A Vamp Goes to the TCM Festival - Guest Blog Report

My good friend Joan attended some of the TCM Festival last weekend.  Here's her take on what she saw and how much fun she had.  This is a cross-posting from Nitrateville (excellent message board if you do not know about it).

The Second Annual TCM Film Festival has ended and it is time for your Spokesvamp to issue an official Daughters of Naldi report on the proceedings. The City of Angels put on a big smiley-face for the festival, providing a light Santa Ana that tamed our cranky Spring weather, giving us warm weather during the day and balmy breezes to rustle the palm trees in the evening. Unhappily, these winds also adversely affect the Spokesvamp’s coiffure: she often looked like Sparky, Queen of the Electricity People.

The Festival was well-attended, mostly by out-of-towners who appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely, racing up and down Hollywood Boulevard snapping photos of themselves standing by the stars of their favorites, quaffing the best martinis in town at Musso and Frank’s, and happily chatting with fellow film buffs about the cinematic treats in store.

The TCM Film Festival is an embarrassment of riches for the classic film buff. Films run at several venues, often with talks and interviews taking place concurrently at “Club TCM.” Your Spokesvamp found herself ensconced on the horns of a dilemma more than once; she was forced to choose between seeing Bette Davis in Now, Voyager or Kay Francis in British Agent, Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap or esteemed film historian Kevin Brownlow, and Hayley Mills in Whistle Down the Wind or esteemed film historian Donald Bogle. For the record I went with Bette rather than Kay, and Hayley beat out both esteemed film historians. Never have I so resented the legal strictures against cloning.

I was on the guest list for some films, and I opted not to purchase a pass and to “fly standby” for the other films I wanted to see. Ergo, I missed out on one of my choices (Night Flight), a failure that caused me first to sulk and then to consume several pounds of fudge purchased from that disastrously placed candy shop in the Hollywood and Highland complex. A pass for next year’s festival is a must.

Golddiggers of 1933: Color me embarrassed, I’d never seen this film before. Quelle cast! Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, and Warren William, with Busby Berkeley’s “out-there” choreography, it doesn’t get precodier than that. It sags a bit in the middle, but I’ll put up with pretty much anything from a film with Joan Blondell and Warren William in it. The print shown was not a good one; not bad enough to affect my enjoyment, but I noticed it, and it irritated me. A bunch of grapes.

Now Voyager: I’ve seen this film a zillion times and so have you, so I’ll skip the plot reprise. As far as I’m concerned, Now Voyager is perfect, so seeing it on the big screen with a theater full of equally appreciative fans was a huge treat. At Bette's Cinderella moment, when she appears for her first time after her stay at Camp Valium, wearing that chic Orry-Kelly suit and the fabulous spectator hat, the audience clapped enthusiastically; when Bette tells Paul not to ask for the moon, a collective sigh tinged with wobbly sobbing floated through the theater. Hearing the film was also an epiphany. I suddenly understood why Bette Davis complained about Max Steiner’s scores. The music is magnificent, but it is so overwhelming in the theater setting one almost hears Bette saying “Oh Jerry, let’s not ask for the moon...Jerry? JERRY?? I SAID LET’S NOT ASK FOR THE MOON!!” As we filed out of the theater, dabbing our eyes with our lace hankies, the woman in front of me said “Every time I see that movie, I want to start smoking.” A bunch of grapes, a wave of the foot-long cigarette holder, and a drive in the Isotta Fraschini for Now, Voyager.

The Merry Widow: TCM’s showing of Erich von Stroheim’s film was produced by Patrick Stanbury, introduced by Kevin Brownlow, and accompanied by Maud Nelissen and “The von Stroheim Virtuosi,” playing Nelissen’s score. The print was the best currently available, but I don’t get Mae Murray so the film itself left me cold. Did I mention this was one of the best silent film musical performances I have ever heard? Knockout. No, really. Thank you, TCM, for bringing Maud Nelissen to Los Angeles. A snuggle from the bejeweled feline for The Merry Widow. Maud Nelissen gets the keys to the Isotta Fraschini.

The Parent Trap: My filthy secret is out--yes, I am a Hayleyholic! And as I discovered at the festival’s showing of The Parent Trap, I am not alone. The Egyptian Theater was packed to the rafters and the lady herself got two Big Standing O’s from her happy fans. TCM created a beautiful montage from Hayley’s many performances over her five decade long career (I assume this will be shown on television in the future) and Leonard Maltin interviewed the star, still an attractive and soignée woman. The Parent Trap also needs no plot reprise from me. Greate Arte it ain’t and thank heavens for that: it’s charming, fun, and it entertains. Hayley is at her most mischievous, and Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara have great chemistry and give relaxed, twinkle-in-the-eye performances. The cast includes supporting stalwarts Una Merkel, Charlie Ruggles, and Leo G. Carroll (who almost steals the film as the cleric with an unseemly taste for good liquor and a malicious sense of humor). As a plus, the film boasts beautiful mid-century design in settings and costumes-- it’s sort of Mad Men only with people you like. A drive in the Isotta Fraschini, a doff of the turban, a nose-touch from the bejeweled feline, and a whole vineyard full of grapes. It’s Hayley, dammit.

The Cameraman: Buster Keaton’s late silent classic, accompanied by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in a rollicking score that had me wanting to boogie in the aisles. This time around I focused on things other than Buster: Eddie Gribbon’s marvelous performance perfectly complementing Buster’s stoicism, the sheer thespic genius of Josephine the monkey, omg is Buster nekkid in that swimming pool?, and my favorite moment--Buster’s eyes, rising from the pool, targeting the substantial woman in the tent-like bathing suit. I never fail to hear the theme from Jaws in my head during that scene. A handshake from the uniformed Prussian and a hearty wave of the foot-long cigarette holder.

Whistle Down the Wind: Another Hayley film, yippee! Whistle Down the Wind is a 1961 British film, based on a novel written by Hayley’s mother, Mary Hayley Bell, and directed by Bryan Forbes. It was filmed on a shoestring budget on a farm in soggy Lancashire, with a cast of the cutest darned kids you’ve ever seen in one film, all talking in impenetrable accents. As Cari Beauchamp pointed out in her excellent interview with Mills after the film, it was Alan Bates’ first movie, but Hayley was already a seasoned professional. It’s not one I’ll race to see again, but it’s good, and worth your time. A nice bunch of grapes for Whistle Down the Wind.

TCM always has interesting pre- and post-film graphics; those used at the festival were wonderful, with definite mid-century feel to them, although the bouncy balls made me come over all 1968 and Jimi Hendrix-like. They were groovy. Big thanks to TCM, their schedulers and planners, and their cheerful and helpful volunteers and staffers, for a fun three days. This Daughter of Naldi is already looking forward to next year.


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