Archives for April 2015

Return of the Dream Machine (TCMFF 2015)

I round out my coverage of the 2015 TCM Film Festival thanks to a mishap that resulted from inadequate festival planning on my part.

Initially, I intended on rounding out my evening by watching William Friedkin’s The French Connection. But as I exited my screening of The Apartment, I was shocked to see that the queue for the film stretched far, in and around the Hollywood and Highland Center. With a tinge of disappointment, I headed over to the multiplex to catch my plan B.

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As I entered the theatre to attend Return of the Dream Machine,  the audience and I were greeted to some “pre-show” music by Galen Wilkes, played on a 1908 Edison Phonograph, quite similar to the one pictured at the right:

After an introduction/history lesson courtesy of Randy Heberkamp, Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the program officially began. With live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla, we watched a total of eight shorts, all hand-cranked by Joe Rinaudo and Gary Gibson, both attired in the garb for projectionists at that time, ranged in length, from one to ten minutes (a full reel).

Here were a few of the highlights (note: each link is a video link where you can watch the film yourself):

  • A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune Méliès, 1902) – really cool to see the hallmark sci-fi adventure on the big screen. In a day where splashy spectacle and CGI are the order of the day, it was refreshing and edifying to watch the genesis of such ingenuity and imagination. A perfect example that even in the dawn of cinema, its creators were thinking above and beyond to literally reach the stars.
  • Edison’s The Great Chain Robbery (1903) – the forests of Fort Lee, New Jersey never looked more “western?” No, but really, another icon of early cinema full of action, gunplay and a very recognizable closing shot.
  • A Corner in Wheat (D.W. Griffith, 1909) – while I have my own thoughts about the man and his body of work it would be remiss of me to dismiss this film is an early demonstration of Griffith’s ability to craft an interconnected, epic-scale narrative.
  • The Dancing Pig (Le Cochon Danseur Pathé, 1907) – we have a human-sized, standing on its hind legs pig, in various states of (un)dress  and dancing with a human companion. This is the stuff of (very entertaining) nightmares.
  • Suspense (Lois Weber, 1913) Another one reel wonder where the filmmaker and leading lady Weber is able to create a tension-filled drama. I can imagine the amazement on an audience’s at seeing this play out on the big screen.

Oh yeah, when I said eight films – I fibbed – it was actually NINE! As the session came to its conclusion, we were presented with the world premiere restoration of the 1905 version of Serpentine Dance . Who would have thunk that watching a 2  minute clip could elicit such a feeling of whimsy in this cynical New Yorker?

Joe Rinaudo, assisted by Gary Gibson, operating the 1909 hand-cranked Power's Model 6 Cameragraph Motion Picture Machine

Joe Rinaudo, assisted by Gary Gibson, operating the 1909 Hand-Cranked Power’s Model 6 Cameragraph Motion Picture Machine

And with that, what a memorable way for me to round out another wonderful TCM Festival experience.
(Hopefully) see you all in 2016!

TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL

Photo Credit: Turner Classic Movies
1908 Edison Phonograph image: Public Domain

In the Presence of a Legend (TCMFF 2015)

As with any film festival, there are so many other things to do besides actually go to the films … surprising but true, I know 🙂

One of the things that I THANKFULLY carved out some time to attend was the one-on-one with legendary film editor, 89-year old Anne V. Coates, who has clipped films ranging from Lawrence of Arabia to Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, and most recently, Fifty Shades of Grey.

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The hour-long sit down with author Cari Beauchamp provided wonderful insight into a six decade career and illuminated just how much the ability of a film to convince its audience rests on how deftly the editor weaves together hours of footage to form a cohesive and convincing story for the screen, especially when there are so many external factors at play (actor, director, producer, to name a few). I cannot imagine the adaptability required and immense pressure felt. It is a credit to her profession in general and her body of work in particular, that she has consistently produced praise-worthy results.

Coates also talked candidly about the intimate relationship an editor has with the film they are working on. Recalling in great detail her work on films such as Lawrence, Murder on the Orient Express, The Elephant Man and In the Line of Fire, it was clear to the audience the great passion and love she has for her job.

Let me conclude with a few side notes from the talk:

  1. I will never watch What about Bob? the same way again.
  2. Film or digital? I think is an easy one… film – more tactile.
  3. Over the years, there have been a couple of films involving on screen romantic pairings that proved really interesting to edit. I can only imagine….

