A Celebration to Remember: TCM Turns 25

If you ask any classic movie fan, The TCM Film Festival is an oasis for all who attend – a tiny, cozy bubble of cinematic nostalgia where movie nerds can quote, converse, question and rail with each other in complete safety. An event that is anticipated the whole year long by a group as thick as thieves. The atmosphere was ripe with enthusiasm among movie goers who, this year, paid $1,500 or more to escape daily life for a time to celebrate two important milestones; the 10th festival and the 25th anniversary of the Turner Classic Movie channel, respectively. But nothing happens in a vacuum, including this annual convention of amateur film historians & critics.

Beyond the edges of this bubble was a landscape of complete corporate upheaval. In June 2018, Time Warner was acquired by AT&T in one of the largest corporate mergers in history. Though the acquisition was announced in 2016, a series of high-profile lawsuits delayed its completion; lawsuits that were filed by the Trump Administration in what was the first time in several decades that the Justice Department interfered in a corporate merger.

This interference was clearly politically motivated and ultimately deemed inappropriate by multiple courts. Though I despise everything the Trump Administration does and represents, I have to agree that the marriage of two corporate titans into one massive conglomerate is suspicious and concerning. One of the world’s largest telecommunications companies combined with one of the world’s largest entertainment companies will undoubtedly monopolize the field and harm competition.

The results of this merger have yet to be fully understood or felt, but TCM is existing on shaky ground. During mergers of this scale, alarm bells sound in all directions as the parent company typically conducts an internal slash-and-burn operation to cut any “unnecessary waste” where no employee or department is safe. There were some immediately layoffs at Warner Bros., but nothing shocking. Still, there is an underlying anxiety as to the security of a channel that is a mere cog in an enormous wheel getting larger and faster by the day. A slash to the gut would be no surprise – could TCM be next?

Of course, at the annual “Meet TCM” panel that kicks-off each festival, TV executives did everything they could to subdue all doubts or fears floating in the dark corners (or theaters) all around them. The TCM Film Festival has always been a financial loss, so it is an easy target, however, they did announce that a festival would happen next year, much to everyone’s relief. To their credit, these executives had a lot to do: they had to celebrate two major milestones, explain a massive corporate restructure and prove, for the record, how they remain relevant and popular – as if they themselves were being recorded on a direct phone line to the high echelons of AT&T.

Well, if anything helped TCM appear to be shouting from the rooftops proving their relevance and as an (attempted) money maker, it was films that were chosen to show. The presence of popular crowd pleasers dominated the lineup: GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), STAR WARS (1977) continued by a tribute to Nora Ephron’s films STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989) amongst others. In fact, when STAR WARS was announced in the lineup earlier this year, the festival tickets sold out. Not a bad fact to bring to the boss! Though GONE WITH THE WIND can be excused because it was the first film ever to show on the channel in 1994 in a nod to the milestone, I can’t help but think that choosing these films was a strategic move by TCM executives to save itself – as if a neon sign was blinking: “THIS IS BETTER THAN NETFLIX”. As generations age, a Warner or AT&T exec is more likely to recognize and appreciate a screening of STAR WARS than an Erich von Stroheim silent…

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Though big films satisfy the bottom line, it’s the small films that gain the most attention by cinephiles. The final day of the festival, Sunday, reserves a handful of slots for “TBD’s” which are announced on Saturday afternoon. These TBD’s are spaces saved for films that sell out the previous days of the fest, and on Sunday you get a second chance to see them. Without fail, it’s the little-known pre-codes or 80 min silent films that sell out. Why? Because this is the very thing people come to a film festival for; what other opportunity does one have to see these films in the way they were originally intended to be seen?

I realize that I’m painting a rather dark picture, so let me adjust. Against this ominous backdrop, spirits were high among festival goers, as they always are. Friends reunited, celebrations ensued and schedules were immediately compared and just as quickly, crossed out and reworked. It is a jubilant atmosphere of people who really know their stuff. Even though this was my second year, I was intimidated from the beginning, and I’m not exactly stupid. The wealth and breadth of knowledge these people possess is truly shocking and a wonderful thing to behold. Standing in line under the hot sun, I came to understand that for the people standing all around me, classic film is their bread and water – their everything. Who am I? I should just give up now!

