Showing posts with label Ben Mankiewicz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ben Mankiewicz. Show all posts

Saturday, April 23, 2022

2022 TCM Classic Film Festival: Opening Night Red Carpet Event


The 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival kicked off with the opening night red carpet event at the TCL Chinese Theatre leading up to a special presentation for the 40th anniversary of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). I was on hand to photograph and interview the special guests as they walked the red carpet. I'll have video clips from my interviews available on my YouTube channel and will be sharing them here too. In the meantime, here are some of the special guests who attended the event!

Actor Sean Frye who played Steve on E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

TCM host Prof. Jacqueline Stewart

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz with actor Mario Cantone

Dee Wallace who played Mary on E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Director Steven Spielberg and Dee Wallace 

Sound designer Ben Burtt

Jane Seymour, star of Somewhere in Time (1980)

Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, who played Cochise in Cooley High (1975)

TCM host Dave Karger

TCM host Alicia Malone

Aileen Quinn from Annie (1982)

Disney animator Floyd Norman

Film historian and TCM author Luis I. Reyes

George Stevens Jr.

Maxwell Caulfield

Pam Grier, star of Coffy (1973)

TikToker Jasmine Chiswell

Stay tuned for more coverage from the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Fail-Safe (1964)

Fail-Safe (1964) poster

The year was 1963 and Columbia Pictures was in a pickle. They had two Cold War movies currently in production that basically told the same story but in very different ways. One was Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a farce based on the otherwise serious novel Red Alert (aka Two Hours to Doom) by Peter George. The other was Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe, based on Eugene Burdick and Henry Wheeler's best-selling novel of the same name. One was a satire and one a serious thriller but both delivered a frightening warning about nuclear war. Dr. Strangelove was well into production Kubrick got word of Lumet's project and he threatened to sue Columbia. To appease Kubrick, Columbia agreed to release Dr. Strangelove in January of 1964 and not to release Fail-Safe until September of the same year. That would give both movies some breathing room. Little did Columbia know that Dr. Strangelove would be such an acclaimed hit that it would essentially set up Fail-Safe for failure.

Ben Mankiewicz presenting Fail-Safe (1964), 2018 TCMFF opening night

At the recent TCM Classic Film Festival, opening night included a world premiere restoration of Fail-Safe by Sony Pictures, which now owns Columbia. Fail-Safe screenwriter Walter Bernstein was to be on hand to discuss the film with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. A fan of the film, Mankiewicz considers Bernstein a personal hero and requested that he introduce the film at TCMFF. Unfortunately, the day before the festival 98-year-old Bernstein suffered a serious fall that landed him in the emergency room. Mankiewicz stepped in and offered a 15 minute introduction with a brief audience Q&A. 

Walter Bernstein is a screenwriter of several films including The Magnificent Seven, Something's Gotta Give (Marilyn Monroe's final unfinished film), Semi-Tough, The Front, The Money Trap and of course Fail-Safe. Over the years Bernstein has always been very candid about his blacklist experience. According to Mankiewicz, Bernstein was a member of the Communist party from 1946 to 1956, wrote for a variety of radical groups and his name appeared in red channels. Because of his involvement the House of Un-American Activities Committee wanted to subpoena him. Bernstein had no interest in naming names and wanted to avoid jail time so he went underground instead of appearing in front of the committee. Luckily for him, the HUAC was starting to lose its power and was able to avoid jail time. He kept busy writing scripts under pseudonyms. Although Dalton Trumbo was famous for breaking the blacklist in 1960 with credited roles in Exodus and Spartacus, Bernstein quietly broke the blacklist in 1959 with Sidney Lumet's That Kind of Woman (1959). Lumet was interested in working with Bernstein but wanted to ask him some questions. They regarded Bernstein's involvement with Communist and radical groups and publications. Bernstein was unabashedly open in his responses. Mankiewicz joked that his responses were "yeah! up! That's me. I did that. Yes that's right." Mankiewicz went on to say that Bernstein shed his radical ties but went on to become "a very proud progressive. [Bernstein] says there are people who run the world and people who make the world run. Whose side are you on? Regardless of your politics you have to like Walter Bernstein."

Larry Hagman and Henry Fonda in Fail-Safe
Larry Hagman and Henry Fonda in Fail-Safe (1964)

"I tell you the truth, these machines scare the hell out of me."

