I made it back from CinemaCon in Vegas yesterday just in time to take in the opening night of the ninth Annual TCM Classic Film Festival, again taking place at the fabled Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. So glad I made it because this evening gave us a double dose of cinema icons with Mel Brooks doing a hilarious half-hour conversation with TCM primetime host Ben Mankiewicz to introduce the 4K restoration of his 1968 classic The Producers. And before that it was director Martin Scorsese, who became the first recipient of the Robert Osborne Award, an honor named for the late TCM host in recognition of Scorsese’s reputation for film preservation and as a very vocal lover of classic film.
Leonardo DiCaprio, who has starred in numerous Scorsese films, was on hand to present to award to the Oscar-winning director, who went on to accept it with a speech that was a textbook example of the passion he brings to his filmmaking (watch a clip of it below). When he came onstage to a rip-roaring standing ovation, he turned to DiCaprio and asked if the actor remembered the last time they were both at the Chinese together — a question that seemed to baffle Leo. Scorsese pointed out that this was the location for the Hell’s Angels premiere in their film The Aviator, in which DiCaprio played Howard Hughes and Gwen Stefani played Jean Harlow. “We shot it right there,” the filmmaker said, pointing to the front rows. “It is probably the only film of mine they can actually show on TCM,” he laughed before heartily endorsing Osborne and TCM by saying he will not stay in a hotel that doesn’t have the classic film channel in its rooms.
In introducing him, DiCaprio pointed to Scorsese’s Film Foundation, which has educated audiences around the world on the importance of preserving film, and FF has been crucial to some 800 films so far that have received its attention. “The impact of Marty’s passion and his dedication to cinema is absolutely immeasurable,” DiCaprio said in bringing Scorsese out. “I have witnessed it myself. As the history of cinema unfolds, the name Martin Scorsese — to me, and to all of us — be synonymous with filmmaking.”
During his speech, Scorsese touched on a number of cinema-related topics, including how he came to be involved in film preservation after screening a very-faded print of Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch and became inspired to do something about the disintegrating quality of many films. He talked about the complex process of digital preservation versus the more effective but dwindling use of film preservation, and the importance of educating younger generations on the value of knowing the history of film as they start watching movies on all kinds of devices, and in new ways, while again warning against the instant-judgment outlets of CinemaScore and Rotten Tomatoes, which he has railed against in the past. “It is the horrible idea of cinema that they reinforce, that every picture, every image is there to be instantly judged and dismissed without even giving audiences the time to see it, maybe ruminate, and maybe make a decision for themselves,” he said.
He didn’t mention he is currently in postproduction on The Irishman, which is being made for Netflix, the day-and-date streamer that was the only entity that could pony up the considerable budget dollars to get the ambitious film made because of the special effects work that de-ages Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci by 30 years.
When Brooks came on, he pointed out that Scorsese sought him out in 1973 as he was making Mean Streets and wanted to shadow Brooks (at the time he was making Blazing Saddles) in order to see how it is done. There is no question that with Scorsese and Brooks as the opening-night attraction, the festival’s enthusiastic audience was seeing exactly how it should be done.
The TCM Classic Film Festival runs through Sunday.