Wednesday, May 8, 2013

TCM Classic Film Festival - Press Conference with Ben Mankiewicz

This is the second of my transcripts for the Press Conference that happened on Wednesday April 24th, 2013 at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I tried to be as thorough as possible but there is some paraphrasing along with some quoting. It's not word-for-word but as close as I can get to it. Note that various people asked questions at the press conference. Enjoy!

Question: TCM has worked with a lot of diversity this past year will there be more of that?

Mankiewicz:  After some fumbling, Mankiewicz proudly announces he's wearing his first pocket square ever. Ha! Mankiewicz has had the opportunity working for TCM for the past ten years to meet a lot of people. He notes that he's learned more from Lawrence Carter-Long, who participated in the Projected Image: A History of Disability on Film special, than anyone else he's ever met. Mankiewicz expects that we will see more diversity and that Carter-Long is a resource that TCM has depended on since that special aired and he's glad that the special made the impact that it did.

Question: How was the theme Cinematic Journeys chosen for the festival this year and what are your favorite films that fall into that category?

Mankiewicz: This is more of a question for Charles Tabesh. Mankiewicz thinks it's a logical choice and the travel theme opens so many movies to us. He mentions Guilt Trip (2012) with Barbra Streisand, a contemporary movie Mankiewicz thoroughly enjoyed. Which isn't at the festival but he points it out anyways. Mankiewicz was looking forward to The Great Escape (1963) and Airplane! (1980) (Mankiewicz jokes that the film looks to be filmed with a budget of $4.95). He thinks the fashion theme of last year and the journey theme for this year made for really great programming.

Question: Film Noir Foundation asks if Mankiewicz has any Film Noir favorites and any Film Noirs he'd like to see programmed in the future.

Mankiewicz:  Mankiewicz mentioned that there are a lot of noirs he'd like to see programmed at the festival. He points out that Eddie Muller has been a great resource for TCM and will be a Friday night guest programmer on the channel. That special has already been filmed and will be coming up soon with about 20-24 films featured. Mankiewicz mentions three John Dahl contemporary noirs that he'd like to see programmed. Now that he's thought of it, Mankiewicz is going to make that suggestion.

Question: TCM is moving more into the 1970s. How much are we going to see of more contemporary films that are influenced by the past?

Mankiewicz: TCM is very open-minded about what makes a classic movie and doesn't distinguish them by years removed. It's not as if in 2027 we can start showing stuff from 1999. The movies have to have some emotional connection to the audience. TCM has a lot of viewers under the age of 49 and they realized that most of them had not seen a lot of the films TCM is showing when they were released or any time close to when they were released. So how did these classic films become important to contemporary viewers? Usually through some connection with a more contemporary movie or from being shown the film by a parent, grandparent, etc. As we get better perspective on films, and that does come with time, then those titles become more available to TCM for programming ideas. You'll see newer movies on TCM but nothing will stop them from showing those classics that people have some to love. Mankiewicz uses an example that if a 30 something loves Preston Sturges now, what's to say another 30-something twenty years from now can't love Preston Sturges too? Mankiewicz says there are better films and filmmakers in the 1970s than the 1980s.

Question: Who determines who hosts which screening? Does Mankiewicz ever get a say and is he ever disappointed?

Mankiewicz: He jokes that he arm wrestles with Robert Osborne and Osborne always wins. Charles Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy know Mankiewicz well and usually place him where he wants to be. (At one point Mankiewicz says he's regretted some and I'm sure now after the festival the Mitzi Gaynor interview might be one of them). There are disappointments and the biggest one for Mankiewicz at the festival is missing out on interviewing Max von Sydow for Three Days of the Condor (1975) because it's one of Mankiewicz's favorite films that he can quote almost line-by-line. Sometimes it's the way the schedule works. While it's a disappointment, he still gets to talk to Max von Sydow about The Seventh Seal (1957) and possibly learn something in the process.

Question: Twitter and Tumblr are all abuzz with Classic Film. #TCMParty on Twitter is mentioned. Has Mankiewicz noticed this kind of internet attention and buzz for TCM?

