Thursday, April 28, 2016

The TCM Backlot

I never knew that TCM had a backlot like the old Hollywood studios did. Well, it really doesn't, of course. But a couple of days ago somebody on the TCM boards posted that apparently TCM has set up something new called the TCM Backlot. The publicity blurb on the page is breathless:

Welcome to the TCM Backlot – the ultimate fan club for everyone who loves Turner Classic Movies! The TCM Backlot is your ticket to go behind the scenes, attend private gatherings, meet TCM talent and become part of the network like never before. You’ll get insider access to TCM, where you can influence programming and enjoy exclusive benefits only available to TCM Backlot members. Plus, we’re taking you deeper than ever into the world of Hollywood, cinema, and the luminaries who created the greatest movies of all time.

When you join TCM Backlot, you’ll be eligible to:

  • Vote on programming and help shape the network
  • Go on the air as a Guest Programmer
  • Attend special events and member-only gatherings
  • Meet TCM staff, talent, and special guests
  • Watch rare videos and first looks at original programming
  • Go inside the history of TCM and Hollywood
  • Access an exclusive digital version of the Now Playing Guide
  • Preview TCM events, auctions, and upcoming guests
  • Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the TCM studios
  • Enjoy regular contests, discounts and giveaways
  • Be featured in the Now Playing Guide
  • And you can become a charter member for the low, low sum of just $87! OK, that's not so low. And that's about as far as I got before the page hit an error loading on my browser. But it's not as if I was about to join. TCM was breathless about the supposed social networking benefits of the Classic Film Union, and of course that fizzled. And frankly, that's not something I would have been interested in anyway. But $85 a year to become an "ultimate fan" or somesuch seems like nonsense to me.

    Note the difference between the two prices I quoted. Before the signup page crashed on me, I was able to read that you can become a charter member for that $87. But when you look at the reams of terms and conditions, you'll note that it's an annual subscription, costing $85 a year. For however many years this runs. Yeah right.

    I appreciate that TCM need to find revenue streams, but I don't think this is the way to go about it.

    Sophia Loren at the TCM Film Festival

    Ah, today is day thta the annual TCM Classic Film Festival starts in Los Angeles. Nobody got me tickets, so I won't be there. Anyhow, it seems to be the case now on TCM the cable channel that they use the current year's film festival to promote something they did at the previous year's festival, that being one of the older-time actors they scored an extended interview with. In the past they've done Luise Rainer and Peter O'Toole (both no longer with us), as well as Eva Marie Saint.

    Apparently, last year they interviewed Sophia Loren. That's because the interview with her will be airing tiwce tonight on TCM. Between and after the interviews will be a night of Loren's movies. As is often the case with TCM premieres, there's an airing at 8:00 PM for the benefit of people on the east coast, and then another airing after one feature film for the folks out west. This year, there's actually a feature and a short. At 9:15 PM, there will be the 2014 short Human Voice starring Loren as a woman trying to reconnect with an old boyfriend. TCM showed it last year and it was worth one viewing, but not something I'd call particularly great. Then at 9:45 PM there's Marriage Italian Style, which has her tricking Marcelo Mastroianni into marriage after a lengthy affair, only to tell him after he discovers the trick that she says only one of her three sons is his, and she won't tell him which.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2016


    TCM's three-week look at German cinema concludes this week, with among others, the interesting movie Kameradschaft, early tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM.

    G.W. Pabst directed this one with a cast of actors who, I think, wouldn't be much recognized in America. I certainly don't recognize any of the names, but that of course doesn't mean much. The men here are miners, working when they can in a mine not far from Germany's border with France. Or at least, that's where half the men work. The other half of the male characters are French, working in the French mine that's just on the other side of the border. Of course, the French mine owners don't care for the German workers, what with just having fought a war with them a decade earlier. The German owners, likewise, don't care much for the French miners. The border is so strong that it goes underground, through the mine where all of these people work, the French and Germans decidedly not being side by side.

    Anyhow, the French mining engineers have a problem. They keep having flames and embers smoldering, so they've decided to deal with it by walling those areas off, and letting the lack of oxygen burn the fires out. Or, at least, that's the plan. The way the engineers are told just to wall places off gives some obvious foreshadowing even if you don't already know the plot, that something is going to go wrong. And, of course, soon enough, something does go dramatically wrong, as there's a fire on the French side of the mine. As the French rescue crews go down the mine to try to rescue their workers, the German mine owners don't much care. Let them deal with it; it's their problem. Some of the German miners, however, have a different view. They should side with their fellow workers, rather than with their nationality. They decide under their own initiative to take the German rescue equipment and go down the French side of the mine themselves to help in the rescue effort.

