Monday, December 26, 2016

La La Land (2016)

Poster for La La Land (2016)

City of stars 
Are you shining just for me? 
City of stars 
There's so much that I can't see

If ever there was a contemporary movie that could charm its way into the hearts of classic film fans it's La La Land (2016).

Based on an original screenplay by filmmaker Damien Chazelle, La La Land tells the love story of two struggling artists trying to make it in Hollywood. The lovebirds, actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), get off to a rocky start but as they discover their common ground sparks fly. Their passion for their individual crafts and their support for each other's dreams brings them together but also drives them apart. It's a love story where love for the art and love for each other are in conflict. There are song and dance numbers throughout the film, lots of amazing costumes, on-location shooting and finery that make this film a visual spectacle to savor. The most striking part of this film is the alternate ending within the ending which caps off this marvelous film.

La La Land (2016)

La La Land (2016)

Musicals require us to suspend our disbelief that everyday people can break out into song and dance. Classic film fans (and theatre goers) embrace this genre but even those who don't will find much to enjoy in this film. The song and dance numbers are expertly choreographed and the theme song City of Stars is a catchy tune. I can't speak to Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling's singing skills but as a former dancer I didn't think they necessarily had the chops to pull off the dance moves. There weren't many of those for them and the signature song and dance number that graces the advertising for the film was decent. In the early days of Hollywood, triple threats, actors and actresses who could act, sing and dance, were a lot more common than they are today.

La La Land (2016)

La La Land is influenced by many classic movies. In one scene, Gosling mimics Gene Kelly's signature Singin' in the Rain move where he climbs a lamp post. Stone's Mia wanted to become an actress when she was exposed to films such as Notorious (1946) and Bringing Up Baby (1938) as a child. Ingrid Bergman is practically an extra in the film. Mia's bedroom is adorned with a gigantic poster of her, she graces a Hollywood Hills billboard and Mia shows Sebastian a spot on the Warner Bros. lot where Casablanca (1942) was filmed. Mia and Sebastian have their first real date at the Rialto Theatre to see Rebel Without a Cause (1955). They visit the Griffiths Observatory shortly afterwards for one of the more ethereal musical numbers. The on-location shooting gives the movie a real sense of place. Mia works on the Warner Bros. lot and lives in the Hollywood, both places that Carlos and I have come to know after traveling to the area for the four previous TCM Classic Film Festivals.

La La Land was filmed in Cinemascope on 35mm. I watched a digital presentation of it and it was a bit fuzzy especially during the group dance numbers. If you have an opportunity to watch this one in 35mm do it!

When I left the theater after the film was over I was in a state of mild euphoria. La La Land had it all: good music, a great story with excellent character development, classic film references galore, stunning visuals all wrapped up in a beautiful package. There was very little I didn't like about the film. It's not perfect but there is much to enjoy.

La La Land is a fine film worthy of even the pickiest classic film fan.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Dolce Vita Confidential by Shawn Levy

Dolce Vita Confidential
Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome by Shawn Levy
W.W. Norton & Company
9780393247589 - 480 pages
September 2016

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

"Rome had always had a way of making even the most egregious aspects of its past look romantic and alluring." - Shawn Levy

1950s Rome was the epicenter of culture: fashion, film, luxury cars, Vespas, race car driving, celebrity and paparazzi. How did a city in ruins after the destruction of WWII transform itself into the epitome of glamour and fame? The answer to this is found in Shawn Levy's book Dolce Vita Confidential. In the book Levy paints the picture of postwar Italy and how luck, good timing and lots of talent transformed how the world saw Italy and how Italy saw itself.

“Italian taste – and, as well, a taste for Italy and things Italian – was spreading rapidly in the biggest market in the world [the USA].” – Shawn Levy

The focus of this book is not solely on films but there is much for the film buff to savor here. The film industry influenced many of the other aspects of the culture. For example, there was a huge increase in sales of Vespas after the release of Roman Holiday (1953). Burgeoning Italian dressmakers and designers like the Fontana Sisters, Pucci and Valentino made everything from wedding dresses, sportswear, and costumes for American film stars. The world of scandal, notoriety and gossip always intersected with the world of film.

Rome's film industry was put on pause during the war. Cinecitta, a local movie studio made 279 films before it was shut down by WWII and after the war it struggled to get back into the business. American filmmakers were coming in droves to Italy to capture the essence of what made the city such a hub of lifestyle, culture, fashion and history. But most of these were parachute projects where they filmed on location in Rome, used their own crews instead of local ones and opted out of utilizing Cinecitta as a home base for shooting interiors. They often flew back home to Hollywood to film the rest. It wasn't until American filmmakers saw the benefits, and tax breaks, of filming solely in Italy that Rome became "Hollywood on the Tiber", a term invented by TIME magazine.

