Next week will mark the 8th annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, a 4-day extravaganza (held in Hollywood, California) dedicated to celebrating and screening classic film. Night Owl TV will be on the scene offering live social media coverage of the event, and on April 13th we’ll be talking about our experiences live on Chillin’ with Larry Magen. This will mark classic film correspondent, Maureen Lee Lenker’s, seventh visit to the Festival, but it will be her first time there with Night Owl TV. The Festival always has a wide range of delights on offer for cinephiles, from visits with classic film stars to rare screenings of hidden gems to incredible restorations of classics. This year is no different and here’s what we’re most excited about:
Silver Nitrate Bonanza
If you’ve never had the chance to see a screening of a silver nitrate print, you haven’t really experienced classic cinema. Films made from a nitrate base were the pioneer for film stock in the early days of cinema. Silver nitrate film prints were retired in the early 50s because of its highly flammable and explosive nature that makes storing it an expensive and delicate process. Nowadays it is increasingly rare to find surviving nitrate prints of film. Providing the origin for the term “silver screen,” silver nitrate provided a base for film stock that brought rich, lush black and white images to the screen. If you think you’ve seen a classic film like Casablanca (1942), you haven’t until you’ve witnessed it in silver nitrate. With silver nitrate the blacks are deeper and richer, the whites are more luminous, and the grey scale in-between's possess more nuances and detail than a regular print or TV transfer.
TCM will pay tribute to the organizations that work to preserve nitrate… the Academy Film Archive, George Eastman Museum and the UCLA Film & Television Archive with four nitrate screenings: Laura (1944), Black Narcissus (1947), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), and Lady in the Dark (1944). The films are a mix of beloved classics and lesser-known gems, and yet one thing they all have in common is their intoxicating black-and-white photography which will be showcased in all its glory in rare nitrate prints.
Honoring Hollywood Dynasties
One of the delights of the TCM Festival is the opportunity to celebrate and showcase the work of Hollywood Legends. TCM has paid tribute to everyone from Tony Curtis to Maureen O’Hara to Eli Wallach to Rita Moreno. This year has a new crop of artists to honor including actress (and Blacklist target) Lee Grant, who will make multiple appearances at the Festival. One of the highlights of this year’s programming is the spotlight on descendants of Hollywood dynasties with tributes to Debbie Reynolds and daughter Carrie Fisher, and a special look at Michael Douglas’ career. The loss of Reynolds and Fisher is still raw for many film fans and the Festival will provide a place for a public celebration of their lives -- Reynolds’ costumes (centerpieces of her extensive Hollywood memorabilia collection) will be on display in a special exhibit in Club TCM. The TCM Festival will celebrate Debbie Reynolds and her daughter’s unique relationship with a screening of Postcards from the Edge (1990) introduced by Todd Fisher, Debbie’s son and Carrie’s brother. The Festival will also screen Singin’ In the Rain (1952) in homage to Debbie Reynolds.
Son of renowned Hollywood star and producer Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas has made his own mark on Hollywood history as an actor, producer, and director. He represents the link between the classic studio system era and the “New” Hollywood of the 1970s. TCM will celebrate Michael Douglas’ lifelong involvement in the movies with a special talk with him at the Montalban Theatre, as well as at a screening of his 1979 film about nuclear power and whistleblowers, The China Syndrome. It’s always wonderful to celebrate classic talent, but it’s extra special when the talent comes from a long line of Hollywood greatness.
The theme of this year’s Festival is “Make ‘Em Laugh” and the schedule is jam-packed with a wide variety of comedies -- from more modern hits like The Jerk (1979) to screwball classics like The Palm Beach Story (1942). But we’re most excited for the opportunity to view some lesser known comedies, like Cock of the Air (1932) and Love Crazy (1941). Many of the restorations and less recognizable titles on view at the festival aren’t even available on DVD. Love Crazy is a lesser-known pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy, who wooed audiences as Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man films. Cock of the Air is a Howard Hughes produced comedy starring his one-time mistress Billie Dove that has long languished in a heavily edited form following the introduction of the “code.” In a new restoration audiences finally have the chance to see Cock of the Air as it was originally intended.
Another Festival highlight is a screening of Red Headed Woman (1932), the film that launched Jean Harlow to stardom. With its controversial and suggestive scenarios and dialogue, this was the film that helped usher in the Production Code. As an extra treat, Red Headed Woman will be introduced by film historian Cari Beauchamp who writes about the history of women in film and is one of the most delightful hosts at the Festival year after year. Beauchamp never fails to bring a blend of humor, knowledge, and enthusiasm that inspires the entire crowd.
Among many other films, we also look forward to a screening of the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business (1931) introduced by renowned television host (and master celebrity interviewer) Dick Cavett!
Ginger Rogers and Irene Dunne Get Their Due
Gingers Rogers and Irene Dunne are both phenomenal actresses and hysterical comediennes, but they often don’t get their due. Rogers’ contributions are often overshadowed by her famous dance partner Fred Astaire, and Dunne may not be as well-known as a (Katharine) Hepburn, (Carole) Lombard, or (Ingrid)Bergman. But TCM knows the magic of these two ladies and is featuring their work at this year’s Festival. Rogers has a leading role in the nitrate screening of Lady in the Dark (1944) in which she plays a magazine editor who visits a psychiatrist to analyze her dreams. However, we’re even more excited to see her in Rafter Romance (1933), a pre-Code film that showcases Rogers’ comedic talents at the height of her powers. The film has been restored with help from TCM since they acquired it in 2006 and the Festival showing is one of the only theatrical screenings it’s enjoyed since its initial run in 1933!
Dunne is also the benefactor of a double bill of a beloved classic and a new gem for us all to rediscover. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the screwball comedy The Awful Truth (1937), and TCM presents an anniversary screening of the classic divorce comedy. At first a dramatic actress, Dunne made her first foray into comedy with the 1936 film Theodora Goes Wild for which she earned herself an Oscar nomination. Though a big hit in its day, “Theodora” has largely fallen out of circulation and TCM’s Festival is poised to introduce it to a new audience.
There are many other moments and screenings that we cannot wait for at this year’s TCM Festival (like a screening of the early 1947 Douglas Sirk B-movie Lured that features Lucille Ball in a dramatic role). With the opportunity to see somewhere between 14 and 16 films, participate in trivia contests, as well as attend book signings, the TCM festival is a whirlwind celebration of classic film movie-making. While these are the things we’re most looking forward to, no matter what we find at the festival, we know it will be a “classic” weekend to remember.