By Kyle Turner
I went to my first film festival and I didn’t die. And I only made a fool of myself a couple of times. But I truly had one of the most magnificent times of my life. It was such an amazing thrill to meet new people at the festival and see in the flesh the people I’ve come to think of as friends from the online film community. The TCM Classic Film Festival was the best, and while I was here, I got to see some great movies. (An asterisk* denotes a rewatch.)
The Thin Man* (1934) | Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
- In a way, The Thin Man is a spiritual predecessor to The Big Sleep, if only for the fact that the plot does not really seem to matter in comparison to the characters. Where it veers off is that in The Thin Man, only two characters really ever matter and the rest of the film, as absolutely enjoyable as it is, just pales in comparison to when Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) are on the screen. Never has alcoholism looked so refined. With a story from Dashiell Hammett and a screenplay from Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, The Thin Man shines and, most importantly, sparkles. You could probably lump together this, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, and The Philadelphia Story together as the finest examples of the classic screwball comedy: the wit is polished, the female characters driven and giving their men a run for their money, and the tête-à-tête between characters precisely choreographed, verbally and physically.
Touch of Evil (1958) | Directed by Orson Welles
- That brilliant tracking shot. The incredibly nihilistic tone. The unforgettable cinematography. What else there to say about Orson Welles’s perfectly imperfect Touch of Evil? There’s nary a darker film noir than this one.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946) | Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
- There is nothing like watching a Powell and Pressburger film in the movie theater. Jack Cardiff’s iconic photography bleeds color and the duo’s direction is more satisfying and powerful than simply watching it at home on TV or on Netflix. Thelma Schoonmaker, who had been married to Michael Powell (and who is the frequent collaborator of Martin Scorsese, serving as editor), was present to introduce the film, and her notes on A Matter of Life and Death (which I had not seen previously) brought even more insight to the work. She noted that there is a calmness about death in the film, implying that it is merely another step and part of living, just in another realm. Perfectly, A Matter of Life and Death is transcendent.
Paper Moon* (1973) | Directed by Peter Bogdonavich
- I suppose I should not be all that surprised that films about the decay of the American Dream were being made back in the ‘70s, but few are as entertaining and lovely (and weirdly optimistic) as Paper Moon. Though the film has a mildly cynical bent (Addie’s natural distrust of people, Moze’s easy scheming), the chemistry between Tatum and Ryan O’Neal is iconic. What seems to be the loveliest aspect of the film is the relationship. The world around them is crumbling during the Great Depression, but the two have each other. Peter Bogdonavich doesn’t push this fact in a tediously saccharine way but lets his two actors work together to develop the chemistry from the get go. The breezy feel to the film doesn’t undermine the emotional impact; instead, it deepens it.
Blazing Saddles* (1974) | Directed by Mel Brooks
- It’d been quite a while since I saw Blazing Saddles, so the opportunity to see it on the big screen as I continue to develop during my most formative years as a film writer person and so-called “PC King” (not for Best Buy, mind you) was one I was quite interested in. Arguably one of the edgiest comedies ever made. But, it still held up fairly well.
Eraserhead* (1977) | Directed by David Lynch
- “Welcome to Day 3 of Coachella for Shut-Ins!” proclaimed Patton Oswalt as in introduced the perfect midnight movie for the festival, David Lynch’s delirious Eraserhead. The comedian went on to basically say the film was the perfect form of contraception. For Lynch’s nightmare is, while terrifying and surreal, impressively emotionally potent. Nance’s awkward, painful portrayal of Henry manages to engender sympathy for the new father, a man unable to take care of his prematurely born child to satisfaction. (Am I the only one who thinks the baby is really cute? Well, at least before he gets smallpox or whatever.) The fun thing about this 35mm print, besides being in outstanding condition, is that it’s from Janus, further suggesting that someday, eventually, maybe when we’re all still alive to see it, the Criterion Collection will be releasing the film on Blu-ray. At some point. I hope. The film’s sound mix is particularly punishing in a theater, so sharp and meticulously crafted that it will give you nightmares. It’s no secret that Lynch intentionally uses lower pitch sounds in order to unsettle the audience, but the sheer visceral nature of the sound design is the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever experienced, next to that time I went on a date to see Much Ado About Nothing and I was the only one who talked. But, uncomfortable in a good way.
