Highlights of the TCM Festival 2012


TCM Classics Festival, LA’s newest festival, is a swank operation from start to finish. Unlike most festivals in LA, which are attended by the local film fans, TCM’s audience comes from all over the country and Canada.  Friendly and well mannered, they make a nice change from LA’s sometimes spoiled, blasé crowd.

Highlights for me: Retour de Flamme / 3D rarities 1900-2003. Serge Bromberg’s selection included films from The United States, France and Russia

French film historian-collector Serge Bromberg, whose company Lobster Films restores and distributes found films, brought two astonishing programs. Like a Vaudevillian or Chautauqua performer, the charming showman Bromberg, who also sings and plays the piano, performs at his screening.  It was the modern equivalent of watching Windsor Mccay perform with his animated co-star Gertie The Dinosaur.

Murder in 3D  (1941)  Dir: George Sidney
The Pete Smith short features a trip to a haunted house Pete Smith narrates as a series of savages, witches, Frankenstein’s monster and the “Madman of Magnesia” throw things at us, all to demonstrate the wonders of the Stereoscopix- Metroscopix process.

Musical Memories  (1935) Dir: Dave Fleisher  Bichrome
One of a series of films produced by the Fleischer Brothers to compete with Walt Disney’s “Silly Symphonies”. The Technicolor Bichrome shorts gave the illusion of back and foreground relief, employing a proprietary process by the man who also patented the Rotoscope.  Watched without 3D glasses, we watch through a “stereo viewer,” as an elderly couple reviews their memories. 2D drawn elements disport against a 3D background. One of my favorites.

Working for peanuts  (1953) Jack Hannah
Chip and Dale invade a nearby Zoo to steal peanut treats from Dolores the pink elephant. Zookeeper Donald Duck discovers the little rascals but, covered in whitewash, they pass themselves off as Albino Chipmunks. Installed in a special exhibit, they are fed peanuts to their hearts’ content.  Lovely pastels, simple sharp-edged animation, UPA influenced backgrounds and a cute song “I am gonna scrub Dolores”

Parade of attractions  1, 2, 3
A fascinating trio of Russian animations. One featured varied birds, another was a lovely undersea episode starring a marvelous squid, and the third featured dancers and jugglers  from a Russian Circus (whose Indian clubs are caught by a hand emerging in front of the camera.

Motor Rhythm (1939)
Loucks and Norling Studios   Plymouth Motor Corp.
Filmed for the Chrysler Pavilion at the 1939 Chicago Worlds Fair, reshot in Technicolor in 1940, the film, which celebrated the 1940 Plymouth was viewed by 1.500.000 spectators at the Worlds Fair. Probably the first color 3D short in history. Rereleased by RKO in 1953. A Plymouth car assembles itself as large metal pieces whirl at the audience

Louis Lumière et le relief (1935)
Louis Lumière’s 1935 3D remake of their most famous image “L’arrivée d’un train en gare de Ciotat.” was another priceless moment in the program.  Their single view 50-second silent film shows the entry of a train pulled by a steam locomotive into a train station in the French coastal town of La Ciotat. Like most of the early Lumière films, L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat consists of a single, unedited view illustrating an aspect of everyday life. (After Auguste Lumière left the business in 1910, Louis Lumière introduced a stereoscopic photography system in 1920, and a three-dimensional motion picture system in 1930.)

Lumber Jack-Rabbit (1954) Dir: Chuck Jones
“Lumber Jack-Rabbit”, first released in 1954, was the only 3D Loony Tunes. The film stars Mel Blanc and Norman Nesbitt.  Mel Blanc sings “Blue Tail Fly”.  The famed Warners Logo zooms towards the audience in an amusing opening effect. Paul Bunyon’s carrots look like trees to the bedazzled moocher Bugs Bunny. Bugs, who invades Paul Bunyon’s farm, is dwarfed by Bunyon’s huge dog Smidgen, who really stands out against the drawn horizon.  Bugs, glimpsed in Smidgen’s eyes, is another neat 3D trick. I’ve read that Jones left Warners over this film and Friz Freleng reworked Jone’s cartoon in 3D.  (Jones spent a few months at Disney working on ‘Sleeping Beauty” then returned to Warners.)