Levy touches upon many of the American films shot on Hollywood on the Tiber including Prince of Foxes (1949), Quo Vadis (1951) The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Ben-Hur (1959) and brief mentions of some '60s films including Come September (1961), Rome Adventure (1962) and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963). And then there were the many Scandaloni films: “low-budget, Italian-made, sword-and-sandal movies, bowdlerized rehashings of tales from Greek, Roman, and Judeo-Christian history and mythology.”

Then there were the Italian filmmakers of the 1950s. According to Levy, hese directors and producers "created brave new works that explored the human struggles of the moment.” These include Robert Rossellini, Dino De Laurentiis, Frederico Fellini, Carlo Ponti and more. Films discussed include The Bicycle Thief (1948), La Strada (1954) and many more. Levy lingers on the career of Fellini most of all especially his two epic works La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8-1/2 (1963).

To understand La Dolce Vita one must understand the celebrity culture of Rome. It starts with Via Veneto, a street in Rome that became the mecca for the Hollywood elite. It boasted an American embassy, American style restaurants, luxury hotels, shops and boutiques and pretty much everything an American movie star visiting the city would want to have nearby. Via Veneto also became a haunt for photojournalists who worked for the increasingly popular gossip rags and wanted to photograph the Hollywood icons at play. It was the birthplace of the celebrity and paparazzi culture complete with harassment, scandal, grit and glamour. Without Via Veneto there would be no TMZ. Fellini's La Dolce Vita captured this new culture on screen and it's most iconic scene, Anita Ekberg wading through the waters of the Trevi fountain, was based on a real incident with Ekberg who was herself a major celebrity in Rome. La Dolce Vita's effect on Rome was immediate. Via Veneto was no longer a safe place for Hollywood elite and soon became where wanna-be celebrities came seeking any morsels of fame their outrageous antics might garner them. La Dolce Vita as a catchphrase came to represent what moviegoers around the world, especially in the United States, thought life was like in Rome. And while the word paparazzi is never used in the film it was created during the making of and has stuck ever since.

Swedish actress Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita (1960)

“The idea for the film is inseparable from the idea of Anita Ekberg.” – Frederico Fellini on La Dolce Vita

Foreign celebrities like Ekberg, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman, Linda Christian and Audrey Hepburn infiltrated Rome but a new class of Italian film stars were elbowing their way in for a chance at the spotlight. I was particularly fascinated by competition between two maggioratas ("curvy girls") Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida. I'm team Lollo all the way but can appreciate what both brought to the table. Levy says "Gina had become famous and her natural beauty, her rags-to-riches story, and her aura of sexuality paired with moral decency all combined to make her an ideal of young Italian girls who all wanted to follow in her footsteps.” Sophia Loren was her polar opposite. Scandal arose from her complicated relationship to the already married Carlo Ponti and it didn't help that Loren was born out of wedlock. Both scenarios were not looked upon well by a strict Catholic culture. Loren even had to leave Italy for several years when her marriage to Ponti was not recognized by the Italian government. Lollobrigida had her own struggles; she couldn't make films with American producers due to a strange contract the ever controlling Howard Hughes made her sign. (Beat the Devil was a convenient workaround. Although it's an American film it was financed in Europe). Both became giant movie stars but in the end Lollo's heart wasn't in acting and other creative pursuits called her name. Loren went on to have a fantastic career throughout the '60s and '70s where as Lollo gave up acting in movies in the 1970s.

Sophia Loren, Yvonne De Carlo and Gina Lollobrigida. Lollo refused to be in a picture only with Loren but agreed when De Carlo stepped in to make it a trio.

I particularly enjoyed this observation Levy shares about actor Rossano Brazzi that applies to many Italian film stars of the time: “the figure held an attraction/repulsion for American audiences who were fascinated by what they saw as Continental charm and sexual libertinism but preferred to think of it, apparently, at a remove of a few thousand miles rather than on the streets they walked.” Even reluctant sex symbols like Marcello Mastroianni held the thrall of Americans at a safe distance.

Dolce Vita Confidential paints the picture of 1950s Rome in all it's glory and scandal. It's a fun and entertaining read with much information to take in. The book is very readable but it will take you a while to get through it as it's packed with much detail.

Notes: My husband is a big fan of Shawn Levy's Rat Pack Confidential and comes highly recommended by him. If you have a subscription to FilmStruck many of the Italian films mentioned in the book are available on that service.

Thank you to W.W. Norton and Company for sending me this book for review!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Gold Star (2016)

Gold Star (2016) film poster

A daughter. Her dad. The 65 years separating them. 

When the age divide between father, mother and child is significant it creates a unique family dynamic. It’s one that few will understand unless they’ve lived in it or have seen it first hand. I grew up in such a family. My father was 58 years old when I was born and my mother was 29. Having a much older father presented many issues that another family might not have to deal with. It would mean our time with my father would be limited and we’d soon shift from mother and daughter roles to caretakers.

