Monthly Archives: April 2011

TCM Classic Film Festival 2011: Robert Osborne interview

As film fans from around the world descend on Hollywood this week to watch well known (and many lesser known) classics on the silver screen as part of the second TCM Classic Film Festival, one man is preparing to once again act as the public face of the event.

Robert Osborne has been the figurehead of TCM since its launch in 1994, hosting films each night and interviewing some of the biggest names in cinema for the Private Screening series.

Meeting in Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel, as a small army puts the finishing touches to the exclusive Club TCM venue, I ask Osborne if the TCM festival has come about thanks to a rise in popularity of classic films amongst the general audience.

“In the last five years I’ve noticed a passion that was never there before and I think that television has something to do with it,” says Osborne.

“We have all these channels now, and when I go home and I always check TCM first to see if there’s something I particularly want to watch and if not I try the others and it’s just terrible. Even family sitcoms like Two and a Half Men are so smutty and basic. Then there are the reality shows.

“I think people gravitate towards TCM because you can find a really nice story, you don’t have to worry about who’s in the room with you, your grandmother, kids or wife and you’re not embarrassed about what’s going to be on the air.”

Osborne pauses before continuing. “The one thing movies don’t do today is necessarily leave you with a positive feeling when you exit the movie theatre. But those sharks who ran the industry back in the 1940s were showmen and wanted you to come back the following week, even if you had The Grapes of Wrath or High Sierra.

“At the end of that Humphrey Bogart is shot and killed and this little dog is licking his hand and Ida Lupino is distraught because Roy is dead. She picks up the dog and she’s walking to the camera and she’s saying “Roy’s free, oh yeah, he doesn’t have to be chased anymore,” and the audience is thinking “Oh yeah, Roy’s free,” and they always knew how to put a positive spin on things.

“Even with the Grapes of Wrath, where there’s a family who have been through just about everything, you go away thinking you can make it if you’ve got family and you stick together. I think the movies we have on the air, the mix of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Bacall and Bogart, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, offers movies that are endearing to people who don’t get that elsewhere.”

Are class and style four letter words to filmmakers today?

“We’re in an era where people love everyone to be common and real,” muses Osborne. “If you’re a taxi driver you don’t want Robert Taylor or Tyrone Power you want Robert De Niro looking just like a cab driver in New York. If you have a beautiful woman like Michelle Pfeiffer you want her to downsize the glamour and not have her look like Grace Kelly.

“I think people still love the reason they used to go to movies, and that’s for something different from their everyday life. There’s nobody like Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis or Gary Cooper today. Even when they were playing real people there was something larger than life and heroic about them and we don’t really have that today.

“I’m sure those people are out there but they’re not able to have careers.”

As Osborne heads off to fulfil more of his duties, the stage is set for what should be a memorable four days. With over 70 films playing out on various screens around town, each of them for one night only, this is one place where style and class haven’t gone out of fashion.

Visit the TCM Classic Film Festival website to find out more about the event and to follow its progress.

DVD Round-up 28 April 2011: Lunch Hour and Joanna

The BFI Flipside returns this month with two more near-forgotten British titles which deserve to be exhumed from the vaults.

This time around we have 1962’s Lunch Hour and 1968’s Joanna, two films which look at attitudes to sex and equality from very different standpoints.

Director James Hill’s version of John Mortimer’s play introduces us to a girl (Shirley Ann Field) and her married boyfriend (Robert Stephens) as they continue their affair within the confines of a run down London hotel.

Entering the room in the opening moments, the story then flashes back to the start of their dalliance, as she begins working at his factory. As they become more intimate and he decides to create an elaborate story with which he can fool the hotel’s owner, the girl starts to wonder what sort of person she really is: is she the kind of woman who goes to seedy hotels in her lunch bread with married men?

The straightforward nature of the film gains a new energy around the halfway point, as the girl’s dreams and paranoia start to take hold and the story veers off in a new direction.

Although Lunch Hour’s stage origins are apparent, Hill coaxes an impressive performance from his leads, Field particularly strong as the girl who predicts a future of drudgery after the excitement of the affair wears off.

Shot in near real time of just over an hour, this is a welcome addition to the Flipside range.

Mike Sarne’s Joanna, starring Genevieve Waite as the titular character, also employs touches of fantasy as our heroine careers headlong through the late 1960s and finds herself in a world which is at odds with her own needs.

At just 17, Joanna is still learning about life when we meet her, her middle class upbringing sheltering her from the complications of the big bad world. Meeting a few oddballs and players along the way, including the oddly-accented Lord Sanderson (Donald Sutherland) and the charming Gordon (Calvin Lockhart), Joanna realises that her view of the universe may be at odds with those around her, as her mind adds a new spin to events.