Godzilla* (1954) | Directed by Ishiro Honda
- The stunning thing about Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla is the emotional impact of the film. The monster isn’t just a monster, but a sympathetic creature, a response to the destruction of Japan during World War II. The film’s ending, filled with the prayers from Japanese schoolchildren, is amongst one of the most transcendent things seen on the big screen. The prayers echo through the theater, and one is left feeling incredibly melancholic. Just a half hour earlier, you see the great Godzilla smash his way through cities, a thrilling experience. But Honda, seemingly a humanist, nonetheless sharpens the film’s emotional point by revealing the destruction left behind. (Apparently, this was a new restoration done by Rialto, which confused me a little given that the Criterion Collection released a Blu-ray of the film a little over a year ago.)
The Goodbye Girl (1977) | Directed by Herbert Ross
- Being only familiar with Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, basically this was The Odd Couple 2.0, which is honestly fine by me. More than that, though, there’s a surprising amount of emotional depth in a film that seems, initially, to be this light, fluffy romantic comedy that seems to be the more optimistic foil to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. One could even suppose that the film, with dialogue that roars and rivets, is an update of the screwball comedy, with Richard Dreyfuss’s odd actor verbally fencing with Marsha Mason’s frustrated, but strong willed single mother. The two trade barbs as quickly and skilfully as any duo from a Hawks or Lubitsch film, paired with similar aplomb for physical comedy. One question kept nagging at me though: what is the film really about, especially given the title? Although the romantic arc seems a little abrupt, despite its very gradual evolution throughout the beginning parts of the film, it might be about Mason’s Paula becoming independent and no longer reliant on men needing to change her life. Ironically, it means that Dreyfuss’s Elliot is the opposite of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, for he does not only exist to change the life of Paula. Both of their own, singular goals and motivations and just happen to cross paths. It’s a gut bustingly funny and charming film, with a superb performance from young Quinn Cummings. (Also: Could one ever pull off a production of Richard III with gay subtext?)
A Hard Day’s Night* (1964) | Directed by Richard Lester
- At the opening strum of the titular Fab Four track, the crowd went wild. I should have expected nothing less, but few things are as enthralling as seeing the goofy, ebullient, and joyful Richard Lester film A Hard Day’s Night in a packed theater of film lovers. The print was gorgeous (from Janus’s recent restoration), the sound was pristine, and, yes, I sang along to the entire film. I have no idea how A Hard Day’s Night so effortlessly captured the zeitgeist of the Beatles and why that seemed to only ever happen to them, a point which was mentioned by presenter Alec Baldwin. Even though I think that Criterion cover is a pox upon humanity, the film itself still remains mysteriously wonderful.
Sorcerer (1977) | Directed by William Friedkin
- The most refreshing and exciting things about seeing William Friedkin’s film maudit in theaters was seeing Friedkin himself up on the stage, not only presenting the film, but shining a light on the collaborative nature of filmmaking (take that, auteurists! Just kidding). He brought up on the stage the folks who worked with him on the new restoration of Sorcerer: color timing technician, the sound mixer, and the producer at Warner Home Video. That was nice. The film itself was mind blowing. A fatalistic thriller with the most tension I’ve ever experienced in a film. Ostensibly a remake of Henri-George Clouzot’s adaptation of The Wages of Fear, I actually much prefer Friedkin’s film. Friedkin’s film drops in your stomach and has you gripping onto the arm rests.
Mr. Holland’s Opus* (1995) | Directed by Stephen Herek
- I went to see this as a tribute to my father. It was a film he and I enjoyed when I was younger, one that was suggested by the secretary at his work. He deserved a better tribute. For, it isn’t that Mr. Holland’s Opus is like a lesser Forrest Gump about music, it’s that it ends up being a far more frustratingly maudlin piece of work without even the justification for such manipulation in a likable protagonist. Likability of protagonist, personally, varies with the intention and self-awareness of the film itself. For instance, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s black comedy Young Adult is entirely aware that Mavis (Charlize Theron) is an entirely unlikable, unsympathetic character. And through that, watching her desperate attempts, she ears our sympathy. But Mr. Holland wants to give its eponymous character a halo right off the bat without having earned it, trying to gain our sympathies by showing how much he hates having to compromise his life as an artiste by teaching at a high school, not really paying attention to his deaf son, and money concerns. The problem is, Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss), is honestly not that great of a teacher. Select few scenes display what was probably on the minds of the writers: an inspiring, awesome music man who deserves more. What the audience actually gets is an impatient, rather loud man child. Also using transitions in time in the most amateurish fashion possible, it’s a shame that this solipsistic piece of work tries so hard to be something it doesn’t know how to be in the first place.
I’m totally going to go back next year. LA was such a ride. To live and watch films in LA. That’s the life.