We were also not his only family. That's not unusual in situations such as these. I have two half-sisters, both older than my mother and resentful of the love and attention I got from our father that was denied them when he left that family many years ago. The multiple family dynamic makes for complications when the time comes to make plans and divvy up the estate. If you don’t know what this family dynamic is like it’s hard to imagine the complexities. For someone like me it’s difficult to explain our family situation to others.

Victoria Negri in Gold Star (2016)
Victoria Negri in Gold Star (2016)

That’s why I’m very grateful for Gold Star (2016), a new film written, directed, produced and starring Victoria Negri. The story is based on her real life relationship with her much older father and what happens after he suffered a stroke. While Negri's story is deeply rooted in truth, and even filmed on location where real events happened, this is not a documentary. Victoria’s character Vicki is different from herself and according to a recent interview with the filmmaker reacts differently to her father’s situation than in real life. Playing Vicki’s father Carmine is classic Hollywood actor Robert Vaughn in his final on screen role. He passed away last month. Actress Catherine Curtin plays Deanne, Carmine’s wife and Vicki’s mother, and this triumvirate is fascinating to watch on screen.

Here is the official synopsis of the film from the website and the teaser trailer:

After dropping out of Juilliard, Vicki drifts aimlessly between her family’s house in Connecticut and an itinerant existence in New York. When her father suffers a debilitating stroke, she has to become his primary caretaker. Vicki resists connecting with him, and making peace with herself, but finds a way forward thanks to a new friend and a life-changing event.

If you think a film about a mother and daughter caring for an elderly father sounds like an emotional drain, fear not. Negri adeptly adds other story elements to create a thoughtful and well-rounded film. The focus is on her and what’s going on in her world and not strictly on her ailing father. There are moments of levity and romance in addition to the drama of the situation.

Robert Vaughn and Victoria Negri in Gold Star (2016)

My mother and I watched Gold Star together. We were both amazing how much the film mirrored our own story. My father’s illness and eventual death played out much differently than in the film but we found a lot of common ground in the essentials of the story. The age differences were almost the same (Vicki and her father are 65 years apart in age) and our struggles paralleled theirs. There was even a subplot involving the protagonist's half-sister which I couldn't help but relate to. We watched Gold Star a few days after Robert Vaughn had passed away. I always joked that Vaughn was my other father because of my mom’s lifelong crush on him. She’s been ready to propose marriage to Vaughn ever since she first caught glimpse of him during The Man from U.N.C.L.E days. I knew if she ever met him in person he’d be in danger of a few smooches or at least an attempt at them. Just prior to watching Gold Star, my mom and I watched a few episodes of El Agente de C.I.P.O.L, as the show was called in the Spanish-speaking world. Watching Vaughn at the tail ends of his career one can’t help but marvel at the passage of time and his evolution as an actor. He has a non-speaking role in Gold Star because his character’s stroke renders him speechless. Vaughn’s performance is nuanced and simply stunning. He’s left us all with one final role that is worthy of his enduring legend.

Robert Vaughn in Gold Star (2016)
Robert Vaughn in Gold Star (2016)

Many will come to see Gold Star specifically for Vaughn but I hope they enjoy Negri’s story too. It’s an important one to tell: the significance of family and the pain that comes at the end of life. This film is not driven by plot but rather by raw emotion and the awkward, sad, happy and confused moments all combine to create an experience for the viewer.

Gold Star (2016) is a profoundly moving film with an important story to tell. It is currently on the film festival circuit. You can visit the official site for details on future screenings and sign up for their newsletter. I’m looking forward to seeing this film get a wider release.

Thank you to Victoria Negri and Gold Star LLC for the opportunity to review this film!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Warner Archive - Author Mark Beauregard on Moby-Dick (1930)

I present to you a very special edition of Warner Archive Wednesday. Today we have a special guest author Mark Beauregard who is a brilliant writer and also a good friend. Earlier this year Viking Books published his novel The Whale: A Love Story which explores the relationship between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne when Melville was writing Moby-Dick. It's a fascinating novel and I encourage you all to pick it up. Mark has studied Moby-Dick and Melville for 6 years and I couldn't think of anyone better to discuss the 1930 film adaptation of this mega-classic.

As a special bonus I'm hosting a giveaway of an autographed copy of Mark Beauregard's book. Details are at the bottom!