TCMFF 2015, Continued: Rififi (1955)

Rififi, the 1955 heist thriller, is a masterful piece of filmmaking an exemplary example of the film noir genre. Directed by blacklisted (and exiled) Hollywood filmmaker Jules Dassin (The Naked City, a personal fave) I imagine Rififi was made under great duress.

Before we go further, let’s talk plot. There are slight indications that ex-convict Tony, “le Stéphanois” (Jean Servais) desires a return to a life of relative normalcy. However, any notion of this quickly vanishes when his protégé Jo (Carl Möhner), for whom Tony took the rap for 5 years earlier, wants him to take part in a plan, devised by fellow gangster Mario (Robert Manuel), as what can only be described as “the perfect heist.” Initially reluctant, outside forces, most notably what I conclude to be a want to reengage former flame Mado (Marie Sabouret), conspire against him to the point that he concedes and agrees to join in on the burglary. Rounding out the team is Mario recruit and fellow countryman Cèsar (played by Dassin), as the safecracker.

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From this point in the film, I was taken in and remained on the edge of my seat. Sure, on its surface, the idea of watching a group of people plot out and plan something, anything, may sound like the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry. Not here. With each passing moment and as the day of the burglary drew near, I became further and further invested not only in the outcome, but also in the characters themselves. So much so that until the end of the film, I was rooting for these guys to not only to succeed in their plot, but to also get away with it, unscathed (oh, dear).

Once we get there, the audience is served the pièce de résistance – a musical score-free 20-plus minute sequence showing the heist in action. Exquisite. Coming in a close second was the equally iconic denouement.

Major kudos to co-writers Dassin and René Wheeler, who adapted a problematic source fraught with overtly racist thematic elements, specifically in reference to the characterization of the story’s principal antagonists. An honorable mention goes to Dassin’s performance as Cesar – all of the director’s dialogue was spoken phonetically, since he did not actually speak French.

Hopefully this compilation piece will get you in the mood (sorry to my ‘Francophones’ out there for whom this clip may give away more than you desire):

In the end, through an expert level of skill and artistry, Dassin was able to put together a film that I feel should be on any film lover’s ‘must see’ list. It is often said that great pieces of work come out of a sense of urgency and desperation; with Rififi, you feel this in a sense and the results are sublime. I hope that you will all one day get to see this in all its big screen glory, by way of a newly remastered print (as we did).

TCMFF Recap (2): The Apartment (1960)

Well search me. As a self proclaimed Billy Wilder have I have absolutely no idea why it has taken me so long to see The Apartment.

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This is a really enjoyable film (understatement). I mean it hits all the right notes – acerbic wit interwoven with a very attainable romantic through point, thanks to the remarkable chemistry and comedic timing of its lead actors, Jack Lemmon and TCM Film Festival honoree Shirley MacLaine (who introduced the film to a packed house at the TCL Chinese Theatre).

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It is clear, and has been said many times over, that Billy Wilder was a cynical man. While I have no doubt as to the veracity of this statement, I personally do not feel that this excludes him from also being a rank sentimentalist in some ways, as I personally feel The Apartment proves.

A brief synopsis: Bud Baxter (Lemmon) is just another administrative cog in the wheel of a large Midtown Manhattan insurance company who has found the key to success in climbing the corporate ladder (see what I did there) – which involves the loaning out of his apartment key to his very married superiors. The purposes of which can only be politely described as private entertaining. As a quid quo pro, they Baxter receives top marks for his ‘hard work.’ This, in turn, gets the attention of personnel director Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), who decides to get in on the scheme. To add layer upon layer, Baxter has a romantic pursuit of his own in the person of elevator operator Fran Kubelik (MacLaine). At this point I feel if I say any more, I will be giving the game (nay movie) away. Sure, the statute of limitations on ‘spoilers’ has certainly passed, but for my money, the story is too rich and enjoyable to give away too many details.

I will leave you with this final observation/experience from – the ending of the film (the last line, Wilder was great at last lines) was so well earned, that it left me with more than a couple of tears in my eye.

From what little I have watched of Mad Men over the years, I can tell that at a minimum The Apartment was a great influence on the show, specifically in terms of the aesthetics, sexual politics and other related thematic elements. Not to say there is anything wrong with that – but for some of my contemporary followers who may not know about the Wilder film, this note will hopefully serve as a good reference point.