Lumet and Bernstein would join forces again on Fail-Safe, a magnificent nail-biter that explores how a mechanical failure could lead to nuclear war. The term fail-safe refers to how devices are set-up in order to cause the least amount of damage when they fail and the film explores what could happen when we rely to much on machines. The movie stars Henry Fonda as the President. As the commander-in-chief, he is given the grave task of making the hard decisions of how his military will proceed when a bomber pilot Col. Grady (Edward Binns) is given a false signal to drop two nuclear missiles on Moscow. Assisting the president is Gen. Black (Dan O'Herlihy) whose been suffering from nightmares about impending nuclear war, the headstrong Dr. Groeteschele (Walter Matthau) who thinks accidental war with Russia is a good thing, the head of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Gen. Bogan (Frank Overton), Col. Cascio (Fritz Weaver) who loses his cool at a crucial moment, and Buck (Larry Hagman), a translator who is key to the president's communications with Russia. The film starts off slow and builds up so much momentum in the second half that I found myself literally at the edge of my seat wanting to scream profanities at the screen. This is a dialogue driven drama and Walter Bernstein does a fantastic job building the tension that propels the story forward. Due to the nature of the story, the characters suffer a terrible internal conflict that we see unravel as the plot progresses. To prevent a nuclear war that will destroy all of earth's inhabitants, Russia becomes an ally when they were once an enemy. The men battle with the new grey area that separates patriotism and treason. Dom DeLuise who plays Sergeant Collins, has a particular poignant scene when he must give up a military secret to Russia when other members of SAC could not.

The serious war room.

Edward Binns in Fail-Safe
Edward Binns in Fail-Safe

"Anyone would crack under the stain."

The film received much opposition from the Johnson administration who didn't want to see it come to fruition. According to Sidney Lumet, his crew was denied access to information and archival footage. The scene in which we see the bomber plane and it's five defense planes take off was bootleg footage of one plane taking off that was repeated to make it seem like it was six different planes. Before I saw the movie at TCMFF, I spoke to film researcher Lillian Michelson. She told me she worked on the movie studying and reporting back with information about a variety of military tactics and technologies. I'm sure Michelson filled in the blanks for many details that the government wasn't willing to provide the filmmakers.

George Clooney remade Fail-Safe in 2000 as a TV movie broadcast live on CBS. Walter Bernstein wrote the new adaptation. According to Mankiewicz, Columbia owned the rights to the original novel but not to Bernstein's 1964 screenplay. So anything added to the 1964 movie that was not in the book could not be used in the TV movie. For example, instead of the wife talking to her pilot husband the TV remake had a son talking to his pilot dad. On the afternoon of the live broadcast, TCM was going to show the original movie. Clooney begged TCM to reconsider and said he would do anything for them in exchange. TCM pulled the movie but Clooney has still to make good on his end of the deal.

Fail-Safe (1964) is one of the best war movies I have ever seen and it quickly became one of my favorite movies. It's so brilliantly acted, the plot so well-paced and it induced so much anxiety that I couldn't help but be completely and utterly engrossed. While I enjoyed Dr. Strangelove and consider it one of the greatest satires of all time, as far as Cold War stories go I think Fail-Safe is a far superior film. It's a shame Fail-Safe wasn't taken seriously when it came out because it was stuck in the shadow of the film that came before it. I highly recommend watching Fail-Safe knowing as little as possible about the plot (I gave very little away in my description) and embracing the fear that this film will instill in you.

Monday, March 12, 2018

5 Questions with Ben Mankiewicz on FilmStruck's new TCM Select

If you haven't already signed up for TCM's streaming service FilmStruck now is the best time. FilmStruck, in collaboration with Warner Bros. Digital, will be adding hundreds of classic movies to the service. And to celebrate beloved movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, TCM Select will offer streaming classics with bonus content.

Since FilmStruck first launched it's been the go-to service for arthouse, foreign and independent cinema and now that they are boosting their service with classic movies will make this a one stop shop for the ultimate movie fan. This will mean that Warner Bros.'s Warner Archive Instant streaming service will be sunsetting in April. Many of those titles will be transferring over to FilmStruck. And I hope some of the quirkier and more obscure titles available on Warner Archive Instant will make it over to FilmStruck too.

Want to know more about what FilmStruck and TCM Select have to offer? I had the pleasure of asking TCM host Ben Mankiewicz some questions about the newly expanded service.

Raquel Stecher: What makes FilmStruck stand out as a streaming service? 

Ben Mankiewicz: FilmStruck is the only streaming service for serious movie fans. From the Criterion Collection to foreign films to arthouse films to cult films, and now to the best movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, there is no comparable service. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all have a role to play as we go forward and reinvent how we watch something, but if you are a true movie lover there’s only one service you need and it’s FilmStruck. It’s not close.

Stecher: What role will you be playing with FilmStruck’s TCM Select and what kind of bonus content can we expect? 

Mankiewicz: I’ll be shooting introductions for the TCM Select movies that appear on FilmStruck and we’ll have a rotating library of roughly 600 movies. We’ll be curating them similarly to the job we do here on Turner Classic Movies, by putting them in their proper cinematic and Hollywood context.

Stecher:  If you curated a new FilmStruck collection, what would be the theme and what would some of the movies include? 

