Red Hair

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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Quick Impressions from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival–Night One

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Logo

I’m overstimulated with images and sounds and staying up too late. That can mean only one thing–I’m attending the 17th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Well, most of it. Sometimes sleeping or eating has taken a priority over screenings or hobnobbing with friends old and new. Here are some quick impressions of the fest so far.

Night One

Clara Bow Red Hair Promo

Red Hair
Before Wings, We were treated to the color sequence that remains of this mostly lost Clara Bow film. Clara’s hair is as flashing red as I’ve read versus how it photographs more darkly in black and white. She’s vibrant and beautiful in color as she goofs around in her swimming trunks with a pelican. Even though she did not survive the advent of talking motion pictures due to temperament, she definitely could have survived the evolution of color film. Clara is one of filmdom’s biggest what-ifs.

Wings 1927 Paramount Poster

Wings
The second instance of Clara Bow at the fest. While Bow steals all her scenes, this is really a men’s picture. Charles “Buddy” Rogers (playing Jack) and Richard Arlen (playing David) are the featured stars. They’re in the now familiar story of young men growing up quickly into men when pressed into service. We follow their induction into this homosocial world as their friendship and platonic love develops and is tested by jealousy and fate. Ultimately their relationship ends in tragedy.

Arlen & Rogers Duo Shot from Wings

This was my first instance of seeing the film on the large screen. I’ve only seen it on the small box before. I noticed two slight, but fun things.

The first is naughty. When Jack and David enlist, there’s a door marked private in the background. It opens to reveal the backsides of some very athletic and trim male figures. The quick-eyed of the Castro audience made a sound at all this cheekiness. Then the door closes. If you think you imagined the nudity, the door opens another time to reveal the same distinguished figures. Later El Brendel‘s comic relief character Herman Schwimpf goes to the door and starts dropping his trousers, obviously an in-joke to what we’ve glimpsed behind the door, but he’s wearing his underwear, so we’re spared seeing if his character has tattoos other than on his arm.

El Brendel Enlists

I’ve read mention of how Rogers’ and Arlen’s swearing was not appreciated by all, but I’m not the best lip-reader, and I may have been hampered in the past by watching a diminished image, but I had no trouble discerning what was clearly said in the battle scenes. I think their swearing added realism, so I’m not against it.

Rogers Plane Shot

Now the major things.

Wings Tinted Flames Still

The print was gorgeous. Not only had they cleaned it up well, but I don’t remember seeing tinting previously. It was very effective seeing the flames associated with the flight battle scenes. Those planes were made of wood and full of gasoline and ammunition, so they would have made a spectacle burning. When the bad guys are hit, the flames are a relief because they mean our heroes are safe, but when they’re on our heroes’ planes, they add to the tension and our worries.

Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

Wings was accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and foley artists. The orchestra always does a fine job of melding music to image, but the presence of such sophisticated sounds effects took the aural adornment to a new level. The sound effects helped make the audience gasp louder at each plane crash or mid-air collision. While we couldn’t feel the physical crashes, each boom added to our sensory experience giving more realism to our experience. Poking around on the internet, I’ve learned a little more about the foley artists from the screening. The “small army of Foley sound effects artists led by Star Wars veteran Ben Burtt and Mont Alto’s Rodney Sauer.”

I’ve some thoughts on the ending. I do not want to give anything away for those who have not seen the film, so read no further if you do not wish to be spoiled. You’ve been warned!

I’ve been thinking of character types and class and how they relate to the ending. Jack is the classic American type. He’s youthful, energetic, scrappy, ambitious, and middle class. He does not realize he’s in love with Clara Bow’s Mary, who’s a perfect match in qualities. He survives. David is sophisticated, genteel, rich, and stalwart. He’s in love with Jobyna Ralston‘s Sylvia Lewis, who looks as though she belongs in a beautiful art nouveau print. She seems as if she’s from another rarefied era. David, despite being an all around swell fellow, perishes. Obviously the idea was to show the consequences of war and not just the exciting air fights. We’re sad when David dies, but we’d probably be more devastated if Jack did. He’s the type of person we’ve been taught our country should be filled with. The ambitious, not wealthy whose drive was to rise up in class and build up the country as they innovated in their modernity and populated and rebuilt the United States. Jack’s living not only gives us hope for the character’s future in the film, but also gives us hope for a country rebuilding after war.

Rogers & Bow Couple Shot from Wings


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