Turner Classic

Remembering Robert Osborne

Beth Ann Gallagher, Karie Bible, Annie Coulter, and Deborah Rush with Robert Osborne at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Late Monday morning I was crying. A quick look at Twitter let me know something I hoped wouldn’t happen yet had. TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne had died. He’d been on extended medical leave, so I knew he wasn’t well, that he must have been seriously ill to stay away from the network and the job that meant so much to him. He was the rare person who created his own career around what he loved, film. Since he was the even rarer public person who kept his personal life private, fans didn’t know more about his condition than that. I wished like many he’d rebound.

I’m not the sort of person who jumps on the celebrity mourning bandwagon. I don’t write about someone’s passing simply to get blog hits. When I feel the loss of someone like Robert, and I’m going to be presumptuous and call him by his first name since he’s been in my living room many times, I really feel it. Chief among his many gifts was being able to connect and engage with an audience. He made me feel like he was excited to share what he knew and thought about a film because he cared–and he truly did. He wanted to pass on the knowledge and the joy of classic film. Whether you met him in person or watched him on TV, he gave you a personal experience.

I was lucky enough to meet Robert at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2007. He was there to accept an award from the festival for TCM for its contributions “to the preservation, restoration and exhibition of silent film.” He, also, introduced CAMILLE (1921). I didn’t approach him when I saw him in the Castro Theatre‘s auditorium. I don’t think he would’ve minded, but I try to be considerate of famous people’s moments of downtime. My friends and I made sure to go up to the theatre’s mezzanine for his book signing, and that’s the first and last time I met him.

Some of us bought his book, and some didn’t, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. He was friendly and chatted with all of us, and he quickly and happily said yes to a group picture. While we started posing for the picture,  I wanted to let him know how much I appreciated him and his work. I don’t remember what I said to him, but whatever I said and how I said it, he paused for a moment and tilted his head, and then he responded with something nice back. I’m sorry to be vague, but I remember the quality of the moment and my emotions more than the words used by either of us.

Robert exemplified generosity. He was a consummate gentleman to all who approached him. He left people feeling good after they interacted with him. He wasn’t only an ambassador for TCM or classic film. He was someone who radiated happiness at his good fortune at being able to live the life he wanted, and he shared that happiness by making himself available until he wasn’t able to anymore.

Thank you, Robert, for giving more than you took, for being an educator and an inspiration, and for being you. You leave behind a rich legacy.

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Guest Appearance on First Time Watchers

Harold Lloyd Hanging from the Clock in Safety Last

I’d been keeping a secret for a little while, in case it fell through, but it happened! I made a guest appearance on First Time Watchers this week. It’s a movie podcast hosted by Tim Costa, Hermano DaSilva, and Walter Vinci. I want to disclose the last host is one of my cousins! Movie madness runs in my family.

The guys discuss films classic and new, and they have their own unique format. They decided to expand their coverage to include a three-part series on silent film. Dan from Geek Cast Radio started it off by reviewing The Phantom Carriage, and Fritzi Kramer from Movies, Silently talked about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

concluded the series with Harold Lloyd‘s Safety Last (1923). In addition, I got to speak about how I got into movies and silents in particular, my recent trip to the TCM Classic Film Festival, some of the other film festivals I’ve been lucky enough to attend (like The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Rome, New York’s Capitolfest), and a trailer that’s got me very excited to see its movie.

I’ve not been on the air in any form in a while, excluding my holiday wishes cameo on Attaboy Clarence‘s 2015 Christmas special, but I had a lot of fun. If you listen, let me know what you think of the show in the comments below!

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TCM Classic Film Festival Media Credential Awarded to Spellbound!

