My friend Sam Mahin is a ‘10-Timer.’ He has attended every single Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival… and does it as a Spotlight Pass holder. ( Whoa!! ) We met on the line in front of the Montalban, waiting to see the legendary Kim Novak interviewed by Robert Osborne. As I got to the theatre two hours early on a drizzly Hollywood day, Sam was already standing there. We struck up a conversation. We’ve been talking and laughing ever since. Here’s his take on TCMFF’19:
FROM “BAD” TO “ETERNITY”…WITH A STOPOVER IN NASHVILLE
I’ve been home over two weeks now from TCM Fest 10 and as in years past, I’m suffering from a bout of “postfestum depression.” Don’t worry, I won’t hurt the baby. I’ve already thrown it out with the bathwater! But seriously, it’s a very real condition. After all the build-up and prep, securing your lodging, fest pass, packing, travel, etc., the moment finally arrives, burning like a white-hot rocket over what’s little more than one long weekend. Then, flameout. It can be a rough landing. I’m hoping that “writing it down kinda makes me feel better”, to borrow a line from Ronee Blakely’s heartfelt number, “Dues”, from Robert Altman’s “Nashville.” More on that a little later.
In my roster of past festival memories, I think I’ll recall this year as rather special. Admittedly, I do come away feeling like that after almost EVERY one! But, with this being the anniversary of the 25th year of the channel that started all this, as well as the 10th annual festival in Hollywood, my feeling could be validated. Being lucky enough to have attended all ten of them, I appreciated TCM’s effort to make this the biggest and best. Highlights were many, so narrowing them down to just a few won’t be easy…
I started things off by attending the screening of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” at the Egyptian Theater. I opted out of “When Harry Met Sally” to see Marilyn and Jane, in Technicolor glory, on the BIG SCREEN. That film, to me, embodies more of what comes to mind when I think of classic Hollywood. I confess, I was not about to miss the chance to see Jane Russell sing “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?” to the Men’s Olympic Team. A lifelong favorite, and the perfect way to kick off the fest for me!
Combine the splendor of Grauman’s Chinese Theater (I just can’t call it by those three letters), the attendance of Donna Reed’s daughter, Mary Owen, and the timeless power of the film itself, and you had more than enough to lure me into a seat at the Saturday morning screening of “From Here to Eternity.” Before the film, Ms. Owen told of finding a box of letters after her mother’s death, tucked away in a closet. They were from wartime, written by servicemen to Donna Reed, and she had saved them. She had also come into possession of a very heartfelt letter that Donna herself had written to a soldier, which she read aloud. It was very moving, and set the mood perfectly for the story of love and loss at Pearl Harbor in the days leading up to WWII. I am always emotional at the final scene between Deborah Kerr and Donna, when the leis are tossed into the water, and that viewing was no exception. This is another movie that I’m very familiar with, but had never had the opportunity to see on the BIG SCREEN (here we go again!) and I am so glad I did.
♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
When “The Bad Seed”, with Patty McCormack in attendance, was announced for this year, I was overjoyed! I’d repeatedly requested the film when filling out the yearly TCM after-fest survey and at last, it was finally going to screen there. No question of passing on that one. Being a child of the Fifties (dating myself), I remember when little girls dressed like Rhoda Penmark. When I first saw the movie as a youngster, I remember being more frightened at the thought of murderous thoughts and deeds existing in one of these perfect looking little girls than I ever was of radioactive spiders and ants, etc. As I grew older, I came to enjoy the film for different reasons, of course. Top-notch acting from all involved, especially Patty McCormack as Rhoda, Nancy Kelly as her mother, Christine,
Eileen Heckart as the grieving Mrs. Daigle, and Evelyn Varden as landlady Monica Breedlove. Standouts, all!!! Before the poolside screening, Eddie Muller introduced Patty to the audience and a very entertaining interview followed. After a slight glitch, the movie rolled and, as always, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Do I wish it had been given a “proper” screening, inside a theater free of airplanes, car alarms, and chilly night air? Yes, but none of those things could diminish my excitement at finally seeing a long-time favorite on the “sort of” BIG SCREEN (noticing a trend?). I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
Above, I made mention of “Nashville.” I first saw the film when new, in 1975 (dating myself, again), and was completely blown away by it. From the clever intro, designed to look like a K-Tel record offer from television (alright, I’m old!) to the stunning conclusion, I think it’s a film that remains very relevant today. I also love the fact that the cast wrote and performed their own songs for the soundtrack, which has never been long off my turntable. Although Keith Carradine won a Golden Globe and Oscar for his song “I’m Easy”, it’s the work by Ronee Blakely, as the troubled country star, Barbara Jean, that has always resonated most with me. “Tape Deck in His Tractor“, “My Idaho Home“, and the aforementioned “Dues”, are outstanding. It was a thrill to see her, Keith, Jeff Goldblum, and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury, recount their time spent in Nashville, filming this wonderful work.
At one point, co-star Lily Tomlin was to appear, but cancelled. She would have been a great addition to an already stellar lineup. My only disappointment resulted from my inability to stay and see the film to its conclusion. Had I done so, I would have missed Patty and “The Bad Seed”! Leaving a film before the finish is not something I find easy to do. A casualty of scheduling, to be sure. To assuage my situation, I watched the Criterion Collection “Nashville”, laden with “extras”, prior to festival time, so it would be fresh in my mind. Although not BIG SCREEN, it did help.
I came home from the TCM Fest 10 with memories of special films, and special friends, too. Always a highlight is seeing people I’ve met at previous fests, several from the very first year or so! When we meet, it’s almost like no time has passed. Thinking of those folks now and writing of my most memorable festival experiences, HAS kinda made me feel better. Thanks, Ronee!