Friday, March 27.
Friday opened bright and early with The Dawn of Technicolor presentation in the Egyptian theatre. Historians and co-authors David Pierce and James Layton gave a stunning glimpse of the early two-strip technicolor process and the films made during that time (1915-1934). Restored snippets of films (mostly lost in their entirety) played after introductions with behind-the-scenes images and facts by Mr. Pierce or Mr. Layton.
It astounded me to realize how much light was required to capture clear images on film. We saw photographs of the sets which were nothing but stages in a cage of massive flood lights. The temperatures were reported to be higher than 100 degrees under the lights, and yet somehow the performers don’t have an ounce of glistening sweat on them. I’m slightly terrified to find out how that was possible. Also of note – a remarkable number of films were made in color with the two-strip process. I had imagined it to be reserved for a selection of high-budget productions and thought this was the reason why so few of the films were still around today. Not so, as it turns out. As the box office success of color films escalated, studios rushed to produce more color films. However, the Technicolor lab fell behind keeping up with the demand of prints of the new films. Audiences were so enamored with the original color films released, they kept going back to see them over and over again.
As soon as the massive applause for our hosts died down, I booked it over to my top pick of the day in the Multiplex: Reign of Terror (1949). My only viewing of it had been years ago, taped from TCM when I was a fledgling 14-year-old film fan and could not appreciate the greatness of a French Revolution themed-Noir directed by Anthony Mann. It takes a higher level of film knowledge to properly view bewigged Richard Basehart’s gleefully evil Robespierre and the delicate beauty of Arlene Dahl in rich black and white. And to add to the thrill, we were treated to a discussion after the film with Eddie Mueller and Norman Lloyd himself.
The best description I can give for Norman Lloyd is delightful. What a lovely man. He enchanted the entire audience from the first word he spoke and when it was time to end, everyone in the audience protested at the injustice of leaving. His main insight about Reign of Terror was the fact that the entire film was made (on a shoestring budget) simply because the sets were built for Joan of Arc. Not to imply the film suffered at all for this fact. The cinematography by John Alton takes your breath away, especially in the newly restored 35mm print we saw.
After tearing myself away from the sparkling wit of Norman Lloyd, I fast-walked my way down Hollywood Blvd for Pinocchio at the El Capitan. I had just enough time to jump in line to secure my number and grab a quick lunch at Baja Fresh down the street. I shamelessly stood in the Pinocchio line near the ElCap and stuffed my face on a taco while wearing one of the fanciest dresses I own. The marvelously kind (and gorgeous!) Tiffany later admitted to catching me at this and seeing my intent expression, decided not to interrupt. Food is gold at TCMFF, folks.
Pinocchio was a first time viewing for me, believe it or not. First time, in the ElCap with a newly restored DCP print and seeing it with Laura and Kristina – nothing better! Laura has a wonderful photo in her recap post taken by the official TCM press photographer and you can clearly see all three of us (me in my orange pillbox hat…) on the right side. I ended up mighty thankful those two ladies were with me because I am here to tell you – Pinocchio is SCARY. Your nose growing every time you fib? Your father gets swallowed by a whale? Boys turning into donkeys and being sold by bad men? Whoever perpetuated the idea Disney films were sugar coated did us massive disservice.
In an effort to recover from the fright of Pinocchio, Laura, Kristina and I took a short break to eat before the next film. We chatted and people-watched from the second level of the Baja Fresh.
We all shared the next pick in the lineup: Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) and headed over to the Egyptian early in the hopes of securing a place at the front of the line. As you can see, it was a popular screening – the gang was all there!
Waiting in line, I identified myself as NoirGirl to the lady chatting with Kristina and a voice behind me piped up with “Excuse me, did you say you are NoirGirl?” It turned out to be none other than Alexis, whom I have known online for years and had somehow managed to miss meeting. There is nothing quite like the beautiful feeling of finding old friends all around you in the land of movies.
The print of Steamboat Bill presented was a stunning world premiere restoration accompanied by a brand new score composed and conducted by none other than Maestro Carl Davis himself. A live orchestra played the score right there in the theatre with us! For my first time seeing a silent on the big screen, it could not have been more thrilling. I feel bound to admit, I’ve never appreciated the comedy of slapstick. My tastes run more towards subtle wordplay. However, Buster Keaton surprised me with his impressive physicality and the intricacy of the stunts he insisted on performing himself. Steamboat Bill is a lovely mix of gentle comedy and heavy slapstick. You will no doubt be most surprised to learn my favorite scene occurred in a hat shop. Buster’s father insists he must change his personal style to be more “manly” and in the course of trying on different hats, we are treated to a host of hilarious reactions from father and son alike. All in all, a perfect first big screen silent. And to heighten the experience, I got to see it with a fabulous group of good-looking folks!
The next block of films gave many of us a difficult Sophie’s Choice. Apollo 13 (1995) vs. Rebecca (1940) vs. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) vs. The War Game (1965) vs. The Bank Dick (1940) vs. Roman Holiday (1953). Since all of my selections so far had been first time viewings, I opted for an indulgent rewatch of a film close to my heart: Roman Holiday. Laura and Kristina had introduced me to the fascinating Stephen earlier and when we ran into each other in the line, we arranged to sit together for the screening. It gave me great joy to share the experience with him and I’m so happy we ended up there in Audrey heaven at the same moment.
My last pick of the evening was ironically one of the first definite decisions I made when the schedule became available in the weeks before the festival. This year, I determined I must take in a midnight screening. Of the two offered, Boom! (1968) promised to be the kookiest experience. Kendhal luckily planned to attend also, so we met up in the line – compatriots in craziness with Daniel of Next on TCM. Daniel charmed us with a story of his first experience seeing Boom! and Kendhal and I so enjoyed his company during the film.
Oh my goodness, Boom! did not disappoint. As you have no doubt heard already, the film is famously ridiculous. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are reported to have been intoxicated throughout much of the filming and you have no reason to doubt it. The film is the two of them shouting nonsensical things at each other while Noel Coward spouts “wisdom” and Elizabeth Taylor parades about in ornate headdresses (which I feel duty-bound to add, are stunning). Describing the film with any degree of competency is quite beyond me, but do check out Hollywood Babylon for a superb review. (Plus, I may have dozed off towards the end and my recollection is fuzzy…)
All in all, a day full of remarkable experiences and I would not change a single decision!