 

Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan – WireImage (TCM Classic Film Festival)

Tribeca Film Festival ’15 Preview

I sure as heck do not know where the time goes nowadays. No sooner was I decompressing from my trip out to Los Angeles for the TCM Film Festival, were my sights set again to my hometown (-ish) festival, Tribeca!

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It’s the day before the official start, early screenings down and schedules sorted, so here is a quick list of what I am looking forward to ….

 

For Your Consideration

Slow West – Saw this Sundance award winner in January and am still recommending it her; check out my review on FlixChatter. Narrative

 

On My ‘Plan to See’ List

As I Am: The Life and Times of DJ AM – Often told in his own voice, the story of Adam Goldstein (known professionally as DJ AM), chronicles the musician’s meteoric rise onto the L.A. party scene to his equally precipitous and very tragic fall. Documentary

Indian Point – This one hits a little close to home (as I live in the Greater Hudson Valley); I am almost afraid to find out the status of this nuclear facility, the safety of which has been a constant presence in our local news in recent years. Documentary

A Ballerina’s Tale – A profile of Misty Copeland, the first African American soloist at the American Ballet Theatre® in decades. Note: this special screening scheduled for this Sunday (4/19) will be followed by a Q&A with Copeland and a dance performance. Documentary

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Mary J Blige: The London Sessions – A behind the scenes look at the recording of the R&B stalwart’s 13th studio album which takes place in … you guessed it – London. Note #2: this screening on Thursday (4/16) will be followed by a performance by the woman herself. Documentary

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Live – Part of TFF’s celebration of the legendary British comedy troupe, The Meaning of Live inter-cuts archival footage with a behind the scenes look at the team as they prepare for their final live show in 2014. Documentary

Far From Men (Loin Des Hommes) – A French language film set in mountainous Algeria starring Viggo Mortensen and scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. C’mon, now. Narrative

The Emperor’s New Clothes  – A documentary from award-winning director Michael Winterbottom (Jude, 24 Hour Party People) features comedian/social justice warrior Russell Brand in a no-holds-barred look at the worldwide financial crisis and its consequences. Documentary

Prescription Thugs –I am guessing this film will deliver what is exactly on the tin – a look inside the commerce and personal conflicts that have arisen from the alarming epidemic of prescription drug addiction. Also of note – filmmaker Chris Bell’s (Bigger Stronger Faster) own family suffered a personal loss directly related to this problem. Documentary

 

Of Interest

Franny – I am curious about this one because a couple of years ago, I attended to a Sundance Institute’s writing workshop/table read for this ‘work in progress.’ Now, it is finished and stars Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning and Theo James (Insurgent film series). Gere portrays an eccentric man who inserts himself into the lives of a newlywed couple (Fanning and James). It would be cool to see the final product. Narrative

The Armor of Light – Abigail Disney’s directorial debut looks at Reverend Rob Schneck, an evangelical minister who, likely going against many with whom he shares a common religious affiliation, is spreading a message criticizing the blight gun violence is having on our society. Documentary

Down in the Valley – A sports documentary by way of Emmy award winning Jason Hehir (The Fab Five) about the city of Sacramento’s efforts to prevent their NBA franchise (The Sacramento Kings) from leaving for greener (kaching!) pastures. Documentary

Tumbledown – With a cast headlined by Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudekis and a synopsis that put a smile on my face, I am more than a little curious. Narrative

Hannah (Rebecca Hall) and Andrew (Jason Sudeikis).Photography by Seacia Pavao

 

And Time Permitting …

There are a bunch of Tribeca Talks® and Short Programs (support the shorts!) that I am interested in attending as well, but I will take these in stride and attend as I am able to fit them into my schedule.

I am probably missing something but as you can see, there is a lot going on in Lower Manhattan over the next eleven days.

 

Anyone attending this year’s festival? What are you most looking forward to?

 

* Film synopses’ source: the official Tribeca Film Festival‘s Film Guide; photo credits: Tribeca Film Institute.

TCMFF Recap: Limelight (1952)

As I posted to my tumblr account, I indeed did have a lot of fun at the annual meetup of #OldMovieWeirdos, also known as the TCM Film Festival.

Over the next week or so, my plan is to post recaps of some of my favorite films, in addition to a couple of other film-related highlights from the weekend in the heart of Hollywood, USA. Hope you are thoroughly entertained!

