Magic at the TCM Film Festival: The Cameraman

From the very beginning, motion pictures were… magic.  Of course, the medium has evolved to become one of the most important means of artistic expression that we’ve ever had– complex, subjective and ever-evolving. But sometimes all we want– indeed, all we need– is a little magic.

Perhaps the magic of cinema is found, in its purest form, in silent comedy. Hardly a definitive statement, but after tonight’s screening of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre for the TCM Classic Film Festival … I am hard pressed to find anything more magical than in the visual purity of silent comedy. One definition of magic is, in fact, “The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.” At the ripe age of 10, it was that sleight of hand and truly magical conjuring of delightful laughter, and wrenching tears, in the films of Charlie Chaplin that gave me my first love of silent film, and my undying passion for silent comedy. And the skilled sleight of Buster Keaton’s hand in The Cameraman (indeed, the exceptional skill in most all of his work) fits Merriam-Webster’s definition to a tee. How did he do it? There are books dedicated to the exploration of it. But the result is magic.

Ask the audience at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. A crowd of crisscrossed demographics, truly boggling in their variety. USC film students, venerated film historians (Kevin Brownlow, Leonard Maltin), Hollywood hipsters lured by word of mouth and Midwest purists on pilgrimage. Some of us clapping madly at the The Cameraman’s iconic moments (Keaton riding proudly on a fire-engine) while others’ jaws dropped in awe at witnessing Keaton’s physical fearlessness for the first time.  Packed in like sardines, different (quite possibly) in the extreme, yet all with the same knee-jerk reactions of Buster’s seemingly effortless comedic… magic.

I do not mean to imply that silent films are in some way uncomplicated or without depth. Quite the contrary in fact. And it is indeed those delicate complexities and layers of humor and heart that are integral to the magic of silent film.

The live orchestra was a definite feather in Buster’s cap.

Vince Giordiano and his Nighthawks are an east-coast based jazz ensemble that are absolute purists for the music of the ’20s and ’30s. Their music has appeared in period films like Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and shows like Boardwalk Empire (also Scorsese, hmm…) and what sets them apart is that they do not imitate hot jazz– they are highly fluent in the language of early 20th century music, understand the psychology and sociology of the culture that created it and there fore play it with striking authenticity. It was that authenticity that provided a truly perfect background for Keaton’s film (their set list weaving in period hits like Because My Baby Don’t Mean Maybe, Runnin’ Wild and The Mooche), creating an extra layer of energy that ramped up the audience’s already considerable excitement.

My favorite moment of this weekend’s festival hands down. And one of my favorite experiences to have ever had at the movies period.

A Day with Harlow

Harlow at her Club View Drive home, circa 1932

I spent the majority of today in 1932.

Well, as close as I’ll ever get to it, anyway.

On this exceptionally bright, magical March afternoon, the not-so-distant past collided head on with the present.

The authors of Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital held a book signing on Club View Drive in Beverly Hills- the former residence of Jean Harlow. The gracious current owners of the home, Mr. and Mrs. Chandler, hosted a lovely afternoon luncheon whose guests included Leonard Maltin, Holly Madison, members of the Harlow family (the Carpenter side), veteran Hollywood actress Pauline Wagner (Fay Wray‘s King Kong double!) and Hollywood historians Lisa Burks, Darrell Rooney and Mark Vieira.

I was thrilled to be a part of such a distinguished group, and really cherished every blessed second.

Armed with my partner in crime, the beautiful vintage model Lauren Foulk, we arrived at the legendary home ready for an afternoon of pure Hollywood history… and were certainly not disappointed.

The Chandlers love of their homes’ history is evident in every lovingly preserved square inch. Beautiful period prints of Harlow in the Club View Drive home were prominently placed in areas of particular interest, creating a tangible, living museum.

Harlow at Club View Drive in 1932... and the same view today.

It was a truly extraordinary experience, roaming the hallways of a legend. A costume worn by beautiful Carol Baker awaited upstairs– lead actress in the miscalculated  1965 film that was a victim of misinformation. (Baker’s talent as an actress could have been explosive given the correct material.)

