Category Archives: TCM

Chinatown Q&A at TCM Classic Film Festival 2012

Robert Evans, Robert Towne, and Robert Osborne discussing Chinatown on Friday at the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California

Robert Evans, Robert Towne, and Robert Osborne discussing Chinatown on Friday at the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California

In another post on this site I mentioned that Edinburgh’s Filmhouse cinema is about to embark on a season of Roman Polanski films, featuring around a dozen of his films including 1974’s Chinatown.

I also mentioned that I was fortunate to attend a screening of Chinatown in Hollywood in April 2012 as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival. In attendance were the film’s writer, Robert Towne, and producer, Robert Evans, who spent around fifteen minutes discussing the evolution of the film with TCM host, Robert Osborne.

Towne explained that Evans had originally requested he adapt F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for the screen, but that he didn’t want to do it. “We were having dinner at Dominick’s on Beverly Boulevard and Evans was trying to figure out why I didn’t want to do Gatsby,” noted Towne. “I told him [about Chinatown]. Bob said ‘I don’t understand a goddamned thing but I do like the title’. He got all of us in there who knew each other and cared about each other so that we could fight and have a good time.”

I captured the audio on my iPhone from a number of rows back in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre before settling back to enjoy the film. The file has been sitting gathering virtual dust on my phone since then.

As far as I know there was no ban on recording audio and no intention has been made to infringe any sort of copyright, so hopefully the lovely team at TCM won’t mind me publishing it here for Polanski/Chinatown fans to listen to….

Listen to the Q&A on Audioboo

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Audio interview: Welcome Back Robert Osborne!

Welcome Back, Bob!

For anyone outside the USA who may have stumbled upon this post, you’re probably wondering who Bob is and why I’m welcoming him back. That’s a valid question, as even those who do know who Bob is may be questioning why a blogger in the UK is mentioning a TV star from the other side of the Atlantic whose shows aren’t screened in that country.

When I decided to head to Hollywood earlier this year to attend the second TCM Classic Film Festival, a spin-off from the TV station launched in 1994, I had hoped to immerse myself in old movies and find out what it’s like to watch them on the big screen in cinemas such as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Egyptian Theatre, venues I’d only ever glimpsed on TV.

Robert Osborne

Robert Osborne

What I discovered were a small army of people who had arrived by car, bus, train and plane to celebrate classic films in the company of strangers, the only thing binding them together being the TCM channel and its public face, Robert Osborne.

Born in Colfax, Washington, Osborne began his career as an actor in the 1950s, before moving on to journalism. Osborne became the host of TCM in 1994.

Osborne’s introductions to every film shown during the week have become almost as important to the channel’s subscribers as the films themselves; for millions of people who love classic cinema in America, Robert Osborne is their guide.

The love shown for Osborne at the TCM Festival was palpable, and to British eyes it was something of a shock. We don’t really have anyone in the UK media who could be compared to Osborne, though it could perhaps be said he’s something of a mix between film critic Barry Norman and interviewer Michael Parkinson, though I’m not sure that does him justice.

It’s also worth noting that we really have nothing to compare to the US TCM in the UK, with our version a pale imitation of the original.

I was able to interview the man on the eve of the Festival’s launch as part of a roundtable discussion and the result was published on the blog of the Edinburgh Evening News.

Osborne was a charming and erudite interviewee and his love for cinema shone through.

In July 2011 it was announced that Osborne would be taking a break from hosting duties to undergo a minor operation, leaving his fans concerned and a little lost.

This Thursday, 1 December, sees Osborne return to US TV screens and the fans are celebrating with various blog posts, photos, videos and tweets. I was asked to write something about his return and this blog post is the result.

I decided to dig out the audio of the interview I carried out at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel and snip out the section where I asked a question about the rise in popularity of classic movies. It runs to just under five minutes and it hopefully gives a flavour of his knowledge and interest in the subject. You can read some of the transcript from the original interview below.

