Friday, April 21, 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Graduate (1967)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the cultural phenomenon that is The Graduate (1967). Prior to this month I had never watched the film in its entirety. Key scenes are so ingrained in our collective pop culture knowledge that there's no escaping them. And no one could spoil the movie for me because I knew the famous ending well. Why did it take me so long to watch The Graduate? I must have been holding out for just the right moment and that opportunity arose I attended this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

Author Beverly Gray

On the first day of the festival and a couple days before the screening, I had the opportunity to speak to author Beverly Gray on the red carpet. She's been hard at work writing a new book all about The Graduate. Here's what she had to say:

On day three of the festival, Ben Mankiewicz interviewed screenwriter and actor Buck Henry on stage at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Buck had suffered a stroke and Mankiewicz was the kindest and most patient interviewer helping Buck when we was struggling with answers. Mankiewicz reassured Buck that he was in front of the most patient crowd in the world and it was true. But we didn't have to be too patient because Buck had many clever and witty responses to Mankiewicz's questions and had us all laughing with delight.

Mankiewicz and Buck Henry discussed the making of The Graduate at length. Based on the novel by Charles Webb, Buck Henry along with Calder Willingham the story for the screen. Buck also has a small part as a hotel clerk in the film. According to Mankiewicz, Webb's book only sold a couple thousand copies. Buck had read it previously but it took producer Lawrence Truman to get the concept to director Nichols in order for the project to move forward. Buck joked that he was one of the "brave two thousand" to read the novel.

Director Mike Nichols had his eye on Robert Redford for the lead role. Looking back now it seems impossible that anyone other than Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock. According to Mankiewicz, Redford's persona was closer to the depiction in the book than what was presented on screen. When asked whether Redford would have been wrong for the film role, Buck Henry replied "according to Redford, yes." Nichols desperately tried to woo Redford. They had discussed the part and Redford told Nichols that he just couldn't understand the role. Nichols offered to fix anything Redford didn't like. Nichols said "Bob you must have made dates with girls in your long career as an eligible male and had them stand you up?". Redford replied, "what does that mean?" And that was the end of that.

Dustin Hoffman was under contract to be in stage production of The Producers and was let go to make The Graduate. Mankiewicz joked that Mel Brooks being married to the film's lead actress Anne Bancroft probably helped a little. Hoffman was considered by many to be an odd choice for the lead role. Buck Henry once said about Hoffman, "the reaction in Hollywood was that his nose was too big, he was funny looking, his voice was too strangled, he walks funny and he has odd cadence."

Gene Hackman was originally supposed to be in the film but he was fired three weeks into filming. Buck thought Nichols was "slightly insane" for letting him go. Mankiewicz pointed out that because Hackman was not in The Graduate he was able to make Bonnie and Clyde.  As they say, when one door closes another one opens!

Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (1967) - Photo credit: Rialto Pictures

Did you know that the iconic shot of Anne Bancroft's leg framing Dustin Hoffman was storyboard artist Harold Michelson's idea? After you watch The Graduate for the 50th anniversary make sure you watch Daniel Raim's documentary Harold and Lillian to learn about Harold Michelson and his wife film researcher Lillian Michelson (who happens to be one of my personal heroes). Harold and Lillian opens theatrically later this month in NY and Los Angeles and will be playing in more cities soon.

Rialto's 4k restoration of The Graduate is part of Fathom Events and TCM's Big Screen Classics series. It will be screened across the US in theaters on April 23rd and 26th.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

TCM Classic Film Festival 2017 Red Carpet

Conducting red carpet interviews has always been a dream of mine and I can't believe I've been able to do it. Twice! I had the privilege of being on the red carpet again for this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. The opening night premiere was for the 50th anniversary of In the Heat of the Night (1967). 

I was at the end of the line and not in the best spot for capturing quality audio, I did manage to get five quality interviews and lots of photos. Unfortunately Sidney Poitier didn't walk the red carpet so I didn't get to see him. However I saw plenty of other stars and special guests and I snapped a lot of photos.