Single White Whale Seeks Adventure: How John Barrymore Turned Moby-Dick into a Love Triangle 
by Mark Beauregard 

We’re so used to Moby-Dick in our culture that it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t know the story of the White Whale. Even if you haven’t read Herman Melville’s book, you know the basic plot: boy meets whale, whale bites off boy’s leg, boy swears vengeance, whale kills everyone. The symbolic White Whale—that impossible desire that a person will sacrifice everything to attain—has become such a ubiquitous motif in America that literally not a day goes by without a mention in some newspaper article of a politician’s, athlete’s, or chef’s White Whale, and White Whale plush toys, beers, and salad tongs abound. We even have more than a dozen filmed adaptations, ranging from the perplexing (a broody, out-of-place William Hurt as Ahab in the BBC’s 2011 version) to the tediously reverent (John Huston’s 1956 version with Gregory Peck), but all of the adaptations and plays and operas and spoofs have one basic thing in common: they more or less follow the plot of the novel. Not so, John Barrymore’s curious 1930 version, which uses the novel to launch a melodramatic love triangle.

This first-ever talkie Moby-Dick was a remake of Barrymore’s own 1926 silent version, a wildly popular film called The Sea Beast, and neither movie cared a fig for the actual plot of Melville’s book, because by 1930, almost no one had read it. Melville’s great American novel was a commercial and critical flop when it appeared in 1851, and it disappeared from the public imagination for more than seventy years, until it was revived with a new edition in 1924. When The Sea Beast appeared, Melville’s book had only just been rediscovered and hadn’t yet entered the American popular imagination, so Barrymore and his crew used the epic quest of the mad Captain Ahab merely as a point of departure for a star-powered romance—a tangled triangle of love involving Barrymore’s drunk, fun-loving, swashbuckling Ahab; Ahab’s plotting brother (played by a dashing Lloyd Hughes); and the woman both men are in love with, a preacher’s daughter played by Joan Bennett in the winsome, early phase of her long and storied career. In fact, Bennett plays Faith Mapple, Father Mapple’s daughter—if you’ve read the book, this little tidbit tells you all you need to know about how fast and loose the filmmakers play with every element in Melville’s weighty book.

Joan Bennett, Lloyd Hughes and John Barrymore - Moby-Dick (1930)

In the 1920s, as ever, Hollywood was hungry for stories, and it didn’t really matter what happened as long as everything came out all right in the end. Never mind the tragic demise of Ahab and most of his ship’s crew in Melville’s book, and never mind that Moby-Dick swims inscrutably away: Warner Bros. knew what side their popcorn was buttered on, so they made a few changes to the plot (spoiler alert) to allow Ahab to kill the whale and get the girl! We can only imagine Melville’s apoplexy if he had lived to see this adaptation, and that’s part of the fun for us as modern viewers.

Barrymore’s Moby-Dick was directed by Lloyd Bacon—also the director of the song-and-dance fantasia 42nd Street—and it clips right along, alternating between comic scenes of Ahab’s drunken exploits ashore, not-altogether-wholesome love scenes between Ahab and Faith, and rousing action scenes of chest-thumping men on the open seas harpooning sperm whales. The special-effect sea beasts, while more Land Shark than Industrial Light and Magic, still lean toward the realistic, and the action sequences of Ahab’s men battling and spearing leviathans of the deep come off well: they’re splashy, exciting, and infused with a sense of genuine danger. But this is a movie whose pleasures add up to more than the sum of its parts.
Taken separately, the love triangle is corny, the animosity between Ahab and his brother is a bit Snidely Whiplash, and Ahab’s encounter with Moby-Dick is head-scratching in its utter disregard for the grandeur of Melville’s original. But taken as a whole, the movie becomes something sweeter and more memorable than it has any right to be: we feel Ahab’s genuine torment over his love for Faith; Faith’s anguished devotion to Ahab is ultimately endearing; and the way Ahab and his brother settle their feud (a plot point I won’t spoil!) seems both shocking and just.

Reviewing it in 1930 for The New York Times, critic Mordaunt Hall applauded the movie’s action scenes and admired its romantic heart (“The scenes in New Bedford and the romance of Ahab and Faith are capitally pictured and flawlessly acted”), but for us modern viewers the fun in this Warner Archive release is how it transports us back to a time when America’s cultural touchstones were different. No one had read Moby-Dick, no puckish marijuana grower had named a potent strain of weed after Ahab’s leviathan, and no journalist would even think of writing about a politician’s White Whale—no one would know what it meant!

Yes, in 1930, there were still beasts in the sea, but in the stories we told they were mainly obstacles in the way of a sailor’s return home (incidentally, Ron Howard uses this same romantic framing device for his 2015 whaling yarn In the Heart of the Sea, so maybe Hollywood hasn’t changed all that much). In this Warner Archive Moby-Dick, the romance is all the better because the gorgeous Joan Bennett is waiting home for Ahab, and the equally gorgeous John Barrymore distracts us from the story we know from Melville and lets us cheer when Moby-Dick goes down.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending us this title for review!

