Thanks for the memories, Great Movie Ride

Last month Disney’s iconic Great Movie Ride attraction closed its doors for good. The Great Movie Ride was the last original attraction from the opening day of what was then known as Disney’s MGM Studios in 1989. In 2014, the ride was given an upgrade when it partnered with Turner Classic Movies. The ride was refurbished with the addition of Robert Osborne as a narrator and an updated ending montage. The TCM Backlot organized a special goodbye celebration with Disney’s fan group, D23 the day before the ride bid farewell. I was one of the lucky few that was able to attend the event (I was told the registration for the event filled up within seconds, I still can’t believe I got in) and it was only fitting that my plus one be my mother. I loved being able to share this experience with her because it brought me back to my childhood. I must admit it was a lot more emotional than I expected because sitting with her felt like I was transported to the late 90s at the peak of my classic movie adolescence obsession.

When it was announced that Disney was closing it to make room for a Mickey and Minnie-themed attraction, I was devastated. It sounds dramatic but it’s honestly true. I grew up in Orlando and yes, I used to go to Disney World all the time. My dad worked there for over a decade so I’ve experienced countless birthdays, character breakfasts, you name it. My mother even tells the joke that at one point when she asked me if I wanted to go to Disney I once said, “again?” in an exasperated tone. Growing up as an awkward classic movie fan, The Great Movie Ride was my place. It was the ride I always looked forward to and I would drag my parents to take me on it every time.

Being on The Great Movie Ride felt like you were in a classic movie. I felt like one of those small town girls who go to Hollywood and sees the bright lights of tinsel town as their dreams of stardom occupy their thoughts. From putting my handprints on Audrey Hepburn’s in the forecourt of the Chinese Theater facade to walking into the building and waiting in the queue looking at memorabilia worn by iconic stars, Disney created a tribute to the Hollywood dream factory. I was already a big classic movie fan before I road the ride but the Great Movie Ride’s trailers before the attraction and montage at the end introduced me to films and actors I love ’til this day. This was more than just a theme park ride. This deepened my life long love affair with film.

What I didn’t realize about the Great Movie Ride was that it was inspiring me to learn more about these films and the people who made them come to life. There was also a camaraderie created by the ride host that made it a communal experience. If you stopped and looked around, you could see people being moved by seeing the clips of the films and parents telling their kids about the movie on the screen that they saw “in the good old days.” For someone who felt alone liking these movies at a young age, this showed me a community I didn’t know existed.

We arrived at 7 am for the event to check in. It was so early and before the park opened but excitement filled the air. There were people in custom made Great Movie Ride shirts, people dressed in vintage clothing, some Backlot t-shirts and even a guy dressed up as Indiana Jones. When we all huddled in the forecourt of the theater, we were greeted by two imagineers who were instrumental in bringing this ride to life. They then led us on a guided walking tour where we could see just how detailed the ride was and get an up close look at the animatronics.

During the tour I gained a much deeper appreciation for the ride in particular the gangster and Alien sets. These were always my favorites because they were so immersive but being able to walk inside them I got to see so many details like a pair of heels, just what was written on the headlines of the newspapers on the floor and the detailing of the Ripley animatronic. When we got to the gangster set, one of the imagineers who started his Disney career as a Great Movie Ride tour guide recreated the gangster part and still had the dialogue memorized. It was a real treat! After our walking tour we got to ride the ride for one last time. When the tour guide gave his final spiel and said goodbye, there was a long thunderous applause. It was really special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the ride, we were treated to a brunch and Q&A session with the imagineers. I asked them what it was like working with Robert Osborne and why they thought that was a good fit for the ride. These two men didn’t actually work with him the day they shot his intros and recorded his track but they did tell me that adding him gave the ride the emotional component they felt it was missing. They elaborated saying that films are passed on either generationally or from a friend and having Robert there was like seeing a friend because he’s not just an icon when it comes to classic movies but an ambassador of the art. It’s his familiar face that reminds viewers of that uncle they watched movies with or that friend who gave you the copy of The Wizard of Oz. I was a bit bummed that I didn’t hear about the day of the shoot but I got a tap on the shoulder after the question was asked and it was from Michael Roddy, the Show Director for creative entertainment at Disney World. He told me that he was the one who directed Robert that day and actually wrote his scripts. Michael said Robert could not have been nicer and was so enthusiastic during the shoot. He added that you could just tell how much he loved movies and that he took the time to talk to everyone involved in the small shoot from the camera man to the person giving him water. When one of the TCM staffers gave a toast before the brunch, she told us Robert really loved being a part of the ride adding he was really thrilled and honored TCM collaborated with Disney for it.

