Fatty Arbuckle

The Road to TCMFF 2017: My Wish List

Since only a portion of the TCM Classic Film Festival offerings has been revealed, I’m going to fantasize about what else the festival programmers could schedule. In making my ideal list, I’ll pretend rights or physical print restrictions don’t exist, and I’ll stick to this year’s theme of MAKE ‘EM LAUGH: COMEDY IN THE MOVIES. I’m sure some of the programs and films I’d like to see at the festival will surprise you!

SPEEDY showing Harold Llloyd and Ann Christy at Coney Island

Harold Lloyd and Ann Christy in SPEEDY (1928)

Long-term readers and Twitter followers know I’m a silent film buff, and I know the perfect gateway to introduce others to the medium is comedy. I have multiple suggestions in this category. Harold Lloyd will be shown, but due to his granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd‘s activism in preserving and promoting his work, his work screening at the fest is usually likely. I’m a fan, so I don’t object. I’d like more silents at the festival!

Alice Howell in Cinderella Cinders

Alice Howell in CINDERELLA CINDERS (1920)

I’d love TCM to put together a program of silent film comediennes’ shorts. That way the audience could get exposure to or reacquaint themselves with multiple women stars from that era. There have been recent restorations, including some recently screened on the network, that could help fill the bill. Gloria Swanson, Louise Fazenda, Mabel Normand, Bebe Daniels, Flora Finch, Carole Lombard, Alice Howell, Marie Dressler, and Elsa Lanchester are all comediennes with existing silent shorts. If looking for a longer bill, shorts could be paired with Constance Talmadge‘s hour-long, recently found and restored comedy GOOD REFERENCES (1920).

Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers in GET YOUR MAN

Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers in GET YOUR MAN (1927)

Clara Bow‘s GET YOUR MAN (1927) provides the perfect excuse for a spotlight on the jazziest silent film comedienne. More exposure for Bow, especially with an introduction by her biographer David Stenn, will spotlight why America’s former favorite redhead deserves to be remembered as a talented comedienne whose onscreen naturalism belied self-aware technique. Discussion of how an incomplete film was reconstructed by the Library of Congress using “still photographs and inter-titles from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to fill in the narrative gaps” would be a mini-course in film preservation. If the program needs filling out because GET YOUR MAN is fifty-seven minutes long, short materials like the fragment of RED HAIR (1928) can be screened.

ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd Laughing in Bed

ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd

I’m divided whether I want a program of comedy duo shorts or one featuring duos whatever the length of their films. Shorts duos I’d be delighted to watch at TCMFF included Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts, Todd and Patsy Kelly, Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle, and Laurel and Hardy. If the fest highlights comedic duos’ best moments even from longer fare, I’d want to see added Marie Dressler and Polly Moran, Abbott and Costello, and Wheeler and Woolsey. I’m sure including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby along with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would make even more fans happy!

Moonstruck Moon over Bridge Shot

MOONSTRUCK (1987)

With Norman Jewison already in attendance for the fiftieth anniversary of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), I hope another one of his films celebrating its thirtieth anniversary gets snuck onto the schedule–MOONSTRUCK (1987). It’s laugh out loud funny in an idiosyncratic way, and it celebrates life and the mistakes that make it interesting with no cynicism. It, also, captures an old New York City that’s been disappearing via gentrification, displacement, and the passing of the older generations.

Now that you’ve read my picks, what films or programs would you like to see at TCMFF?

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Pass

I bought my San Francisco Silent Film Festival pass today. Last year I missed the festival. I chose to do something else, like get married and take a honeymoon, that month instead. I’m returning to a newly expanded festival.

Traditionally the festival’s opening night was on a Friday, while Saturday and Sunday offered full days’ worth of screenings. This year the festival opens on Thursday night, and and Friday eases us into the weekend with screenings starting in the afternoon. Saturday and Sunday still sport all-day screenings.

That means this is the year I pack a cushion! My pass entitles me entry to all sixteen films. Previously attending opening night required purchasing a ticket for just that night.

While some of the films are available on DVD, there’s nothing like seeing them on a large screen accompanied by live musicians with an appreciative crowd. In some ways, this film festival is a music festival as well. Orchestras, ensembles, and solo artists have prepared their own scores to accompany the films. The popular Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra returns as do Stephen Horne, Dennis James, and Alloy Orchestra. I do not remember hearing the Matti Bye Ensemble, Donald Sosin, or Chloe Veltman before.

Crowd watching is fun. Some attendees turn the theatre aisles into a catwalk, and they dress in real or repro vintage. Those willing to put in the most effort will be done up from head-to-toe in period appropriate garb and styling. Usually there are a lot of flappers in attendance, but every so often someone appears to be from the teens. The silent film fashionistas sit on the main floor in order to garner the most looks and compliments.

Most of this year’s films look to be from the twenties, a reminder that many earlier films have been lost. For those interested in preservation, two FREE matinées from the series Amazing Tales of the Archives act like mini-courses. On Friday, June 16 at 11:30 AM, preservationists discuss lost and found films. On Sunday, July 18 at 10 AM, another set offer First the Bad News. . .then the Good!

The featured films are international in origin. The US is represented by The Iron Horse, The Cook, Pass the Gravy, Big Business, The Flying Ace, The Strong Man, The Shakedown, and The Woman Disputed. A Spray of Plum Blossoms, a Shakespeare adaptation, showcases Chinese silent cinema. Italy has Rotaie, a romantic tragedy. Germany scores two representations with the newly restored and extended Metropolis and the Louise Brooks cult favorite Diary of a Lost Girl. Denmark and Sweden have a co-entry with Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages. The USSR experimental Man with a Movie Camera will be sure to confound. And France closes the festival with L’heureuse mort.

For those needing to know more about film, a book table will proffer all sorts of goodies, and there will be many author event signings. This latter schedule seems to be updating constantly, so I recommend checking the official festival blog for exact details. That blog is also great for all sorts of musings and facts concerning the festival and silent film in general. In fact, the festival brochure decorating this page was appreciatively re-appropriated from that other blog.