I saw 10 films this year and loved every single one of them. To highlight a few: A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928) with a live studio orchestra was unforgettable, HOLIDAY (1938) couldn’t have been more enchanting on the big screen to a sold-out audience, and THE OPPOSITE SEX (1956) by the pool at The Roosevelt was nothing short of a riot. Even a movie I thought I’d hate, I loved; WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951) made it to my docket only for the thrill of seeing Barbara Rush in-person to introduce it. I’ll be writing a separate post detailing another wonderful event I enjoyed: the screening of SLEEPING BEAUTY with a post-screening discussion with two of the original animators.

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Though one can always nitpick at the lineup of films presented at this fest, few walk away dissatisfied. There is always something to see and enjoy, proving that the films themselves are the heart of this entire operation. However, the real magic of film festivals is everything else inserted into the program that surrounds the screenings. The the opportunity to attend lectures, panel discussions and interviews of people in the trade is what makes film festivals so unique and special. These types of events helps with the “full immersion” that any film fan is seeking when they attend. For most other festivals of course, it’s not all fun and games. Filmmakers, distributors and financiers show up for the purpose of getting noticed, brokering a deal and/or finding talent. Though TCM is not exactly built or intended as a setting for such business dealings, the model should still be upheld.

In this regard, I think TCM could do much better. If I were crafting this program, I would structure the festival in two distinct parts:  1. Here’s the Art, 2. Here’s Why it Matters. A perfect example of this occurred on the final day, when they paired GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) with a fascinating discussion at Club TCM preceding the screening titled “The Complicated History of Gone with the Wind” hosted by Donald Bogle with (my favorite) critic Mollie Haskell as a panelist. This was an absolutely TERRIFIC (and sold-out) conversation about a film that continues to morph and shift in the public consciousness as time passes, and was a wonderful opportunity to discuss the film’s history and how it relates to modern audiences.

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Another example of a non-screening event that had all the right components was the FASHION IN FILM of TCMFF 2019 lecture by Kimberly Truhler at the Women’s Club of Hollywood. This is a huge hit among festival goers, and many arrive to Los Angeles early in order to attend. Yet surprisingly, this event is actually unaffiliated with the TCM Film Festival, officially. It has unofficially, however, become a signature event in the festival program and contains exactly the kind of substance and intelligent, educational material that fans are looking for. The presentation selects certain movies from the TCM lineup and highlights the element of costume design and a film’s individual contribution to style in the broader context of Hollywood and its history. Kimberly’s lecture is a devotee’s dream, soaking us in film history, juicy personal stories of stars we love, and primes our minds for what we will witness in the days ahead. As an added bonus, the event featured a display of original Joseff of Hollywood jewelry worn by the stars in very films were would be seeing later in the week: Katharine Hepburn in Holiday, Irene Dunne in Love Affair, Grace Kelly in High Society, and Ava Gardner in Mogambo.

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These two events emblematize exactly what I, and many others, are hungry for. We’ve all seen these films a million times and will see them a million more. What I want is a chance to see these films I love with fresh eyes – to experience them with new information given to me by experts who know it. THIS is how you celebrate cinema. By understanding HOW and WHY it continues to matter. I implore TCM to invest more in panels, lectures and interviews – it is a model that works.

This leads me to my next (and final, I promise) criticism. Each film had an in-person introduction, either a single presenter or as an interview with two on stage. Many were very good, most notably Cari Beauchamp and Eddie Muller, drowning us all with their fountains of knowledge. But others were, quite simply, ghastly. I won’t name names, but many of introductions were done by celebrities who just didn’t know what they were talking about and it showed. The pairings of person –> film just didn’t make any sense. They were fans who also just happened to be famous. I don’t mean to be discouraging – yes, you can be famous and you can be a classic movie fan, but for the love of god, please PREPARE before you fling yourself onstage to talk about a film that you’ve maybe seen twice. Many introductions descended into an awkward and irritating cacophony of voices giggling “hahaha, you’re amazing, this movie is amazing, the end”.

I understand the draw of getting a celebrity, rather than an unknown academic, to introduce a notable film. Having their name associated with a small, niche festival carries much more weight than flashier venues. This is fine – BUT there must be strict expectations attached to this agreement. A SCRIPT, for example, containing carefully curated questions and answers would have been nice. I know this is an “in a perfect world” request, but isn’t this what actors are used to?! Sigh…

With all of my snobbish critique aside, this is still an unforgettable four days that are cherished and dreamed about by fans all year long. Despite the surges of capitalist tides, our tiny bubble of precious joy lives on – our Oz endures.