I have to say the brunch was very bittersweet. It was then that it hit me that I was never going to see animatronic Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart again, never mouth the words “we had faces” when Gloria Swanson says them in the montage and feeling heart eyes at seeing William Holden sitting next to her, I was never going to wonder if we were going to get the gangster or the cowboy as our tour guide because The Great Movie Ride is no more. I’ll miss what The Great Movie Ride did for me and how it inspired countless other filmgoers but I will cherish these memories and share them in hopes that it will inspire a love of the classics for others like Disney did to me.

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TCM turns the spotlight on Gay Hollywood during Pride Month

I’ve always considered TCM my film school and I know so many others who didn’t go to traditional film school feel the same way. Within the last few years I’ve seen TCM go even further in their commitment to educating their audience by giving diverse voices a place to speak.  We’ve grown as a society and the network has been very good at reflecting that, so I was thrilled to see TCM spotlighting important queer filmmakers and films during the month of June, Pride Month. The spotlight on Classic Hollywood’s LGBTQ community couldn’t have come at a better time since Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture this year, the first for a film that features a gay lead.

Dave Karger and William Mann courtesy of TCM Public Relations

Gay Hollywood’s history has largely been hidden just like it was for the time these filmmakers, stars and creatives worked. Former Entertainment Weekly columnist and Oscar historian Dave Karger, who is always a wonderful guest host, is joined by William Mann, author of Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn, Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines, and Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood. Karger was kind enough to answer a few questions about the film series which concludes Thursday, June 29th.

1. I’m a very proud of TCM for spotlighting the gay community’s contributions to Classic Hollywood. As the host, why do you feel it is important to bring these actors and creatives’ stories to light?

I’m proud of TCM too! And I’m so happy to be a part of this series. I think it’s important because for decades, gay men and lesbians in Hollywood weren’t able to live truthfully for fear of being discriminated against, losing their audience, or violating the Hays Code. This TCM Spotlight allows us to recognize the achievements of the gay community in the film industry starting as long as 85 years ago.

2. This year’s Oscar for Best Picture Moonlight made history becoming the first LGBT film to win, which just goes to show how long this road has been for representation of the gay community on film. What movies from the classic era do you think helped lay the groundwork for stories like this one to be told?
Obviously, movies like Midnight Cowboy, Boys Don’t Cry, and Brokeback Mountain, all of which won major Academy Awards, furthered the cause. But I would also single out Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, a film that brought to life the black lesbian experience two decades ago.
3. What is the earliest instance of a gay character on film?
If you go all the way back to 1895 you can see two men dancing quite intimately in The Dixon Experimental Sound Film. But it’s only through 21st Century eyes that we would perceive them as gay.

