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Truman Capote (#110 of 7)

The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Edward M. Pio Roda

The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Almost by definition, any festival dedicated exclusively to the treasures, glories, and the occasional folly of the past is likely to be visited by ghosts, and the spirits of the dead are practically a staple at the TCM Classic Film Festival, which held its eighth gathering in the heart of Hollywood this past weekend. The memory of the late Debbie Reynolds, who had made several in-person appearances at TCMFF over the past eight years, was invoked through yet another screening (the festival’s third) of the indisputable classic Singin’ in the Rain, in which Reynolds made her first big Hollywood splash back in 1952, and at a screening of Postcards from the Edge (classic status somewhat more disputable), before which Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, were remembered fondly by Todd Fisher, Reynolds’s son.

Even though he wasn’t represented at the festival on screen, Don Rickles, who passed away on April 6, the festival’s opening day, couldn’t be ignored. Rickles’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located on Hollywood Boulevard across the street from the Chinese Theater complex, and as I made my way through the usual crush of tourists, desperadoes, and TCMFF pass holders toward my first screening on Thursday afternoon I wasn’t surprised to see the little square of sidewalk devoted to Rickles surrounded by flowers, curious bystanders, and entertainment reporters trolling for soundbites, and even adorned by one fan’s thoughtful memorial: a brand-new hockey puck.

The ghost that made its presence felt at almost every turn of this year’s festival belonged, of course, to TCM’s beloved host Robert Osborne, who died one month to the day before the launch of this year’s festival. Osborne began his Hollywood career in the early 1950s as an actor; his highest-profile moments were uncredited, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances in Psycho and Spartacus. But his heart was never in it, and at the encouragement of Lucille Ball he abandoned acting and combined his love of movies and journalism to concentrate on writing and documenting Hollywood history, eventually becoming the genial, knowledgeable, silver-haired host who won the allegiance of TCM fans worldwide.

Back in the Saddle: An Interview with Kevin Stoehr About the Film Western

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Back in the Saddle: An Interview with Kevin Stoehr About the Film Western
Back in the Saddle: An Interview with Kevin Stoehr About the Film Western

“It was Chico Marx, of all people, who uttered one of my favorite lines, ’I’d like the West better if it was in the East,’” says Kevin Stoehr, a professor of humanities at Boston University. It’s an hour into our interview and we’re finally back on topic. After all, the whole reason I made the long journey to Stoehr’s seaside condo in Portland, Maine was to discuss his acclaimed new book, Ride, Boldly, Ride: The Evolution of the American Western, which he co-authored with Mary Lea Bandy. But the professor, a conversationalist without equal, has been on a roll.

In the past half hour, this master of the non sequitur has discussed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the hidden homoeroticism in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the origins of kick boxing, Rod Steiger’s unforgettable performance as Mr. Joyboy in The Loved One, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And if all that weren’t enough, he’s treated me to a killer imitation of Truman Capote in Murder by Death.

Now it’s back to cowboys. And it suddenly occurs to me that the ruggedly handsome Stoehr bears more than a passing resemblance to one. He’s a strapping six-foot-four, the same imposing height as western icons John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. When I suggest that the professor wouldn’t look at all out of place outfitted in steel spurs and leather chaps, he blushes and is for once totally speechless. That sort of compliment may be a bit too Brokeback Mountain for him. But he recovers quickly.

“This project has been a genuine labor of love for me on so many different levels,” Stoehr says of his comprehensive study, which has been earning rave reviews. Dave Kehr of the New York Times calls Ride, Boldly, Ride, “a sweeping, insightful account of this most rich and resilient of movie genres.” In celebration of the book’s publication, the Museum of Modern Art recently held a month-long film series and invited Stoehr to introduce screenings of two rarely seen silent westerns, D.W. Griffith’s The Battle at Elderbush Gulch and John Ford’s Straight Shooting.

DOC NYC 2012: Persistence of Vision, David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure, & Plimpton!

