -- that the people responsible for marketing Hollywood are totally out of tune with what directors and audiences want and aren't film people themselves. They could not have sounded more clueless, insulting or out of place in a room full of people interested in classic cinema. Not to mention, the trailers they chose to talk about and show were terrible trailers from recent blockbuster movies, and certainly wouldn't qualify as the "best" of anything. But, one of the many great things about the TCM staff that I've come to know over the last couple years is how well they listen to their audience. After the panel, Ashley and I went to a "tweet up" for TCM fans who have met on Twitter, and there the man responsible for organizing the panel asked for, listened to and appreciated our feedback. He told us that it didn't go the way they had planned and they would learn from this experience. The TCM staff is full of brilliant, passionate, classy people and I just love them. The tweet up was really fun but (in true Brittan style), though I met lots of new friends there, the only picture I managed to get was one of olives. Go figure. 

One of the highlights of the entire festival for me was watching Now, Voyager (1942) on the big screen with a packed house. I always thought it was a beautiful film, but this viewing of it bumped it up into my Top 10. Bette Davis' heartbreaking performance is still haunting me, as are the feelings of yearning for parenthood that I hadn't yet experienced when I first watched the film, but that are now nearly constant in my heart. The 35mm print of it that they projected was beautiful, though slightly scratched with some soundtrack problems. The thing that makes film such an exciting format (as opposed to digital, in my opinion) is that every print is different so you're never quite sure how it's going to look or what level of noise or depth it's going to add to the picture. I really enjoyed watching this print, and I was edified by the collective spirit in the room. The hands-down best moment of the day for me was the very last line of the film, "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon..." and then the entire audience whispered in unison, "...we have the stars." It was a powerful moment that left me covered in goosebumps, and reaffirmed in my belief that movies should be shared with strangers.

Another highlight for me happened that night. Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks Orchestra played a show at the Music Box Theatre for TCM guests. They're a big band that not only plays 20s and 30s music, but studies, lives and breathes it. They play in the style of that era, with all the little details you would expect were you to travel back in time (my greatest dream) to a dance hall in 1935. Everyone dressed in 30s - 40s era clothes and danced their hearts out! There was a troop of professional swing dancers on hand to get everyone in the spirit, and lots of old couples from a time when men knew how to dance and asked ladies to join them. Sigh. That gal in the blue polkadot number is yours truly. I never caught the name of the sweet soul dancing with me, but I much appreciate his patience with me. I was a bit rusty. (Fun fact: I swing danced semi-competitively in high school.)

The night ended on a final high with Ashley and I, and our friend Mike Mashon from the Library of Congress film archive, attending a midnight screening of The Tingler, a silly William Castle/Vincent Price thriller from 1959. Have you ever seen the Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons where Marge comes out before the show to warn the audience that it's going to be very scary? That was based on the intro to The Tingler:
William Castle used to use tricks and gimmicks at his screenings such as seats that vibrated and shook, blowing air on the backs of audience members necks, encouraging people to scream and even planting people in the audience to scare everyone during the most suspenseful scenes. The TCM staff did not disappoint at this screening, doing all of those things as well as projecting psychedelic images over the movie and dropping a swinging skeleton in front of the screen. (SPOILER ALERT) In the scene where the tingler gets lost in a movie theater, kills the projectionist and the screen goes black, staff members ran down the aisles with flashlights and people stood up in the audience and started screaming. Popcorn went flying, screams spread across the theater and a tingler attacked a staff member! It was the most fun I've ever had at a midnight movie.

Day 2 was everything - two emotional movie watching experiences, lively discussion with film fans, a vintage dance party and an authentic 50s-era campy midnight movie experience. Perfect.

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