Director George Cukor with the cast of his film, The Women

4. Gay rights has advanced a lot in the past few decades and some people might not realize just how difficult it was for LGBT people to live authentically. Aside from the gay stories happening on screen, what were some of the challenges gay filmmakers faced in real life in the studio era?
Earlier this month we featured the gay actor William Haines, who was a big star in the ‘20s and ‘30s but refused to play the Hollywood game and date women. Eventually studio head Louis B. Mayer issued an ultimatum and told him to deny his sexuality or lose his job at the studio. So his homosexuality essentially ended his film career.
5. What obstacles do you still see for gay filmmakers or stories about LGBT people today?
I still think we have to ground to make up when it comes to the major studio system. Too often gay characters are comedic sidekicks or even villains. I’d love to see more big-studio films feature gay characters in lead roles with complex storylines.
6. What is the one thing you hope viewers take away from this series that’s still applicable in the 21st century?
I would love for people to be inspired by the courage and artistry of the gay men and lesbians that we’re featuring. While they might not have been “out” publicly in the sense that we understand today, they still lived with some level of authenticity and contributed immensely to the film industry in lasting ways.
7. During your research, who’s story inspired you most on a personal level?
I was very moved by the story of Montgomery Clift, particularly around the filming of Suddenly Last Summer which we’re airing this week. This was after his horrible car accident and during a time when he was abusing alcohol which negatively affected his performance on the set. But both Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn supported him on set and helped him through such a difficult time. Clearly, Clift had a good heart despite his addictions.
8. For viewers who want to learn more about these stories, what books or documentaries would you recommend for further education?
Everyone should see the fantastic documentary The Celluloid Closet which is the ultimate primer on Gay Hollywood. And my guest for the series, William J. Mann, has written several fascinating books including Behind The Screen and the William Haines biography Wisecracker.
Many thanks to Dave and TCM for taking the time to chat with me and for hosting such a valuable and eye opening series.

Fashion made in heaven: The legacy of Audrey Hepburn and the skinny black pant

Like peanut butter and jelly or salt and pepper, Audrey Hepburn and the little black dress are synonymous with each other. As much as I love her iconic look in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or her playful black dress with matching “cat” cap in Sabrina, where’s the love for the skinny black pant? When Audrey Hepburn burst into stardom, she didn’t look like any of her contemporaries. Curvy Marilyn Monroe dominated the screen and Sophia Loren was captivating post-WWII audiences. When waif Audrey showed up, Billy Wilder famously said, “This girl, singlehandedly, may make bosoms a thing of the past.”

Wilder’s first collaboration with Hepburn was on the film Sabrina. Sabrina is also significant as it was the first time Audrey was dressed by her long-time collaborator, designer Hubert de Givenchy. What Givenchy did in Sabrina, that Roman Holiday did not was give Audrey clothes that showcased her slender figure. One of the standout looks is the all black outfit seen below. Givenchy paired a chic pair of cropped black trousers with a long sleeve deep V neck in the back shirt to create a sophisticated look that took Sabrina Fairchild from a naive chauffeur’s daughter to a woman taking charge of her own destiny.

Ahepburn_sabrina

A similar look created by Givenchy three years later in Funny Face would eclipse her status as a fashion icon. It’s a look that’s still duplicated in popular culture just as much as the little black dress.

As Jo Stockton, Audrey wears this all black ensemble in the beatnik dance scene. Because she was going to have to dance, it was designed with movement in mind. In this scene, Jo is at her most carefree. Here in the club, she’s surrounded by her people: intellectual equals and hipsters. These are the ones she believes she belongs to and with.

audreyheoburn_funnyface

The all black look has taken on a life of its own. It’s timeless, elegant, and fun. Even if Audrey is dressed in all black, her spirit in that moment in the film is welcoming and infectious. You want whatever it is that she’s having that allows her to enjoy life through dance.

And it’s a look that’s often imitated. Everyone who pays an homage to Audrey is influenced by her but is never trying to take her place. No better place is this look seen than in the music video.

In Whitney Houston’s video “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” the legendary singer travels through time paying tribute to her biggest influences. In one scene, she visits Funny Face‘s Parisian nightclub and recreates the dance from the film. Houston is so adorable in this. She has the charm once possessed by Audrey and you can tell she was having just as much fun as the people who made Funny Face.

In 2011, Beyonce wore the all black ensemble for her video “Countdown.” Unlike “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” in Beyonce’s video she wears the luck and performs similar choreography instead of recreating most of the scene. Beyonce brings Audrey into the 2010’s with dancers of this era infuses classic moves with a contemporary flair. What I love about both videos so much is that women of color are showcasing Audrey’s style. Audrey’s style was accessible to everyone. Givenchy set out to create a look that would showcase Audrey’s figure and the same thing is done for both women above. For Beyonce, it’s even more special as she was pregnant at the time with her daughter Blue Ivy Carter. This outfit shows the world that pregnant women like Beyonce can still go out there, do it all, and look classic and beautiful in the process. The all black look evolved to become a celebration of the body, in all its forms.