Interviews with:
Film Critic Leonard Maltin
Actor Stathis Giallelis, America America (1963)
Author Beverly Gray
Director Producer Todd Fisher
Talk Show Host Dick Cavett

And here are some photos of who I saw on the red carpet.

TCM's Sean Cameron and TCMFF red carpet spectators

Wyatt McCrea

Angela Allen

Stathis Giallelis

Producer Walter Mirisch

Keir Dullea
Beau Bridges

Lee Grant

John Landis

Dick Cavett

Todd Fisher
Fred Willard

I had a great moment with Fred Willard. As I saw him walking down the red carpet I yelled out "Hey handsome!" He stopped to pose for me and I got a couple quick shots. I said "looking good" and thanked him.

Bob Balaban

Ruta Lee
Then came the beautiful Ruta Lee who looked absolutely stunning. I called out to her and told her she was beautiful and she quickly posed so I could get a shot. Doesn't she look fantastic?

Special shout out to Danny Reid who helped me with equipment, photography and live tweeted my red carpet interviews and to Marya Gates of TCM who helped guide Dick Cavett down the line to my spot. And thank you to my friends in the bleachers especially Kate Gabrielle, Millie and Casey who cheered for me from the stands and to Nikki and Brian who took photos of me. I appreciate your support!

Monday, April 17, 2017

America America (1963) with Stathis Giallelis #TCMFF

Alicia Malone and Stathis Giallelis TCM Classic Film Festival
Alicia Malone and Stathis Gialellis at the TCM Classic Film Festival

"I am a Greek by blood, a Turk by birth, and an American because my uncle made a journey." 
Elia Kazan

What's a more American story than one of immigration? America America (1963), Elia Kazan's three hour epic was the most personal of all of his films. Inspired by his family's emigration from Turkey to America, Kazan adapted his autobiographical novel to screen. America America tells the story of Stavros, a young Greek man living in Turkey when Greeks and Armenians were suffering under Turkish oppression. He sets out for America with the intention of bringing his family there one by one. But his journey is filled with many obstacles that test his will and determination. Shot on location in Istanbul, Turkey and parts of Greece, it stars a young unknown Greek actor Stathis Giallelis in a part of a lifetime.

When the opportunity arose to watch America America at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival I could not turn it down. Given our current political climate this film is now more relevant than ever. The UCLA TV & Film Archive provided a beautiful print and Filmstruck host Alicia Malone was on hand to interview the movie's star Stathis Giallelis before the screening.

Malone started the conversation by noting that America America is about an epic journey and that Giallelis had his own epic journey to get the title role of Stavros.  The main character is in every scene in the film and carries the movie on his shoulders. It was no small feat and Giallelis needed to convince Kazan he was right for the part.

Elia Kazan and Stathis Giallelis America America (1963)
Elia Kazan and Stathis Giallelis on the set of America America (1963)

Giallelis remembered the audition process as being "a long journey." He auditioned for Kazan who responded with a letter telling him that he had to learn English. Giallelis met with producer Charles H. McGuire and while things seemed to be moving forward Kazan wasn't ready to commit. Determined to impress him, Giallelis enlisted his friend Vassillis Vassilikos, author of the novel Z, to write letters in English to Kazan on his behalf. They sent letters back and forth and Kazan finally replied saying that there was a visa waiting for him at the American Embassy. An invitation? Not quite. Giallelis remembers, "but he didn't send me any money and I had no money so I borrowed some money from my uncle, from some friends and I got the cheapest ticket to come to America. And I didn't tell him I was coming to America."

