With the high-profile Tribeca Film Festival launching tonight and the San Francisco Film Festival tomorrow, don’t count out Hollywood. No sooner had I taken off my credentials for the TCM Classic Film Festival (headquartered at the Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian theaters) late Sunday night, I had to put on my Col-Coa (City of Lights, City of Angels) fest credentials for opening night Monday at the DGA Theater. The Hollywood-based French film festival showcases lots of new and some vintage French pictures for a solid week of premieres of films that either have or don’t have domestic distribution.
Presented by the Franco-American Cultural Fund — a partnership of the DGA, WGAW, MPAA, Composers and Music Publishers and The French Society for Authors — the opening-night film My Way, a biopic of 1960s and 70s Gallic pop star Claude Francois is one of those movies up for grabs. The colorful Cinemascope production from director Florent-Emilio Siri is a winner that would seem ripe for the picking, especially since La Vie En Rose, another showbiz musical biopic Col-Coa once premiered, went on to strong U.S. art house success and won two Oscars including Best Actress for Marion Cotillard. My Way (known in France as Cloclo) features another remarkable tour de force in the vein of Cotillard’s Edith Piaf from actor Jeremie Reinier as the mercurial star best known for writing the title song (Comme d’habitude) that would become the signature tune for Frank Sinatra. Reinier, who participated in the post-premiere Q&A with Siri and moderator Taylor Hackford, said he had never sung or danced but does so remarkably well in the film while also capturing the full maniacal manner and kinectic energy of this singer most Americans probably haven’t heard of before. The film has grossed $14 million in France since opening a month ago, and a smart distributor would plant Reinier in L.A. during awards season (similar to campaigns for Cotilllard and Jean Dujardin) and push the hell out of of this performance. It’s that good.
Col-Coa will conclude Sunday with the North American premiere of the Cesar-winning The Intouchables, which The Weinstein Co will open on May 25th and are already developing an English remake starring Colin Firth. Co-star Omar Sy won the Best Actor Cesar over Dujardin’s The Artist, so there is much anticipation for it here. In the official opening remarks from fest director Francois Truffart on Monday, there was much pride in the fact that a French film took home the Best Picture Oscar this year. He also mentioned that Col-Coa had premiered nine of Oscar winner Dujardin’s previous films. Siri made reference to the Artist’s American triumph as well in his pre-screening remarks. “We shot it in color and Cinemascope, but in order for it to succeed I will show it silent and in black-and-white,” he joked.
Meanwhile, after their highly successful third edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival that ran from Thursday to Sunday, Turner Classic Movies officially announced this week that the fest will now become an annual April event in Hollywood — no longer depending on a year-to-year renewal. That’s good news for film fans (this fest drew a sold-out crowd from around the country and the world) because the TCM Fest, which started as a marketing endeavor for the classic movie cable channel, has now earned new cachet as the go-to fest to unveil major digital restorations. Managing Director Genevieve McGillicuddy told me studios are actually coming to TCM now with the express idea of getting a slot at the fest for these premieres, and it’s something TCM SVP Programming Charles Tabesh, who also oversees the expertly run festival, is definitely encouraging.
This year alone there were several on display, including the opening-night film, the 40th anniversary of Cabaret (stars Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and Michael York participated in a pre-screening Q&A with TCM host Robert Osborne, who is treated like a rock star by fans attending this fest). On closing night, Cohen Media Group offered the digital premiere at the Egyptian of the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks fantasy classic The Thief Of Bagdad, which actually opened at the same theater 88 years ago. It’s interesting to note that Cabaret has never looked better. The film holds a unique place in Oscar history for winning the most Academy Awards (8) without winning Best Picture (The Godfather beat it — obviously by the skin of its teeth — in 1973).
Over the course of the weekend there were pristine new digital versions of Singin’ In The Rain (introduced by Debbie Reynolds) celebrating its 60th anniversary, Rio Bravo (with star Angie Dickinson on hand), 1958′s British Titanic telling A Night To Remember, The Longest Day (with co-star Robert Wagner) celebrating its 50th anniversary, 1937′s Grand Illusion and many others finding new life in the digital universe. But for my money, the best of all was the world premiere of the 4K digital restoration of Stanley Donen’s criminally underrated exploration of a marriage Two For The Road, starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney at their absolute best. The 88-year-old Donen was one of the honorees of the fest this year (with Robert Evans and Kim Novak, who had her handprints and footprints cemented on the Chinese forecourt) and sat for a Q&A before the Friday night unveiling. The 1967 film had fallen into disrepair before Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation rescued it for this stunning new version. Here’s hoping distributor 20th Century Fox jumps on board and gets a Blu-ray out soon. At one time they were developing a remake with Meg Ryan; thankfully, that never happened. This film on its own is still way ahead of its time but sadly was never recognized as it should have been. It received only a single Oscar nom for Frederic Raphael’s complex script, but that year Fox was more interested in pushing their bloated but expensive holiday kids pic Doctor Dolittle, which somehow managed to get nine nominations including Best Picture.
TCM smartly trotted out many of the surviving cast and crew members of the films on view — basically all the stars that aren’t in heaven thanks to the dedicated work of TCM talent director Darcy Hettrich. These stars included 102-year-old Carla Laemmle, present for the screening of 1931′s Dracula. At the Friday afternoon screening of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 95-year-old Kirk Douglas proclaimed he was the oldest person at the fest but was later shocked to hear he was beaten by Laemmle — and by 7 years at that. Douglas was in great spirits and even sang a verse from the film’s song, A Whale Of A Tale, for the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation. Another highlight was the Sunday morning showing of the 1963 epic How The West Was Won in its original Cinerama format with co-star Reynolds on hand to talk about it. Outside the Cinerama Dome, filmmaker Dave Strohmaier was filming a scene using an old refurbished Cinerama camera for his experimental short In The Picture, which revives the process and will premiere as part of Arclight’s weeklong 60th Cinerama anniversary celebration beginning September 28th. How The West Was Won along with 1962′s The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm were the only two authentic Cinerama narrative films ever fully shot in the process (the others were travelogues). West is in great shape, but the ability to show Grimm in the original format has long been thought impossible. Word around the fest however is that a recent discovery of an IB Technicolor print from a collector in England is making it likely to possibly be part of the Arclight week and maybe next year for TCM Fest.
Additionally, there was a lot of activity at the Hollywood Roosevelt across the street, where a series of panels were taking place all weekend at Club TCM. Those included three produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and a lively discussion I moderated on Hollywood “imagemakers”, the PR wizards who made and remade the stars. PR vets Dick Guttman, Henri Bollinger and Arnold Robinson participated. Guttman said publicists were no longer in the star-making business, just “star maintenance” these days. It’s a new world indeed from the golden days that were celebrated at this fest. Still, some of the stars I talked to at Vanity Fair’s opening-night party embraced the change: When I told 82-year-old Tippi Hedren that her 1963 Hitchcock classic The Birds was one of the key films Universal was restoring for their centennial this year, she said, “Well I certainly hope it’s in 3D this time”. I told her it wasn’t and she was quite disappointed. “Too bad,” she said. “I really want to see that final scene where all the birds attack me in 3D. It would be great. I really want to be in 3D.”