Mark Beauregard signing your copy of The Whale: A Love Story


In the comments below tell me about your favorite classic novel turned classic film. 
You'll be entered for a chance to win an autographed copy of The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard. 
Contest ends midnight Saturday December 10th and is open internationally. I'll announce the winner in the comments section below and e-mail the recipient. Good luck!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Come Fly With Me

Was there anything more glamorous than a movie star flying during the golden era of aviation? I remember when I was a little girl and my parents and I dressed up to fly. It was a big deal. I even remember having a TWA bag (too bad we didn't keep it!). Today air travel is a lot more casual but we can still dream of the time when flying in style was a must.

This month I gathered a collection of various photos of classic film stars flying to what I imagine are exotic locales or movie premieres. I named the collection Come Fly With Me after Frank Sinatra's song and the 1963 film. I posted the full collection on my Twitter, Facebook page, Google+ Collection and on my Pinterest as well. Here are a few of my favorites:

Altovise and Sammy Davis Jr. at Heathrow Airport
Altovise and Sammy Davis Jr. at Heathrow Airport
Brigitte Bardot flying Air France
Brigitte Bardot flying Air France

Françoise Dorléac and Catherine Deneuve flying Air France
Françoise Dorléac and Catherine Deneuve flying Air France

Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra with a private jet
Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra

Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway

Gina Lollobrigida flying KLM Dutch Airlines
Gina Lollobrigida flying KLM Dutch Airlines

James Garner and his wife Lois flying TWA
James Garner and his wife Lois flying TWA

Jerry Lewis flying American Airlines
Jerry Lewis flying American Airlines

Dorothy and Robert Mitchum at the airport
Dorothy and Robert Mitchum

Paul Newman flying Alitalia
Paul Newman flying Alitalia

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier

Sophia Loren at a Pan Am lounge
Sophia Loren at a Pan Am lounge

Telly Savalas and family at Heathrow Airport
Telly Savalas and family at Heathrow Airport

Robert Wagner and Spencer Tracy flying TWA
Robert Wagner and Spencer Tracy flying TWA

Yul Brynner at the airport
Yul Brynner

Friday, November 25, 2016

2016 Classic Film Holiday Gift Guide

Is your loved one a bonafide classic film nut? Do you have absolutely no idea what to get them for the holidays? Look no further! I have some excellent ideas for you. These gifts range in price and fit any budget and will be guaranteed to please.

For the classic film fan who thinks they've seen it all but still wants to see more...

FilmStruck is a new streaming service created by the folks at Turner Classic Movies in collaboration with Criterion. Available on a multitude of devices this service streams a variety of indie and foreign films that will appeal to the film buff with sophisticated tastes. There is no gift membership option yet but you could always offer to purchase one of the plans for your loved one. $6.99 a month gets you the FilmStruck channel, $10.99 a month gets you FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel and you can buy a year's membership for both channels for a one time fee of $99.

For the time traveler...

Fitzpatrick Traveltalks

Take an armchair trip around the world with James Fitzpatrick "The Voice of the Globe". Warner Archive collects 186 of the Fitzpatrick TravelTalks shorts presented in glorious Technicolor. Fitzpatrick traveled the world capturing images of far off lands and familiar terrain here as well. These MGM shorts are from the 1930s to the early 1950s and are narrated by Fitzpatrick. Chances are your beloved has seen some of these on TCM but this is the first time they've all been made available on DVD-MOD and the newest Volume 3 completes the set. These are so much fun to watch and if your loved one is like me and adores time traveling with the help of movies and documentaries they'll love these! Each volume retails at $29.99 (the first two are on sale right now at 30% off!)

For the ultimate TCM fan...

Me at the Francis Ford Coppola Imprint Ceremony TCMFF 2016

You're buying them a trip of a lifetime with this pass. The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival will be held in Hollywood April 6 to the 9th. The Essential Pass is sold out but other passes are still available. The Classic Pass is your best deal at $649. It gets you into everything except for the opening night movie and gala. I've been to this festival four times and each one was life changing. Read my extensive coverage of TCMFF for some ideas of what to expect.

For art lovers...

Many classic film fans are familiar with Kate Gabrielle's work. We've worn her fan club pins everywhere, especially at #TCMFF. Beyond her pins she's got great art prints, brooches, patches, pocket mirrors, greeting cards and more. My favorite piece from her collection is this fabulous Gene Tierney art print ($15) inspired by a scene from Leave Her to Heaven (1945). Add a frame to this and you have a fantastic holiday gift.

For the classic film fan on the go...

My TCM tote bags come in handy. I take them with me everywhere. I even have a TCM gym bag for my exercise gear. Tote bags are a great way to express your passion in simple and efficient manner.

For classic film enthusiasts who enjoy new movies too...

Fandango Gift Cards

Need to pad a holiday present with something extra? A Fandango gift card would help get your movie lover to the theatre to see some future classics. 

For Boston area classic film fans...