When Giallelis arrived he surprised Kazan in New York City. Kazan gave him fifty dollars to find a room in the city to stay in. Still not fluent in English, Giallelis told the audience that he tried gesturing to a taxi driver what he wanted and tried to pay him with the fifty dollars but had no luck. Finally Giallelis got settled. He was assigned an English tutor and Kazan and Giallelis meet with each other every day. Just when things were starting to progress Kazan introduces Giallelis to a French actor who was also a candidate for the part of Stavros. This didn't stop Giallelis who kept trying for the role. He remembers, "[Kazan] was very elusive about who was going to get the part. He gave me a red book and it was the script. He says to me read this... One day he came up to me and said the French actor went back to France."

Over the years Kazan changed his story of how he cast Giallelis, who joked that the older Kazan got the more the story changed.

Alicia Malone and Stathis Giallelis TCM Classic Film Festival
Alicia Malone in conversation with Stathis Giallelis

Malone went on to say, "you must have had incredible determination to get that role and that of course mirrors your character. Such grit and hope and optimism. How would you say this film sums up the immigrant spirit?"

Giallelis replied, "you have to give up everything. Mine looked like an easy journey. All of us are from somewhere. Our grandfathers, our fathers they came here."

For Kazan, this message was everything and it's so beautifully and harrowingly expressed in his film. Malone asked Giallelis if he got a sense of how special the film was to Kazan while they were on set. Giallelis replied, "yes many times. Sometimes after a scene he'd be hiding on the set. Sometimes you would see him crying. It was very emotional for him."

Kazan would communicate with his actors what he wanted but wasn't very demonstrative. Giallelis remembered, "he would say "I want you to give me this emotion for the scene" [but] he would never show you how to get it... He always knew about his actors. He knew about our lives and what moves us. And sometimes ... you would let him use his knowledge because it would help you as a performer. That was his secret."

The set of America America was a small one and Giallelis remembers there being a lot of camaraderie and love among the group.  Kazan remained friends with Giallelis up until Kazan died in 2003. Giallelis also became good friends with America America cinematographer Haskell Wexler. On Wexler Giallelis said, "he was my best friend.. Every two years we'd come and stay with him for a while. Haskell was a very special man. Not only a great talent and fantastic cinematographer but he was also a great human being. His political views were very hopeful for everybody. And sometimes people thought he was too far to the left. He was a man who always fought for justice. For justice for the under dog. He was always fighting." Giallelis shared with us a funny story of how Wexler was shooting some test footage to see how Giallelis' face would photograph and asked him to shave his mustache. He directed Giallelis to the wrong bathroom. When he opened the door a gang of Italian women started screaming and chased him out of there.

Stathis Giallelis America America (1963)
Stathis Giallelis in America America (1963)

After America America, Stathis Giallelis went on to make a smattering of films. He was in The Eavesdropper (1966) by legendary Argentine director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson and producer Paul Heller. He then made a couple of political films and the war movie Cast a Giant Shadow (1966) with Kirk Douglas, Yul Brynner and John Wayne. He worked with Jules Dassin on The Rehearsal (1974) and remembered it being "another great experience because [Dassin] was very much like Kazan." Giallelis didn't say why he gave up acting but I imagine it was difficult to eclipse the work he did on America America.

Giallelis left us with one last tidbit before the screening began. Malone asked him what the audience should be looking out for when they watch the film. He pointed to his favorite scene when his character Stavros is on a boat on his way to America. He contemplates the tough journey that brought him there and says when he arrives at his destination that he will be washed clean again.

Out of all of the films I saw at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival, this was the one I was the most excited about. I wish it had been a packed house but the film was in a tricky time slot and a three hour drama will have steep competition from shorter, lighter fare. However I hope everyone who did attend was as moved by the film as I was. I had seen the film before and reviewed it some years ago but hadn't revisited since then. When I saw it announced on the TCMFF schedule and that Stathis Giallelis would be in attendance I made it a priority to go. The film blew me away for new and different reasons than it had the first time. If you didn't get a chance to attend this screening or if you've never seen the film before, make it a point to watch America America. You won't regret it.