Though Joanna makes more use of fantasy sequences than Lunch Hour, the lead character enjoying elaborate dance routines while the latter film sticks to the mundanity of a council house in the grim north of England, both films use the method to their advantage.

Thankfully the fantasy doesn’t completely overwhelm these films, the performances of Lesley Ann Field and Genevieve Waite strong enough to give modern viewers glimpses of life in the 1960s that have been overshadowed by better known films of the era.

DVD Round-up, 11 April 2011: Rubber, Black Joy, Say Hello to Yesterday and The Fiend

In Quentin Dupieux’s horror/comedy/thriller, Rubber (Optimum Home Entertainment), a tyre called Robert kills people using its “mind”, leaving a trail, quite literally, of blood in its wake.

Why? No reason. Or at least that’s what the sheriff at the start of the film would have us believe as he speaks straight to camera and explains that many great films have elements that make no sense. They just are.

After picking itself up from the dusty ground, the tyre rolls off to encounter various characters, killing almost all of them, as a group of onlookers watch from the distance using binoculars. This audience is us, the viewer, only a heightened version, each aware that they’re only there to see what happens next in the film.

To say much more would not so much spoil the film but rather take away much of the surprise of the simple story. As Robert is a tyre there’s no thought process behind “his” actions, the viewer waiting for him to meet his next obstacle.

The film may look fantastic in the Blu-ray edition, the orange dust suitably thirst inducing, and the humour off-kilter enough to appeal to those who like their horror with a dash of satire, but there’s nothing particularly memorable about Rubber, apart from the premise, that will make you come back again.

Nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes in 1977, Anthony Simmons’ Black Joy (Odeon Entertainment) finally gets the DVD treatment it deserves as a Widescreen edition hits the market.

Opening with the arrival of a Guyanan immigrant, Ben (Trevor Thomas), on UK shores, clutching his cardboard suitcase and braving the streets of Brixton and its opportunistic residents, we’re soon thrust into a world of dubious morals where nobody is who they seem.

Taken under the wing of local conman, Dave (Norman Beaton), who claims to be helping the newbie as he pays him with his own stolen cash, Ben attempts to make an honest living while the all those around him try to look after number one.

Fuelled by a reggae soundtrack, Black Joy is a huge amount of fun throughout. Every aspect of 1970s Britain looks like it needs a scrub down and a fresh lick of paint, while Beaton steals every scene as a character who could almost be a prototype for Arthur Daley.

Thomas holds his own against Beaton’s charm offensive, making Ben sympathetic rather than simple. With support from Floella Benjamin and a host of familiar TV faces, Black Joy is one of the releases of the month.

Romantic comedies are difficult things to pull off, their success dependent on factors such as whether the leads have a rapport and whether the story is so heightened that it becomes an escapist fantasy or realistic enough to make the audience ache with recognition.

Say Hello to Yesterday (Odeon Entertainment), from 1971, falls somewhere between the cracks of all of the above, Alvin Rakoff and Peter King’s script managing to make the leads, Leonard Whiting and Jean Simmons, neither fun enough to be fantasy figures nor gritty enough to feel genuine.

As the unnamed pair meet one day and start to fall for each other, we soon become aware that he is too clever for his own good and she’s not particularly interesting.  It’s not until near the end of the 91 minute running time that things start to come together, but by this time it’s too late.

Though the film makes 1970s London look good, the script isn’t quite as impressive.

Finally, The Fiend (Odeon Entertainment), from 1972, completes this week’s trio of 1970s films, and brings the quality level back up as a young Tony Beckley wreaks havoc on unsuspecting females who are unlucky enough to get in his way.

Beckley plays Kenny, a repressed man who still lives at home with his mother (Ann Todd) and whose religious fervour has been instilled in him by a local Minister (Patrick Magee).

Tony’s inner fight with his personal demons comes to a head when he gets too close to attractive young women, his desire conflicting with the voices telling him to murder them for their supposed sexual perversions.

Writer Brian Comport, who also scripted Man of Violence and The Asphyx, both of which have appeared on DVD in recent years, has crafted a seedy-yet-compelling drama which may have moments that pander to the dirty mac brigade but which also gives Beckley an opportunity to shine.

Indeed, Beckley is the main reason to watch The Fiend, his performance an occasionally nuanced one, at least when he’s not called on to kill some new female in nasty way.

Magee offers fine support alongside Todd, the sort of woman who would have got on well with Norman Bates’ mum at a coffee morning. Highly recommended.