Then three years later, Taylor Swift channeled Audrey for her video “Shake if Off.” Like Houston and Beyonce before her, Swift’s video is filled with references to different dance styles from ballet to hip hop. In a moment where she is the lead singer of her band letting loose, she wears the all black number. Instead of loafers, she changes things up with pointed black ballet flats with a leopard printbringing Audrey in front of a new audience yet again. This look isn’t showcased as much as the others so you might blink and miss it or not make the connection but having seen Funny Face countless times and other pop culture influences before it, one knows what it means and gets the idea. Like Jo Stockton in the club, Swift’s song pairs very well with the idea of enjoying and expressing yourself in life on your own terms as Jo did in Paris.

The original, often imitated never duplicated Funny Face airs Monday, June 26th at 10 p.m. on Turner Classic Movies. As a cultural touchstone, I know this look has appeared in many other places, what are some of your favorite homages to Jo Stockton? Share in the comments below. For now, I’ll leave you with Gap’s 2006 commercial used to sell the skinny black pant. I think it’s so much fun and it was made with approval from Audrey’s son, Sean Ferrer.

 

 

Set your DVR for these Audrey Hepburn classics this month

Audrey Hepburn is the TCM Star of the Month…and I can’t even accurately express my excitement!

Every Monday during the month of June, TCM will air a block of Audrey Hepburn films. The lineup is a great mix of beloved favorites and rarely seen gems (War and Peace!). You’ll notice two films noticeably absent: Sabrina, Charade, and Two for the Road. Sabrina airs a lot on TCM so I’m okay with letting that one go and I feel like Charade is very well known due to the fact that it’s Audrey and Cary Grant but I will say I was bummed to see Two for the Road left out. The film is one of my favorites of her dramatic performances. Stanley Donen’s comedy/drama told in a nonlinear style is a vivid portrait of the ups and downs of a complex 12-year marriage. Audrey is beautiful and heartbreaking as Joanna Wallace. It’s a much different Audrey Hepburn than Princess Anne or Holly Golightly. This is a film that has grown on me over time and as I’ve gotten older myself. Anyway, TCM’s lineup is still great but if you’re interested in Audrey Hepburn, you should seek that one out as well.

As an Audrey Hepburn-phile, here are the films you should tune into during this special month that aren’t Breakfast at Tiffany’s. No offense to the film, it’s fun even though it’s problematic but Audrey was so much more than that. Really, you should just watch all of the films airing but if you can’t these are the ones you MUST NOT MISS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Go to Monte Carlo (1951, Dir. John Boyer, Lester Fuller)

In this British-French comedy, Audrey plays a spoiled actress in a small role. One of her meltdowns is hilarious. The movie as a whole isn’t the best but it’s a great glimpse at a star in the making. The film is rarely seen and very hard to track down. Audrey was only 22 and she speaks French in it. Thanks to TCM for finding it and airing it. Quite the feat!

We Go to Monte Carlo airs at 2:45 AM on June 6th

Roman Holiday (1954, Dir. William Wyler)

Audrey Hepburn had success on Broadway in Gigi and only a handful of bit parts in small European films but Roman Holiday would change her life forever. As Princess Anne, Audrey is gracious and ethereal, every bit the princess you’d expect her to be. She and Gregory Peck are magnetic. The film was a huge hit overseas and won her the Oscar for Best Actress.

Roman Holiday airs Monday, June 5th at 8 PM.

Love in the Afternoon (1957, Dir. Billy Wilder)

Love in the Afternoon gets a bad rep because it’s another film in which Audrey is paired with a love interest who is much older than her but here it’s an important plot point. Billy Wilder directed this charming tale about a playboy who falls in love with the daughter of a private investigator who has been hired to dig up dirt on him. The story sounds convoluted but it all works because when you have Billy Wilder and Audrey, what can go wrong?

Love in the Afternoon airs at 10:15 PM on June 5th.

