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Monday, April 26, 2010

Breakin' up is hard to do (fifth in a series)

I liken the TCM festival to summer camp. For four days now, we have worn the same T-shirts and shared bug spray. At this point, we all have a good idea of who we don’t want to get stuck eating lunch with.

For starters, there was the woman so obsessed with Norman Lloyd that, in today’s session after the screening of Saboteur (1942), she clapped every time he said a word, including uneventful and small words such as “and” or “the.” At the end, she stood and shouted “bravo” over and over. I am pretty sure that if she had had bug spray, she would have doused him with it, wanting to be helpful, of course.

So, what am I getting at? Merely this—that all the good manners at the start inevitably begin to fray. Yesterday afternoon at Leave Her to Heaven (1946), I could have clobbered the old ladies next to me. They piped up every time Gene Tierney did something selfish or evil, which was nearly every second of the 110-minute running time.

If you can believe it, even the popcorn that looked so welcome to our big eyes on opening night was waning in popularity. I heard a woman leave a screening today and lament to her friend, “I’m just not doing well on this popcorn and Coke diet.” To boot, the panelists—who look so distinguished on paper—were starting to seem more gossipy and less on point (not that gossipy is ever truly bad; it’s darned interesting).

Beyond the unraveling of good manners due to tiredness, there is the fact of just plain oversaturation. TCM attracted a large group of people who love the movies with uncommon passion, yet a man at Saboteur snored through the screening, despite the fact that the women all around me, who were strangers to him, kept taking turns poking him.

When I first had spied the three-and-a-half-hour showing of Cleopatra (1963) on the roster for Sunday morning, my attitude was “just try and stop me. I’m there.” As the morning dawned, wild horses could not have dragged me into that theater. I suddenly remembered that I can hardly bear to see a headshot of the frowsy Liz Taylor in the tabloids anymore.

Silliness is another unflattering byproduct of doing the same thing for four days. The most heavily promoted film in town right now is A Nightmare on Elm Street. As David McClurkin 74C and I stood in line for popcorn tonight, we were aware that some of our compatriots were getting buckets of popcorn with a very nifty cardboard version of the Krueger claw in them. I suddenly wanted one with all the urgency that a child wants a pacifier. We ordered a large popcorn, thinking that we would get one. The clerk shoved a huge bag at us.

“Where’s the claw?” I demanded. Turns out you had to get a medium popcorn. (Go figure.) Patrons behind us grew restive. But I had to have the claw. Once inside the theater, I gave the claw its own seat and seemed to have enough of a crazy glint in my eyes that no one asked the claw to give up its seat.

Yes, the people dressed like Shrek, Spidey, and Marilyn on the sidewalk outside Grauman’s looked even sadder on day four than on day one, but the closing screening of the festival returned us to our best selves. At the final film, no one snored or talked or complained about the popcorn. Instead, just as happened on opening night, we were enchanted.

The last screening was of Metropolis (1927), a film that marks a gap in my own cinema education. I am darn glad that I waited. What we saw tonight was an impeccably restored version of this groundbreaking film, complete with the brilliance of the Alloy Orchestra, which is listed in the program as “North America’s premier silent film accompanists.” Believe the claim.

Between the hours of seven and ten Sunday night, all the magic and majesty of film returned. You could have heard a pin (or a claw) drop. The audience applauded the end of every major section of the film, then went wild at the end. When Robert Osborne announced that TCM has decided to repeat the festival next year, there was bedlam.

I am hoping that, from his place on stage, Osborne could see the claw held high.

Read part 6; Read part 4; Read part 3; Read part 2; Read part 1

-- Susan Carini 04G, executive director, Emory Creative Group

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