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TCM Classic Film Festival Turns 10! April 11-14 in Hollywood

I am so happy to share that I will be returning to the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood armed with press credentials! This year will be a treat – TCM is celebrating 10 years of the festival and the 25th anniversary of the channel itself. I’ve been told that lots of surprises are in store for us!

Now that the full schedule has been released, all attendees are suffering from the same frustration of choosing which films to attend and which to sacrifice. Six venues hosting simultaneous screenings makes for very hard decisions, and ultimately, one can never be completely satisfied. I’ve poured over the film schedule all week, and after each review, my lineup looks entirely different. So many films, so little time.

Though this is entirely subject to drastic change, here is my current itinerary for the Festival:

Time Film Location
THURSDAY APRIL 11
1:00-2:00p Meet TCM – Party Club TCM
3:00-4:00p So You Think You Know Movies? Club TCM
5:00p-7:00p Welcome Party Club TCM
6:30-8:30p DARK PASSAGE (1947) CMP 1
FRIDAY APRIL 10
9:00-10:30a MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (1932) CMP 1
12:00-1:30p SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) EGYPTIAN
3:00-5:00p SUNRISE (1928) CMP 1
5:00-6:00p A Conversation with Juliet Taylor Club TCM
7:30-8:45p OPEN SECRET (1947) CMP 6
9:30-11:15P ROAD HOUSE (1948) EGYPTIAN
SATURDAY APRIL 11
9:15-10:45a WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951) CMP 1
11:54-1:45p KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949) CMP 1
5:00-6:00p Hollywood Home Movies Club TCM
6:30-8:30p The Robert Osbourne Award/ IT HAPPENED HERE (1961) Egyptian
8:00–10:30p THE BAD SEED (1956) Club TCM
9:15-11:00p INDISCREET (1958) The Legion
SUNDAY APRIL 12
9:15-11:00p HOLIDAY (1938) CMP 1
2:30-3:30p The Complicated History of Gone with the Wind Club TCM
5:15-7:00p A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928) Egyptian
9:00p-12:00p Closing Night Party Club TCM

Saying I feel more “prepared” than I did before last year’s festival may be slightly overstating things a bit, however, I am no longer the “blank slate” I was this time last year. Upon reflection, there are definitely things I plan on doing differently as a member of the press. I need to take more advantage of the opportunities that a festival has to offer rather than just go where the crowd takes me. I want to target events with special guests speaking about their work and join the poolside discussions by experts. Most of all, I intend to take opportunities to learn about a new topic or genre that I would have not otherwise been exposed to. For example, on Saturday I plan to attend a screening of SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) because they are featuring one of the original illustrators at Disney who worked on the project (and a woman!). Though I’m not a huge fan of animation, I think it will be the perfect chance to learn something new and from the source itself.

I’m also really excited about the Robert Osbourne Award be given to Kevin Brownlow for his work on film preservation, particularly silent film. I’m not privy to the bulk of his other work (which includes doc films editing, etc.), but I’m excited to learn more about the process of film preservation; a topic that interests me greatly. He received an honorary Oscar from the Academy in 2010 for film preservation – the first (and only, so far) ever given for such work.

Another interesting event will be on Sunday afternoon when the festival is nearing its end. As a pre-reception to the screening of GONE WITH THE WIND later that day, critic and film historian Molly Haskell will lead a discussion with other historians on the complicated history of Gone with the Wind and its problematic messages imbued in the story. I’m vaguely aware of much of these issues, so I’ll be thrilled to hear an in-depth conversation about the film’s past and production. Molly Haskell is one of my favorite critics – she’s an outspoken feminist writer and always manages to critique films from the female lense. It will be a treat to see and listen to her in person.

Overall, I appreciate how diverse this year’s lineup is even though Pre-Codes seem to have been ignored this year 😉 But not to worry – there is plenty to keep me occupied. Check back here for more updates and coverage of the TCM Classic Film Festival 2019!

