Thursday, April 18, 2019

TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap--Day Two

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Although I've seen this film several times before, my daughter had not and it is one of those essential film experiences so this was a choice for Friday morning. The screening was hosted by the Eddie Muller, the TCM Czar of Noir, and let's face it, "Postman" is the prototypical noir. John Garfield is a genial drifter who happens into a job at a roadside diner. The wife of the proprietor is played by Lana Turner and the sparks immediately begin to fly. Suddenly, sex and murder are in the air and romance makes a root for two people who kill a genial old man for being in their way.

Like many classic films, you do have to accept some dramatic flair that goes along with the plot. The audience is supposed to laugh a bit at the cop who sympathizes so much with a cat that is collateral damage in the scheme, but it goes on a bit more than contemporary audiences will be used to, and it is the screenplay and direction that ends up being the source of mirth in the end.  The story is also pretty convoluted with double crosses and reversals galore. Frank and Cora are a little too clever for their own good, but they are not more clever than the D.A. or their own attorney.  There are too many trips to the hospital, accidental encounters with cops and nefarious background characters to keep track of. I think the film is vastly entertaining. My daughter enjoyed it but thought is was way too long and that the plot reversals go a bit too far at times.

There is little doubt that this is the film that most people will remember Lana Turner for. Although she was nominated for an Academy Award for "Peyton Place", that melodrama is largely a misty memory for most. Her appearance here in the white shorts and the turban, is iconic and a reveal that will echo for decades down through other films like "Dr. No" and "Body Heat". The house was packed and everyone seemed to have a grand time with this quintessential noir thriller.

Sleeping Beauty

This Walt Disney Masterpiece is Amanda's favorite "Princess" film [as you should be able to tell by her wardrobe choice this day],so naturally we stuck around to
see it in the same theater we started the day in. The meticulous drawings of the characters and the vivid background make this one of the most beautiful animated films you are ever likely to encounter. The host for the discussion was author Mindy Johnson, who wrote a fantastic book on the women of the golden age of animation that we bought last year and had signed by all of the guests on last year's panel. 

Her two guests this day were Jane Baer and Floyd Norman, two artists who worked on the film. Both of these guests were well into their eighties but had vivid memories of working on the project. Baer remembers doing the flames on the candles of the falling birthday cake, although she was not sure if her work was used or if other artists work was preferred. Norman was graciously polite by offering that the women animators where better at the facial details of the characters and that their work exceeded that of most of the men on the project.

Some nice photos of the guests in their time working on the project were shared with the audience and produced the requisite aaahs from the audience. 

Academy Conversations: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Not only is one of my favorite films of all time being screened at the festival, it is featured in the Academy Conversations program, which is always one of the best features at the TCM Film Festival. This year is extra special because the two perennial hosts of this series, Ben Burtt and Craig Barron, both worked on the film. So in addition to the archives they were able to raid for information and picture, they have a treasure trove of personal stories and photos to add to the presentation. I may go a little overboard in covering this event, but it was hard to resist all the details that we were being given. Burtt is the Academy Award winning sound designer and he made substantial contributions to this particular movie. In fact one of the Academy Awards he possess is for this film. Barron was almost a newby by comparison. His one previous film was "the Empire Strikes Back".  Both of these veterans of ILM are respected experts in their fields.  The very first presentation at a TCMFF that I attended was their presentation on "The Adventures of Robin Hood", which just so happens to be my favorite film. 

The whole Indiana Jones mythology is deeply rooted in the serials and B pictures of the 1930s and 40s. There was an elaborate comparison of pictures from some of those films to the images that ended up in Raiders and some of the subsequent sequels. The truck chase for instance was right out of an old Zorro serial, and the whip work is also cleverly mimicked in the movie. They showed some behind the scenes photos of them as young men working on the film, these shots were highly entertaining.

Even the sound of the whip is a complicated process as you can see from the clip above. Nothing in a movie is exactly what you expect it to be, and the additional sound that Burtt talks about here takes the scene up a notch. Another illustration that he provided concerned the gunshots and ricochets heard in the gun battles. 

