May 8, 2011

TCM Classic Film Festival wrap-up - Part II

When we last left our intrepid heroine, she was leaving a screening of Pennies From Heaven and talking in the third person. I went straight from there to La Dolce Vita. I had seen the film before and been underwhelmed, but at my boyfriend's urging (it's one of his favorites), I decided to give it another shot. Mankiewicz introduced the film by saying that "la dolce vita" is Italian for "Donald Trump is an idiot" (heh), but on a more insightful note he said that you could watch the film without subtitles and still understand everything that was going on. I bore that in mind while viewing, and it turned out to be surprisingly true.
Lobby card provided at the screening
 
The technical details deserve special mention. The presentation was a joint restoration by the Film Foundation and Gucci, and it looked GORGEOUS - the FF does not mess around. Even better was the fact that we were sitting fairly close and the screen was huge, so we were positively enveloped in the shimmery silvery goodness. Since the film (at least for me) was mostly an aesthetic experience, the nature of the viewing really made a difference. There was trouble in paradise, however - just before the famous fountain scene, the sound cut out! It turned out to be a problem with something on the projector called the "exciter" (Mankiewicz: "I can't believe there's something called the exciter"), but they fixed it, rewound it, and all was right with the world again.

As for the film itself...well...

Going back to what Mankiewicz said, perhaps the film would have been better off without dialogue. To me, it just reads as a serious of vignettes in a short span of one man's life, but you keep expecting that with a three-hour running time it's going to add up to something. It doesn't, really. I'm okay with that type of film in theory, but I guess that for the amount of time invested, I wanted to know more about the character of Marcello; he seemed like more of a vehicle to take us through the events. There are certainly some indelible images and great scenes, but perhaps I just don't have the stamina for whatever brilliance lies within.

I hadn't planned on attending anything on Sunday, but then I received word that two of the films I had regrettably missed were getting encore showings. Thus, I headed on down to the craziness that calls itself Hollywood Blvd and got in line for This Is The Night. The film has been nearly impossible to see for decades, and although I hadn't heard of it prior to its inclusion in the festival, the promise of screwball misunderstandings and a young Cary Grant was all I needed to hear. The crowd received a warm introduction to the film by film scholar Foster Hirsch, who provided some historical background and said of its sauciness, "if you think 'wait, did I just hear them say that?' - you really did."

Three men and a javelin
And indeed, like the best pre-Code flicks it had scandalousness to spare: unpunished adultery, allegedly heterosexual men drunkenly saying they love each other, women's dresses constantly being torn off, javelins as phallic symbols, and enough double entendres to make Michael Scott blush. It's far from perfect - far too much screen time is given to the cardboard Lily Damita, in a role that really could've been something with a talent like Joan Blondell or Carole Lombard. Plus, although it was Grant's screen debut and he's fifth-billed, you can't help but want to see more of him. Having said that, it's a lot of fun, with great gags and one-liners set against a beautifully fake Paris and Venice (tinted blue for night scenes). It's like Lubitsch lite, and there are far worse ways to spend 80 minutes. If that sounds good to you, you're in luck: TCM has rescued the film from obscurity and released it as a double feature with the Marlene Dietrich rarity Song of Songs.

Speaking of Dietrich, I returned to the theater that evening to see MoMA's restoration of the final Josef von Sternberg / Dietrich collaboration, The Devil Is A Woman. Minutes before it started, my boyfriend told me the news about bin Laden (he has an iPhone), and it was strange to possess that knowledge in a room full of classic film fans who didn't. I put that aside to mentally process later, and settled in for some von Sternberg lusciousness. The print looked beautiful, as did Marlene, of course. The character of Concha is in some ways the quintessential Dietrich character - seductive, alluring, destroyer of men - but she's also borderline sociopathic. I don't mean that as a criticism of the character or the film; rather, it's the simplest way to convey Concha's proclivity for toying with human lives for pure amusement. Typically the Dietrich character's soft spots and desires are revealed throughout a film, but here she doesn't appear to have any.

No words necessary.
It's fairly bleak, but surprisingly lively, and somewhat humorous to the absurd extent that men let her betray them repeatedly. Not only is Marlene beautiful, but everything that surrounds her is too - from the extravagant trappings of Carnival Week in Spain to the unbelievably ornate costumes and accessories that only she could pull off. It's a must for Marlene fans, and probably a good introduction for neophytes as well.

I left the theater that night lamenting that the festival was over, and wishing it could go on year-round. My boyfriend pointed out, however, that living in LA basically is a year-round film festival. I had to agree. But that doesn't mean I won't be totally amped for next year's fest.

Did you attend the festival? What was your experience? If you couldn't make it, what would you have liked to see?

2 comments:

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Julie, it seems we crossed paths once or twice during the TCM Festival. I was there for Pennies from Heaven and also at This is the Night. (This explains your Charlie Ruggles response!) Wish I would have known to look for you! Maybe we'll meet at the Cinefamily or the New Beverly sometime soon! Thanks for your great answers over at my place and also your blog here. I love the concept of auteuerist carnival rides!

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