 

 

A Transformative Decade – Noir City 17 leads a cinematic tour through the 1950’s

Rarely does one have the opportunity to see an entire decade flash before you in the span of ten days. But San Francisco’s Noir City 17 did precisely that. Following the model of last year’s festival which focused on the 1940’s, the Film Noir Foundation screened a film from each year of the 1950’s, ending in 1961. It wasn’t until this festival did I grasp how effective it is to show these films both chronologically and back-to-back; I saw the full arc of the decade through the medium of cinema. There was a distinct contrast in the films at either end of the decade – the whole ethos, aesthetic and creativity of these films had completely shifted and proved to me that the 1950s was truly a transformative decade. At this time, the studio system was just beginning to crumble, and in its place, independent and experimental filmmakers thrived and manifested their creativity free from the grasp of oppressive studios. What resulted were riskier, edgier films that confronted social issues head-on in a style that was less refined and more direct – even fearless.

Also fearless was the written welcome to the festival by our beloved host, Eddie Muller, in the introductory pages of the program. In his normal Sam Spade-style voice of a cynic, Eddie is weary from another year on the front lines fighting to preserve a world that is quickly dying. I can tell he is still getting used to his new TV stardom – it’s the mental shift that happens when someone who fights so long for attention finally has it.

Naming names, Eddie points to John Stankey (how apt…), and the larger corporate behemoth behind him, as the reason for the demise of FilmStruck; an online streaming service that was cancelled late last year when AT&T merged with Time Warner Inc. Now that he’s seated at the table, Mr. Muller has been reassured that the people who don’t care about the movies are in control of their fate. This is of course his written call-to-action to his public to support the Foundation with dollars, but it also reveals that Eddie is in a position now to peer inside the machine, and clearly does not like what he sees.

Now! Back to the movies….

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TRAPPED (1949) was the chosen restoration for this year’s festival, premiering on the first night. Directed by Richard Fleischer, it is a strange combination of documentary and drama – quite literally. The film begins quizzically – a male voice narrates an extensive introduction of news footage describing how the Feds are cracking down on the crisis of counterfeit cash flowing through the Treasury. This goes on for quite a while, and I began to wonder if this is in fact a full-blown documentary. But then we are introduced to Lloyd Bridges, our anti-hero, as he’s serving time in jail. He’s a hard-headed, wise-cracking thug with a look in his eye of having a perilous trick up his sleeve. Sure enough, when the cops approach him to help bust a new counterfeit ring, he agrees, then jumps the accompanying officer the night he’s let out. He quickly meets up with his moll, played well by Barbara Payton, and uses her to get back in to this new criminal ring, hoping for another big payout. But the Feds are on to both of them, and are never far behind.

It is undeniably a “B” favorite, since it contains most of the tropes that have since defined the Noir genre, so you have to take the cringeworthy with the good. The print looked beautiful, and even when a film doesn’t grab me as others do, I am always captivated by the clarity and vibrancy of images that were captured 70 years earlier – highlighting the significance of film restoration.

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Noir fans will be frustrated to hear that this was my first time seeing PICK-UP ON SOUTH STREET (1953), a staple of the genre that is easily in the top charts of best Noir films ever made. It’s directed by Samuel Fuller and, in my opinion, a near-perfect movie. It has terrific dialogue and characters that have an ideal balance of sweetness and sourness. Thelma Ritter is always worth watching, but this was next level – even for her. This performance would give her her fourth out of six Oscar nominations throughout her career, with, tragically, not a single win.

Jean Peters smolders as Candy, an unlucky (and clumsy) apprentice to a criminal blackmailer, and had some of the best lines in the script. She played her SO well – using her whole body to portray this character. She is totally restless – I don’t think she stops moving for a single moment; fussing, twitching and rushing from one assignment to the next all while chewing a fat wad of gum. But man, was she sexy! Her 22″ midriff and dark, pouty lips were hard to look away from. Shortly after this film was released, Jean Peters, frustrated by only being cast in these bombshell roles, actively pushed back on the studios, which never fully capitulated to her demands, and her career suffered irreparably.

At some point I’d like to post separately about Samuel Fuller – he has created so many icons, I would really like to know more about him as a filmmaker.

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The biggest surprise of the festival was a small little film that packed the biggest punch. THE WELL (1953) was unknown to me and most others, but by mid-way through the film, you could hear a pin drop in the theatre – everyone was completely captivated. It is based on a true story of a little girl who falls into a well and goes missing for several days, becoming a sensational story in the national news. The screenwriters, Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse, decided to turn the young character into an African-American, and the resulting story describes how a small town erupts into violent race riots when a white man is accused of killing her.