Depending on the environment in which it was being recorded, the gunshots come across as mild whistling sounds or booming blasts from a cannon. To get the ricochets, they fired along a dirt road in the desert, with a series of microphones along the path to pick up a distinctive echo effect. 

The sound of an egg being peeled was used to make the crackling noise as a desiccated corpse turns toward Marion when they are escaping from the "Well of Souls".  Ben Burtt  also explained how he was inspired even as a kid by sound effects. The class clown in his elementary school would take a ruler, slide it partially off the desktop and then pull it up and release to make a repeating twang sound. Burtt used this school day technique to create the sounds of the darts in the opening sequence of Raiders.

Craig Barron revealed some of the secrets for the visual effects, including the elaborate fishtank used to film oil and cloudy water together in different gradients to produce the well known cloud effects found in several early Spielberg films, including "Close Encounters" and "Poltergeist."

 Of course the days of matte paintings and rear projection are largely behind us due to advances in Computer generated images, but it was not so long ago that they were the height of visual miracles in films. The example Barron shared is maybe one of the most famous end shots of all film history. The crated Ark of the Covenant is rolled down an aisle between dozens of other crates and as the camera pulls back, a warehouse full of similar crates is revealed, suggesting that the Ark is about to be lost again. 

The team created blocks of wood as models for the artists to follow. A actual set of crates on either side is filmed with the Ark crate being rolled down the aisle and then the matte work is added to give the impression of an enormous room filled with similar looking boxes. 

With the Famous Real "Indiana"

These two also did a presentation on Tarzan and His Mate for the festival, but that conflicted with another program that we wanted to see. If you ever get a chance to see them at work, be sure to take advantage of it. 

As a side note, this was the program where I stumbled walking up the aisle of the Chinese Theater and took a tumble on the landing between the front and back sections of the theater. I was less worried about my dignity than I was about the impact I had on my righjt leg which began to stiffen up later that evening and threatened my mobility for the rest of the festival. It all worked out, but for a few hours I thought I might have to see a doctor this week, and not Dr. Jones. 

Day For Night

I have a number of blind spots in my film going background and a lot of them are made up of foreign language films. I knew the name of Francois Truffaut from back in the day, even though I'd never seen any of his films. Of course he was recognizable to me from his role in Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". This Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language film has been a movie that I looked forward to seeing for years. I even knew the reference that the title makes well before I knew anything else about the film. 

The host for the program was again Eddie Muller, who basically identified this as the movie which cemented his desire to be a part of the film industry in some capacity. His guest was the International Star of the film Jaqueline Bisset. This is a woman who has accurately been described as one of the most beautiful women to grace the screen. In person, she lived up to that praise. She was also loquacious and honest in sharing her story about the film and the actors she worked with. 

It turned out that the film is one of the highlights of the festival for me. It was completely charming and full of the kinds of behind the camera sorts of details about movie making that make the subject so interesting to all of us. The performances were first rate and the movie is very funny at times. I did not realize that there were going to be so many comic elements to it. This may have been Amanda's favorite film of the Festival as well. 

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

This was a sentimental favorite to close out the second day of the festival. The program was hosted by Michael uslan, a prolific film producer and fan of classic movies. He mostly told stories about the actors in the film and about the original production's history. He also briefly mentioned to remake featuring Peter O'Toole, but the focus was on this 1939 classic. This is the performance that won Robert Donat his Academy award, famously beating out Clark Gable's iconic appearance i "Gone With the Wind".

The storytelling is a little old fashioned from the perspective of mu daughter, and frankly I think I understand what she means. Somethings do not get well explained and the passage of time is often shown in a way that might be parodied by a modern film. It all still works but the film does feel a bit longer than necessary. At nearly two hours it does try to encapsulate several decades in the life of our title character.  Greer Garson is terrific in the film, but she is probably only in it for about forty minutes in the middle and we will miss her substantially in the back half of the movie. 

This was our longest day at the festival and while watching the film, my leg started tightening up as a result of the fall I had earlier. I limped back to the car, and Amanda was worried that I could not drive home but I was fine. Luckily, a nice dose of Advil helped me get to sleep. So I finished the evening with more "Goodnight Mr. Slips" than I wanted. 

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