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Build Your Own Private Film Festival


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Here's a chance to build your own private film festival--with one, admittedly arbitrary codicil: The theme or star should be a relatively critically neglected one. I'd love to read your ideas as well. Just realized that the daunting Programming Challenge is quite similar to this idea, but that's too overwhelming for largely weekend TCM forum warriors like me, so here's my idea anyway...


For example, as a theme:

I'm sure that some knowledgeable individual will correct me, but has there ever been a film festival about the depiction of ancient Greece in movies? Of course, a fest like this would hurtle wildly from the sublime to the prosaic to the cheesy, until crashing into the ridiculous.


Hmm, how about featuring in the "at least they tried" category The 300 Spartans with two Richards--Egan and Richardson, The Trojan Women with Katharine Hepburn and Irene Papas, and Ulysses with Kirk Douglas. Then, of course there's the chain-snapping Steve Reeves in Hercules and Hercules Unchained, and, moving on to The Loves of Hercules with--who else?--Jayne Mansfield. I'll simply draw a veil over the efforts of Richard Burton, Colin Farrell and the aborted Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio tries at nailing the elusive character of Alexander the Great on film.


Naturally, one must give a nod to Ray Harryhausen's estimable Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. At least the latter two also catch a bit of the Greek magic that still makes one wonder at the Olympian heights of the human imagination to be found in the myths and on film--at least at moments. How is it possible, I wonder, that no one's ever successfully brought one of Mary Renault's magnificently realized accounts of the Grecian world to the screen?

As an example of a festival celebrating the work of a neglected actor:

How about Raymond Massey? Yes, you may be thinking "Huh?", but if you're a devotee of Warner Brothers, and particularly if you're interested in the Civil War on film, Mr. Massey, who could be quite solemn and sometimes rather subtly playful is your man! John Brown figures, Abraham Lincoln, and a broad range of Nazis, pompous stiffs, and an occasional decent fellow can be found among his many portrayals. Here's a capsule of films that might be a thoroughly subjective group of "essentials" for Mr. M.:


Things to Come (1936): Massey plays a sort of futuristic proto-fascist part as a social planner via H.G. Wells and William Cameron Menzies. In his bio, Ray simply complained about the itchy, hot and starchy outfits that he had to wear for this very long and complex shoot.


Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940): His performance is very good, though I prefer Fonda's younger Lincoln in the John Ford film. Massey played the part for so long on stage and film that author George S. Kauffman made the tasteless, but funny comment that "he wouldn't be happy until he got shot." Of course, Kauffman may have been partially motivated by the overwhelming success of his professional rival Robert E. Sherwood's play received from the public. Though the film fudges some historical details, Massey, (a Canadian), brings the melancholia, humor, and intelligence of Lincoln to life.


Sante Fe Trail (1940): In that same busy year, Massey brought an interesting fanaticism to his John Brown portrayal in this fast-moving Errol Flynn flick helmed by Michael Curtiz, and featuring our own future prez, Ronald Reagan as Custer. Massey is not the star, but his powerful performance is the absolute centerpiece of this film that addresses the evils of slavery quite frankly--for its time--and also the evils of men of good will who've never known a moment of self-doubt. Always a timely subject.


Action in the North Atlantic (1943): My personal fave of Massey's movies, he gives what seems to me to be one of his most relaxed and moving performances as a merchant marine captain with first mate Humphrey Bogart and a solid WB's stock company cast. Could his relative ease on camera have been eased by his friendship with Bogart and the liquid lunches that the two were said to have consumed during the making of this film?


East of Eden (1955): Elia Kazan actively encouraged the conflict that existed between the formally trained Massey and James Dean, and in portraying the repulsively rigid father in Steinbeck's biblically inspired story, the two are excellent counterpoints to one another, especially in the scene in which Dean tries to give his father money.


Prince of Players (1955): Massey plays Junius Brutus Booth, the actor with more than a streak of madness, who was the father of Edwin(Richard Burton) and John Wilkes(John Derek). It's a flawed film, that bogs down once Edwin meets his tragic first wife, but when Massey lurches across the screen, forgetting his lines while his son prompts him, hiding in a wardrobe when madness descends upon him and ultimately giving up on life, the story seems most engaging. Massey's sense of the theatrical and high melodrama and his occasionally poignant moments give this part its vibrancy. The relish that Massey seems to bring to this part appears rooted in his own long theatrical career.