    It's not all easy, of course, what with the language barrier, and the Germans not knowing the French side of the mine, and the families of the French workers protesting at the entry gates, and even one old guy going down the mine himself to try to find his grandson. But this is where the movie shines. The scenes in the mines are compellingly claustrophobic, and a fair sight better than the stuff that goes on above ground. The aboveground stuff isn't bad, although there are some conventional scenes of the distraught girlfriend or the distraught mother; it's just that the underground stuff is so good.

    The movie has an ultimate message against the nationalism that was keeping France and Germany apart and presumably threatening peace. This of course was to happen in a few short years when the Nazis came to power, so whatever mesage the movie was trying to send was fairly short-lived. Politics aside, Kameradschaft is a visually compelling movie.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2016

    If it's Tuesday....

    TCM is spending a night tonight with the movies of Tuesday Weld. I think I actually haven't seen Sex Kittens Go to College before; that on is airing overnight at 3:15 AM. One of the movies airing tonight that does deserve a bit more than a brief mention is the one that kicks off the night at 8:00 PM, Rock Rock Rock!

    This was one of those movies made in the early part of the rock and roll era, when promoters were trying to appeal to the young crowd by putting the teens' new music on screen. One of the things that meant is that the plots were rather worse. I've mentioned Rock Around the Clock and its almost shot-for-shot remake Twist Around the Clock before; those at least had the good sense to put their plots in the business side of the music industry . In Rock Rock Rock! however, the plot, such as it is, involves Tuesday (who was about 13 or 14 at the time) tying to get the $30 (in mid-50s dollars, mind you) to buy a dress for the big dance. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, is trying to line up some rock and roll names to perform.

    In a movie like this, it comes down to the performances. The filmmakers got Connie Francis, who I wouldn't exactly call a rock and roll artist although she was quite succesful commercially in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to dub Tuesday Weld's singing voice. Elsewhere in the movie, there's Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon. But the other interesting thing in a movie like this is to see the artist the producers thought would become famous, but aren't remembered today. Cirino and the Bowties?

    One other thing is that movies actually made in the 1950s probably have a more authentic take on 50s set design (those lamps!) than movies made today looking back at the 50s.

    Monday, April 25, 2016

    Edgar Kennedy Day

    TCM is marking the birthday of actor Edgar Kennedy tomorrow, with a day of his films. Kennedy was a character actor so he didn't really get to be the star of features. But, he was famed for his "slow burn" of exasperation at the antics of the star around him. In addition to all those supporting roles, Kennedy did get to star, although in two-reelers. At RKO, he was the star of a series known as the "Average Man" shorts, and made four or five of them a year in the 1930s and 1940s, being in several dozen of them as a man who just wants to do his job or his work around the house, only to be stymied at every turn by his wife and her family. TCM will be showing eight of those shorts between 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM. The schedule has two 90-minute blocks with four shorts each, so I don't know the order of the shorts. I also haven't seen any of them, so I can't really comment on them. For whatever reason, TCM plays the RKO shorts from the 1930s and 1940s they have a lot less often than the shorts from Warner Bros. and MGM.

    As for the features, one that I'd like to mention is Hold 'Em Jail, which you can catch at 8:00 AM tomorrow. This is a Wheeler and Woolsey movie, starring RKO's comedy duo as a pair of salesmen who get framed and sent to prison. There, they basically wind up running the place, much to the chagrin of warden Kennedy. They also take part in the big inter-prison football game, on which the two wardens have a substantial bet. So Kennedy needs Wheeler and Woolsey to use every trick in the book to win the game for his prison. The result is a football game sequence reminiscent of the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers. There's one other interesting thing about Hold 'Em Jail, which is the sort of family you can only get in a Hollywood movie. Edgar Kennedy as the warden is married to Edna May Oliver, funny as always. They have a daughter played by... a teenaged Betty Grable!

    Sunday, April 24, 2016

    Chaplin's World

    Earlier today I mentioned how I listen to international broadcasters and how there was a movie-related program on China Radio Intertnational. Well, I also understand German well enough to listen to some German-langauage broadcasts. Usually, that's just news, since that's a bit easier to follow, but one of the podcasts I have in my RSS reader is of a weekly travel program that airs on Germany's Deutschlandfunk, that goes to various places around the world and does brief features on three or four of them each Sunday.

