Sunday, January 04, 2009


Turner Classic Movies has all their bases covered, don't they? Not only do they provide the best programming of vintage films on television (providing my main incentive for subscribing to cable); but, they also feature original programming that captures my eye, especially their interviews. As someone who is always monitoring interview technique, it's wholly instructive to watch Robert Osborne interview his guests with avuncular charm (upcoming is Osborne's "Private Screenings" interview with Ernest Borgnine on Monday, January 26, 2009, followed by screenings of Marty and From Here to Eternity). Elvis Mitchell's "Under the Influence" sessions explore the films that have influenced his guests with a refreshingly hip and maverick savvy (most recently, Edward Norton, Joan Allen, John Leguizamo and Richard Gere). Richard Schickel likewise continues his in-depth interviews, maximizing his guests' 90 minutes by deferentially structuring his absence (his most recent documentary—on the coattails of the theatrical release of Frost/Nixon—celebrated Ron Howard's 50 years in film). It pleases me that I've had the opportunity to interview all three interviewers!

Along with their creative programming, TCM's online database rivals IMdb's, and they periodically publish volumes on cinema; the most recent being
Leading Couples: The Most Unforgettable Screen Romances of the Studio Era, which follows-up on their two previous collections, Leading Men and Leading Ladies. All three volumes, published by San Francisco's Chronicle Books, feature introductions by Robert Osborne and/or Molly Haskell. Andrea Sarvady authored the text for Leading Ladies, on which Frank Miller served as editor, and Miller authored the text for Leading Men and Leading Couples. These are thoroughly entertaining volumes full of lustrous photographs, rare production stills and poster art, biographical overviews with complete filmographies, behind-the-scenes anecdotes and killer quotes. (My favorite quote? Kong: Grawwwwrrr! Fay Wray: Aaaaaaaah!!!)

It seems only fitting to mention TCM's Leading Couples in the context of upcoming and ongoing San Francisco/Bay Area programming. Though, ordinarily, these "fantastic pairings" are imagined as acting duos, filmmaking as a whole is much more accommodating. For example, the pairing of actress and composer is tunefully highlighted in the current Henry Mancini retrospective running at San Francisco's majestic Castro Theatre; that pairing being—of course—Mancini with the slim-necked Audrey Hepburn, who is showcased in four Mancini ventures: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Charade (1963), Wait Until Dark (1967) and Two For the Road (1967).

The Castro Theatre then follows suit with a Humphrey Bogart/ Lauren Bacall weekend Saturday, January 10, and Sunday, January 11, wherein To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948) will be showcased on the Castro's big screen. Bogart & Bacall are one of the duos written up by Frank Miller in Leading Couples ("The gruff cynic and the tough glamour girl were united by their freewheeling battle against anything that smacked of phoniness").

The Pygmalion pairing of actress and director—Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg—is amply represented in Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive retrospective, "Eros and Abstraction"—running January 15-February 22, 2009—in which the two limn the screen with silver through their collaborations The Blue Angel (1930), Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is A Woman (1935). I'm reminded of Jack Smith's infamous quote: "Marlene Dietrich was Von Sternberg in drag."


Brian Darr said...

At least one more to add: Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is showing a 16mm print of a Charles Farrell/Janet Gaynor pairing Seventh Heaven on February 14th.

Michael Guillen said...

Ah yes, perhaps one of the most romantic pairings ever! That movie was a revelation for me when I caught it on the Castro screen some years back. Thanks for the tip, Brian.