Membership to a repertory theatre

If the recipient of your gift is Boston based you could do no wrong by getting them a membership to one of our fine repertory theatres. These show classic movies on the big screen regularly and a membership supports their love for old movies and helps keep these wonder theatres in business. The Harvard Film Archive screens foreign and obscure classics and an individual membership is $55 and includes discounts, free screenings, special access and a subscription to their program calendar. The Brattle Theatre in Harvard has a wide variety of classic, cult and indie screenings as well as other events and special programming. A basic membership is $80 is includes 12 free passes plus concession stand coupons, discounts at several local shops and eateries and more. The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline is an art house theatre with new and classic film screenings. A Film Buff membership is $75 a year (and tax deductible!) and includes free passes, member only benefits, discounts at the concession, on tickets and on merchandise and more. Not in Boston? Check if your classic film lover has a local repertory house with a membership option.

For bookish classic film fans...

If your movie lover is also big on reading, classic film books are a must. You can buy a set of titles as a nice bundle or add one to a package you're putting together. You can find a list of the most recently released titles on my latest New & Upcoming Classic Film Books round-up. Above titles include:

Retail $22.00
Not available until just after Christmas so you'd need an IOU.
by Shawn Levy
Retail $27.99
Calling all classic film fans! What present would you absolutely love to receive during the holidays? Tell me in the comments below.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Filmmaker Victoria Negri on working with Robert Vaughn

Victoria Negri and Robert Vaughn on the set of Gold Star (2016) - Photo by Ben Jarosch

I'm pleased to present you with a guest post from filmmaker Victoria Negri who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the new independent movie Gold Star (2016). Based on a true story, Gold Star follows Vicki as she deals with the complications that arise from her 90 year old father's recent stroke. Her father is played by Robert Vaughn and this is his final film. I had the privilege of watching this film recently and I marveled at the fine storytelling, Vaughn's amazing performance and how much the story reminded me of my own father's illness. I'll have a full review of the film on the blog soon. In the meantime enjoy this guest post.

Robert Vaughn in Gold Star (2016)

"Today, Robert Vaughn would have been 84 years old. I initially wrote this blog post about working with Robert the night before his passing, and have since edited it. Everything about working with him is surreal now that he’s gone. Trying to sum up what working with him means to me personally and my career overall is challenging.

My debut feature film, Gold Star, which I also star in and produced, is loosely inspired by my experiences caring for my father during his last year alive, after he suffered a stroke that left him speechless and mostly paralyzed. It’s an unconventional father/daughter story, one that I hope honestly portrays ideas surrounding the ways we process the inevitability of aging and death.

I initially set about to cast an unknown actor in the role of my dad. I admired films with non-actors, and wanted someone who felt “real,” perhaps someone who had recovered from a stroke in real life and could realistically portray it in a movie. After meeting with several non-actors, I abandoned the idea, fearing hiring someone almost 90 years old without experience would prove to be too difficult. I hired casting director Judy Bowman in New York to help me in my quest to cast the role of Carmine, my father in the film. Robert Vaughn, Oscar nominee, Emmy winner and veteran of more than sixty years in the business, was at the top of our list.

It was a fairly straightforward process. We reached out to him, sent him the script, made an offer through his manager, and he accepted.

I met Robert a month-and-a-half before we began production. I drove to his house in Connecticut, through wooded back roads, up steep hills, past beautiful homes. His residence was at the end of a long street. As I walked up the front path, I did a few relaxation breathing techniques I learned in yoga and Tai Chi classes, trying to prepare myself, and was quickly interrupted by a booming, old school Hollywood kind of voice, “Why hello, Victoria.” I was startled. Robert was on his front steps already waiting for me. I nervously handed him a box of cookies from my favorite bakery that I bought for him and his wife, and followed him inside.

I sat across from him in his beautiful living room, his Emmy Award shining not far from me on his mantel. Surrounding us were photos he took with The Beatles, his frequent co-star Steve McQueen and others, a beautiful wooden desk and a large, black grand piano once performed on by Judy Garland.

We chatted about his career and his interest in the script. I bluntly asked him why he said yes. What about the film stood out, I wondered. Surely he gets many offers.

Robert Vaughn in Gold Star (2016)

His answer surprised me. He said he’d never had the challenge of playing someone recovering from a stroke and facing such a severe physical handicap (with no lines of dialogue on top of it), and that he wanted to see if he could do it. We spoke a lot about his love for Hamlet and Shakespeare and his first acting role when he was very young in Three Billy Goats Gruff. I asked him what kind of acting techniques he preferred. He told me over the years, he took what worked for him and developed it into his own sort of technique that could not be pinned down to any specific method.

Robert was genuinely curious about my process of writing, why certain things were in the script. He asked fantastic questions about certain scenes, and listened carefully. I told him a lot about my father and specifics on how the stroke affected him. The fundamental question he wanted to know to help him play the character was, “What kind of a man was your father? What was his a mantra he had or thing he lived by?” And I remember my reply was, “Mind over matter.”