Funny Face (1957, Dir. Stanley Donen)

Audrey, Fred Astaire, and Paris? A match made in heaven if you ask me. Audrey’s character Jo Stockton is one of my favorite performances. A hipster bookworm who is discovered as a model but would rather continue her life as an amateur philosopher. Shot on location in France, this film fills all my francophile sweet spots. The luscious photography, closeups of Audrey, and lovely musical numbers make it an ‘S’wonderful, s’marvelous’ watch.

Funny Face airs at 10 PM on June 26th.

The Nun’s Story (1959, Dir. Fred Zinneman)

After a number of ingenue roles, Audrey needed a film that would show the world she was much more than a fashion plate princess. The Nun’s Story was the answer. This film is a deeply moving story about a young nun who struggles with her life living with obedience to the church and her faith when she faces the horrors of WW II. Audrey’s performance as Sister Luke is a powerful mix of expressive work using just her face and an internal struggle to bring her character’s journey to the screen. It is fascinating portrait of the struggle of humanity and spirituality that is not to be missed.

The Nun’s Story airs at 1:30 AM on June 12th

War and Peace (1956, Dir. King Vidor)

This adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel is the first and only time Audrey and husband, Mel Ferrer, share the screen. Admittedly, I’ve never cared for Ferrer much as an actor, he always came off as super bland to me but it’s nice to see him and Audrey onscreen together. The casting is a bit inspired in this picture with Henry Fonda portraying the Russian Pierre Bezhukov but under King Vidor’s direction it is a valiant effort at a period piece. Audrey is charming and radiant as Natasha. Her performance alone makes up for the short comings in this 3 and a 1/2 hour epic.

War and Peace airs at 2:15 AM on June 26th

How to Steal a Million (1966, Dir. William Wyler)

60s Audrey is one of my favorite Audreys. She could wear mod and couture like no one else and How to Steal a Million is a perfect fashion show but it’s also a highly enjoyable comedy with Peter O’Toole. Audrey reteams with director William Wyler for this witty comedy about a woman who must steal a statue from a Paris museum before anyone realizes it’s a fake made by her father. Audrey and O’Toole make a great pair oozing sophistication in ever frame. But they’re not just beautiful people parading around Paris, the film is a delightfully funny ride.

How to Steal a Million airs June 19th at 8 PM.

Paris When it Sizzles (1964, Dir. Richard Quine)

With a troubled production history and a script that goes off the rails many times, Paris When it Sizzles has gained a reputation as a cult favorite in recent years. This film should be so much better than it is when you’ve got Audrey, William Holden, and Paris but it requires the viewer to suspend disbelief and be prepared to go on a wild ride.Audrey and Bill still have the charming chemistry you saw in Sabrina and when the material calls for some outlandish moments, they go all in. With many tongue in cheek references and high profile cameos, the film is meant for you to have fun even if the people making it didn’t necessarily have a good time.

Paris When it Sizzles airs June 26th at 8 PM.

Wait Until Dark (1967, Dir. Terence Young)

If anyone tells you Audrey Hepburn isn’t a great actress after The Nun’s Story, show them Wait Until Dark. Audrey plays a blind woman who is terrorized by a group of thugs in search of a doll filled with heroin they believe is in her apartment, unbeknownst to her. Audrey received her fifth and final Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Susy Hendrix. Audrey attended a school for the blind to learn mannerisms and is very believable in the role. You sense her struggle and desperation. Alan Arkin is terrifying in his breakout performance. The film’s final act will have you on the edge of your seat.

Wait Until Dark airs June 19th at 10:15 PM.

Robin and Marian (1976, Dir. Richard Lester)

This is a different approach to telling the story of Robin Hood. Sean Connery and Audrey are the much older version of Robin and Marian in a subversive take on the tried and true tale. The result is a moving story of a man who knows he is aging but must fulfill his duties as a hero. Audrey came out of retirement to take the part. According to a biography, her sons begged her to take the part because they wanted her to work with James Bond. The film may not be one of the most exciting of the Robin Hood films, but with the work of Connery and Audrey it’s an exploration of heroism that will leave you inspired.