Raquel Stecher and Stathis Giallelis, TCM Classic Film Festival

I had the honor of meeting and briefly interviewing Stathis Giallelis. Stay tuned for my TCMFF Red Carpet coverage coming soon.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Carl and Rob Reiner Hand and Footprint Ceremony #TCMFF

Carl and Rob Reiner

There are few father and son teams who love and adore each other more than Carl and Rob Reiner. I had the privilege of attending the first ever father-son hand and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre courtyard (formerly known as Grauman's Chinese Theatre). The event was a family affair but also an opportunity to celebrate two entertainment icons.

This is my fifth hand and footprint ceremony and my fourth covering the event for my blog. It's also the very first time I was seated with the guests. For a few moments I felt like I was one with Hollywood royalty.

I got to share this event with other writers and good friends including Karen who was covering for Citizen Screen, Anne Marie of Classic Movie Hub, KC of A Classic Movie Blog, Carrie of and others too.

Karen, Raquel and KC

We sat in our designated seats and watched as the guests arrived. It's always a surprise who will be in attendance and that's half the fun of this event.

Norman Lear

Kevin Nealon

Cary Elwes

Cary Elwes giving Norman Lear a hug

The guests of honor Carl and Rob Reiner with Tom Bergeron

Cary Elwes

We didn't have the best view but we made do with what we had. Actor Cary Elwes, best known for The Princess Bride (1987), sat right in front of me and I strategically had to take photos over his shoulder.

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz

The ceremony kicked off with three speeches. First off was TCM host Ben Mankiewicz who opened the event with some jokes and much praise for the two honorees. He said, "few fathers and sons are as accomplished as Carl and Rob Reiner and none are as funny." As we all know Carl Reiner has had a long and impressive career. He's not only a comedian but he's also an actor, writer, director, producer and even a political activist on Twitter. Mankiewicz noted that Carl Reiner has been in the business for 70 years and "his version of slowing down is writing one book a year." He's currently working on another memoir and a children's book.

Then there is Rob Reiner who forged his own impressive career. Mankiewicz sang Rob Reiner's praises noting his work on All in the Family, This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride and more as well as his production company Castle Rock. Rob Reiner has two political films coming out soon: LBJ and Shock and Awe.

Mankiewicz joked that the combined age of the Reiners is 165 and brought up this tweet by Carl Reiner.

Tom Bergeron

Up next was TV personality and host Tom Bergeron. He joked that to prepare for his speech he Googled "top things to say about a dear friend soon to be immersed in cement." You can imagine what the search results would have been. Bergeron went on to say, "turns out you don't need Google to find the perfect thing to say about Carl. You go to the source." Carl Reiner once said: "The absolute truth is the thing that makes people laugh." Bergeron points out that this "speaks to the rich source of Carl Reiner's genius. He went on to say "this gave us his alter ego Rob Petrie and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Absolute truth turned into comedic beauty. And fifty years later we're still laughing."

Billy Crystal

To pay tribute to Rob Reiner was actor and comedian Billy Crystal. But before he got to Rob he started with a hilarious joke about Carl Reiner: "I realized that Carl was also a prophet. In 1966 on film he screamed “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!” And he also made The Jerk."

Crystal believed it was fate that brought him and Rob Reiner together. He remembered performing at the Comedy Store in 1975 and having a chance meeting with Norman Lear and Carl Reiner. Carl introduced himself saying "Hi I'm Carl Reiner" and Crystal jokingly replied "and what do you do?" Norman Lear called Crystal up with an offer to play Rob Reiner's best friend on All in the Family. Crystal was impressed with how Rob was inclusive and asked him for his opinion and insight. He remembers "the show did very well and we just said, we played best friends why don't we keep that going?" Their working relationship and friendship led to Crystal having the plum roles of Morty the Mime in This is Spinal Tap, Miracle Max in The Princess Bride and what Crystal calls "the part of a lifetime " Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally. Crystal went on to say, "between them [Carl and Rob] is 120 years of great comedy, entertainment and  amazing drama. They are stretching always looking for something new to do. And that’s because the two of them are geniuses."

