TCM Classic Film Festival: Part Three, by David Bax
I’m putting the lid on my first ever TCM Classic Film Festival. I regret having to go when there are still hours of films left to see, even though my feet and eyes are feeling the fatigue. Mostly, I’m sad that, once I leave today, I won’t have the chance to come back for another year. I’ve had so much fun and so many memorable cinematic experiences, I wish TCM Fest were always going on.
Last night, I polished off a long day with a screening of the new restoration of Band of Outsiders, with Anna Karina herself in attendance. The benefits of seeing restored classics go beyond just clearer picture and sound. It lends the ability to experience the film closer to how it would have been seen at the time of its release. Some of Jean-Luc Godard’s choices, like the stuttering visual cuts or the jarring way music and sound effects drop out or reappear suddenly, are fresher and more powerful when they’re not diluted by the general, unintended wear and tear of the decades. This tale of three amoral misfits (though Karina’s character is often more victim than member of the band) is massively influential, from Pulp Fiction‘s dance number to Y Tu Mama Tambien‘s glib monotone narrator to countless others. This new restoration, seen on a big screen, makes it very clear why.
One of the smallest screening rooms at TCM Fest is also one of the few set up to project 35MM, which has the effect of making unexpectedly hot tickets out of relatively obscure titles. This is why I got shut out of One Potato, Two Potato on Thursday and it’s why I showed up early today for Edward L. Cahn’s 1932 Western, Law and Order. Boy, am I glad I did. Starring Walter Huston and written by John Huston, the film is a startlingly thoughtful, if ultimately pessimistic, look at the subject of its title. Huston’s Frame Johnson is a former lawman looking to settle down to a peaceful life in a new town. Unfortunately for him, that town ends up being Tombstone and he quickly finds himself appointed Marshal and tasked with cleaning up the violence and corruption that has come to hold sway. Even before his arrival, Johnson has asserted that guns themselves are the real problem with the lawless West, raising the possibility that we’re watching an early anti-NRA movie. Eventually, though, even Johnson is forced to throw up his hands and admit that he can only fight fire with fire, leading to a violent climactic shootout. In the meantime, though, Huston the writer gives us plenty of rumination on the importance of the law. Once of these, and perhaps the best scene in the film, involves Johnson having a conversation with a man whose just been condemned to death by hanging (the man is played by a young Andy Devine, probably best known as the voice of Friar Tuck in Disney’s animated Robin Hood). The man goes from pleading for his life to, essentially, looking forward to playing his part in the process of legal justice. When he does hang, though, Cahn is sober-minded about the weight of death, even if he does find room for some literal gallows humor. Cahn is just as integral to the power of Law and Order as the two Hustons are, employing a camera that is surprisingly mobile and dynamic in the exterior scenes for an early sound film. This movie is one of many reasons it’s worth attending TCM Classic Film Festival. It’s also worth showing up early.
Thanks for following along with me during this festival! I’m already looking forward to next year’s schedule announcement!