TCM Classic Film Festival Logo Banner

This week has been like Christmas to me! I’ve been more excited than Ralphie discovering that last obsessively desired present–his official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle–hidden behind a desk. I was awarded my first ever media credential to cover the TCM Classic Film Festival! Attending has been a long-term goal. Expect to see pre-festival coverage, posts during the course of the event, interviews, reviews, live tweets, Instagram pics, and more. You may find my festival writings appearing outside of this blog. Friend and Hollywood historian Karie Bible runs Film Radar, a site focusing on revival and specialty films. She’s asked me about contributing additional festival content to Film Radar. This next month will be an exciting one as we head on the road to Los Angeles and to the TCM Classic Film Festival together!

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For the Love of Film Blogathon 2015

Kay Francis The Man Who Was Lost Publicity Shot

Yesterday I wanted some background noise TV, but when I turned it on an error message popped up on my screen, and that led me to contacting cable support, who worked me through a series of steps only to tell me that my receiver/DVR combo unit had died. I thought I had lost all my recordings. So many movies had been waiting to be watched! Most were recorded off of Turner Classic Movies, and many were pre-codes. Some starred Kay Francis, whose photo starts this post. I wish I could say I was as cool to the news as she looks above, but I wasn’t.

Sharing the news on social media brought out not only support from friends, but also their own stories of movies and old time radio show recordings lost when technology failed them. To put things in perspective, we were sad to lose quick and easy access to digital copies of entertainment to watch or listen to at our leisure. Even if some of the films or programs aired rarely or were harder to find, their originals or other copies existed. The chance remained to get more copies. Amassing them all again would be time-consuming, not impossible.

LOC Late Stage Nitrate Film Decomposition

From the Library of Congress: Late stage nitrate film decomposition.

Now imagine that there are no surviving original prints or copies. No theatre audience ever would have the chance to view these movies. There would be no moments of shared laughter, tears, gasps, or the rare applause. No solo viewer could binge-watch an era, genre, screenwriter, performer, director, or gender. Entire film careers could be lost or their evaluations impacted by missing important works, and cultural history would be written around these gaps or rely solely on aging firsthand accounts.

Let’s take a step back and say the prints that exist are damaged and deteriorating. Feel a little relief? There’s little chance anyone will get to enjoy these movies unless action is taken. There are those people whose skills and connections allow them to find, restore, preserve works, and grant others access to them. Most of us can promote film preservation through spreading the word of its urgency and by fundraising or making donations. The good news is there’s an opportunity to do any or all of these things!

Cupid In Quarantine Still 2

The For the Love of Film Blogathon: The Film Preservation Blogathon returns tomorrow! Starting Wednesday, May 13 and running through Sunday, May 17, dedicated film bloggers will be writing about science fiction movies to raise awareness and funds for film preservation. I’ll be among the participating bloggers. This year the event is co-hosted by Ferdy on Films, This Island Rod, and Wonders in the Dark. The goal is to raise $10,000 to restore, score, and stream silent film Cupid in Quarantine (1918), “a one-reel Strand Comedy that tells the story of a young couple conspiring to stay together by staging a smallpox outbreak.” I know you want to see that! Bonus: If the fundraiser is successful anyone will get to watch this romantic comedy for free. So check out the host blogs for post links, share the word, and contribute if you can!

 

For the Love of Film Preservation Blogathon 2015 Donate Button

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The Silent Film Fanatic TCM Film Festival Preview!

TCMCFF 2015 Steamboat Bill Jr Poster

Classic film circles are abuzz about March’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. This year’s theme is History According to Hollywood, and many movie buffs are guessing what film favorites fitting that theme will screen. While the festival is only about a month away, its full schedule has not been announced yet. I’ve gone over what titles have been released to create a silent film fanatic preview.

The Grim Game Harry Houdini Fight Still

Harry Houdini in The Grim Game from the Kevin Connolly Collection

Rumored as lost, the Harry Houdini vehicle The Grim Game (1919) is another silent film with a strange-but-true rescue story. A retired juggler named Larry Weeks bought a complete print of the film back in 1947 from the Harry Houdini estate. He had shown it a few times, and he had been unwilling to sell it to any inquirers. In 2014 film scholar and preservationist Rick Schmidlin got a tip that Weeks owned the movie and successfully negotiated for TCM its purchase. Schmidlin oversaw the restoration, and it will make its world premiere at the festival.

