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Age is Just a Number at the TCM Festival

Age is Just a Number at the TCM Festival

I’m still recovering from the TCM Classic Film Festival this past weekend, where I hosted ten events…but I suspect that some of the people I interviewed are doing just fine because they seem to have limitless energy, not to mention charisma. I’m talking about Darryl Hickman, who’s 85, Rita Moreno, who’s 84, Gina Lollobrigida, who’s 88, and Eva Marie Saint, who knocked me for a loop when she cheerfully volunteered that she’s 92!
Rita is still busy doing television, so it’s amazing to think that she played Tuptim in The King and I sixty years ago. She’s as sassy and funny as ever, and when she teased the crowd with mentions of her longtime lover Marlon Brando, she urged them to check out her recently published memoir. Eva Marie was also frisky and funny, so it’s equally difficult to think that The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming is now fifty years old.

I had met all of these talented people before except Miss Lollobrigida (who says everyone calls her Lolo) and had a ball chatting with them, especially in front of the enthusiastic TCM audiences.

 I had an entire hour with Lolo, who won everybody over with her self-awareness, humor, and candor. Yet my activities were just a fraction of the festival as a whole; you can read more and watch videos at the channel’s website HERE.

Best of all, I got to preside over some of the festival’s more unusual—and in some cases, unique—programs. On Friday evening I introduced composer Richard Einhorn’s oratorio Visions of Light, which was inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. A sell-out crowd at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre was eager to see the film and hear the orchestra and vocal soloists—but didn’t know that there was also a 78-voice “flash mob” chorus seated in the first four rows of the theater until they sang.

On Saturday night I hosted a two-hour presentation on the history of widescreen movies, produced by the tireless Christopher Reyna. We consulted for several weeks about which clips to use, as Chris scoured various studios and archives to find the right ingredients—from a 70mm excerpt of the Tryptich finale to Abel Gance’s Napoleon to a 35mm CinemaScope Tom and Jerry cartoon, which was recommended by my cartoon pal Jerry Beck. In between we screened excerpts and trailers for The Robe, This is Cinerama, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and other milestones. The chariot race from Ben-Hur takes your breath away, and even in this age of GoPro video the roller-coaster ride that opens This is Cinerama is still stunning. Perhaps the most surprising footage was from the Corbett-Fitzsimmons prizefight shot in 63mm back in 1897. Imagine that! (The promoters even painted their copyright notice on the edge of the arena to discourage would-be pirates.)

Sunday morning brought the eagerly-awaited revival of Smell-O-Vision at the Cinerama Dome, where a hard-working team offered Michael Todd Jr.’s Holiday in Spain (originally shown as Scent of Mystery). Leading lady Beverly Bentley was there, with clear recollections of the film’s premiere in 1960, along with her stand-in and friend Sandra Shahan and Gary Dawson, the son of Diana Dors, who makes a memorable cameo in the film. Having seen the movie on Blu-ray last year (and been unimpressed) my wife and I were skeptical that this presentation would be worthwhile. But with audience members opening spray vials on cue and using fans to spread the aromas we had to admit we were wrong. The movie played much better on the curved Cinerama screen and the scents—from roses to red wine—wafted through the theater just as they were supposed to.

In the midst of my chaotic schedule I even got to see a few extracurricular films: A House Divided (1931), a family melodrama set in a fishing village with a commanding performance by Walter Huston (and dialogue by his son John, whose first screen credit this was), a gorgeous 35mm Technicolor print of The Yearling, followed by a conversation with its ever-appealing star, Claude Jarman, Jr. conducted by Cari Beauchamp, and Law and Order (1932), another Walter Huston film I’ve always admired but hadn’t seen in years. Based on W.R. Burnett’s novel Saint Johnson, it’s a potent retelling of the Wyatt Earp legend costarring Harry Carey. I also enjoyed watching Tea and Sympathy on a big screen before talking to Darryl Hickman.

Playwright Robert Anderson had to mask the topic of homosexuality and tack on a “conventional” ending to suit the censors of the time, but the movie still plays well and is surprisingly relevant at a time when bullying young people over their sexual orientation is still prevalent. Kudos are also due director Vincente Minnelli and cinematographer John Alton who made all their widescreen compositions seem so unforced and natural.

As I say, it would be easy to go through the festival catalog and recite every event that took place, but I just wanted to share some of my first-hand experiences. Tired as I am, it was an exhilarating weekend, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

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