The TCM Classic Film Festival has more to offer than just movies. There are other special events, presentations and more, like today’s poolside wine tasting at the Roosevelt Hotel. I was watching movies while that happened but I did make it to another event in the Roosevelt. To be specific, I attended a presentation of sorts in the Blossom Room, the locale that hosted the very first Academy awards. It was called “My First Time in Hollywood,” hosted by author Cari Beauchamp and based on her book by the same name. Beauchamp started with a bit of Hollywood history; that of the town-cum-neighborhood, not of the industry. Then she brought up a succession of notable individuals to read passages from autobiographies of early Hollywood (the industry this time). Harold Lloyd’s own granddaughter read about his early days of sneaking onto the Universal lot for extra work. Friend of this site Laraine Newman read of Anita Loos’ drugstore conversation with D.W. Griffith. From Nancy Olson, it was Colleen Moore’s tale of being hired six hours after arriving in town from Illinois. Bruce Goldstein read Ben Hecht’s NSFW letters to his wife about the writing of Scarface. And David Ladd recounted Robert Parrish’s boyhood encounter with Charles Chaplin. Recurring descriptions of how ramshackle early studio lots were and repeated references to Griffith as some sort of mythical figure left a true, first-person impression of what this town was really like a century ago. Seated in a room that is part of that history, just a few blocks from where these stories took place, is a one of a kind experience that can only be found at this festival.
Of course, I saw movies too. Given its recent restoration, its being scheduled in the huge Chinese Theatre and the inclusion of a pre-show discussion with Gina Lollibrigida herself, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell was something of a hot ticket. Lollibrigida herself did not disappoint. For that matter, neither did the restoration or the setting. The movie itself, though, is lightweight and mostly forgettable, despite a number of worthwhile turns from its stars. Directed by Melvin Frank (best known for The Court Jester), Buona Sera is the story of a woman named Carla (Lollibrigida) in a small Italian town twenty years after World War II. A squadron of the U.S. Air Force had been stationed there during the war and Carla found herself romantically involved with three different servicemen in a short period of time. After the military left, Carla found herself pregnant. Having written to all three men to tell them they were the father, they have each been sending checks every month for two decades. Now the squadron is having a reunion in the town and Carla will have to face the consequences, having told her neighbors and her daughter a tall tale about a fictional Captain Campbell being the father. The first problem is that this premise doesn’t hold water. None of the men have been interested in meeting their daughter? And she has shown no interest in meeting the family of her departed dad? Add to that the fact that the movie pulls much of its sense of humor from a miserable view of marriage and you’ve got a lot of cause for eye-rolling. The cast, fortunately, does a lot of heavy lifting. In addition to Lollibrigida, you’ve got Shelley Winters, Phil Silvers and Telly Savales, among others, keeping things afloat. Points should also be awarded to the film for its sympathetic portrayal of Carla and her actions, avoided any hint of shame whatsoever. Still, Buona Sera doesn’t quite live up to the hype that built up around it here at the festival.
Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, however, brings its own hype with it, already having the reputation of a great example of 1970s New Hollywood, of neo-noir and of Los Angeles movies. Obviously, seeing this film on a big screen was a blast, the theater filled with laughter at this largely bleak, existentialist comedy in which the economically comfortable of our city–creative, criminal or otherwise–become disassociated and insane. This type of postmodern detective noir, in which the quotidian and the extraordinary are greeted with an equally low level of enthusiasm, has been echoed in a ton of films, from the new classic The Big Lebowski to Aaron Katz’s under-appreciated indie gem Cold Weather. But those films, great as they may be, don’t have Elliott Gould. One of the highlights of this festival is the talk with a guest that precedes every screening. Gould is so entertaining and so casually hilarious, two hours with him and no movie whatsoever would have left no one disappointed. By the time he got to telling stories of a terminally ill Groucho Marx doing bits on his deathbed and the time Gould told Elvis to shut up, my day had already been made.
One last update to come tomorrow, including my thoughts on the new restoration of Band of Outsiders!