Mankiewicz: I’d do a noir collection and then I’d call Eddie Muller and tell him to curate it. Otherwise I’d curate a collection of movies about journalism and the media, from The Front Page through Spotlight and The Post, which we have no chance of getting on FilmStruck right now since I think one is still in theaters. I’d include The Front Page, His Girl Friday, Citizen Kane, Ace in the Hole, A Face in the Crowd, Sweet Smell of Success, All the President’s Men, Absence of Malice, and the movies of today as soon as we can get them.

Stecher: What are some of the TCM Select films that you personally recommend subscribers watch? 

Mankiewicz: What are some of the TCM Select films that you personally recommend subscribers watch? Night in the City, Jules Dassin’s last movie before he was blacklisted. Sweet Smell of Success, as good of a movie as there is about the ugly side of publicists and the media. Really, there’s not a movie on TCM Select that I wouldn’t put the full force of a recommendation behind.

Stecher: Why do you think TCM has such devoted fans and what do you hope they will get out of FilmStruck? 

Mankiewicz: Every actor, every host, every athlete has said that they have the best fans in the world, but here’s the truth, and I mean this, TCM has the most dedicated and attentive fans in the history of this business. Since we took on the mantle to protect and present classic Hollywood films, our fans have said, ‘Okay fine, but in that case you best do it right.’ So they don’t just watch us, they watch over us to make sure we don’t make a mistake. We’ve been true to our core mission at TCM and we will continue with that core mission as we expand into FilmStruck with TCM Select, and if we make a mistake, we’re certain our fans will let us know and that’s a blessing.

Many thanks to Ben Mankiewicz of TCM for taking the time to answer my questions.

For those of you interested in subscribing to FilmStruck and getting the TCM Select titles, here is the pricing breakdown and available devices. They offer a 14 day free trial so you can test it out before you commit.

FilmStruck – $6.99/month - arthouse, foreign and cult films, plus TCM Select, an exclusive rotating collection of the most iconic movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, supplemented with hosted introductions, rare archival TCM content and bonus materials.

FilmStruck + The Criterion Channel – $10.99/month - offering everything in the FilmStruck subscription plus unlimited access to Criterion’s entire streaming library of films and special features, along with channel-exclusive original programming such as filmmaker profiles, master classes, and curated series by celebrated guests from the film world and beyond.

Annual Subscription - $99/year for FilmStruck + The Criterion Channel (a $30 annual savings) . (I have this one!)

Devices -  Roku, Google Chromecast, Apple TV 4th generation devices, Amazon Fire TV, web, iOS and Android devices. FilmStruck can be accessed via the Apple App store, as well as online and via Google Play for Android users.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The China Syndrome (1979) and Michael Douglas at #TCMFF

Michael Douglas and Ben Mankiewicz at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival
Michael Douglas and Ben Mankiewicz at the 2017 TCMFF. Publicity Photo courtesy of Getty & TCM

Timing is everything. Michael Douglas's nuclear thriller The China Syndrome (1979) debuted on March 16th, 1979 and twelve days later a nuclear meltdown occurred on 3 Mile Island. The fictional event and the real life one would forever be connected.

In the film Jane Fonda stars as Kimberly Wells, a TV news reporter relegated to covering fluff with dreams of breaking a big story. When her and her news crew, including cameraman Richard Adams (Michael Douglas), are working on a report at a local nuclear power plant, a tremor signals an emergency with the plant's reactor. Shift supervisor Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon) is the only who understands the severity of the situation. Jack faces a major fight against the head honchos and staff at the plant who don't believe him and will do anything to prevent a public scandal. With the help of Wells and her crew, Jack makes a valiant attempt to reveal the truth and save the plant and the community before it's too late.

I had the honor of being in attendance of a special screening of The China Syndrome (1979) at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival. The movie had me on the edge of my seat. It's a fantastic thriller with a timely message.  Following the movie, we were treated to Ben Mankiewicz interview of actor/producer Michael Douglas.

It all started with a packet in the mail. Douglas remembered, "this script came to me unsolicited by a guy name Mike Grey who was a documentary filmmaker out of Chicago who had done a movie called The Murder of Fred Hampton. That was a Black Panther leader who was murdered by Chicago Police. Mike's background was an engineer and he sent this script which really read as a brilliant horror movie. And I looked at it as a scary horror movie with this power plant being the monster. It was only then after we committed to the picture and got involved with the verisimilitude of nuclear power that I became more of an advocate of this was the really issue that's defined the rest of my life in terms of the elimination of nuclear weapons."

Mankiewicz joked with Douglas that opening unsolicited material might be something people got away with in the 1970s but not today. As Douglas then noted unsolicited scripts can't be accepted because of legalities involved. So if you're thinking you can take Mike Grey's lead and send Michael Douglas your movie script, think again!

Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome (1979)
Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome (1979)

It took a while to get The China Syndrome going. Jack Lemmon was on board pretty early but he had to wait for almost a year to start working. During that time he set aside other projects. Douglas shared a funny memory of Lemmon. On the set, Lemmon couldn't get started with out his morning cup of coffee. Once he had his cuppa joe he'd perk right up and exclaim "it's magic time!" A cup of coffee is also key to the plot of the film.

Richard Dreyfuss was also on board to play the lead role of a TV news reporter. Douglas joked that, "Richard Dreyfuss had a couple of hits come out and all of a sudden Richard was gone." Director James Bridges and producer Douglas were scrambling to figure out how to replace Dreyfuss. Douglas shared the following story: "A studio executive [told us] 'Jane Fonda is developing the Karen Silkwood story here and maybe you guys should talk.' [They were] competing projects. Jane and I, with our familial histories sort of sized each other up. She was initially going to try to persuade me in some way to kill The China Syndrome ... And I was going to tell her that we were further ahead on The China Syndrome that you should put a dagger in Karen. Eventually it worked that we were ready to go and we changed Richard Dreyfuss' role and had it re-written." Karen Silkwood, a nuclear power plant employee who was preparing to leak information to the press, died in a car accident under mysterious circumstances. Her story was incorporated into The China Syndrome.

Mankiewicz pointed out that Douglas took his role as camera man Richard Adams very seriously. Douglas had studied with NBC camera man Bob Brown, who was shot down by members of the Peoples Temple shortly before Jonestown's infamous mass suicide.

When you watch the film you'll notice the eerie silence of the end credits. Director James Bridges and producer Michael Douglas had hired a composer for the film. But when the ran the reels without the music they discovered it was better without any music.

Once the film was in the can, Douglas and Bridges were ready to release it to the world. Douglas said,  "It did very well actually for the kind of picture it was. However we did hold in there for the first week. [It was] heavily criticized. People said, 'how irresponsible of Hollywood to be doing a film on nuclear power!" Mankiewicz followed up by pointing out, "the campaign against this movie, Michael's underselling it I think a little bit, was very well organized. It was a corporate energy based organized protest to beat back this film."

Twelve days after the release, the 3 Mile Island nuclear power plant has a meltdown. Douglas said, 
I tried to explain it that it was a complete epiphany to me. I'm not a religious person but I thought somebody's telling me something." Douglas and Bridges hired former General Electric quality assurance experts to help with the movie. According to Douglas "they had lost faith and went to the other side." The China Syndrome depicts a process of 150 logical computer steps and when Harry Latham, a writer for Esquire magazine, analyzed the process it was discovered that over 90% of the steps depicted in the movie were accurate. Did the publicity of the real life nuclear disaster help the movie? Not so much. Most people saw enough clips of the movie on the news or were too frightened by the real event to endure a movie about it.

The China Syndrome marked a turning point in Douglas' career. Douglas said, "it became part of my history of doing movies that had sort of a zeitgeist speaking about what's going on at the time. It has stuck with me as the most incredible in my career in terms of tying it with what was going on in real time.

During their conversation, Ben Mankiewicz and Michael Douglas spoke at length about Douglas' TV show The Streets of San Francisco. Douglas left in the fifth year of the show to produce One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Being let out of a TV contract like that was virtually unheard of. The show's star Karl Malden and producer Quinn Martin knew about much Cuckoo's Nest meant to Douglas. Being released from the show helped him launch his successful movie career.

Transitioning from being a TV actor to film was virtually unheard of at the time. According to Douglas, "the argument was that if you're there for free who's going to pay for you. So before me it was really only Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood who had made the transition going from television to films."

Being on The Streets of San Francisco helped shape Douglas' methods and work ethic. In the interview he shared the following: "when you do a television series, we were in San Francisco and we were filming six days a week. In those days we did 26 hour shows in a season. Six days a week, 8 and a half months straight through. You're looking at these scripts that are coming in and you get pretty good about structure. You also get really good about working together as an ensemble and I take my hat off to Karl Malden. Who was such an extraordinary actor and such a team player that you learn that you are not the most important thing in the project. The material is the important. I'm an old-fashioned structuralist. I've learned from the prologue, three acts and epilogue. My first desire is to be moved if it's funny or sad. Secondly I analyze the material pretty carefully and see if it's structurally sound. Then my interests are all over the place depending where it may be."

Karl Malden took Douglas under his wing. According to Douglas, "in those days, the second banana was two feet back in soft focus" By season two, Karl Malden gave Douglas a more substantial role and let him lead some of the episodes. I love that Malden always called Douglas "buddy boy", a nickname that used to irk Douglas but now it's a name he fondly remembers.

My husband was especially excited to see Michael Douglas. Here he is watching his favorite actor in person.
I feel very privileged to have been able to attend this special screening and to hear the legendary Michael Douglas in conversation. It was fascinating and definitely a highlight of the festival for me. I couldn't help but hear Kirk Douglas in the voice of his son. This will be as close as I'll ever get to the other legend!