Mankiewicz: Mankiewicz has participated in #TCMParty on Twitter and thinks it's an incredibly rewarding thing. It's a clue into what makes the festival such a success. The shared experience of classic movies online is amplified when people get together at the festival and share that enthusiasm with each other face-to-face. And on top of that they get to see stars like Max von Sydow and Ann Blyth talk. This is all a reminder that TCM has the ability to touch people in a very special way. This is something that no other television channel can claim. Mankiewicz uses the example of ESPN. He's a big sports fan and watches ESPN but he doesn't care about the channel. People genuinely care about TCM. The folks at the channel feel an obligation towards their fans that they take very seriously and there is a special bond that exists between TCM and their viewers that is virtually unheard of. It doesn't exist anywhere else and it never will.

Comment: Someone noted that Ben Mankiewicz shaved off his goatee and now dresses a bit differently.  What's with the makeover?

Mankiewicz: Item #1 on Mankiewicz's contract with TCM, before money or anything else, stated "Artist must keep and maintain goatee. Failure to keep and maintain goatee will be considered breach of contract". (This is hilarious!) Years later, he eventually asked about it and they didn't believe that it was in the contract at all. In the beginning of his days at TCM, he had conversations about whether he could wear a prosthetic goatee. As far as his clothes and set design go, there was a change of management hence the makeover. Osborne and Mankiewicz are very particular about the way they dress and always want to look good on screen. Mankiewicz says his brother is a news correspondent and always makes the top 10 best dressed people on TV lists.

Question: Why are Pre-Code films so popular these days? Especially in the past few years.

Mankiewicz: At TCM, there has always been an interest in Pre-Code films. He didn't realize there was a recent boom. Mankiewicz says one of the reasons may be availability now that so many of these Pre-Code films are available on DVD. They are so shocking. Even though the Hays Code existed at that point, it was more of an enforcement issue until the Fatty Arbuckle trial (for which he was acquitted but in the end that didn't really matter). It's a matter of watching these films and seeing things you didn't expect to see. Everything is the same as it appears Post-Code (or Post-Enforcement of the Code) but they are so much more honest. This should tell us a little bit how films could have been without the code. He notes that some people romanticize the elements used to mean other things (like a horse rearing meaning people are having sex). While you wouldn't want to change anything about Hollywood history but it would have been interesting if things were different. It would have been interesting to go forward in the 1940s and 1950s with movies without any restrictions. Mankiewicz thinks it would have been better. (Interjection: if you read my transcript of Osborne's portion of the press conference you'll see that he disagrees with Mankiewicz on this point).

Question: Question about why Coming Home (1978) is not as available as Harold & Maude (1971)?

Mankiewicz: Mankiewicz is not sure but it might be a rights issue more so than a stigma. He notes that Jane Fonda and Jon Voigt are both at the festival and they were the stars of Coming Home.

Question: What does Mankiewicz think about movie fans staying home more, watching TCM and Netflix, participating in #TCMParty, etc. instead of going out to see more films in the theatres?

Mankiewicz: He thinks it's always better to watch movies in a theater with a lot of people.There are reasonable arguments to have that watching films at home, on your iPad, on a small screen, is not the way the director intended the film to be seen. Ultimately, it's best to watch them at the theater. To see how many people have developed friendships on #TCMParty, that's not to be dismissed. Mankiewicz jokes that the #TCMParty folks are shut-ins. He's had some emotional moments with #TCMParty even if he doesn't participate very much. Mankiewicz doesn't think people realized the power of those online connections. Progress is not a straight line, sometimes it jumps around but it's still progress. We are losing that theater experience but he doesn't foresee that everyone will be watching films exclusively on their phones. Fight for which size is important to you. Mankiewicz says he's seen a lot of great movies on his iPad mini. Not ideal, but he's had a chance to watch films he might not have otherwise and he's grateful for that. We don't quite realize how important those Twitter connections and those connections are not empty ones.

(Interjection: I don't attend #TCMParty myself but I think it's wonderful for the people who do participate. I do however connect with a lot of fans on Twitter so I'm happy to see Ben Mankiewicz acknowledge that online classic film community.)

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