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This is an interesting idea!


My only question is does one determine if an actor is 'neglected'? I mean, that is sorta a subjective judgement, I think.


Actually, my first thought would be that I would do something on Tony Curtis. I watched "Captain Newman, M.D." again yesterday...and each time I watch that film I am reminded how great he was...even though he's not on TCM all time time (except for "Operation Petticoat" and "The Defiant Ones" - and that is probably mainly because of Cary Grant and Sidney Poitier!)


Anyway, is he 'neglected' enough? Or do you want me to do someone fairly obscure?

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"Neglected" is certainly subjective and, since Tony Curtis is certainly an example of a movie star whose work has been largely forgotten, despite some good work in such films as Sweet Smell of Success, and since you are interested in his career, why not include him? As to Asta, well, after the Thin Man movies, did he take on more "challenging" roles? I hear that there was a lot of resentment between our dog Asta and that b**ch, Lassie around ol' Hollywood---not to mention the amount of competition given those two by Toto. The only one who seems to have stayed above the fray was the noble Rin-Tin-Tin.




Jose Ferrer definitely seems to be a neglected figure, especially given his Oscar worthy performance in Cyrano de Bergerac, and good work in The Shrike, Moulin Rouge, The Caine Mutiny and Lawrence of Arabia. He's one actor who seems to have been as skilled at playing supporting roles as he was playing central characters.


I'd definitely watch any lineup of Conrad Veidt movies--especially in his interesting, lesser known work such as Contraband, Nazi Agent and A Woman's Face, which are three movies that I've just discovered recently.

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A Conrad Veidt film festival would be terrific! You could have "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," "Waxworks" (where he is a great Ivan the Terrible) "The Student of Prague," a terrificially underrated 1926 horror film, "The Man Who Laughs," "The Spy in Black," "Thief of Bagdad," and "Casablanca." (And I know I am skipping over a bunch of his talkies.)

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Personally, I would like to see a Helen Twelvetrees festival and have requested such. She is a largely forgotten actor today, but she was quite popular in the early 30's. The chances of having a birthday celebration are a little slim, I suppose. She was born on December 25th. :-)


Or how about a character actor festival or two. Jesse Ralph springs to mind. She is one of my favorites.



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So many of the bigger stars made "contractual obligation" movies for their studios that are rarely broadcast or shown in festivals. I was looking at Joan Crawford's filmography on IMDb recently, and there are dozens of movies listed that I've never heard of, let alone seen. It would be nice to see some of them once in a while, a sort of "Subcontractor Festival."

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This has always been my cure for insomnia! Well, I've never had insomnia; but maybe that's because this one of my favorite inspirations toward slumber. Some count sheep. I fantasize that I have a movie theatre and curate festivals. Here's tonight's fantasy:


A Night with Joe Green (Opera for sissies. Three dramatic movies telling the same stories as operas by Giuseppe Verdi [Joe Green]. It's opera without the arias!):


Camille, based on Alexandre Dumas, fils' romantic novel La Dame aux Cam?lias that Giuseppe Verdi used for his opera La Traviata. Cukor's movie uses some Verdi themes in the underscoring; but Garbo's presence is the real music.


Five Graves to Cairo, I've never seen this movie and have long wanted to. It's said to be an updated telling of Verdi's A?da, set in World War II with Franchot Tone as Corporal Bramble/Radames, and Josef von Sternberg as Rommel/Amonasro.


A Time of Destiny, retelling of Verdi's La Forza del Destino. Melissa Leo plays "Leonora" to Timothy Hutton's "Don Alvaro".


Have I mentioned that my fantasy theatre has a Mighty Wurlitzer that will play themes from these operas during the intermissions?

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Hey, Marco - a festival of films based on opera plots sounds interesting.

Or -- how several productions of the same book, story, or myth are alike or different.


Another theme I often think about is the career arc of prominent stars. Seeing their early work, and how they grow (or in some cases don't grow) as actors. Early Eliz. Taylor films vs. her later work; young vs. mature Judy Garland; Dick Powell musicals vs. his later noir work, etc.

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