He noticed me staring at the photos and gave me a tour of them. I’ll never forget him proudly pointing at a photo of The Beatles, saying, “They asked to meet me.” Before I left, he handed me his autobiography, signed it and told me to read it. I was home this past weekend in Connecticut for his funeral and a screening of the film (both on the same day, which was extremely emotional), and I looked at the inside of the book. Robert signed the book, “Victoria, best of luck on your great adventure.” Making and releasing this film has been a five-year adventure so far, and thanks to Robert, it has been great.

Robert Vaughn and Catherine Curtin in Gold Star (2016)

On the train ride back to New York City after our initial meeting, I poured through his autobiography, quickly becoming more and more intimidated and in awe of the man I’d be working with. He had a doctorate, writing his thesis on the blacklist. He was good friends with the Kennedy family, he was well-read and passionate about Shakespeare, not to mention a fantastic writer of his own. He had hilarious anecdotes about working with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, and talked a bit about his relationship with Natalie Wood. If you haven’t read his book “A Fortunate Life,” make it a priority.

Working with Robert on set was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had. He was selfless. He put his faith entirely in me, which built my confidence up. Whatever I said, he trusted. He told some crew members, “Who knows her story better than her?” There were times I’d let the camera roll in close-up on him, and we would improv back and forth. Because he has no lines in the film, I’d tell him what he should physically get across, see what he did with his face and body, and let it play out. In one particular scene, he joked with me afterwards saying, “You’ve got enough for one film from that entire take.”

My film was by no means a multi-million dollar production. We shot most of Robert’s scenes in my childhood home, and spent two days on location at Gaylord Rehab Facility in Wallingford, Connecticut. Robert spoke with my sister, who was on set a few days, in between takes, asking her questions about my family, further probing into his character. I believe he was always watching, taking notes. I saw him looking at photos and studying paintings my father made. He was an intelligent actor with a true old-school work ethic. He showed up on time, trusted his director completely, played within the world I set up for him, and filled each take with a full, multi-layered character.

Robert Vaughn and Catherine Curtin in Gold Star (2016)

I am lucky to have worked with him. In completely trusting me on set, despite the fact that I was a complete unknown, he empowered me with confidence. His trust was the best kind of mentorship a first time writer-director like me could have asked for.

Last week, we screened Gold Star at Gaylord for National Caregivers Month. The emotions I felt watching Robert’s performance on screen for the first time since his passing were complicated. I’m proud and honored to have his last performance on film be in my movie. Watching the film now, it adds another new layer of meaning. The film was initially meant to process what it was like losing my father, but now, as I watch it, I’m processing losing Robert as well.

I am more determined now than ever for Gold Star to get out into the world, so that Robert’s last performance can be seen by as wide of an audience as possible, to honor his remarkable legacy as a true movie star."

Stay tuned about future festival screenings and follow us for news
Official Site:
Twitter: @GoldStarFilm

- Victoria Negri

The cast and crew of Gold Star (2016) photo by Ben Jarsoch

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

My Memories of Norman Lloyd at #TCMFF

Ben Mankiewicz and Norman Lloyd at the Live at the TCM Classic Film Festival screening (Press photo)

Today is Norman Lloyd's 102nd birthday. To celebrate TCM willl be airing the 2015 Norman Lloyd Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival. I was in the studio audience for that legendary interview. It was an experience I'll never forget and I'm excited for everyone else to see it. To commemorate his birthday and the airing of the special I'll be sharing my memories of seeing Lloyd from three different TCM Classic Film Festivals.

Back in 2013 when I was preparing for my very first TCMFF, Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings had pointed out that 98 year old Norman Lloyd would be in attendance at a screening of The Lady Vanishes (1938) and that it was not to be missed. Taking her suggestion I quickly altered my TCMFF schedule. And so began a series of amazing encounters with Norman Lloyd.

The first was at the 2013 TCMFF but before the film screening. Aurora (Citizen Screen), Laura and I were at Club TCM sitting in the way back by the main entrance while attendees were participating in the So You Think You Know the Movies? trivia game. And guess who walks through the door? None other than the man himself, Norman Lloyd. Aurora pointed him out to Laura and I and we all stared in wonder. No one else had spotted him because he had slipped in as a surprise guest and everyone's attention was on the main stage. Aurora went right up to him and shook his hand. That was one of a series of "Aurora moments" named after her special encounters which resulted from her determination and some luck. She inspired me to make my own moments at future festivals. (More on the experience here.)

Norman Lloyd at Club TCM
A couple of days later I attended the special screening of The Lady Vanishes (1938). Leonard Maltin was on hand to interview Norman Lloyd about Alfred Hitchcock and his work. Lloyd was as fit as a fiddle at 98 with a mind as sharp as a tack. The interview was fascinating. He regaled us with stories and charmed our socks off. You can watch the full interview below and check out my transcript and notes on the experience here.

