It was overcast in Hollywood the morning I returned to New Jersey, and I imagined that the city was sorry to see me go. One week earlier, she welcomed me with her glorious sunshine. And now I’m home with “Confidential Report,” aka “Mr. Arkadin,” on the TV. I turned it on midway through and can’t tell if it’s a great bad movie or a bad good one. There is something fantastic – but not quite right – about it: the editing, the dubbing, the inconsistent quality of the acting. Oh. It’s Orson Welles. Genius is restless and errs on the side of excess.
There’s a ship in the film, a porthole, and I am once again in the fourth row of the Egyptian Theatre looking up at candy-colored Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell on a cruise ship bound for Cherbourg, where Catherine Deneuve will be selling umbrellas – also in candy colors, with an option for basic black. Marilyn, in her characteristic brilliance, wedges herself in the porthole where, two days later, Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer will meet cute.
This was my ninth trip to the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival and, as in the past eight years, it was an overwhelming, exhilarating, exhausting and inspirational experience. With a few exceptions, over the years I’ve stuck pretty close to the area of Hollywood, where the festival takes place. It’s probably not the best of what Los Angeles has to offer but, while stepping over homeless people and trying not to run into Friday and Saturday night drunks, bits of what I imagine to be old Hollywood glamour seep through the walls of the historical buildings that haven’t been demolished.
Urged willingly to venture further afield, I walked up the hill of Highland Boulevard the day before the start of the festival to take a look at the new festival venue, the Legion Theater at Post 43. A beautiful space, I’m sure it contains its own share of Hollywood royalty ghosts, if not in the bunker-like bar, then definitely in the immaculately unchanged men’s room. On the way, I passed a multi-story apartment building, Spanish, perhaps 1930’s, on the other side of the street and guessed that it had once been the home of Walter Neff or Joe Gillis. It was a bit shabby, and I wondered if it was still in use. There were, happily, lights on in the building when I took the trip later, after dark, and I decided that, were I ever to move to Los Angeles, that would be where I would live.
I visited Hollywood briefly in the 1970’s. I remember standing in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with other tourists milling about, in a state of extreme disappointment, the one glimmer of glamour being the Frederick’s of Hollywood store across the street. My memory is bleak and grey, but this could be the haze from all the cigarette smoke wafting through the movies I watched during those four days at the festival.
The things you don’t learn from watching classic movies on television: Dorothy Shaw smokes Chesterfield, like my grandfather did, and Corporal Joe Allen smokes Lucky Strike. Indian elephants are disguised as African elephants by wearing ear extensions, as explained to us by Craig Barron. And, as Cari Beauchamp pointed out in her introduction to “Indiscreet,” the fireplace in Anna Kalman’s London apartment is surrounded by Picassos.
Philip Adams has lost his left shoe in Anna’s bedroom, while in Paris, Frank Flannagan has hidden the left shoe of Ariane Chavasse, the Thin Girl, in the pocket of his robe. Is 1957 Gary Cooper too old to be the love interest for 1957 Audrey Hepburn? Judging from her movies, her preference in men runs toward the mature. Besides, does it matter? We have that deliriously romantic ending on the train, mimicked the night before in “Desert Hearts,” the screening dedicated to the late Agnes Varda by director Donna Deitch.
Other films I watched: “Double Wedding,” with William Powell at his most charming and an ingenuously chaotic ending that rivals the ship cabin scene in “A Night At the Opera” in claustrophobic absurdity. Writer Susan King described “Night World” as reeking pre-Code. I’d have to say that the same goes for “Blood Money,” which stars
a surprisingly naughty Frances Dee. Bill Hader is one of us, as evidenced by his enthusiastic introduction to “Mad Love.” “Marty,” was a last minute switch that I’m grateful I made – I’ve seen it many times but it never stales. “A Woman of Affairs,” with the silent, suffering Garbo and Gilbert and their endless dance of devotion and despair. “Sunrise,” described poetically and accurately by Kerry Brower as “less a story than a song.”
♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠
“Two Little Girls from Little Rock,” “Bye-Bye Baby,” “When Love Goes Wrong,” (do I admit now that I have the record album?) Marilyn Monroe was my gateway drug to classic movies. As a teenager, I turned on “The Misfits” late one Saturday night and was smitten with that pale, ethereal spirit. This just happened to be the time of Norman Mailer’s “Marilyn,” so she was much in the news and I had plenty of material to obsess over. Many classic movie stars have entered my life since then, but I remain true to that tragic, talented blonde – we do prefer them, after all. There I was, in that fourth row, looking up at the perfection that is “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” I’m sure I had a goofy grin on my face then, and throughout the entire film. I’ve seen a lot of films at TCMFF over the years, but I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced the open, delirious joy I felt while watching this delightful, ridiculously entertaining movie.
I’m sure I had a ridiculous smile on my face throughout the entire movie. I’ve seen a lot of films at TCMFF over the years but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the open joy I felt watching this ridiculously entertaining, brilliant movie.
The time shift caused by sitting in dark theatres all day isn’t without its hazards. There’s the nutrition issue, the sleep issue, and arrival is followed much too quickly by departure. There is never enough time to spend with the friends I’ve made over the years, and the friends I’ve just met. The festival is as much a homecoming as is a trip to my original home of Ohio. This year there was a birthday, a toddler, and, sadly, a raised a glass to a friend now absent. But this year I returned home to the charming 25th Anniversary Fan Dedications. The Essentials is back, with hosts Ben and director Ava DuVernay, and I’ve watched “Marty” yet again with my #TCMParty friends. We have celebrated Robert Osborne’s birthday with an ice cream toast, and Ben, Dave, Alicia and Eddie continue to strive for that bar held so high aloft by Robert over the years. And I take comfort in the fact that, just about a year from now, I’ll be headed to Hollywood – no longer grey and gloomy – to experience Turner Classic Movies come to life in a Cinemascope, Technicolor, 3D sort of way.