    So today in my RSS reader, I was intrigued to see a report titled, more or less Chaplin Museum on Lake Geneva: On the trail of the Tramp and artist. Note that the link above is actually in German; my giving the title in English is just a translation. Apparently there's been a new museum dedicated to Charlie Chaplin that opened up in Switzerland, where he spent his final years. You can read the report, in German, at the link above; if you can understand German, you can download the audio here; that's a 12 MB file around 13 minutes. Deutschlandfunk audio files are all available for six months from the date of publication, so this one will be available until about 1000 UTC on October 31.

    As for the Chaplin's World museum, you can visit their website here; it's also available in French and German for anybody here who's not a native English speaker. I don't go to museums much so I don't know how out of line this is, but the admission fee is CHF 23 for adults, which is about USD 24.

    CRI on the Beijing Film Festival

    I know I've mentioned quite a few times that I used to listen on short-wave radio to various international broadcasters. Most of them are no longer on short-wave, but still offer programs on the Internet, and one can listen to the programs in that manner. China Radio International actually still is on short-wave, although I generally listen to the features by downloading them over the weekend and then listening during the week. Most of the features aren't so time-specific that it makes a difference whether you're listening to a week-old edition.

    Anyhow, the CRI program "In the Spotlight" has, among the reports in the most recent edition (from April 20), a report on the Beijing Film Festival. If you want to read a brief synopsis of all of the reports from the program, you can go here. CRI doesn't package the individual reports into separate downloads, so if you want to listen to the report, you'll have to download the entire 25-minute program, or listen via streaming audio. Both options are available on the link above, but if you want a direct download, you can get it here. It's about 8.4 MB; I'm not certain how long CRI's programs are available for download.

    Saturday, April 23, 2016

    Guy Hamilton, 1922-2016

    I probably should have mentioned the death of director Guy Hamilton earlier, but this week has been busy and then Prince up and died. So I haven't gotten to blog about quite as much as I would have.

    Hamilton started his career as an assistant director to Carol Reed in the late 1940s, working on The Third Man among other things. His career as a lead director started in the 1950s, finally reaching more prestigious movies when he was named director of The Devil's Disciple, a film set during the American Revolution and starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.

    'You expect me to talk?' 'No, Mr. Hamilton, I expect you to direct!'Hamilton, however, probably became most famous when in 1964 he was tapped to direct Goldfinger, the third James Bond film. Hamilton would later direct three more Bond movies in the 1970s.

    Among Hamilton's other movies are The Battle of Britain and Man in the Middle.

    Friday, April 22, 2016

    100 Years, 100 Shots

    Somebody at the Tribeca Film Festival put together an interesting montage called 100 Years, 100 Shots. The point was to take one shot or sequence from one movie per year for each of the past 100 years, one that's considered iconic. The shot, that is; not necessarily the movie, even those in some ways go hand in hand. The 100 films used are listed in chronological order under the video, which runs a little over six minutes.

    Obviously, it's going to be difficult to select just one shot per year. Consider 1933, for which the editor used King Kong, and who can blame that choice? And yet, 1933 would probably have been the year to select something Busby Berkeley did, since that's the year he changed the Hollywood musical with 42nd Street and then Gold Diggers of 1933. But that's half the fun of a montage like this, debating the creator's choices.

    Thursday, April 21, 2016

    Briefs for April 21, 2016

    I note that there don't seem to be too many shorts on the schedule right now. There's one for today at about 3:00 PM, apparently a promo for a 1960s movie called Quick Before It Melts where I haven't seen the promo or even heard of the movie, with the possible exception that I think I've seen the title of the promo show up before. The reviews make it sound pretty dire. After that, there doesn't seem to be anything until Sunday afternoon

    A couple of lesser-known people from the 80s died over the weekend while my home Internet was out. Rod Daniel, a director who brought us stuff like the original Teen Wolf, died at 73. And then there's Kit West, an Oscar-winning special effects artist from films like the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, who was 79. Wikipedia only links to a Dutch-language obituary.

    I've also seen that TCM changed the graphics package they use when they show trailers for upcoming movies. They use that hard-to-read tyepface -- the one that shows up in the word "Spotlight" of the TCM Spotlight, and also I believe on "Essentials" if that ever shows up again -- for the day of the week, and the whole package looks more naturally high-def than before.