The Grim Game is notable for being one of Houdini’s few feature films. Houdini stars as Harvey Hanford, who gets framed for murder. As if the stakes of clearing his name were not high enough, he must rescue his kidnapped fiancée, too. Like a number of Douglas Fairbanks‘s a films were designed to demonstrate his athleticism, Houdini’s movie offers him plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills as an illusionist, escape artist, and stuntman. There’s a dramatic airplane sequence that draws on his reputation as an aviator. The film sounds like a fun popcorn entertainment offering us a glimpse of a major 20th century performer at a career high.

Rick Schmidlin will be a special guest at the screening, and composer Brane Živković will conduct his score for the film live.

Lois Weber's Suspense Split Screen Still

One program gives the rare chance to watch films hand-cranked through a projector just like audiences of yesteryear. It’s The Return of the Dream Machine: Hand-Cranked Films from 1902-1913. Showing movies in this manner relies on the projectionist’s ability to match his hand-cranking rhythm to the action depicted onscreen. If he cranks too fast, a sad scene can become a comedy, and if he cranks too slowly, a comedic scene plays at a dirge tempo. Hand-cranking is a test of hand-eye coordination and endurance.

For this screening, shorts in 35mm prints will be presented. Titles include a color-tinted version of Georges MélièsA Trip to the Moon (1902), the Edison Company’s narrative leap forward The Great Train Robbery (1903), D.W. Griffith’s A Corner in Wheat (1909), and Lois Weber’s split-screen thriller Suspense (1913).

Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Randy Haberkamp will be a special guest at the screening.

Steamboat Bill Jr.

Buster Keaton‘s Steamboat Bill Jr. has two world premiere aspects. The comedy underwent a restoration that’s never been screened publicly before, and composer Carl Davis will conduct his brand-new score live. I see both of these as added bonuses of a film that would have pulled crowds even without them. Silent comedy is often a gateway to silent film for the non-fan, so this is a great film to introduce or sway a classic movie fan to silents, and Buster remains a strong name brand to current silent film fanatics.

In Steamboat Bill Jr., Buster plays William Canfield Jr., the newly returned from college son of  a paddle-steamer captain. He’s not the big strapping lad his father hoped would help him crush his competitor. Worse, Bill falls in love with the competitor’s daughter. This Romeo and Juliet tale contains one of Buster best known stunts that’s among his most dangerous. Look for an in-joke about his iconic pork pie hat. Between the stunts and laughs, if you’re not on Team Buster when you start this film, you’ll likely be at its end.

Charlie Chaplin's Limelight Mirror Still

Technically Limelight (1952) is a talkie, but it will interest silent film fanatics because Charlie Chaplin produced, wrote, directed, composed its music, and stars in the movie.  It has a Buster Keaton cameo as well. Limelight is historic because it’s the only feature film both performed in. During the silent era, they appeared in a First National promotional short, Seeing Stars (1922). They played themselves at a celebrity banquet.

Chaplin intended Limelight to be his last picture. Even if it is not an autobiography, it was a highly personal film. He set it in 1914, the year of his film debut, and a time of change since that was right before World War I. He used to perform in music halls early in his career, so the London music hall settings of Limelight were familiar to him. Some suspect his alcoholic, downwardly mobile clown was based on his father, but Chaplin claimed actor Frank Tierney inspired the role. Whatever the truth, the character was a theatrical archetype. Everything about the film shows a man looking back at the past.

The movie is more bittersweet and hopeful than it may sound. It mixes drama and comedy, as does the best of Chaplin’s work. His character Calvero rescues a ballet dancer played by Claire Bloom from a suicide attempt. His old man nurses the girl back to health, and each finds a friend and confidante. They encourage each other to attempt a comeback. They take to the stage again, and they embrace life again.

Actor, producer, and author, Norman Lloyd, who appears in Limelight, will be a special guest at the screening.

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