Bunzli system (1900)
Dir: Rene Bunzli and Pierre -Victor Continsouza
Bromberg showed an example of an early home entertainment system.
Believing that Celluloid was too dangerous for home use, Bunzli and Continsouza replaced Celluloid with a glass-disk-only device they had patented in France. Their machine utilized a glass disk similar to that of previous inventors. Its circular shape held photographs taken on its surface and placed in a spiral fashion on the disk. A four-sided Maltese Cross moved the disk. The Maltese Cross projector they designed soon became industry standard.

Falling in love again (2003)
ONF / SANDDE – Dir  Munro
This animated short unfolds to Marlene Dietrich’s rendition of “Falling in Love Again.” When two cars travelling in opposite directions careen around sharp curves, the explosive meeting of their occupants lights up the sky. “Falling in Love Again” is the National Film Board of Canada’s first 3D animated film using the IMAX Sandde! System.

Knick Knack (1988)
Siggraph  Dir: John Lasseter Music : Bobby McFerrin  
Lasseter’s three minute computer-animated short is the comic romance between a snow-globe bound snowman and a sexy travel souvenir. Outside his globe, all the other souvenir items are having the time of their life partying around their plastic pool to an improvised acappela tune by Bobby McFerrin. A bikini-clad blond jiggles just out of reach. The Snowman tries everything to break out of his globe. “Knick” Knack was Pixar’s fourth and final short produced during the company’s tenure as a hardware company.

Daffy’s Rhapsody (2012)
Warner / Matthew O Callaghan, Billy West and Mel Blanc star in the computer-generated 3D musical short which features a 3-second cameo by Bugs Bunny.

“Le Chaudron Infernal” / “L’oracle de Delphes” (1903) /  “Cornue Infernale” 1906
Hand-colored. Dir: Georges Méliès        

Stage illusionist turned film illusionist George Méliès was so prolific, he produced 131 films in 1896 and 53 alone. By 1902, his famous “A Trip to the Moon” was being shown in pirated illegal copies by promoters Thomas Edison, Siegmund Lubin and Carl Laemmle who made large amounts of money off of them, without paying him a cent.  Soon he was in competition with his own pirated films. He invented a rig which joined two cameras side by side, an unintentional Stereoscopic rig. This enabled him to shoot two negatives simultaneously. One would be used to make the American prints.

Méliès opened a Star Films office in New York City, with brother Gaston Méliès in charge of distribution, determined to prosecute the pirates. (Gaston eventually moved the Star Film Company to San Antonio, Texas, where he filmed countless silent westerns.)

When Bromberg was restoring his copy of “Le Chaudron infernale” he went to New York to look at missing material from another Archival print.  He was amazed to see that the images were slightly off-set. Research lead him to the information about the two-lense rig. Marrying the two negatives for he first time, Bromberg was able to create true stereoscopic Méliès films.

This is the same technique used for his 3D version of  “A Trip to the Moon”, which was the highlight of his second program “TRIP TO THE MOON AND OTHER TRIPS THROUGH TIME AND SPACE” Other highlights of Bromberg’s second show was the fascinating “A Trip Down Market Street ” which Bromberg accompanied on the piano. Bromberg accompanied half of the rare shorts this program.

A Trip Down Market Street     (April 1906)   
Dir: Miles Brothers. San Francisco, one morning of April 1906.
The Miles Brothers’ time-travelling  “A Trip Down Market Street” exhilarates.  Watching it, I kept thinking of Ken Jacob’s mysterious “The Pushcarts Leave Eternity Street.” The Mills Brothers’ lively film influenced Jacobs and Ernie Gehr, who manipulated the footage for his 1974 found footage film “Eureka.” hooting from a cable car, the Mills brothers traveled Market Street from 8th Street to the Cable Car turnaround at the Ferry Building on the Bay (capturing reflections in the glass) a week before the great earthquake of 1906. We view the old wholesale district ( now the financial district.) Shoppers and newsboys scurry out of the way. Pedestrians lean in to stare at the camera. Trolleys, horse drawn dray trucks, omnibuses and streetcars mix with circling ‘horseless carriages’ (early autos) which drive any which way. A child peeps out of his carriage window at the cameramen riding on the front of the Cable car. (A digital copy is available to watch on the CBS news site.) The film exists because it was shipped back east, days before the quake that destroyed the Mills brother’s office.

This halcyon view of pre-earthquake Frisco was followed by the World Premiere of  “San Francisco Après La Catastrophe” shot by Pathe in 1906 a few days after the earthquake.

