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24 Frames per Second
Create Your Own Classic Film Festival
The fourth annual TCM Classic Film Festival, held April 25 to 28 in Hollywood, included screenings of roughly 80 films and featured at least as many special guests, including Jane Fonda, Eva Marie Saint, Max von Sydow, and Mel Brooks. Festivalgoers got to watch Fonda add her hand and footprints to the TCL (formerly Graumann's) Chinese Theatre forecourt, listen to Tippi Hedren discuss her experience working with Alfred Hitchcock, and hiss a very gracious Ann Blyth, who portrayed Joan Crawford's nasty daughter in Mildred Pierce some 68 years ago, prior to a screening of the film.
While Barbra Streisand was not in attendance at the opening-night gala world premiere restoration of Funny Girl, rival pop diva (and sometime TCM host) Cher made a surprise appearance. Despite the presence of all these luminaries, however, it's safe to say that no one got as much audience love as TCM chief host Robert Osborne, who presided over the four days of festivities.
Attending the festival made me want to delve into the Billy Rose Theatre Division's archives to see what kind of documentation might exist on some of the films I saw. Just skimming the surface, I located a souvenir program from the original roadshow presentation of Funny Girl in 1968; a dialogue cutting continuity script from Captains Courageous (along with many others from the MGM files); lobby cards for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's I Know Where I'm Going and Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night; a beautiful full-color poster for the 1955 musical film version of Kismet; a pressbook for the 1932 shocker Island of Lost Souls ("In All Her Passionate Feline Beauty…The Panther Woman!"); and correspondence relating to The Night of the Hunter in the Lillian Gish Papers, plus a watercolor presented to Gish by the film's cast and crew. That's in addition to the clippings, photographs, reviews, typescripts, and other material routinely held on most of these movies and thousands more. It's a reminder of what a great place the Billy Rose Theatre Division is to do research on classic cinema.
Of course, if what you really want to do is see the movies, a majority of those showcased in the festival are available to borrow from New York Public Library. While it may not be the same as seeing them on the big screen, it's enough to have your own version of a TCM Classic Film Festival at home. Though it's doubtful that classic film aficionados need to be introduced to the likes of On the Waterfront or The Seventh Seal, the festival did spotlight some treasures that may be less familiar. If you know Powell and Pressburger primarily from The Red Shoes or Black Narcissus, for example, then you owe yourself the treat of checking out I Know Where I'm Going, a 1945 charmer starring Wendy Hiller on a romantic Hebridean Island adventure. Island of Lost Souls, starring Charles Laughton as a scientist conducting cross-species experiments, proves every bit as creepy as it must have seemed on its original release. Richard Fleischer's 1951 The Narrow Margin, presented at the festival with costar Jacqueline White in attendance, is a terrifically economical noir set on a nail-biting train ride. The theme of the festival was Journeys: Travel in the Movies, and railways also played prominent roles in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, John Frankenheimer's The Train, and of course, Buster Keaton's The General, which was presented closing night at the Chinese in a beautiful digital restoration, accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra. Boats were prominently featured in Victor Fleming's grand tearjerker Captains Courageous, and in It, the silent classic that forever enshrined Clara Bow as The It Girl, and which was presented at the Egyptian Theatre with Carl Davis' original score played by a 15-piece orchestra. Treacherous river trips unfolded in such varied offerings as The African Queen, The Night of the Hunter, and Deliverance, while a lovers on the run sidebar included not only Bonnie and Clyde and a world premiere restoration of Terrence Malick's Badlands, but also Ray's 1949 They Live by Night, another film that deserves to be better known. Some of the digital restorations screened at the festival, including George Stevens' landmark western Shane, are in advance of Blu-ray releases. If you own a player, the library is beginning to acquire Blu-ray versions of select DVDs. Look for the new Blu-ray material type in the catalog.
If you do wish to expand your knowledge of these films beyond information gleaned from DVD extras, then visit the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Start at the Theatre reference desk on the second floor. You'll be directed to the Theatre Division card catalog, where much of the division's non-book material is cataloged. For even more information—scholarly articles, databases, screenplays, and Variety in full text from 1940 to 2000—you may also want to access the library's Articles and Databases under the film subject category when you're onsite.
Meanwhile, pull up a couch and enjoy a few classic movies. Or, if you're in the mood for a more communal experience—and one that's free—check out the great film programming being done across New York Public Library locations.