“Have you noticed an increase in popularity in classic films in the last few years?”

“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.”

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TCM Classic Film Festival 2012 details announced

Now’s the time to reach for your diary/calendar/smartphone and to mark some upcoming dates: 12 – 15 April 2012 sees the third annual TCM Classic Film Festival take place in Hollywood.

The central theme of the 2012 edition of the Festival will be a celebration of style in the movies, from fashion to architecture to production design. The theme will touch on both the influence that movies have on popular styles and the impact that current trends have on the movies. Whether it’s the look of a film’s sets, costumes, title design or movie poster, this theme will put the Hollywood aesthetic in whole new light.

I’m still recovering from my visit to this year’s event, which I wrote about over on my personal blog, and I hope to make it back to Hollywood next year to meet some old friends, make some new ones and discover some classic movies for the first time.

You can also watch some of my interviews from 2011 over on my YouTube channel.

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TCM Classic Film Festival 2011 Overview

A lot has been written lately about the future of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), as it attempts to pick itself up and dust itself off after being hit by budget cuts in its 65th year.

Having already witnessed how Glasgow Film Festival coped in 2011 on a modest budget (exceptionally well is the answer), I decided to go a step further and head to Hollywood for the TCM Classic Film Festival, four days of screenings with a focus on movies made before the 1960s, to see how they do it over there.

Now in its second year, the festival is an extension of the TV channel of the same name, which screens dozens of classic films each week hosted by the avuncular Robert Osborne: think Barry Norman meets Michael Parkinson and you’re not too far off.

With fans confident that the programmers would provide a high quality selection, passes went on sale before the titles being shown were announced. Prices for these ranged from £700 to £180, with tickets also available at the door for those wanting to only watch a few films.

Split across five screens – four at the legendary Grauman’s multiplex and one along at the Egyptian Theatre – passholders queued on a first-come-first-served basis, with the most popular shown again on the final day.

With over 70 films to choose from (including the rarely seen The Constant Nymph and Night Flight), many with guest appearances (Peter O’Toole, Kirk Douglas and Angela Lansbury included), there were hard decisions but few disappointments thanks to the variety on offer.

The opening evening saw a red carpet event take place to celebrate the screening of the 1951 Gene Kelly musical, An American in Paris, with celebrities such as O’Toole, Shaft’s Richard Roundtree, Mickey Rooney and Hayley Mills present. I managed to catch a couple of the stars for short interviews, with Roundtree one of the most interesting in attendance.

Day two saw the things kick-off with a rare screening of 1943’s The Constant Nymph, a film which has been tied up in legal issues since the mid-1940s and not seen anywhere (bar the odd bootleg DVD) since.

Starring Joan Fontaine and Charles Boyer, Edmund Goulding’s romantic drama features Ms Fontaine at something of a career peak as her character, Tessa, moons over an older man (Boyer) as his musical talents take him to London and Tessa follows suit.

It’s a beautifully shot picture with a radiant Fontaine holding it together as the lovestruck teen. It’s hard to believe the actress was in her 30s at the time, so lively and affecting is her performance. Now that the rights issues are resolved it’s hoped the film will receive a wider airing on television and DVD.

As well as catching some Walt Disney Silly Symphonies from the 1920s and 30s, the other big event of the day was an audience with Peter O’Toole. Robert Osborne took to the stage of LA’s Music Box Theatre to chair an event which saw O’Toole take us through his life and career, with time spent discussing his war time exploits and his success on celluloid.

O’Toole was a charming storyteller, his wit and grace making the two hour run time fly past. Osborne teased a few surprising stories from the actor, mainly around his decision to move from journalist to actor, and the audience gave both men a standing ovation at the event’s close.

Day three, Saturday, saw me first attempt to see the 1933 Clara Bow comedy, Hoop-La, in the morning, but on arrival at the cinema I discovered it had sold out early. A quick change of plan took me into 1950’s All About Eve, the twisted tale of Anne Baxter’s Eve as she attempts to use famous theatre actress Margo (Bette Davis), as her way to stardom.