Carl Reiner

Carl and Rob Reiner
Carl Reiner warmed up the crowd with praise for his son by saying "Ive known this guy for almost all of his life" and went on to compliment him on his photographic memory and his terrific work on The Princess Bride. In fact, Carl Reiner likes to introduce people to three movies in particular: The Count of Monte Cristo, Random Harvest ("if you don't have a tear in your eye or a smile on your face at the end of it you're not human" and The Princess Bride.

This is the first time a father and son had a dual hand and footprint ceremony and Rob Reiner quipped "I think we should not only put our hands and feet in cement, we should put our bald heads. And that's never been done!" I really wish they had done that, it would have been hilarious.

Rob Reiner had much praise for his dad. He said, "my father was my idol. I looked up to him. He stood for everything I wanted to be in life." He remembered when he was 8 years old wanting to change his name. His parents were concerned that he didn't want to live in the shadow of his famous father. His dad asked him what he wanted to change his name to, Rob responded "Carl!" Rob Reiner pointed out Norman Lear who has been like a second father to him.

To his kids he joked, "I wouldn't be here for him having sex with my mother and then you being supportive of me. And you wouldn't be here if I didn't have sex with YOUR mother. TMI. T.M.I."

Then it was time to make their mark in cement. Carl Reiner brought up Mel Brooks, his best friend and fellow genius, who wasn't at the event but there in spirit. Brooks had added a false pinky to one of his hands during his imprint ceremony making him the only one with 11 fingers marked in cement.

Flip through my Instagram post to find a brief video.

Carl and Rob Reiner writing their names in cement

Carl and Rob Reiner just after putting their hands in cement

Carl and Rob Reiner making their footprints in cement

I wish I could have gotten a photo of all the guests with the Reiners and the freshly imprinted cement. Unfortunately the security at the ceremony mistook some of us low-level media for regular passholders and unceremoniously kicked us out before we could get a word in edgewise. It was a rather negative end to what was a quite fun event. I've tried to get that out of my mind and focus on the positives of my experience but haven't been able to do that so far.

I'm still grateful to TCM for the opportunity to cover another wonderful hand and footprint ceremony. Whenever I'm back in Hollywood and I see the imprints of those ceremonies I've covered in the past, I feel a rush knowing I was there for that historic moment.

I hope you enjoyed this armchair experience!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

My Thoughts on the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Thank you to the good folks at TCM for hosting another fantastic festival and for allowing me media access for the fifth year in a row. I feel so privileged to have been to this festival so many times and to share the love of classic film with my fellow movie lovers. TCM Classic Film Festival is magical and anyone who has attended it will agree. If you've always wanted to go but have never been, start saving your pennies now and make it a point to attend in 2018. (I even have some tips on how I budget for TCMFF.)

Every time I go to TCMFF I come back with memories that keep me going throughout the year. Any time I'm feeling down I just think about all the fun I had at the last festival and I immediately cheer up. My work cubicle is adorned with festival passes, buttons and photos of the red carpet and imprint ceremonies. They serve as a daily reminder of those four wonderful days of the year where I live my classic film dream.

My thoughts:

TCMFF is part of my continuing film education. The festival always pushes me to learn about new-to-me films and to explore aspects of movie history I hadn't before. I always make it a point to read all (yes all) of the film descriptions and special guests bios. At first when I looked at the schedule of films I wasn't too elated. But once I started poring through the schedule and read about the films (I watched some trailers) too, I became more excited about new discoveries and revisiting old favorites.

Old favorites - It was a thrill to see Elia Kazan's epic America America (1963) on the big screen. And while Red-Headed Woman (1932) seemed a bit sillier to me on this viewing it was still great fun seeing it with an audience of Pre-Code enthusiasts. I'm so glad I made time to watch Best in Show (2000) which was even funnier than I remembered.