The hilarious “Les Kirikis” directed by Segundo de Chomon (Pathe1907)
features a faux Japanese acrobatic family.  An overhead camera capture the routines, performed on the floor, then the footage is shown in reverse to create all their gravity-defeating acrobatic tricks. This jaw dropping lunacy inspired the computer generated and projected performances of the dwarf acrobats in the recent Cirque de Soleil’s cine-centric show “Iris”. Bromberg’s sister hand paint each frame.

A trio of hand-painted French Pathé shorts: “Metamorphoses Du Papillion”, “The Acrobatic Fly” (amazing!) and “La Peine Du Talon” feature fantastic adventures of various insects.

“Flirt En Chemin De Fer” Pathé (1902)) is a risqué love scene on a train.

“Apres Le Bal “- Melies (1897) features a private strip tease by a lady of fashion.

“Gwalior” – Pathé (1907): A rare hand colored documentary about the town of Gwalior, India.

“Joy Of Living”- (La Joie De Vivre) (1934): Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin’s fabulous black and white hand drawn pas de deux features two nymphs dancing around a power station to the music of Tibor Harsanyi. The high Power lines serve as a music clef, a trampoline and a trapeze. The dance continues in a wind swept meadow, a waterfall in what amount to a sensual “Fantasia.”

“La Donna E Mobile/ Als Wie So Trugerisch”(1907) An amusing example of lip syncing.

“Frigo ET la baleine” (The love nest)  Buster Keaton (USA 1923)
After breaking up with his fiancee Buster detides to take a long sea voyage to forget. His tiny boat capsizes and Buster is rescued by the Tyrannical whaler captain (Big Joe Roberts), who punishes minor infractions by heaving sailors overboard and tossing memorial wreathes after them. Gags include Buster peering at the view through a porthole until the captain takes the porthole away. When he wants to escape in a lifeboat that’s too heavy for him to launch, Buster smashes a hole in the whaling ship’s hull, then sits in the lifeboat, playing solitaire, simply waiting for the ship to sink, so he can sail off the deck.
The last two-reel comedy Keaton made before his full-length features, “The Love Nest” the only film for which Buster took sole writing and directing credit. And it’s the only one that has no leading lady.

Additional Highlights: FILM STYLE- THE NOIR STYLE  Author, collector and historian Eddie Muller founder of the Film Noir Foundation, presented three films celebrating the stylists shadowy world of Film Noir.

These black and white wartime and post war drama’s with their paranoid distrust of the system, whether it be Big Business or the Underworld were Hollywood’s answer to German Expressionism and often employed famed German cinematic refugees behind the scenes

Raw Deal (1948) – Featuring an appearance by Marsha Hunt
This tough Anthony Mann thriller, shot by master DP John Alton, features a love triangle between fall guy Joe Sullivan Dennis O’Keefe), in prison for another man’s crime, his moll Pat (Claire Trevor) who breaks him out of jail and Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt) the social worker who wants to reform him.  Kidnapped by Joe and Pat during their get away, Ann shoots and kills one of Rick’s thugs. Raymond Burr plays the mobster Rick Coyle, an insane sadistic pyromaniac, (who torches people and thing throughout) wants to wipe Joe out and keep his share.  John Ireland co-stars as Fantail. Malibu, and SF’s Corkscrew Alley appear as locations.
Oh yes, a Theramin accompanies Claire Trevor’s voice-over narration.

Art Direction by Edward L. Ilou     (“He Walked by Night”, “Carmen Jones”. ” Reign of Terror”).  Set Decoration by Armor Marlowe (“Night And Day” and Clarence Steensen (“The Horn Blows at Midnight”, “Humoresque”,     

Gun Crazy (1950) – Featuring an appearance by Peggy Cummins.
Eddie “The Czar of Noir” Muller introduced Peggy Cummins as the No. 1 female noir star”. “Without performances like hers, there would be no ‘Breathless’ or ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’”
Joseph H. Lewis directs from a script inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. By blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (credited to Millard Kaufman). This classic doomed lovers on the run Noir makes many Noir Lovers Best lists.

Good-looking loner Barton Tare (John Dall) a boy with a serious gun fetish, spots comely sharp shooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) at a traveling Carnival. Challenged to outshoot the Star performer, their contest amounts to gun-0weilding foreplay as the two shoot out matches in the other’s crown. She’s fired and the two hit the road. It’s the corny middle America of the day, beaneries, motels even, Las Vegas. Broke, they begin knocking over gas stations and banks, dressed in a series of outlandish disguises. Living on the lam sours their romance. They decide on one big job, before heading south of the Border to raise a family in Mexico.