With a stellar cast including George Sanders and a certain Marilyn Monroe, I’d recommend everyone try to see this if they haven’t already: they really don’t make them like this anymore.

A further four films followed on Saturday: restored 1942 British drama, Went the Day Well?; 1928 silent gem, The Cameraman, starring the great Buster Keaton and accompanied by Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks Orchestra, a New York-based group who recreated the music of the 1920s; 1971’s Shaft, with an appearance by star, Richard Roundtree; and a midnight showing of the Universal horror classic, The Mummy (1932), introduced by Hellboy actor, Ron Perlman.

Having an opportunity to see any of those films on a big screen would usually be enough for me, but all of them in the same day was something approaching movie heaven. As a Keaton fan, the opportunity to see him in action again was probably the highlight of the day, but that can’t diminish the pleasure to be had from sitting back in the historic surroundings of the Egyptian for an evening to hear Roundtree and Perlman in discussion.

Sunday, the fourth and final day, was a chance to see yet another rarely-screened picture, 1933’s Night Flight. Starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and John & Lionel Barrymore, it’s an odd little flick which tells of the bravery of the men who first carried out night flights across America in small, single propeller, planes.

Though it can’t be said to be the finest film of any of the actors’ careers, Night Flight has its  charms and the film zips by in no time.

On hand to introduce the screening was actress Drew Barrymore, who reflected on the careers of her family (John is her grandfather and Lionel her granduncle) and discussed how proud she is of them.

A chance to finally see Ms Clara Bow in Hoop-La meant I was able to see my third Bow film  on the big screen this year (Mantrap in Bristol and It in Bo’ness) and witness her enter the era of the talkies after a career in silent cinema. She handled herself with aplomb here and it saddens me that she’s forgotten in comparison to Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Perhaps the fact that at least three festivals have featured her in 2011 means more film fans will discover her.

A panel discussion on the art of the film sequel was next, Rush Hour director Brett Ratner Batman producer Peter Guber in a discussion about how and why sequels are made. Ratner, perhaps best known for his big budget sequels, talked much sense about the curse of the sequel and the lack of variety offered to cinema goers. 

Guber asked Ratner to “forget state of the art and think state of the heart” in his films, and the end of the talk suggested that things will get worse before they get better for those who despair at the amount of sequels out there.

My final film of the festival was Disney’s Fantasia from 1940, beamed onto the three-storey high screen of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The idea of making a film based on classical music set to stunning visuals was a bold step by Disney, one which didn’t really pay off fully until it’s VHS release in the 1990s, but there’s no denying this is an astonishing sight to see, certainly on the (very) big screen.

Los Angeles may be a long way to go to see some movies, but it was worth the effort.

Friendly staff and fellow film fans made it a pleasure to queue and wait in the audience for a film to begin. Catching up on other highlights and finding out what good films and events you’ve missed is part of the pleasure and the pain of festivals and I’m still kicking myself I didn’t go to see Angela Lansbury introduce Gaslight on Saturday…but then I’d never have seen Shaft. Choices, choices…

Undoubtedly one of the most consistently enjoyable film events I’ve ever attended, TCM Classic Film Festival felt wasn’t just a chance to see some old films for the umpteenth time. People I spoke to noted how in many cases it was as if they were watching a picture for the first time, the quality of the picture, the size of the screen and the atmosphere in the auditorium combining to make each screening as fresh as the day they premiered.

Films are made to be seen on giant screens by audiences willing to be transported to other times, places or worlds, something TCM delivered with ease. Hollywood may be a fair distance from Holyrood, but anyone who feels that films pre-1960 are for them, I’d not hesitate to recommend heading across in 2012 for the third festival – I certainly hope to be there.

As for Edinburgh, here’s hoping the new EIFF team don’t forget what made it so popular in the first place and that the rumoured gimmicks don’t overwhelm the most important part of it: the films.