Related link: Carlos' review of the book Michael Douglas: A Biography by Marc Eliot.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Anna Karina and Band of Outsiders (1964)

Anna Karina in Band of Outsiders (1964)

Band of Outsiders, known in French as Bande à part, is a Jean-Luc Godard film from 1964 starring  Godard muse Anna Karina. She plays Odile, a naive young woman studying English with fellow students Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur). Odile becomes the object of fascination for both Franz and Arthur. They lust after her and when she reveals a crucial bit of information about a store of money in her aunt’s home, they use her as a means to an end. Arthur owes his uncle some serious cash to his uncle so he needs to get his hands on this money right away. Things spiral out of control as the urgency grows and things don’t go according to plan. There are some lighthearted moments in the film including the iconic scene of Karina, Frey & Brasseur dancing in a nightclub. That scene inspired Uma Thurman and John Travolta's dance in Pulp Fiction and the film as a whole made a mark on director Quentin Tarantino.

I first saw this film at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. It was a very special event because the film’s star Anna Karina was in attendance and the audience was treated to an interview with her by Ben Mankiewicz of TCM. This event had been buzzed about for months before the festival, especially by me and other fans of French cinema and Karina herself. Mankiewicz kicked off the interview by saying “we're celebrating a movie that's over 50 years old and... the buzz at this festival from the moment we announced you were here was palpable." French New Wave films like Band of Outsiders still resonate today because of actresses like Anna Karina. She was a major influence on culture and is mesmerizing to watch on screen. Karina remains modest about her influence saying "I'm very excited to see that so many people still like the film".

Anna Karina and Ben Mannkiewicz at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

From a young age, Karina loved the movies. She started off singing and dancing in her native country of Denmark. She was an extra in Danish films as a young teen. Karina remembers, "One day someone saw me in the street and he said would you like to be in my film?" She said why not but had to ask her mother because she was 14 years old. She got her mother's permission and made the film The Girl with the Shoes, aka Pigen Og Skoene (1959)  . Four years later the short got a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. By that time she was already an established actress in France.

Karina moved to Paris while still a teen. She didn't have much money so she did some work in TV commercials including one for Palmolive soap. Godard saw the commercial and offered Karina a part in his upcoming film Breathless (1960) and he said "but you have to take your clothes off." Karina’s response was direct, "I'm not talking my clothes off." She later reminisced about turning that iconic film down:

"I didn't want to do it so I didn't do it. [Godard] didn't understand because he thought I was nude in the soap film. But you only saw a bit of shoulder... It was in his imagination.” - Anna Karina

Anna Karina at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

Three months later she got an offer for a lead part in a Godard film. By that time she had forgotten all about him. She consulted her friends who pointed out that Godard had made an amazing film called Breathless with Jean Paul Belmondo. She went to meet Godard and asked him if she had to take her clothes off. His response was, "no it's a political film". Karina was concerned because she was so young and still learning how to speak French. How would she make a political film? Godard responded "Don't you worry about it, you just do what I tell you to do". There was a bit of a snafu because Karina was still underage and needed permission. Her father wasn't in her life anymore and her mother was living in Copenhagen. Godard offered to bring her mother to Paris. Karina hadn't seen her mother in 8 months and called her up saying "Mommy I'm doing a political film in Paris with a great director called Jean Luc-Godard. You have to come to sign the contract.” Her mother didn't believe her and hung up the phone. She finally convinced her mother to come to sign the contract and the rest is history.

Ben Mankiewicz asked if Karina had ever auditioned for Godard. She hadn’t. She signed the contract and that was it. There was a test where Godard filmed a sort of interview with Karina to see how she’d do on screen. One of the questions he asked her was how many boys she had been with and she told him it was none of his business.

Karina eventually let her guard down and she and Godard fell in love. He was a romantic and she was his muse but they still had to work together. Mankiewicz asked Karina if Godard was a difficult director. "In a way yes", replied Karina. For Band of Outsiders, they had no script and had to learn their dialogue every morning. The dynamic between the actors and director meant that they knew what to do and what Godard wanted even without a script. Godard said that if he had a script in the end he wouldn't have wanted to do the film. He made a kind of script for the producer so they knew what to do.  Karina remembers that Godard didn't direct very much because he trusted the actors. Karina likened the acting to music. You just felt it and it made sense.

Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina

And about that famous dance scene Karina remembered that they had to rehearse for three weeks. Every night after shooting, they would go to a night club and practice for an hour before the night club opened to patrons.