Robin and Marian airs June 27th at 6 AM.

Always (1989, Dir. Steven Spielberg)

Audrey makes her final film performance as an angel in Steven Spielberg’s Always. It’s a small role but more than appropriate for a legend who inspired us all. The film is a beautiful sendoff for a woman who gave us so much.

Always airs June 26th at 12 AM.

TCM will be livetweeting during the 8 PM hour every Monday in June. Join the conversation using the hashtag #LetsMovie.

TCM Backlot Guest Programmer Humberto Martinez gets ready for his closeup

Earlier this year, the TCM Backlot hosted its first ever TCM Backlot Guest Programmer contest where the winner would be flown to Turner Studios in Atlanta, Georgia to present a night of films alongside host Ben Mankiewicz. The lucky winner is a radiologist in South Florida whose warm personality and love of films makes you instantly feel like family. His name is Humberto Martinez.

TCM Backlot Guest Programmer winner Humberto at his home theater

As a fellow Backlot member, I entered the contest and in doing so, you can see each of the entries. I must admit that when I saw Humberto’s I immediately said, “that’s the guy who’s going to win.” I said that because Humberto is what makes and what we all love about TCM. Humberto is a classic movie fan with a passion and friendliness that radiates off the screen. I felt like I already knew him in that 90 second clip. He has this wonderful energy that made the clip so fun to watch. It turns out that Humberto is my neighbor. He doesn’t exactly live next door, but lives about ten minutes away from me so we were able to connect before his big TCM debut.

Humberto invited me to his home theater that he opens up to residents and his students every Friday. It’s his haven for his classic movie memorabilia but also the place for him to share his passion. When I arrived, he was standing at his door proudly wearing his TCM Backlot shirt and he told me quietly that whoever comes into his home must know that his home is their home and that hosting and talking about film is what he loves. That man in the Backlot video giddy discussing film is just as infectious in real life. Humberto took me to his home theater which is adorned with both classic and contemporary movie posters. Memorabilia including plates from Gone with the Wind and Casablanca are adorned throughout as well as a lot of Disney posters, pictures and figurines. Humberto was right, I felt at home.

Humberto filmed his TCM intros with Ben Mankiewicz on March 24th. He received a call from Yacov Freedman, the manager of the TCM Backlot club, that he had been a finalist. Shortly after Robert Osborne passed and Humberto believed the offer was over that there was no way TCM would be able to pull off the contest. This speaks to the professionalism of TCM. They knew they had a job to do and worked through their grief to select the winner of the contest. When Humberto found out he won, he couldn’t believe it.

He was flown to Atlanta, Georgia like a star. The morning he arrived at TCM, he was handled like a VIP getting wardrobe and makeup treatment. He tells me he got goosebumps sitting in the chair when his makeup was getting done because he was in the same room used by Robert Osborne during his tenure. When he arrived on set, he felt the warmth of the studio lights and there it was, the TCM set right in front of him. Everyone on the set was as lovely and friendly as he imagined. But what he didn’t imagine was that he would be assigned a person who would fill his cup for him with whatever drink he wanted during the duration of the shoot. So that’s what life is like on the other side of showbiz?

Humberto called the shoot an “out of body experience.” The day after he thought he dreamed the whole thing because it was an experience that exceeded his expectations. It almost didn’t happen as smoothly. The night before he had an allergy attack due to the feather pillows in his hotel room. He says you’ll notice he has a coarse to his voice during his introductions and promises he sounds much better in real life. And I can attest to that too. He considers himself very lucky to have been given this opportunity and wishes every fan can have the chance.

Catch Humberto Martinez’s Guest Programmer night Wednesday, May 24th on TCM beginning with Pal Joey at 8:00 PM followed by The Eddie Duchin Story and Bye, Bye Birdie.

