Friday, April 14, 2017

TCM Day 1: The fun begins

For my opening-night attraction, I had my choice of four films: Love Crazy (a 1941 screwball comedy starring William Powell and Myrna Loy that I’ve seen a million times and is, I think, not their best, despite the presence of Jack Carson), Some Like It Hot (making a reappearance; it had screened in 2010), a film I find incredibly overrated and not all that funny, a documentary about a cache of “lost” films that had been found in a small town in Canada, and Jezebel, a good picture, but one I didn’t need to see again. 

No, not even if you throw Donald MacBride and Gail Patrick in the deal

The big attraction, for me, was In the Heat of the Night, with scheduled pre-film appearances by Sidney Poitier, Lee Grant, director Norman Jewison, and producer Walter Mirisch. All of them are 90 (except for Mirisch, who is 95), so it promised to be a rare treat. Showtime was 6:30, but it got later and later and later, all of which I chalked up to the age of the participants. Finally, at 7:15, the hosts came out and introduced the guests, except for Poitier, who was in the audience (but reportedly not well enough to speak). I had planned on watching some of the movie before heading over to the Egyptian, but the panel started so late and went on so long that I had to leave before the movie actually started. Despite its length, the panel was interesting, except for the awkward moment Ben Mankiewicz, who was emceeing, asked Grant if she thought Poitier should have won the Oscar over Rod Steiger. Grant dealt with it well, but was obviously uncomfortable.

Mr. Poitier at the screening

The reason I was anxious to get to the Egyptian was that they were screening a nitrate print of Hitchcock’s 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much. This was a pretty big deal. For those who don’t know, nitrate film was originally what all movie theatres showed. It’s composed (among other things) of cellulose nitrate and silver, which allows it to have a greater range and depth of colors and greys; blacks and whites are sharper and more defined. The problem is that cellulose nitrate is, basically, an explosive, so it’s got to be handled carefully—to the point where projection booths need to be fireproofed and projectionists trained in how to handle it—especially since, if it does catch fire, it doesn’t go out. Even dousing it in water doesn’t do anything.

 Nitrate burning

I’d seen a lot of nitrate in the 70s and 80s at the various revival houses in Los Angeles (and everything was either 16mm or 35mm in those pre-digital days), and even the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto shows the occasional nitrate print. This was a big deal, though, because the Egyptian Theatre had just undergone an extensive renovation in order to show it, and these were going to be the first nitrate screenings at the festival. On top of that, I’d never seen the picture, so I had to go. The fact that Martin Scorsese was going to introduce it was only icing on the cake.

The problem with the screenings, though, was that, since these are all original prints from the 30s and 40s, they’re pretty beat up, with lots of scratches and splices; there’s no way to repair or restore them because they’re, well, nitrate and you can’t upgrade the material. (You can make prints on safety stock and improve those, but you lose the advantages of nitrate.)

Now, all that said, I should have had a blast, but (despite the reports of a lot of my colleagues) I just wasn’t that impressed with the presentation. Frankly, I didn’t see that great of a difference in picture quality (there was some, but not enough to make a big difference), and the quality of the print was distressing. The picture itself was great, but I came away disappointed in some regards.

To tell the truth, the most impressive thing about the film was Peter Lorre’s performance. It was his first English-language film, and he allegedly was performing his dialogue phonetically, which you would never have known.

 C'mon; who wouldn't want to see this guy?

The party was scheduled for 9:00-12:00, so leaving that late (11:15) was probably foolhardy, but I hadn’t grabbed dinner and assumed there’d be food there, and I wanted to see if anyone I knew was there. I headed for the assembly area outside the Roosevelt to see no buses, no filmgoers, no nothing. After a moment, I saw one of the buses returning from the W, but couldn’t figure out where it was stopping. Someone else who’d been at the Hitchcock came up, and we figured out where to go (which was wrong) before the bus stopped at the spot we’d originally been waiting. Some folks got off (at least one of whom I knew) and we persuaded the driver to take us to the W (where he had to go anyway to pick up passengers). We rode over quickly, walked past the guards (who were surprised to see anyone desperate enough to arrive that late), and took the elevator to the roof.

Kinda like this, but without the people in the pool

The party takes place on the roof of the hotel, half of which is covered, the other half being the swimming pool. I did a quick reconnoiter, grabbed a drink at the bar (these were gratis), and started walking around the pool, looking for any familiar faces and/or food. I saw none of the former, but some of the latter. (Desserts at the pool end, sliders and meatballs at the covered end. This latter was the mother lode for your obedient servant.) I grabbed some food and walked around, eating, drinking, and looking at the view (and trying to figure out what behemoth of a structure they’re building next door; whatever it is, it’s going to be gigantic) before figuring that they were about to close and I wasn’t going to see anyone I knew, anyway, so only about 15-20 minutes after I’d arrived, I headed back downstairs, got on a bus, and went back to the Roosevelt.

From there, it was a quick walk to the hotel, when I made my lunch for the next day, watched a little television (very little; sleep is always at a premium during this weekend), and went to sleep to prepare for a day of six movies, starting at 9:30 am.

*I am reminded of the period when that lot was a parking lot. I was seeing something at the Pantages (Camelot with Richard Harris replacing Richard Burton?) and wanted to avoid the parking fees, so I parked someplace from whence my car was towed. (I further confess I’d completely forgotten this until a friend reminded me of it a few months ago.) It cost an arm and a leg to get it back (probably more than the car was worth, actually), and made for an unforgettable adventure—despite my forgetting it.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a very good production
(But you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear)


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