Made on a small budget in Yuba City, CA, the production used non-professional actors for many of the roles, which gave it a very real, “in your backyard” feeling, which added even more power to the already charged narrative. It could be a town anywhere in America – your neighbors, your children and your problem. The film holds up extremely well, unfortunately, due to its highly relevant racial disparities that manifest in violence and baseless hatred.

I really don’t want to give too much away, but, the lengthy rescue scene was tense and suspenseful and handled with care and precision. Though directed by Leo C. Popkin, I have the sense it was a collaborative effort between writers and director. It was quite decidedly my favorite of the festival and many others I talked to days after the screening found it hard to forget. Surprisingly, I discovered that it was in fact nominated for two Academy Awards – for Best Screenplay and for Editing. The circumstances of the person currently holding the license to this film prevents it from being re-released to the public, but at least it will be forever recorded in the Academy archives and not be completely forgotten…

To conclude, I was delighted to hear that this festival broke box office records, both in ticket sales and in the number of Passport holders (which grants, up front, access to all 24 films). I’m not sure why – perhaps the 1950s is a more approachable decade? Whereas the 1940s seems like ancient history? Or perhaps this installment contained more recognizable titles like BREATHLESS (1960) and PSYCHO (1960) which they showed back-to-back, selling-out the entire 1,400 seat theatre, understandably. Or maybe it’s just what G. Allen Johnson from the SF Chronicle says in his review, that the 1950’s were an “ambitious decade” – a time when filmmakers could spread their wings and make real art that still resonates with people today.

Who knows. But what is true is that though Muller anguishes about the future of these captured moments of history, he’s crafted a cinematic experience that leaves you wanting more – something that corporate behemoths like AT&T and Turner cannot resist.

NOIR CITY 2019 Lineup Announced!

On this New Year’s Day, I’m excited to report on the newly released lineup of the Noir City 17 Film Festival, screening January 25 – February 3, which makes it the longest running Noir-specific film festival in the world. As a teaser for this momentous event, the Film Noir Foundation sponsors an additional screening event at the holidays called Noir City Xmas, in which the host, Eddie Muller, formally unveils the full lineup and poster for for the following month’s extravaganza.

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They teased us with THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) – the first and only film directed by renowned British actor Charles Laughton. This film is a true masterpiece – one that fuses noir with a Hans Christian Andersen-esque fairytale story arc. It was not a great success in 1955 and, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know that it was completely ahead of its time and therefore misunderstood in its day. What Laughton had created was a beautiful interpretation of German Expressionism, where the audience spirals into the nightmare unfolding within a magical world of exaggerated reality. Definitely an “essential” film to see.

*As a sidebar – the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley is currently holding a retrospective on Fritz Lang’s German Expressionist films. It runs through February 23, 2019. Check out that lineup here!

Back to Noir City…

This year’s program is going to be a continuation of last year’s format of showing two films each night that work their way chronologically through the 1950’s, into the 1960’s. Like last year, they are programming the “A” pictures to premier first, and the “B” films showing second, with the idea that the A films are the “classier” of the two, with the B’s being “trashier”. However, I really don’t see that dynamic as clearly as I did with the films chosen in the 1940’s. The early 50’s films on the “B” slate are still big studio pieces — DETECTIVE STORY (1951) was directed by William Wyler and ANGEL FACE (1953) by Otto Preminger, joined by ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW from 1959 directed by Robert Wise –all of which can hardly be considered “trashy” films!

While of course there are many in line that I’ve seen before, there are a few I’m excited to see for the first time: THE WELL (1951) deals with the racial dynamics of contemporary black and white America, PRIVATE HELL (1954) was a screenplay co-written and produced by Ida Lupino (within her own production company), KILLER’S KISS (1955) was the first widely-distributed film by a young Stanley Kubrick, and THE SCARLET HOUR (1956) was a later film directed by Michael Curtiz (of Casablanca fame). Also excited to see Kim Novak in PUSHOVER (1956), Marie Windsor in THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953) and Alexis Smith in THE TURNING POINT (1952) – I could gaze at her face all day!