 

The “bad boy of film stock”: The nitrate experience at TCMFF

The Egyptian Theater where the nitrate prints were shown at TCMFF

Watching a film on nitrate has to be seen to be believed. I had heard about the beauty and exclusivity of nitrate for years. It’s been referred to as the “bad boy of film stock” for its ability to allow cinematographers to capture imagery that is vivid and luminous but it’s also flammable which adds to its allure. Nitrate’s fandom has had a bit of a revival as of late with the Nitrate Picture Show film festival in New York and Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater recently underwent a renovation to be able to show these rare prints. Those of us who had passes for the TCM Classic Film Festival were in luck when the addition of nitrate prints to the program was a late announcement for the fest. It didn’t hurt that the lineup of films presented on nitrate were INCREDIBLE! The lineup consisted of the following:

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Laura

Black Narcissus

Lady in the Dark

I was lucky to attend each of the nitrate screenings and they did not disappoint! The first screening was 1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. Although I own it as part of a Hitchcock box set, the film has eluded me for years. I was excited to have the chance to see it for the first time on nitrate. To add to this special treat—Martin Scorsese was announced as the presenter. My reaction was something like this:

Scorsese’s introduction was everything you love and expect from this genius filmmaker who at heart is a big classic movie fan just like the rest of us. His love of the art form radiated all the way up to the balcony of the Egyptian where I was sitting. When the film began, I could already see what the fuss surrounding nitrate was about. The black and white cinematography was very rich. The textures made certain scenes pop out in a way that almost rivaled 3D that made the climatic scene all the more intense. It made me even more excited for the next film, which happens to be one of—if not my absolute—favorite film, Laura.

The opening scene of Laura in Waldo Lydecker’s apartment.

I’ve seen Laura more times than I can count. It’s the film I always say made me fall in love with classic Hollywood and film noir. The print we saw was the one that was distributed to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar consideration in 1944. The print felt like watching it for the first time. It was breathtaking. The opening scene with the tour of Waldo Lydecker’s apartment made me look at his possessions in a way I hadn’t seen before. Nitrate shined a luminosity to his art collection that added to his character’s sophisticated and lavish lifestyle. Laura is already a gorgeous film. It won the Oscar for black and white cinematography. The nitrate stock elevates the film to places I didn’t think were possible. These small details made it an intoxicating experience. The spirit of Laura Hunt through the haunting painting permeated throughout the picture. In the scene where Detective McPherson goes through her possessions and you see him gradually falling in love with this murder victim, the nitrate projection gave it a more haunting undertone to match its reputation as a film noir classic. Gene Tierney’s porcelain beauty never looked better. Can you make one of the most beautiful actresses ever even more breathtaking? Yes, actually, you can. This was a festival experience I’ll always remember.

The hauntingly seductive Black Narcissus

It may not have received its own billboard on Hollywood Boulevard but Black Narcissus was one of the most anticipated screenings at the festival. Photos of the film show its beauty but nitrate truly does it justice. Black Narcissus on nitrate is like watching a painting come to life. In an NPR interview, the Egyptian Theater’s manager described this screening as “a spiritual experience for people who love cinema.” I could not agree more. I felt like I was transported to another world. During the entire film’s running time, nothing else mattered. I was under this film’s spell. Unfortunately I got a little lost in the film because of just how beautiful it was. I had a hard time making sense of some parts of the plot. I was that overwhelmed by it! The scenes where the character Sister Ruth descends into madness sparkled in a way that made me gasp. It was a reminder of just how much film is reliant on the work of everyone. Kathleen Byron does a great job as Sister Ruth but the cinematography showcases the power of the Himalayan scenery on her character. Byron works internally to show her madness and the nitrate brings it out externally.

The final film to be shown on nitrate and the final film I saw at TCMFF was Lady in the Dark. In my earlier post about the festival, I expressed my disdain at this film’s plot, however, that doesn’t take away from how gorgeous this film was. It was a visual ecstasy. The film features several hypnotic dream sequences including Ginger Rogers wearing a beautiful red ‘mink’ dress and Ray Milland donning a purple sequined suit with a matching top hat. Are you not sold on this??? I left this film appreciating Edith Head’s costumes on another level. The nitrate really brought out details that I didn’t pick up on in other films.

