Highlights of the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

Author: Bill Dudley

Movies and music are the perfect escape from today’s high stress world. Familiar faces and voices take us to another place where we can find solace and comfort. I particularly like the TCM Classic Film Festival, as they take care to present a diverse and intriguing adventure into film history. This year’s festival ended last Sunday, and I’m just now beginning to process all that happened.

Photo by Michael Hixon

1.  Francis Ford Coppola, who has really made an imprint on Hollywood with The Godfather (all 3), The Cotton Club, Apocalypse Now and many more made even more prints as he put his hands and feet in cement in the legendary courtyard of the Chinese Theater. This tradition dates back to the 1920’s. Coppola commented, he would never have made Godfather 2 ( the one critics call the best of the 3), if the studio had not allowed him to make what may be his favorite film first, The Conversation starring Gene Hackman.

Photo by Michael Hixon

2. Faye Dunaway made two appearances. The first a two-hour interview with TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz (to be shown on TCM later this year) which encompassed discussion of her entire career. Faye spoke fondly of all of her costars in Bonnie & Clyde, Chinatown, The Thomas Crown Affair, even Barfly. One notable film she didn’t discuss was what I consider her signature role, as Joan Crawford, in Mommie Dearest. Faye has said she thinks that film tanked her career for a long time. Faye also introduced what I consider to be one of the greatest and most prophetic films of the past 40 years, Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. Faye loves it too, as she won an Oscar for her very accurate portrayal of a network executive

Photo by Michael Hixon

3. Angela Lansbury is primarily known today for her long running TV hit, Murder She Wrote. But her long and creative career also includes scores of plays on the stage, and two of the most classic films of all time, Gaslight and the original Manchurian Candidate (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer. Denzel Washington remade this film in 2004, and it is good, but the original was a ground breaker, unlike any other of it’s time. Frank Sinatra not only starred in the original, he basically produced it. Angela said that Frank originally did not want Angela for her iconic role of the mastermind of a brainwashed militia of American soldiers trained to become Presidential assassins, including her own son, played brilliantly by Lawrence Harvey. A year after The Manchurian Candidate was released, President Kennedy was assassinated and the film disappeared from view for more than 40 years. This is Angela’s finest performance, and it is way against type for her, as SHE IS EVIL in this one!

Photo by Michael Hixon

4.  Animals in film had a strong showing at this year’s festival.  Lassie even barked out the introduction to one of her films. The Yearling was a 1946 Technicolor classic about a 10-year-old boy and a young deer. Claude Jarman, Jr. played the boy, and actually appeared at the festival. Speaking of deer, the best animal film ever made may have been an animated one, Walt Disney’s Bambi (1942). This film has been fully restored in brilliant color that jumps off the screen along with Bambi and Thumper. The film was not drawn in watercolor, but in rich oil paintings that give it a brilliance like no other. The animals, the flowers, the fire and other tragedies are absolutely gorgeous.

The voice of  Bambi was a young boy, Donnie Dunagan. Remember the scene in Bambi when he got shot by a hunter ? Bambi’s father, the king of the herd, towering over his wounded son and in his bold scary adult deer voice said “Bambi get up.” After Bambi Donnie Dunagan’s career stalled and he joined the Marine Corps. He was almost fatally wounded in combat. While laying on the ground awaiting death, his sergeant hovered over him just like the adult deer in the film, and exclaimed “Donnie get up,” just as in the film. Donnie is a true hero, and one of the most interesting guests ever to appear at the festival. He only met the voice actor who played his best friend Thumper (the bunny), a few years ago on an Oprah Winfrey show.

5. Other highlights included comedy legend Carl Reiner introducing his 1982 gem, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid starring Steve Martin, a great tribute to 1940’s film noir that actually features clips from that era. A screening of Harold and Lillian, which is a new film based on two of Hollywood’s most important (off-screen) people over a 60-year span, that you have never heard of. A separate blog is coming on this one, as thanks to I got to meet Lillian.

Photo by Michael Hixon

6. One my favorite festival activities are the outdoor screenings around the famous swimming pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt. They increased to three this year. I chilled in the cool nighttime air (with an adult beverage, of course) to the Sci-Fi classic of Forbidden Planet, Batman  which featured live appearances by Batman himself, Adam West, and Cat Woman Lee Meriwether. The screening of silent film star Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman was highlighted by his granddaughter Suzanne, who has lovingly restored and preserved all of his classic films. Few know, but Harold Lloyd was the highest paid film comedian of his era, not Charlie Chaplin. However adding a modern loud soundtrack of Hard Rock, Doo-Wop, Disco, and Rap music spoiled that one for me. All of this music has it’s place, but not in a silent film. That’s why they are called “silent films.” Don’t mess with art! Leave it be.

But still, I can’t wait until next year.

Photo by Michael Hixon

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