The big news in Hollywood next weekend is the first Turner Classic Movies Festival. In fact it’s four full days (22-25th) at Grauman’s, the Mann 6 and the Egyptian. It’ll doubtless be quite a smart affair, and as the title implies, it’s hardly adventurous or obscure; but there’s nothing wrong with that, in light of newly restored and archive prints and lots of 70mm – over fifty titles, a handful of shorts and countless panels/lectures/discussions and personal appearances. The TCM does such a good job on TV you know you’ll be in good hands; with optimum conditions, it’s an excellent chance to catch up on those gaps in your viewing, or to revisit an old friend.
The opening gala is Cukor’s A Star is Born (1954) with Judy Garland and James Mason. It’s a touchstone for many, but too overblown for my taste and wallows in its own misery to the point of kitsch. I’m far more excited by the closing gala, the brand new restoration of Lang’s vision of a class-riven future, Metropolis (1927). After countless reconstructions about a quarter of it was given up for lost; then two years ago an (almost) complete 16mm print turned up in Argentina. Pieced together by the excellent Murnau Stiftung, it’s played a handful of festivals prior to this, its North American premier. It was not even as if the previous best version seemed lacking; it’s such a great film in imagery and drama that another half-hour sounds splendid, particularly accompanied by the veteran Alloy Orchestra who use electronics and made-up percussion instruments.
In between there’s titles like Casablanca, Sweet Smell of Success, Imitation of Life, 2001, Midnight Cowboy, Jubal, Sunset Boulevard, The Magnificent Ambersons, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Saturday Night Fever, Cleopatra, The Good the Bad and the Ugly etc etc. I’m particularly looking forward to the newly restored Leave her To Heaven (1945), one of the greatest melodramas of all, mostly thanks to the show-stealing Gene Tierney as the crazy lady, feline and truly frightening (actually it’s melodrama crossed with noir, except that it’s shot in gorgeous sumptuous Technicolor). Tati’s Play Time (1967) is deceptively staggering, very funny and always a pleasure; Scorsese’s King of Comedy (1982) is almost the opposite – far less frequently screened, it’s uncomfortable funny, riveting and rich, with de Niro semi-stalking talk-show host Jerry Lewis. A midnight screening of Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is perfect, and Belmondo in attendance for A bout de souffle (1959) is a nigh-on unmissable cinephile wet dream (he’s only gained in cool).
And there are actually a couple of obscurities: Capra’s Dirigible (1931) promises to be fun, particularly if you are a fan of airships or the South Pole; it’s a love triangle adventure story with Fay Wray in the middle, and as the Cinefamily have been demonstrating, the satisfactions of Capra’s early oeuvre run deep. And the hands-down strangest film on the program must be St John Legh Clowes’ No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948). It was an independent British attempt to make an American gangster movie (literally – the accents are variable, to say the least) and was successfully vicious enough to be roundly decried as a disgusting outrage to public morals. It retains a satisfying nastiness, amorality and weird sexuality (heiress falls for kidnapper), with great inventiveness and detail of characters, and the collision of American style and British sensibility is fantastically bizarre throughout. A ripe cheese of a movie, deliciously unique if you can handle it.