Note: this piece was transcribed from the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival interview with Ben Mankiewicz and Anna Karina. Quotes and paraphrasing are used.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

TCM Classic Film Festival: Day #6 Recap

Raquel Stecher at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival
Raquel at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival
By Sunday morning I was really exhausted. I always try to keep my Sunday TCMFF schedule pretty light to conserve my energy. By the end of the festival I was also sick of festival-goers misbehaving. Smelly people leaning on me, people using their tablets, phones and cameras in disruptive ways, seat kicking, post-interview evacuations and rude people trying to save front row seats at Club TCM. Knowing that the Spotlight and Essential passes sold out in 14 minutes, it's inevitable that more aggressive types make it to the festival.  There seemed to be more VIPs this year too which made for some uncomfortable situations. There is already a bit of a class system at TCMFF but it was more prominent this year than previous years. With all that said, it's really difficult to complain when this was the best festival of the four I attended. I had been very lucky this time around. And best of all, I didn't get sick!

I sacrificed going to Holiday in Spain at the Cinerama Dome (shown with Smell-O-Vision!) to have breakfast with by Robby of Dear Old Hollywood and his lovely family. 

Me and Carlos with Robby, Zinnia and their daughters

Then I met Noralil and Marya of TCM and Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood for a chat. This social time was worth sacrificing a few screenings. The biggest draw of TCMFF for me is the opportunity to socialize with friends who share my passion for classic film and live far away from me. This is my one chance to see them.

Jessica, me, Noralil and Marya

The first event I went to was The Art of the Film Score: Creating Memories in the Movies presented by composer Michael Giacchino. I won't lie. I went to this as an excuse to camp out at Club TCM for a good seat for Conversation with Gina Lollobrigida which was immediately after. It proved to be a really good presentation and I'm glad I attended. I know next to nothing about music in film so it was definitely an education. It was interesting to learn how music can alter an audience's reaction to particular scenes.

Club TCM in the Blossom Room

After several issues getting seats for the Conversation with Gina Lollobrigida, I managed to get a spot. I should have stood towards the back because the seating area was not ideal. If you weren't towards the front, you couldn't see Lollobrigida at all. I hope TCM considers elevating the stage so more people can see. Lollobrigida is a fascinating woman and Leonard Maltin's interview with her did not disappoint. More on that soon.

Gina Lollobrigida showing us her portraits of Fidel Castro

I was going to see The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1966) but didn't feel like sitting in a crowded theater. I opted instead for a meal at the historic Pig N Whistle restaurant and spent some time at Larry Edmunds Bookshop chatting with the Jeff and Sean.

 I met Jill and her friend Sean in front of the Egyptian before the screening of Network (1976). I got to spend much more time with Jill this year and for that I'm truly grateful. I also met up with Angela, Jessica and some others (sorry if I forgot you!). I was telling folks how Robert Mitchum's grandson Bentley once told me that my husband Carlos looked like Kevin Spacey. Ever since then I cannot unsee the resemblance. Jessica took this funny Snapchat while we were waiting to get in. It was inspired by my comment and my series "Carlos hates Snapchat".

Snapchat by Jessica

Next up was Network (1976) with special guest Faye Dunaway. When Burt Reynolds couldn't make it to the festival, TCM recovered well by adding Dunaway to the roster. I was already planning to see Network so having Dunaway there was icing on the cake. Ben Mankiewicz interviewed her before the screening before an almost packed house. I was surprised how many laughs the film got. I've always been more traumatized than amused by this movie. Some see it as a dark comedy, others as an eery prediction of things to come. I probably won't do an in-depth post on this one because I have so many other posts to work on. But if I find some time and energy to do so I'll report back here.

Ben Mankiewicz and Faye Dunaway at the TCM Classic Film Festival
Ben Mankiewicz and Faye Dunaway in conversation TCMFF

After Network, we headed to Club TCM for the Closing Night party which is always bitter sweet. I had a couple of expensive glasses of whiskey and got a bit tipsy. I apologize if I said anything weird to you at the party. I spent a lot of time during the festival being Kate Gabrielle's make-shift publicist. I talked her up to anyone who would listen. Some folks called her the button girl and I was quick to explain to them that Kate is a very talented artist and she does more than just buttons. Many folks were interested in learning more about her art and said they would check out her website. I hope I drove some future business her way.

My TCMFF bestie Jessica, Ben Mankiewicz, me and my second glass of whiskey

I finally got to officially meet Ben Mankiewicz! I showed him my Ben Mankiewicz Fan Club button and told him that Kate Gabrielle created them. Jessica and I got our picture taken with him (many thanks to Marya for the photo!). Ben is a really sweet guy. Very down-to-earth and friendly. I always try to say hi to him at the festival when I can.

After having lots of great but short conversations at Club TCM we were all booted out to make room for TCM's exclusive staff party. A bunch of us made our way to the In-N-Out burger a few blocks away. This was great. I had a long conversation with Kate about foreign film and we all took this epic selfie thanks to Kate's selfie-stick.