Sitting in the the living room which had once played host to the wedding of Jean Harlow and ill-fated MGM producer Paul Bern was quite surreal … even moreso was speaking with a delightful lady who had graced its presence before… eight decades ago…

When Pauline Wagner signed my autograph book today, she tagged it with “SAG #2”. Meaning, quite simply, that she was officially the second member of the Screen Actors Guild. A photograph of the strikingly young Pauline with Jimmy Cagney on set rested in the Club View Drive drawing room, and a crowd of willing, waiting pupils sat at her feet. Eager, ever so eager, to hear the stories of working as an actress in 1930s Hollywood FROM an actress who worked in 1930s Holltwood. Pauline may be 100 years old on paper, but certainly doesn’t look it. In fact, when Lauren and I were told her real age we were fairly knocked off our feet. Lauren, arrayed in the most delightfully vintage tresses, was spyed by the very spry Pauline from across the room. We had no idea at the time that the sweet little lady introducing herself was a living Hollywood legend.

Her strikingly well preserved form? Summed up thusly:

Me: Pauline, whatever you’re doing, please keep doing it!

Pauline: It’s not what I’m doing… it’s what i DON’T do!

A statement followed up by a gloriously vivid account between her and director Mitchell Leisen who, after an uncharacteristically bleary-eyed morning with the actress, said: “Take my advice, kid. DON’T GO TO HOLLYWOOD PARTIES.”

She listened. Much to the benefit of all of us assembled this afternoon.

She wallopped me, that dame, and I’m still trying to recover…

Entrance to Club View Drive

Inside Club View Drive... Stairway to History

Portrait of Jean, in the room where she wedded Paul Bern.

Is it 2011 or is it 1932?

Vintage Model Lauren Foulk-- hitting on all six cylinders!

Carol Baker's negligee from the 1965 film "Harlow". Great actress... awful film.

Club View Drive's Tudor exterior.

Photograph of Harlow inside Club View Drive on her wedding day with Paul Bern, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg. (WOW!)

After the fun had ended, Lauren and I were still weren’t quite ready to rejoin the present. So we made a stop at the legendary Sunset Tower Hotel to have a drink in Jean’s honor. The Jean Harlow Cocktail was a slight challenge for our willing bartender, who’d never heard of the concoction before, but the end result was delicious!

Here’s to Harlean!

The Jean Harlow Cocktail

Sunset Tower Hotel

FOR THE LOVE OF FILM NOIR

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The Self-Styled Siren is one the absolute undisputed best blogs on classic film. And this past week, it has played host to a most noble endeavor: For the Love of Film Noir Blogathon. Everyone from the New York Times to Leonard Maltin has been, in at least some form, involved in promoting awareness of the need to preserve these ever so precious pieces of smoky black and white celluloid. A true army of bloggers joined forces to promote the cause and the results have been fascinating to say the very least!

Hop on over to the Self Styled Siren to read… to remember … to raise awareness … to really make a difference!

TCM Film Festival 2010: Thanks for the memories!

Photographer: John Nowak (C) TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES. A TIME WARNER COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

A Star is Born, The Producers, Wild River, Top Hat, Sunset Blvd., Leave Her to Heaven, North by Northwest, The Graduate, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The Good the Bad the Ugly, King of Comedy, Metropolis …  Tony Curtis, Eli Wallach, Eve Marie Saint, Martin Landau, Mel Brooks, Nancy Olson, Buck Henry,  Peter Bogdanovich, Leonard Maltin, Luise Rainer,  Ernest Borgnine, Darryl Hickman …

Out of all of the film festivals I have attended, including Sundance, this wass by far the most fun. Not only that, but this is probably the purest celebration of cinema in existence.  Imagine that: a film festival that is truly all about film. No pretentious industry mixers, no celebrity-of-the-moments (who have no intention of going to a screening anyway), no swag tents, no panel discussions about marketing and finance, and best of all, no crappy movies! Instead, the art of film was of serious discussion, its preservation was of paramount importance, its history was respected and celebrated and the men and women who created them were honored. It was a film festival with heart and soul—a beautiful thing to see in Hollywood where such things are hard to come by.

And so to Robert Osborn, Ben Mankiewicz, and everyone who made the TCM Film Festival possible, I say: My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.

ph: Edward M. Pio Roda Photographer: Edward M. Pio Roda (C) TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES. A TIME WARNER COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

ph: Edward M. Pio Roda Photographer: Edward M. Pio Roda (C) TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES. A TIME WARNER COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

ph: John Nowak Photographer: John Nowak (C) TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES. A TIME WARNER COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

ph: John Nowak Photographer: John Nowak (C) TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES. A TIME WARNER COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.