I am also looking forward to seeing BREATHLESS (1960) again on the big screen. The first time I saw this Godard film, I really didn’t take to it. I can certainly appreciate its contribution to the history of film, as it solidified the French New Wave into global consciousness, but I really didn’t like it too much when I first saw it. I’m hoping this second screening will change my mind! Not to sound too arrogant, but I am much more a fan of Truffaut’s work – a contemporary of Godard and also apart of the New Wave during the 60s. THE 400 BLOWS (1959) and THE BRIDE WORE BLACK (1968) are two favorites of mine. It also helps that Truffaut was also an enormous Hitchcock fan, and I’ve poured over the transcripts of his interviews with the director from the 1970s.

Ironically, I’ve discovered that the original treatment of BREATHLESS was written by Truffaut from a newspaper article he read in 1952. So, clearly I’m missing something!

Below please find the full lineup of the festival and join me as I make my way through 24 films in 10 days!

Friday, Jan 25

TRAPPED  (1949)
THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON  (1950)

Saturday, Jan 26, Matinée

THE WELL  (1951)
DETECTIVE STORY  (1951)

Saturday, Jan 26, Evening

THE TURNING POINT  (1952)
ANGEL FACE  (1953)

Sunday, Jan 27

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET
CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS

Monday, Jan 28

PUSHOVER
PRIVATE HELL 36

Tuesday, Jan 29

KISS ME DEADLY
KILLER’S KISS

Wednesday, Jan 30

THE SCARLET HOUR
A KISS BEFORE DYING

Thursday, January 31

NIGHTFALL
THE BURGLAR

Friday, Feb 1

TOUCH OF EVIL
MURDER BY CONTRACT

Saturday, Feb 2, Matinée

THE CRIMSON KIMONO
ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW

Saturday, Feb 2, Evening

BREATHLESS/À BOUT DE SOUFFLE
PSYCHO

Sunday, Feb 3

UNDERWORLD USA
BLAST OF SILENCE

Louis Armstrong museum to open in Queens

With the start of a new year approaching, I am naturally finding ways to reinvent important parts of my life. Particularly this blog, which I am constantly thinking about and trying to find time in my life to focus on. One way I might do this is simply use this platform as a dumping ground for things I find in the world that are interesting. I won’t pressure myself to write an essay about it – if I do, as has happened in the past, the item goes unacknowledged and is quickly forgotten. If I use this as a way to capture things, this could turn out to be quite interactive. I read the news, listen to the radio – and I frequently find things that make me stop and listen. I’d like to bottle up those moments by listing them here.

First up, I am catching up on some New Yorker articles and the Dec. 3 issue featured a great Talk of the Town piece explaining a new Louis Armstrong museum that is set to open at his long-time home in Queens. SO COOL! I’m an enormous fan of his (as we all are, I know), and I am just thrilled to hear that his life and legacy will be captured within the next year. Read more below!

The Louis Armstrong House, the City’s Most Intimate Museum

The Style Essentials – 1970’s Fashion & Film

Last weekend I attended the second-to-last chapter of the lecture series, THE STYLE ESSENTIALS: HISTORY OF FASHION AND FILM given by historian Kimberly Truhler at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. This installment covered the 1970s and was followed by a screening of ANNIE HALL (1977). The series began in January with the 1920s and proceeds through the century by diving deep into the creation of costumes for key films released during the decade. The 90-min lecture explains the interaction of fashion onscreen with style trends off screen and how each was influenced by global events in society at large. The films are chosen to highlight their lasting impact on the world of design or the cause of a shift in style, resulting in the creation of an iconic look or star.

For the 1970’s, Truhler discussed SHAMPOO (1975), NETWORK (1976), ANNIE HALL (1977), LOVE STORY (1970), and The GREAT GATSBY (1974) to highlight each film’s unique impact on the world of fashion in 1970s America, and beyond. I was amazed to see that staple closet items like pea coats, brown suits and tie-neck blouses were pieces that had not really existed until these films made them acceptable as part of every day style and filled the closets of the new population of working women.

What I found most interesting was Truhler’s description of the life and career of the costume designers and their experiences working at a particular studio. She told behind-the-scenes stories of the making of certain films – both the struggles and successes of collaboration with other designers or apprentices. For example, Ralph Lauren was an up-and-coming designer at the time he started working on THE GREAT GATSBY with the film’s head costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge. The film won the Oscar that year for best costume design and the suits worn by Robert Redford and were particularly praised. Both Aldredge and Lauren have claimed credit for the creation of these suits, Aldredge claiming that she was the designer, Lauren the executor. Lauren himself has always claimed ownership of those designs, and once he became a great designer in his own right, his signature men’s suits mirror those that Redford wears throughout GATSBY.  I came away learning that the journey to creating particular pieces for the screen is often complex and the credit given for creating these looks is often not accurate or clear. The murkiness of history prevails!