Norman Lloyd getting a standing ovation at TCMFF 2013

Norman Lloyd at TCMFF 2013

Little did I know that these two experiences were only beginning. Even more amazing encounters were to come.

Fast forward to the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival and Norman Lloyd returned as a festival guest. I had such a fabulous time seeing him in 2013 that I made a point to see him again.

That year I decided to sit in the bleachers and watch the stars walk down the red carpet on opening night. Norman Lloyd was one of those guests. Here he is on the red carpet with Ben Mankiewicz and Sean Cameron greeting the fans in the bleachers.

Norman Lloyd bows to the fans in the bleachers. 2015 TCMFF

Next up was a screening of Reign of Terror (1949) hosted Eddie Muller of the Noir Foundation with special guest Norman Lloyd who plays Tallien in the film. 

I almost didn't make it to this screening. I got there kind of late having just come from Christopher Plummer's hand and footprint ceremony. Lucky for me I got one of the last seats. Unfortunately it was in the front row at the far right which proved to be an awkward spot for viewing the film. However it was the perfect spot to see Norman Lloyd come down the stairs for the interview after the screening. 

Eddie Muller and Norman Lloyd
At 100 Norman Lloyd was STILL as sharp as a tack. At one point in the conversation he went off topic and started to ramble but remembered to come back to the original question, something I can't even do and I'm several decades younger. You can read my post about the interview here.

After the interview Lloyd at to walk back up those stairs and I had the perfect vantage point. He was going to walk right past me again and this time I was determined to talk to him. I'm a shy person and can get tongue-tied very quickly. But I can always say "thank you". It's simple, it's direct and I can't mess it up. And when Lloyd walked up to the stairs I gave him a big smile and said "thank you." He looked and said "thank YOU". I was on cloud nine. I can't believe that I spoke to the great Norman Lloyd. And that wouldn't be the only time either. More on that to come.

Set-up for the Live at the TCM Classic Film Festival with Norman Lloyd

Press photo of Norman Lloyd greeting the audience at TCMFF

At that point I couldn't get enough Norman Lloyd so it was imperative that I attend the Live at the TCM Classic Film Festival interview hosted by Ben Mankiewicz and featuring Lloyd. I blocked out an entire morning to get in line and attend the two hour event (it'll be edited down to one hour for television). 

Press photo of Ben Mankiewicz and Norman Lloyd at TCMFF

Words cannot express how wonderful this experience was to me. I ran the gamut of emotions: I laughed, I cheered, I cried. I loved listening to Lloyd's stories about the Great Depression, working with heavyweights like Hitchcock, Chaplin and Welles, his work on film and TV, his beloved wife Peggy who past away a few years ago, his most recent film Trainwreck (2015) and countless other stories. My favorite moment was when Mankiewicz asked Lloyd about seeing Babe Ruth at Yankee stadium. Lloyd stood up, animated and regaled us with the story.  I sincerely hope that moment made the final cut. After a year and a half I'm curious to see video of this day, to refresh my memory on things I forgot and to relive all those emotions. Lloyd charmed us all (he even flirted with the make-up artist) and I hope he'll charm you all too.

Can you see me? I'm to the left of Norman Lloyd's head peeking out from above his chair! (Press Photo)

My Norman Lloyd story doesn't end there. I got one last glorious experience with him at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival and it was totally unexpected. 

When I was preparing for my fourth festival, I was determined to fulfill my dream and interview stars on the red carpet. I got the full guest list for opening night and I studied all the names closely. Even though Norman Lloyd wasn't technically a special guest at the festival, he was going to walk the red carpet and attend the opening night party. This was my chance to talk to him again! I was at the end of the interview line and by the time he came down my way he was no longer doing interviews. However I knew I had to work fast to make an Aurora moment happen. I seized the opportunity to have some sort of  interaction with him.

I called out to him proclaiming "WE LOVE YOU NORMAN LLOYD!". He stopped looked around trying to find who was calling out to him. I repeated "WE LOVE YOU NORMAN LLOYD!" He looked over at me and said "beautiful!"

Norman Lloyd looking over at me. 2016 TCMFF red carpet.

Then I replied, "no YOU'RE beautiful!" And I blew him a kiss.

Norman Lloyd blowing me a kiss. 2016 TCMFF red carpet.

And you'll never believe it but he blew me a kiss back! I almost fainted. What an experience. I flirted with Norman Lloyd on the red carpet! I didn't get video of the encounter but I have these three photos, eye witness accounts and my own memory of the event. 

Can you find me in this picture? I'm in the pink dress in between Norman Lloyd and TCM's Sean Cameron
(Press photo via Zimbio) 

I want to wish Norman Lloyd a very happy 102nd birthday. I want to thank him for all those wonderful moments at the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as his body of work in film and television which has entertained many of us for decades. Happy birthday!

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