New favorites - What's Up, Doc? (1974) was hilarious and a great way to kick off my San Francisco adventure. I finally got to see The Graduate (1967) in its entirety. I quite enjoyed the gritty boxing film Requiem For a Heavy Weight (1956), the French drama Panique (1946), Mel Brooks' Alfred Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety (1977) and Michael Douglas' nuclear thriller The China Syndrome (1979).

My approach to this year's festival was the most successful. I relied on a flexible schedule that accommodated time for friends, food and fun. I missed programming blocks to have meals, stop by Larry Edmund's for some book shopping, to write and to rest. I attended fewer events but enjoyed them individually much more than I would have had I been more tired and hungry.

The projection of the interviews on the big screen at TCL Chinese Theatre made a huge difference. I also liked the projection of Club TCM events on the small screens behind the bar. Great idea on TCM's part. I remember in 2015 struggling to see Sophia Loren at the TCL even though we sat fairly close to the front. I hope TCM adds this projection to the Egyptian and the bigger of the Chinese Multiplex theatres too.

The red carpet event was amazing. I feel very privileged to have been able to attend. I got some good face time with Dick Cavett, Todd Fisher, Leonard Maltin, Stathis Giallelis and more and some interaction with Walter Mirisch, Fred Willard and Ruta Lee. Full report and video to come!

Dick Cavett was the top highlight for me. Talking to him on the red carpet and seeing him at Club TCM. My first ever post on this blog was about Dick Cavett and I've been an admirer her for years. I'm forever grateful to have been able to see him and interact with him as much as I did.

The overall flow of the festival was good this year. I had no issues with lines, the volunteers were all super friendly and loved chatting with us, every event I attended started on time and I enjoyed most of the presentations and all of the interviews. I loved spending some time with TCM staffers and seeing them out and about. They are the backbone of the festival.

There were a few negatives...

I did not enjoy Lady in the Dark (1944) at all. It was a downer to end the festival with a film I thought to be boring and sexist. At least it had beautiful Edith Head costumes? While I'm so glad I did a midnight screening and Zardoz was the perfect bad movie to watch with friends, it really threw my schedule off for the remaining two days. I have to face the fact that I'll always be a morning person.

While I had great fun at the Carl and Rob Reiner Hand and Footprint Ceremony, we had a terrible view and security confused us low-level media members with passholders and they unceremoniously kicked us out before we could get a word in edgewise. I unfortunately missed my opportunity to take a photo of the freshly imprinted cement.

I didn't get to see Sidney Poitier which was a personal dream of mine. He didn't walk the red carpet and I wasn't able to get into the opening night screening. I was quite despondent about it.

This was my first year attending the festival after giving up caffeine. With nothing to keep me awake I did end up napping a little through a couple of the movies. Luckily I only missed a few minutes of each rather than whole chunks.

Family reunion with Kim, Carlos, Raquel, Millie, Diana, Sabina, Kate, Casey, Laura, KC and Lindsay. Photo by Doug

For me, the best part of TCMFF will always be spending time with the classic film community. We are the true rock stars of the festival. We are part of Robert Osborne's legacy and we'll continue spreading the movie love for decades to come.

I'm grateful to have spent so much time with dear friends. This is usually my one chance to see them in person. For the rest of the year we're relegated to communicating only through social media. I made it a point to spend more time with folks I hadn't been able to talk to at length at previous festivals. This planned worked beautifully. During TCMFF I treasure every moment I get to spend with them face-to-face. Here are some of the friends I was privileged to spend some time with this year.

Raquel and Millie

Raquel and Kate

Millie, Raquel, Kate and Casey

Casey and Raquel. Photo by Casey

Raquel and Aurora

Danny and Raquel

Karen, Raquel and KC

Jay and Raquel

Carlos and Raquel photo bombed by Danny and Kristen

Raquel and Matt

Marya, Raquel and Noralil

Aubrey and Raquel

Joel and Raquel

Raquel and Sabina

Until next time!

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