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DOC NYC 2012: <em>Persistence of Vision</em>, <em>David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure</em>, & <em>Plimpton!</em>
DOC NYC 2012: <em>Persistence of Vision</em>, <em>David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure</em>, & <em>Plimpton!</em>

Kevin Schreck’s documentary Persistence of Vision recounts the tragic story of The Thief and the Cobbler, a feature-length cartoon on which British animator Richard Williams (of Who Framed Roger Rabbit fame) toiled for over 20 years with the help of several gurus in the field and a largely self-funded staff. The highly ambitious project was planned not only as Williams’s crowning achievement, but also as an instructive departure from the mid-century animation dichotomy of “either” Disney hyperrealism “or” modestly budgeted modernist experimentation. The film would have boasted intricate, moving backgrounds (those completed have a nearly Book of Kells-grade meticulousness and luminosity), funny strip-stylized character kinesthetics, and a silent era-like tendency to promote plot with dramatically accented visuals.

Why Streisand Still Matters William J. Mann’s Hello, Gorgeous

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Why Streisand Still Matters: William J. Mann’s Hello, Gorgeous
Why Streisand Still Matters: William J. Mann’s Hello, Gorgeous

How do you begin to explain to a generation downloading the likes of Swedish House Mafia, Rihanna, and the Dead Hormones why Barbra Streisand still matters? It’s a tough job, but author William J. Mann rises to the challenge admirably with his new book, Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand. It’s not a traditional full-length biography, but instead an engaging chronicle of Streisand’s meteoric rise during her first four years in show business. Hello, Gorgeous explores how the poor but resourceful girl from Brooklyn made the quantum leap from playing a moth in an Off Broadway playlet to headlining her own Broadway musical, Funny Girl, which often seemed to deliberately mirror Streisand’s own Cinderella story. On the way up, she was advised to change her look, drop her “cockamamie songs,” and shed her “angry woman attitude,” but her success was as much a testament to her talent as it was to remaining true to herself.

In the early ’60s, Streisand—unusually gifted, fiercely ambitious, and barely out of her teens—was regularly captivating audiences in Greenwich Village nightclubs like the Blue Angel and the Bon Soir. In these “little joints,” as Streisand called them, she would apply her crystalline voice to such far out selections as Cole Porter’s “Come to the Supermarket (In Old Peking)” and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Woolf?”

Poster Lab: Hitchcock

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Poster Lab: <em>Hitchcock</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Hitchcock</em>

The one-sheet for Hitchcock may turn out to be the 2012 poster that makes the strongest statement. More than just announcing a film’s release, this simplistic and darkly ironic ad marks a bold move for Fox Searchlight Pictures, and augments their reputation as a studio wont to crash the Oscar season with a surprise contender. Still in production as recently as this past spring, the movie, based on Stephen Rebello’s book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, wasn’t expected to be prepped as awards bait. It’s suddenly set to drop on November 23, and the poster serves as its coming-out party, brandishing the first peek of Anthony Hopkins as the portly suspense master.

As the movie, like the book, charts the lead-up to the release of Hitchcock’s most famous title, the poster loosely adopts the Psycho title font, which is aptly cocked to further imply a tinge of black comedy. It’s a tone directly reflective of the late auteur’s trademark film intros, which presented a harmless-looking host who gingerly welcomed viewers to scream their guts out. “Good evening,” reads the tagline on the dinner-party design, and the words have an irony all their own, as they’ve been uttered not only by Hitchcock, but by Hopkins in a memorable scene from Hannibal. It may not be fate, but it’s serendipitously spooky.

Mirror, Mirror: How Douglas McGrath’s Messy Infamous Improves Upon Capote

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Mirror, Mirror: How Douglas McGrath’s Messy <em>Infamous</em> Improves Upon <em>Capote</em>
Mirror, Mirror: How Douglas McGrath’s Messy <em>Infamous</em> Improves Upon <em>Capote</em>

In classical music criticism, differentiating between two conductors’ interpretations of one particular work—especially a canonical one—can be as revealing as discussing the work itself. Usually, when one conductor’s interpretation is praised, it’s because a critic believes that the conductor has shed some kind of new insight into a familiar work, or at least provided a fresh way of hearing and understanding it. Infamous, written and directed by Douglas McGrath, has a similar value, especially when compared to last year’s Capote: it provides an intriguingly different way of understanding the underlying anguish that gripped novelist-turned-journalist Truman Capote as he researched and wrote his bestselling, groundbreaking true-crime novel In Cold Blood, and it goes into areas that Capote only hinted at. The films are two sides of the same interpretive coin; viewed together, they get us closer to the full story of what led to Capote’s downfall as he worked on his “nonfiction novel” than either film could have managed on its own.