Monday, August 29, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for September 1-7

September 1–September 7


BALL OF FIRE (September 4, 6:00 pm): Barbara Stanwyck is a hot nightclub performer hiding from the police and her mob boyfriend in a house with brilliant, eccentric professors writing an encyclopedia. Director Howard Hawks – with the assistance of Billy Wilder, who co-wrote the screenplay from one of his short stories – does a great job blending the two worlds together to make an outstanding romantic comedy. The main professor, Bertram Potts (played by Gary Cooper), is focusing his work on American slang. The slang of 1941 is dated, but the scenes that have Potts learning the slang words of the day from Stanwyck's character, Sugarpuss, are hysterical with Cooper doing an excellent job as the straight man. Also of note are the wonderful acting performances of the other professors, all who are considerably older than Potts. It's a funny, entertaining film that leaves the viewer with a smile on his/her face for most of the movie.

GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (September 6, 6:30 am): 1939 was among cinema's greatest years with the releases of Gone With the WindNinotchkaOf Mice and MenWizard of OzMr. Smith Goes to WashingtonStagecoachWuthering Heights, and Dark Victory to name a few. But among all of them, Goodbye, Mr. Chips is my favorite. It's a sweet, sentimental, touching story about a stern school master, Charles Chipping – Mr. Chips for short – and how he wins the affection of his students after falling in love and marrying Kathy Ellis (Greer Garson). The cast is wonderful, but Robert Donat (one of cinema's most underrated actors) in the lead, a role that won him an Academy Award, is outstanding. 


SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (September 1, 9:45 pm): This film is rightly said to be writer/director Preston Sturges’s masterpiece. John L. Sullivan is a noted director of light musical fare such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. However, he wants to make an Important Film, and he has one in mind, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou, a leaden novel concerned with the struggle between Capital and Labor. The studio execs pooh-pooh it, noting that he grew up rich and never suffered. So, Sullivan sets out to see how the other half lives, and ends up with far more than he bargained for when everybody assumes he died. It’s both hilarious and touching with many insights from Sturges into the human ego versus the human condition. It’s best to record it to be seen again later – and you will definitely want to see it again.

CABARET (September 3, 8:00 pm): Bob Fosse directed this musical adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, in particular his short story “Sally Bowles,” about the lives of three people in early ‘30s decadent Berlin before the even more decadent Nazis came to power. Although the film fails to completely capture the magic of the stories, it does weave a magic of its own, especially with its tour of Berlin nightlife. Liza Minnelli has never been better than as Sally Bowles, an amoral singer of some talent who leads a completely disorganized life. Correction, Minnelli has never been as good as she was as Sally Bowles. But it’s Joel Grey as the enigmatic emcee who steals the movie as the film cuts to his sketches frequently. One of the highlights of the tilm is the young storm trooper leading a gathering in a rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a song supposed by many to be a genuine Nazi anthem, but in actuality written for the stage musical. It’s too good to be a Nazi anthem. Listen to the Nazi anthems of the time and you’ll quickly agree, as they’re a collection of bad tunes and nonsensical, violent words. The film won eight Oscars.

WE DISAGREE ON ... GREY GARDENS (September 4, 10:30 am)

ED: A+. This is the film that brought the Maysles Brothers to the attention of the American filmgoing public, and ranks as one of my favorite films. Although many believe the film was inspired by the famous New York Magazine portrait of the Beales and Grey Gardens by Gail Sheehy, the truth is that the Maysles brothers met the Beales after being hired by Lee Radziwill to make a film about her childhood in East Hampton, N.Y. She brought them to Grey Gardens, where they met the Beales. When they suggested to Radziwill that the focus of the film should be the Beales, she withdrew their funding and confiscated the film they had shot. Grey Gardens is an amazing film, thanks to the Beales, a mother and daughter who put the “eccentric” in eccentricity. The Maysles use their “direct cinema” system to show us the Beales in all their glory and squalor, though they take the direct cinema method one step further by interacting with their hosts, accepting drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The film is also unusual in that it’s not really interested in how the Beales came to live in such squalor, despite their background and social connections. The film is more interested in bringing us deeper and deeper into the Beales’ world. One critic noted quite perceptibly that the mansion is like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining in that it has an almost supernatural hold over its inhabitants and prohibits them from leaving. In an ironic way, the Beales are not only confined to their home, but are confined by their home. In the end we are left with more questions than answers. Why did the Beales, a pair of shut-ins, allow the camera to display their madness, their loneliness and a desperate co-dependent relationship? Why do they constantly talk of propriety, the way things should and must be done, and yet allow themselves to be seen in a state of squalor? Does it have something to do with exhibitionism, with a past where they were the centers of attention by adoring men? Again these questions are never answered, but we don’t mind in the least, for once we walk past the front door and into the mansion, we become besotted with the Beales and their world. We are both repulsed and hopelessly drawn in, anxiously awaiting the next argument between the two in a series that almost seems rehearsed, as if they’re performing for the camera. This is an amazing and addictive documentary about a time long ago and post to history. In its bizarreness, it’s almost akin to an explorer discovering a lost tribe shut off from the rest of the world and living in a world of its own. That’s what makes this so attractive. In a 2014 poll of the best documentaries ever made by Sight and Sound, film critics voted this in a tie for ninth on the list. Considering the other films on the list, that’s quite an honor.

DAVID: B. I have to admit to being somewhat intimidated by Ed's review of this film. Besides having great respect for Ed, he did an excellent job of passionately articulating his arguments for why this is one of his favorite films. I'm a fan of this documentary, as noted by the solid B grade I gave it, and also believe the Maysles were excellent filmmakers. I prefer two of the Maysles brothers' earlier films, Gimme Shelter and Salesman, to Grey Gardens. But I was still concerned about my grade after reading Ed's glowing praise of the film. So what did I do? I watched it again – closely – a few days ago. There is no doubt it's a good film, and the Maysles brothers had a fascinating style of shooting documentaries, but there are flaws that made me comfortable with my B grade. First, the film doesn't properly inform you about "Big Edie" and her daughter, "Little Edie" Beale so it's difficult at times to understand what's going on. In a brief scene, there are a handful of newspaper clippings about the mother and daughter. The articles let viewers know that they are the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, they used to be rich and own Grey Gardens – a rundown mansion in wealthy East Hampton, N.Y. – that Onassis and her sister, Lee Radziwill, agreed to restore the structure after its poor condition attracted the media's attention, and that the Maysles are doing a documentary on the pair. Despite the work done at the expense of Onassis and Radziwill, the house is in terrible disrepair again and the two Beales are suffering from mental ailments. Big Edie is elderly (80 when the film came out and dead two years later) and likely senile while Little Edie, a former socialite and model, is only about 58 years old, but seems much older and is living in the past having lost touch with reality. She is vain even though her looks are gone, and is prone to fits of anger. The two of them talk over each other as the Maysles prompt them to discuss their lives. They are willing to do so, but it just brings on pain and a lot of random singing of old songs. The film sometimes is exploitative as the Maysles know there's several things wrong with the Beales, but they keep shooting. Little Edie whispers bizarre conspiracy theories, is resentful of her mother, does a dance with an American flag, and parades around in skimpy outfits even though she seems disgusted with her looks, particularly when she steps on a scale and uses binoculars to see she's 145 pounds. Also, the brothers just allow the Beales to keep talking even though a lot of what they say makes no sense. If the idea was to capture two former rich people living lives of delusion then the goal was achieved. But if the goal was to keep the viewer engaged and interested, it's a mixed bag.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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