Kate, Sabina, Angela, Raquel, Danny Jessica, Kristen,
Lindsay, Nikki, Millie, Pete, Carlos, Jill, Casey, KC, Kim and Matt
 My husband Carlos ended up being our social coordinator that evening. That's a role usually relegated to me but he stepped in when I was too tipsy to know what was going on. He helped corral us all to go to In-N-Out, saved us seats so we could sit together and helped orchestrate the group selfie. Thank you hun! Carlos has a fabulous time at TCMFF every year and he loves hanging out with my friends. They seem to like him too.

I was sad to leave my friends and I had a good cry in our hotel room afterwards. I love you all. Until next year!

On the Monday after the festival, Carlos and I went with Laura and her husband Doug to visit Matt
and Dan of Warner Archive. We had a nice lunch and the conversation was not nearly long enough. I could have spent hours basking in the warmth of the California sunshine talking about movie business.

Carlos, Raquel, Matt, Dan, Laura and Doug
I hope you enjoyed my TCM Classic Film Festival recaps. Please stay tuned for more festival coverage.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

TCM Classic Film Festival Press Conference

2016 TCMFF Press Conference
Left to right: Tabesh, Dorian, Mankiewicz & McGillicuddy
On Wednesday April 27th, TCM held a press conference before the start of their classic film festival. The conference panel consisted of Charles Tabesh, senior VP of programming, Jennifer Dorian, Ben Mankiewicz, host of TCM and Genevieve McGillicuddy, VP of brand activations and partnerships and festival director. Tabesh and McGillicuddy oversee the logistics of the festival and Mankiewicz is taking a bigger role this year, as he did last year, in the absence of Robert Osborne. He'll be conducting most of the big interviews that will happen during the festival.

Here are some key takeaways from the press conference:

  • Mankiewicz, who is introducing the opening night film All the President's Men (1976), gets emotional every time he sees the movie because of the connection to his father. NY Post's Lou Lumenick has a great article with more details.
  • According to McGillicuddy the projected number of attendees this year is 26,000 which includes passholders and standby attendees. I didn't realize it was that many people!
  • TCM is launching FilmStruck (think of it like "awestruck"), a new subscription service. They've teamed up with Criterion, who will end their current partnership with Hulu, and together will be curating arthouse films, indie and cult classics and other more obscure films. Jennifer Dorian says this fills a need in the marketplace. It's important to note that this is not a standalone streaming TCM service. While it was not said at the conference, TCM's relationships with cable TV companies most likely prevents them from having such a service. Read Will McKinley's post for more details about FilmStruck.
  • TCM is launching TCM Backlot, an official fan club. The membership costs $87 a year and comes with a variety of perks. There will be meet-ups across the country, exclusive content for subscribers, etc. The Backlot will give members a behind-the-scenes look at TCM and an opportunity to share feedback.  Dorian says "early members will help us build the club of our dreams." I have a membership and will be following up with my thoughts on this blog.
  • Based off feedback, The Manchurian Candidate (1962) will be the most sought after event at the festival. Tabesh says Angela Lansbury, who will be at the screening, is always a big hit with TCM fans.
  • McGillicuddy says they've been really working hard on curating Club TCM events and she's proud of the offerings this year.
  • On sought after guests, Tabesh says Olivia de Havilland almost made it to the festival one year and their number one pick Doris Day is unlikely to ever be a guest. McGillicuddy said Sidney Poitier is someone they've tried to get multiple times are still hopeful he will come. Tabesh says Barbra Streisand is interested but hasn't been able to make it work with her schedule.
  • Ben Mankiewicz said "The success that the previous six festivals have had has unquestionably played a role in smoothing it over for some people because their friends and colleagues and other big stars have told them this is a worthwhile thing..." Having several successful festivals under their belt has opened up opportunities to feature other special guests. For example, this was key in getting Faye Dunaway to attend this year. Although it was not said during the conference, I do believe having Sophia Loren last year really made a difference. I can imagine that opened an opportunity to feature Gina Lollobrigida.
  • Spotlight and Essentials passes sold out in 14 minutes. They won't be expanding the festival to add more venues, screenings and days. They want to keep the intimate atmosphere of the festival.
  • Tabesh says the industry is moving towards digital. Access to 35mm prints and the ability to show them becomes more and more restricted over time.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Top Picks for the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

It’s that time of year again when classic film fans from all over the world flock to Hollywood to enjoy a weekend packed with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The TCM Classic Film Festival is something I look forward to all year round. When you go to this festival you feel like you’re part of something important. You develop a deeper and richer connection with the past while being part of history in the making.

This will be my fourth time attending the festival and I’ll be covering it once again as a member of the media. I’m very grateful to TCM for the opportunity to once again be a part of the fantastic team of individuals who painstakingly and lovingly capture and share each of every moment of the festival. It is truly an honor.

