Film

TCM Classic Film Festival

Lesley Smith

With highlights from over 70 years of movies, the Festival celebrates what George Stevens, Jr. calls America’s unique contribution to the world’s artistic heritage.


TCM Classic Film Festival

Rated: NR
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-04-22 (Limited release)
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For 15 years, Turner Classic Movies has made its money squeezing aging movies onto the small screen. Starting 22 April, it is bringing them back to the big screen in the first TCM Classic Film Festival, running until 25 April in some of Hollywood’s most historic cinemas. Charles Tabesh, Senior VP for programming at TCM and Festival programmer, says, “Our main goal is to enhance the TCM brand, and we are trying to do that in two ways: by further establishing ourselves at the authority in classic movies and by creating an environment where TCM and classic movie fans can get together and share in their passion for these films and stars.”

Others see the Festival less parochially. George Stevens, Jr., the founding director of the American Film Institute, says he “takes his hat off to TCM.” With highlights from over 70 years of movies, the Festival celebrates what Stevens calls America’s unique contribution to the world’s artistic heritage. “If you remove the contributions of the U.S. from the corpus of classical music, it’s not a major loss. If you take the U.S. contribution to the cinema away, you severely deplete the body of the cinematic arts.” The Classic Film Festival also celebrates the restoration of that heritage, endangered well into the second half of the 20th century.

The program mixes fan favorites like Casablanca and Some Like it Hot with dramas like Sweet Smell of Success and the rarely seen Joan Crawford vehicle, A Woman’s Face. It includes '60s landmarks such as The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy, early talkies and a snappy arc of romantic comedies. While the appeal of a movie released from the box in the corner might be enough for some fans, TCM has cannily recruited a stellar roster of celebrity presenters to boost attendance. They range from the two oldest living Best Actor and Actress Oscar winners, Luise Rainer (for 1937's The Good Earth) and Ernest Borgnine (introducing Jubal, 1956) to directors like Peter Bogdanovich and historians like Leonard Matlin, who mix a fan’s avidity with critical depth and multiple perspectives on the art of the movie.

In early April, moviegoers in Boston, New York, Chicago, Washington DC, and San Francisco snagged a taste of exactly what this tactic might add when TCM promoted the Festival with a road show of movies set (if not necessarily filmed) in each city. In Washington DC’s oldest cinema, the Avalon, Stevens introduced his father’s multiple-Oscar-nominated comedy, The More The Merrier, with the offhand familiarity and illuminating anecdotes that come from a lifetime steeped in moviemaking. In quick succession, the audience learned that Stevens Senior despised the term "screwball comedy," and was profoundly influenced by Stan Laurel, from whom he learned that comedy could be complex, both graceful and human. Stevens deployed as sharp a wit off-screen as his scriptwriters did on-screen. In his long-running battle with sound crews who wanted loud, clear sound, he ordered McCrea on the first day of The More The Merrier to remember that, “Unless the sound guy says you’re speaking too low, you’re speaking too loud.”

Stevens Sr. also led a U.S. Army film unit that covered the war from D-Day to the early months of peace in 1946, including the liberation of the concentration camps at Dachau, an odyssey into what his son called, “men at their best and men at their worst,” and an experience that preceded his two Best Director Academy Awards for A Place in the Sun (1951) and Shane (1953). Unlike the movie introductions on TCM, which sound over-scripted and sometimes plain arch, Stevens stressed the intimacy of the collaboration between director, audience, and film, consecrated as the lights go down and the opening credits roll. If the Festival can sustain this level of participation from its guest hosts, some of its screenings may become very special indeed.

The very act of watching a movie more than 60 years old on a big screen seems something of a miracle, and TCM has highlighted in the Classic Film Festival the role of film restoration in its viability as a channel by launching it with a new print of A Star is Born, and including freshly restored prints of Metropolis (plus additional footage) and Jean-Luc Godard’s ambivalent love poem to Hollywood, Breathless. Without the work of the American Film Institute, founded in 1967 with a mandate to preserve America's film heritage, TCM would have been impossible.

With the gratified bemusement of someone who recalls when classic films were entertainment ephemera rather than art, Stevens Jr. remembered how new reproduction technologies (video and then DVD) powered the preservation movement -- even if it is at least partly driven by archive holders' greed for new profits. Almost overnight, "the person in the dusty office labeled studio archivist became vice-president of corporate expansion." According to Tabesh, for the Festival TCM is "working to get the very best prints for each film... In many cases, we're helping to fund a restoration or we're paying for new prints to be created... It's extremely important to us that the quality of what you see is the very best."

The exceptional artistry of the directing in these classic movies, particularly from the '40s and '50s, is "the very best." Directors' abilities to orchestrate action within the frame, rather than the more common technique today of using cutting and camera moves to create drama, depends on the quality of the craft departments, especially in lighting, which the studios fostered and independent directors in the '50s and '60s inherited.

These luxuriant textures also help to illustrate social tensions in many of these classic films. The More The Merrier, for example, charts how Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur), an independent woman with a passion for order, succumbs to the chaos of both the capital’s wartime housing crisis and the romantic coup de foudre. Visiting housing honcho Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn) persuades her to let him share her tiny apartment, and he then lets half of his room to likable sergeant Joe Carter (Joel McCrea), on his way to a top secret posting in Africa. She's battered into submission by the two men, especially the surrogate father figure, Dingle. With Joe, the definitely sexual (not romantic) tensions are quite explicit. Late one night, on the steps of the DC row house where Connie's flat is perched, a seductively lit Joe tries to embrace an even more luminous Arthur, who delicately blocks each incursion without in any way attempting to discourage her ardent suitor. Exemplifying the less is more principle, the scene is both more overt about the nature of heterosexual desire and more erotic than any naked love-making could be.

The movie can't end in a way that both honors Connie's independence and intelligence, and cleanly shift her into the role of subservient wife, neatly parceled for her domestic future by Dingle. It was not a new problem in 1943, and it confounded Shakespeare, too. But the somewhat miserable finale -- of crying, bemoaning, and mooning -- conveys the ambivalence with which working women in wartime faced the return to marriage and family when they had enjoyed their own careers, homes, and even cars for several years. Such movies probe the limits of propriety without snapping them completely, but the threads of respectability at times run very thin indeed. In this sense, the TCM Classic Film Festival not only reminds Americans of the way we were, but also helps us to understand how we got from there to here.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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