Alas, gun crazy Annie kills someone while robbing the payroll at an Armour Packing plant. On the run from a murder rap they pass through her family homestead only to die in a misty marsh in an early morning manhunt, which is one of the more poetic images in Noir. The film was a big influence on many Japanese Noirs as well as Malick’s “Badlands”, Altman’s “Thieve’s Like Us” and Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie & Clyde” Shot by master Cinematographer Russell Harlan (” Blackboard Jungle”, “Witness for the Prosecution”, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”) Production design by Gordon Wiles(“George White’s 1935 Scandals”, “The Underworld Story”. )

Cry Danger (1951) – New restoration, featuring an appearance by Rhonda Fleming
Shot in only 22 days (the debut film by former child star Robert Parrish) gripping film noir successfully mixes comedy and Noir tropes in another story of a man trying to clear his name after being sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit.

Cry Danger was been restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, in cooperation with Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros., and funded by the Film Noir Foundation.

Witty screenwriter William Bowers (“My Man Godfrey “, “Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone “, “Night and Day”) mixes humorous one liners with Noir to provide Dick Powell another cynical dead pan character.

Ex-convict Rocky Mulloy (Powell) tosses off one liners like a  late-night Borsht belt comic. An equal opportunity put-down artist, he sprays all and sundry with his acid retorts, keeping the audience in high spirits for the films too brief 79 minutes.  Cops, Hotel clerks, bookies, even his uke playing landlord is the butt of his humor.

Another fall guy doing time, Mulloy gets out after five years on the say so of one-legged ex-Marine (the humorous Richard Erdman). Tailed by the LA cops led by Detective Lt. Gus Cobb (Regis Toomey) everyone, including the false witness boozing Delong (who should know better) expects him to collect. Nightclub-owner with a case of nerves, Castro (noir regular William Conrad) holds out on the payment and Malloy is stuck on Bunker Hill ( with drunken Delong) in a seedy Air-Stream trailer.

He wants to keep an eye on Ex flame Nancy Morgan (Rhonda Fleming), the wife of his best friend, another one of Castro’s fallguys still behind bars. They torch for each other but don’t make a move. Trying to find out who framed him, he’s almost sent up again for accepting some marked money from another robbery.  Lt. Cobb clears him.  He beats the crap out of Castro and becomes the object of Castro’s thugs, before he shakes out the real baddie.

Actor turned director Hy Averback (“I Love You, Alice B. Toklas”, “Mash” the series) plays a whining low-level bookie that works out of the backroom of a seedy corner grocery. Jay Adler is a blast as the trailer park manager, Williams. Richard Erdman is sardonic as the ex-Marine Delong. In interviews he claimed to have based his witty drunken performance on Bowers himself. Jean Porter plays a screwball influenced kleptomaniac sex bomb Darlene LaVonne (called ‘Fingers’ by the alkie Jarhead). Her scenes with Erdman almost steal the film.

Dialogue director Rod Amateau (director “The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis”, “The Bob Cummings Show”, “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show”) drove the dialogue performances to a comical peak without destroying the noir subtext.

Art direction by Richard Day (“The House Of Rothschild”, “The Affairs of Cellini”,  “Dodsworth”, “Tales of Manhattan”, “On the Waterfront”, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  Set decoration by Joseph Kish (“Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, ” Friendly Persuasion”.)

Walter Mirisch’s “Fall Guy”
“Fall Guy” (1947) with legendary producer Walter Mirisch: His Mirisch Co. went on to deliver blockbusters like “Some Like It Hot” (1959), “West Side Story” (1961) and “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), but he started small at age 24 with this gritty “coke noir.”

Reginald Le Borg’s “Fall Guy”, based on Woolrich’s story `Cocaine’ was shot in eight days for $85,000 on the Monogram Pictures back lot, with sets that Mirisch said “probably weren’t any larger than this [screening]room.” He called his first Poverty Row outing “proof that one can overcome adversity and then go on to achieve something in life.” An audience pleasing line if ever there was one.
Tom Cochrane (Leo Penn as Clifford Penn)) wakes up in a psych ward in blood stained clothes The police grill him, but he gives them the slip and heads home where his brother-in-law, police detective Mac McLaine (Robert Armstrong), sobers him up with black coffee.