Now that the full festival schedule is posted I can share my top picks with you (fun fact: I was the first to tweet about it). It was much easier in 2015 to put together a schedule. This year there were some major conflicts and some difficult decisions had to be made.

Here are my selections. I’ve included a bonus video of me discussing my top five picks.


TCM Press Conference – I’ll be live tweeting and providing full coverage on this press conference which will include Ben Mankiewicz, Charles Tabesh, Genevieve McGillicuddy and Jennifer Dorian. Sadly no Robert Osborne this year. He was the highlight of the first two press conferences I attended.
(2014 Press Conference with Robert Osborne)


Red Carpet for All the President’s Men (1976) Opening Night Gala – I was a spectator for last year’s Red Carpet and had a blast. I hope this year I can do more extensive coverage. Stay tuned!
(2015 Red Carpet at the TCM Classic Film Festival)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) or Los Tallos Amargos (1956) – It’s a toss up between these two. Katharine Houghton will be at the Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner screening and it would be great to hear her discuss the film. But it’s hard to turn down watching an obscure Argentine film noir!


Francis Ford Coppola Imprint Ceremony – If I get in this will be my fourth hand and footprint ceremony. These are so much fun and you feel like you are part of history in the making.
(Jerry Lewis Imprint Ceremony and Christopher Plummer Imprint Ceremony)

From Headlines to Ticket Lines: Journalism on the Big Screen – I’m from the Boston area so a chance to see Ben Bradlee Jr. and Spotlight (2015) screenwriter Josh Singer discuss journalism on film along with James Vanderbilt of Truth (2015) and journalist Mary Mapes is too good to pass up.

Mark Vieira signing Into The Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950 – One of the perks of TCMFF is the exclusive book signings. This one is at the top of my list to attend.
(My review of Mark Vieira's Cecil B. DeMille book)

Tea and Sympathy (1956)Darryl Hickman has been on my wishlist for TCMFF special guests for a long time. He’s been at the festival before but not one I’ve attended. I can’t pass down the opportunity to see him in person when he presents his film Tea and Sympathy.

Two Pre-Codes – I’m glad I’ll be able to fit in two films from my favorite decade the 1930s. Pleasure Cruise (1933) and 6 Hours to Live (1932) are showing back to back and they are short enough that I can fit both screenings in before the major event of the evening.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – This might be the most sought after film screening of the festival because living legend Angela Lansbury will be there. I can’t pass up an opportunity to see her and watch this fantastic mind-bending film on the TCL Chinese Theater’s gigantic screen. I'll have a lot of competition though.

90th Anniversary of Vitaphone – Ron Hutchinson, founder of the Vitaphone Project, will be hosting this presentation of the history of Vitaphone complete with Vitaphone shorts. My favorite short of all time The Beau Brummels (1928) with Shaw and Lee will be screened and I’m beside myself with joy.

An Afternoon with Carl Reiner/Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) – This four part extravaganza is hard to pass up. Not only do you get to see this film at the TCL Chinese Theater there will also be a Carl Reiner tribute video, a conversation with the man himself and a book signing immediately afterwards.

Harold and Lillian : A Hollywood Love Story (2015) – This is my number one pick for the festival. I can’t believe my hero Lillian Michelson will be there along with director Daniel Raim. I had to give up seeing Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell with Gina Lollobrigida to watch this but it’ll be worth it.

(My review of the Harold and Lillian Michaelson documentary)

The Endless Summer (1966) – If you know me you know that I love documentaries and The Endless Summer is one of the most influential documentaries in film history. It’s a stunning color film narrated and directed by Bruce Brown, who will be in attendance, and follows two surfers as they travel the globe searching the best waves. I can’t wait to see the gorgeous colors of this film on the big screen.

Band of Outsiders (1964) – I dare anyone to stop me from seeing Anna Karina in person. This French New Wave icon will be touring to support the new restoration of this Jean-Luc Godard classic. It’ll be my first time seeing this film and wow what an experience it will be.

(Anna Karina comes to LA and New York City)


The Art of the Film Score – I’ll miss the morning screenings but hope to catch this at Club TCM.

A Conversation with Gina Lollobrigida - I’m not kidding when I say Gina Lollobrigida is my favorite Italian. Conflicts will take me away from special screenings of Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell and Trapeze but that’s okay because I’m perfectly happy to sit and listen to Lollobrigida talk for a straight hour. This will be glorious!

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) – I love madcap comedies and this one looks like a lot of fun. Eva Marie Saint will be on hand to present and maybe Carl Reiner, Walter Mirisch and/or Norman Jewison will surprise us with an appearance?

Network (1976) – Unless a TBD calls my name, I’ll be staying around the Egyptian to catch this contemporary classic. I saw Network for the first time last year and loved it.

Closing Night Party at Club TCM – This party is always bittersweet and usually I have to leave early. But this time I hope to stay longer for one last hurrah with my friends.

What are your top TCM Classic Film Festival picks?

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