I hadn’t seen ANNIE HALL since I was a kid, so it really was a completely new experience seeing it as an adult, and on the big screen! The entire film went completely over my head as a 13-year-old; I missed some of the BEST one-liners, and the dead-pan sex jokes were just perfect and completely hysterical. I have a mixed attitude towards Woody Allen’s humor, but perhaps I was simply exposed at too early an age. Despite Allen’s problematic past, I’m definitely planning to revisit some of his films.

I was sad to have missed the lecture on the 1940’s in which Truhler details the impact that World War II had on the fashion of the day. Wartime rationing made the availability of textiles and other materials almost impossible, which forced designers to work with less and create styles that were more practical and approachable to everyday women. In addition, travel was restricted between Europe and America, which prevented talented designers and couturiers from working in America and in film studios.

It is clear to me that the concept of fashion and film is bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. What came first? Does onscreen costuming simply follow the current of what women are buying at department stores? Or does a film ignite an entirely new trend that endures for decades? Both are largely true, and the dynamic shifts from era to era. What is not debatable is that the design and creation costumes for movies and the larger fashion industry are two worlds intrinsically linked; one cannot exist without impacting the other, resulting in the creation of a unique and complex history that still reverberates today.

SFJFF 38: BUDAPEST NOIR at the Castro

For the past week, San Francisco has been enjoying the SF Jewish Film Festival – the largest Jewish Film Festival in the world, featuring 17 days of screenings, four cities and over 150 films. And what a following they have! Standing in line, I could see that the audience was at least 80% Jewish. I’ve never seen anything like it – I’ve attended plenty of ethnic-centered film festivals, but I have never seen their target demographic turn out in these numbers. Amazing!

Of course, I found myself back at the Castro Theatre – a place that is increasingly becoming a home away from home. Its an obvious choice for any film festival, as there is nowhere that could celebrate the medium more. Festival organizations share box office staff, so I get to see the same friendly faces every time I visit. Last night was the closing film of the festival in San Francisco, but it continues for another week in Oakland and San Rafael.

The first film I saw was obviously something I couldn’t miss. BUDAPEST NOIR screened to a packed house and featured an on-stage interview of the director Eva Gardos by Eddie Muller – San Francisco’s very own ‘Czar of Noir’. As the title suggests, the film was a complete and unmistakable homage to the genre of American Noir in its purest form. Set in Hungary in the late 1930s, it tells the story of a frustrated and disheveled crime reporter whose investigation into murder of a young girl in Budapest reveals an intricate web of political corruption and sexual exploitation during the rise of the Third Reich.

It was certainly thrilling, and a cinematic experience that would satisfy any Noir traditionalist. The cinematography was what really must be applauded, having leaned in hard all of the atmospheric symbols that define the genre of Noir: shadowy corners, wet, glossy streets, golden light streaming from lampposts. The color, particularly, was fantastic – somehow everything on screen seemed to appear behind a silvery-blue filter, giving it a quality of dream-like tension. The script, too, was heavily influenced by the noir greats – in fact, this one could have been a Raymond Chandler draft that was found hidden under floorboards. Instead it was based on a novel written by Vilmos Kondor of the same name, a writer who’s works are exclusively crime dramas of the mid-century.

The leading man was interesting, but not captivating, so I thought there was too much of him. I wanted more from the characters that they introduced in rapid succession, but then just as quickly dropped. There were at least three other characters that I wanted to see of more than simple plot drivers. The final scene reminded me of that – the parents of the murdered girl finally discover what happened, and their resulting performance of grief, horror and retaliation was amazing. I wish I had experienced their anguish and tumult as more of a thread throughout the film.

On stage, the director was charming and generous with details. She described working with many of the actors & crew previously on her last film, American Rhapsody, and how she worked with the screenwriter and writer on crafting her story. Luckily, Kondor was largely supportive, but not entirely. Some plot points that were changed, he said, were so simplistic. I would have to agree – even though I haven’t read the book! It just seems accurate.

Overall, a very stirring and visually impressive film that will entertain and excite the Noir fan lurking in us all.