Anyone who is a classic movie fan should seek out the Nitrate Picture Show. Cellulose nitrate was used exclusively until Kodak stopped making it in the 1950s and replaced it with a sturdier film stock. The term silver screen comes from nitrate because actual silver was embedded in the material it’s made of. For me—I felt completely spoiled by this addition to the TCM Classic Film Festival as it was a part of my first festival. We need to celebrate these precious and rare prints. They are crucial to our film history. Thinking about some of these prints disappearing forever is such a scary and devastating thought. To learn more about nitrate, visit the George Eastman Museum’s website here.

How a screening of ‘Born Yesterday’ at TCMFF restored my faith in humanity


It had been a while since I’ve seen Born Yesterday but it’s a film I enjoy for a variety of reasons. It’s a very smart comedy, Judy Holliday is irresistible, and William Holden! When I saw that it was one of the banner films for this year’s Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival I was very excited. Initially I thought what a great pick for a comedy theme since this it features the first ever comedic performance by an actress to be recognized with an Academy Award for Best Actress. But then I realized this film is just as important today as it was when it was released.

Playwright Garson Kanin wrote Born Yesterday during WWII. Kanin was serving in the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor to the CIA) making propaganda and war effort films. Having observed corruption in Washington, DC firsthand, Kanin was inspired to tell a serious expose about the influence of special interest groups on politics.

Born Yesterday is about a ruthless, loud mouthed, scrap metal tycoon (Broderick Crawford as Harry Brock) who arrives in Washington to buy a Congressman or two in hopes of boosting his business. His entourage includes his former showgirl girlfriend who he believes is nothing more than a dumb blonde (Judy Holliday in the role of Billie Dawn). To make her more presentable in high society, he hires a reporter (Paul Varrell played by William Holden) to educate her. Immersing herself in American history with Paul as her guide, Billie (and the audience) comes to realize the power of manipulation at the hands of those who take advantage of vulnerable people for their own personal gain.

Before it was put on film, Born Yesterday was a hit on Broadway, with Holliday originating the role of Billie Dawn. Holliday was practically an unknown at the time and the studio wanted Rita Hayworth to star in the film version. Hayworth was unavailable. Holliday got the part and an Oscar.

Born Yesterday is one of the most important comedies to come out of the studio system. It shows us how creatives were unafraid to stand up to the greed they saw in the world with their art. Los Angeles-based movie critic Tara McNamara introduced the film at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. She did an excellent job explaining the film’s relevance and enduring appeal. The film’s subtle take on corruption, lobbyists and outside influence in Washington is seen through its main characters. Harry Brock represents corrupt lobbyists while Billie Dawn is essentially the American people. The message: if we don’t educate ourselves on what’s happening, we’ll end up being the ones taken advantage of.

The film was widely referenced during the 2016 presidential election with many pundits comparing Harry Brock to President Donald Trump. When I saw that Born Yesterday was one of the banner films for the festival, I was excited but a part of me wasn’t so sure I wanted to see it. The film features some very real themes and also a moment that is truly horrific. Born Yesterday plays like a tragedy compared to today’s current events as we continue to see the Harry Brocks of the world manipulate and rise to power. And yet, I’m glad I watched it with this audience. During some of the film’s more serious moments, you could feel the audience’s empathy for Billie Dawn. When William Holden’s Paul says the line, “A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in,” the audience cheered and clapped loudly. It was a beautiful moment that reminded me there are still good in this world and people who believe the government is for and of the people.

This isn’t to say that the makeup of the crowd were people who voted against Mr. Trump or to make any sort of political statement. I didn’t take some poll here and can not make that assumption. The fact that I don’t know the political leanings of the people in the audience is what makes TCMFF unique. Here things like race, gender, or social status—things meant to divide us—are ignored and we are all brought together by our shared love of classic film. No one judges or disrespects, everyone is there to celebrate the films we love so dearly. That’s the real beauty of film and the community TCM has fostered.

The film version of Born Yesterday was released in 1950—67 years ago—with a prescient message we should have paid attention to. As long as the Billie Dawns and Paul Verralls of the world continue to stand up for what’s right, we’ll finally see the progress we so desperately crave.

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