His fiancée Lois Walter (Teala Loring) ignores advice from her guardian; Jim Grosset (Charles Arnt) helps Tom and Mac trying to clear Tom of a possible murder rap. Suffering from one of the epic black outs that are the meat and potatoes of hard-drinking Cornell Woolrich’s ficton, all Tom can dredge out of his memory, is a guy in a bar and a party he takes him to. They find Joe (Elisha Cook Jr.) who takes them back to the location of the party, the apartment of the Shindells (Iris Adrian, John Harmon) where they discover a murdered girl hidden in the upstairs apartment. This causes his memory to kick in. At the party, blonde thrush Marie (Virginia Dale) sang, “Tootin’ My Own Horn’ then slipped him a Mickey Finn). When he came to next day he discovered the body, pocketed the knife and was picked up by police. Tom spots the blond Marie. Before he can be absolved, Joe and Marie are bumped off and Tom is almost killed.

Despite poor production values, DP Mack Stengler pulls off some nice touches, like the scene where Mac reads a letter lit by a lighter held behind it allowing the words to emerge, Or the half seen silhouetted character obscured by cigarette smoke.
The legendary producer Walter Mirisch (“West Side Story,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “In the Heat of the Night”, “The Magnificent Seven”, etc) introduced his first film “Fall Guy” (1947) a nourish programmer produced when he was a mere 24 years old. Mirisch rocked the sold-out house with his self-deprecating remarks. Of his first effort Mirisch said, “I thought I knew a lot more about movies than I did. You will be subjected to my learning.  For that I apologize.”

Mirisch, who became the head of production at Allied Artists Studio at 29 years old, formed the hit-making Mirisch Corporation whose impressive list of pictures included Best Picture Oscar winners: Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”, and  “West Side Story” as well as John Ford’s “The Horse Soldiers”; “The Children’s Hour”; “The Great Escape; Blake Edwards’ “The Pink Panther”, “A Shot in the Dark”, and “The Party”, all starring Peter Sellers; Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot”, “One, Two, Three”, “Irma La Douce”, and “The Fortune Cookie”; and Norman Jewison’s The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” and  “Fiddler On The Roof”, another Academy Award nominee for Best Picture.

A post film Q and A was introduced by Jared Case from the George Eastman House (who provided the 35mm print.)  Film Noir historian and author (“Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen”) Foster Hirsch interviewed the charming nonagenarian. Fall Guy was “an historical oddity.  Here it is back again.  I’m not prepared for what exactly this will be. If you have any questions, and if I can still remember, I’ll give answers.”  He did, to our delight.

“Lonesome” , the 1928 silent film by Hungarian director Pál Fejös (“Fantômas” (1932), was a little known classic. Aristotelian in its form, it takes place in one day and night.
This love story set at Coney Island recalls Murnau” great “Sunrise” or King Vidor’s “The Crowd” in it’s sweeping expressionist story telling.  \Crippled by hastily inserted sound sequences the film failed to get its due as a silent classic.

Two lonely workers leave their solitary rented rooms for work. A brilliant frantic montage, establishes their separate workdays. Fejös’s pacing and editing is only equaled in the city symphony films i.e. “Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis ” European films inspired by Soviet Montage theory.

After work, on the advice of a billboard touting the fun to be had at Coney island, both head to Coney Island, where Mary the telephone operator (the delightful Barbara Kent “Flesh and the Devil” ) and Jim the punch presser (the affecting Glenn Tryon “Broadway”, “King of Jazz “) meet and romance in the swirling throng of merrymakers. Tom failed to catch her eye on the beach-bound bus, but finding her ring brings them together and they spend their small purse on dinner and a dance. Fun loving Tom lets the loneliness show through his cocky life of the party portrayal.

They fall in love on the dance floor, celebrated by the people around them but are separated (did this film inspire Minnelli’s “The Clock”) and return home alone again.

Fejös’s Coney Island locations are brimming with eager, rude festive people illustrating the urban loneliness that occurs in a crowd. The man searched for his lost love, buffeted by the crowds, unable to get any one to remember seeing her. It’s anguish to watch, but Fejös eventually brings them back together. Clearly inspired by Futurism, Fejös’s fast paced cuts and crowed frames pay homage to the glories and handicaps of the Machine Age. Crowds, machines, rides, Cocks, everything is in constant movement, until the couple tryst withe the crowd swirling around them.


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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