I start with Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight. Some of you may be immediately thinking, I thought he was a silent film star that essentially went away with the advent of the talkies? Well, while Chaplin’s persona is indelibly etched into our cultural zeitgeist as the loveable “Little Tramp,” a quick study of his life and career will show that he was so much more – writer, director and composer. And at the time of Limelight‘s release in 1952, Chaplin’s alleged Communist affiliation and essential banishment from the Hollywood establishment meant that for some time, this film, received less notoriety and attention than it probably deserved.

In any regard, time has passed and it is clear that his talent is on full display in this melancholic yet lovely tale of a washed-up, alcoholic comedian Calvero (Chaplin) and his relationship with a young, emotionally crippled ballerina Terry (Claire Bloom).

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Set in London, it is a May-December tale that is also a lyrical meditation on life and love. The denouement is one, which if I am to be frank, left me in tears – in only the way an evocative piece of cinema can.

Before we come to this end, however, we are treated a fabulous two-man act featuring Chaplin and fellow silent screen legend Buster Keaton.

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The experience of seeing Limelight on the big screen was made all the more memorable by the appearance of 100-year old cast member Norman Lloyd, who not only introduced the film (and regaled us with tales of his friendship with Chaplin), but also stayed to watch the film with the captive/captivated audience.

If you consider yourself the least bit curious about the cinematic legacy of Chaplin, certainly add this one to your list.

Respire (Breathe): Coming (Apart) of Age Story …

Breathe (Respire, French title) is an interesting film. I will get to the details in a little bit, but felt the need to expound on this initial, visceral response. It is a film that, in one point of Charlie and Sarah’s intense (and at times) troubling friendship, I really, really want something to happen (sorry, no spoilers). Then just when I think the inevitable will not happen, director/actor Mélanie Laurent, in her second time in director’s chair, pulls out a (un)expected twist in a manner that manages to still maintain the requisite shock values, while also being equally satisfying and tragic. In fact, I was left catching my own breath.

But I digress – let me backtrack and offer you some exposition. Breathe is set in provincial France (i.e. outside of Paris). Charlie (Joséphine Japy), by all appearances, a run of the mill teenager, is mesmerized by the new girl in school, Sarah (Lou de Laâge). Everything about Sarah lends points to her being bohemian, free spirit sort. She is a force of nature and Charlie soon finds herself drawn into Sarah’s orb; she abandons all of her friends and other vestiges of her previously ordered way of life. By now, I am sure many in the audience have an inkling of where this might be headed [Danger, Will Robinson].

And so it goes there in a manner of speaking. As the relationship intensifies, it almost immediately begins to fall in on itself. The authenticity of Charlie and Sarah’s relationship are tested to their outermost limits, with Charlie seeming to come out the worse for it. But let me stop right here or else I divulge too much of the rising action and conclusion.

And so, that conclusion – it really did feel earned in spite of its sense of inevitability. Because of the quality of the converging aspects of the production (acting, writing and directing) Laurent and company did pull it off. Well done.

Respire was co-adapted for the screen by Laurent and Julien Lambroschini, based on the very successful novel by author Anne-Sophie Brasme, who was 17 at the time to novel was published.

If you are looking forward to seeing this (I recommend it), New York-based film distributor Film Movement has acquired U.S. rights. Stay tuned for release information there.

 

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Editor’s Note: There was going to be a third part to my coverage of the Rendezvous with French Cinema, in which I was going to do a crossover review with William Friedkin‘s The French Connection (which played at this year’s TCM Film Festival) and the Jean Dujardin-led companion piece The Connection. However, I will delay that post until closer to the film’s United States release of May 15th. Stay Tuned!

Jumping Ahead a Little …. Cannes 2015

Yeah of course I have a few more French film write-ups, my fully fleshed out TCM festival recap (check out my quick synopsis here) and my Tribeca preview due in the coming days, but let’s pause a moment and look ahead to May for the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, namely the poster for this year’s celebration of film on the French Riviera.

In recent years, I have really taken an interest in the artwork the festival organizers use to promote it. My personal fave was the Marilyn Monroe poster (Canned 65).

Well it is that time of year again, and here is the poster featuring and honoring legendary actress Ingrid Bergman –

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Follow this link to find out more about the history of the photo used and why they have decided to celebrate her now.

I personally like it and look forward to adding it to my poster collect, but what do you think?

Let me know what you think by visiting the Comments section below.

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