Monday, February 2, 2009

31 Days of Boredom

Like hurricane season, the flu, or even the Oscars themselves; every year TCM commences with its annual 31 Days of Oscar. I'd imagine this is the time of year when their ratings are highest, playing a slew of canonized classics with hugely iconic stars. It's just about the only time of year I notice people that I wouldn't normally classify as classic film watchers seem to tune in to TCM with relative consistency.

It's also uniformly their least interesting month, schedule wise. Especially after the brilliantly inventive schedules TCM has had the last few months which included everything from Hitchcock to Abel Gance and Ford to Tourneur, as well as a slew of films unavailable on Region 1 DVD:

Nick Ray's first collaboration with Humphrey Bogart,
Knock on Any Door, undoubtedly inferior to their second collaboration In a Lonely Place, but still worth a look for any fan of Ray. It's a two-fold narrative: one, a rehash of They Live By Night (a better film, I think), and the other being Bogart's relationship with the 'hood' character. Bogart plays his lawyer, which allows for lots of moralistic preaching in courtroom scenes about how his failings are really society's failings.

There was King Vidor's Show People, released the same year as the seminal The Crowd, and nearly as great a film. It has a serio-comic tour-de-force performance from Marion Davies, who will always tragically seem to live under the shadow of William Randolph Hearst. While he was undoubtedly driving for her success, what stands the test of the time is her incredible screen presence and ability to flawlessly weave comedy and drama into a rich tapestry of emotion. Plus, it has a cameo by Vidor, playing himself. A real travesty that both his masterpieces from that banner year 1928 are currently unavailable, and I know of no plans for them to be released any time soon.

There was also Jacques Tourneur's
Stars in My Crown, the first time he's ever disappointed me. Somewhat simplistic and turgid Americana that reminded me of Hawks' Sergeant York; pictorially effective but subtextually vacant. Still, the director of Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, and especially Out of the Past deserves better, and any fan of those films should check this out for many of Tourneur's usual breathtaking compositions. This film is interesting for its unusual turn for Western star Joel McCrea, as this strikes me as one of the beginning of the 50s answer to the Westerns of the past, not films that focused on action so much as evoking a feeling of Americana and deriding the violence in the films that many of the Westerns of the 30s and 40s purported. High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma, and even The Searchers could be seen as examples of this different spin on a classic American construct.

Joseph Cotten gives a somewhat phoned in performance in Budd Boetticher's
The Killer is Loose, an incredibly economic noir-thriller, which borrows the psycho-sexuality of Hitchcock and gives it a rough, exploitation edge (Hitchcock would of course give himself a rough, exploitation edge in Psycho a few years later). Still, it benefits from Cotten's Star power and Boetticher's brilliant staging, which always underlines the drama and establishes a lot about the mental state of the character.

I'm not saying all the aforementioned films are great, but they are noteworthy for film fans because they are hard to find elsewhe re. Someday, someone really should write a long diatribe about TCM's invaluable, jaw-dropping contribution to film history and film preservation.....

The Criterion Collection must put out the occasional Michael Bay film, so must TCM do its 31 Days of Oscar. I'm not knocking any of these films in any way, I'm just saying the schedule by its very nature is going to be more confined to a certain pool of films; many of which your average cinephiles saw a great majority of the March schedule by the time they were twelve. TCM is great for its variety; not everything they play is a highly regarded, prestige classic, and that makes their treasure chest of an archive all the more alluring. They're so all-encompassing that, like the Criterion Collection, you get spoiled and demand that they stick to the same consistency of quality and variety. Still, there are plenty of things to look out for this month:

King Vidor's
Comrade X and The Citadel
Ernst Lubitsch's
Mervyn LeRoy's
Gold Diggers of 1933
Vincente Minnelli's
Designing Woman and Madame Bovary
Paul Musurzky's
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Zoltan Korda's
The Four Feathers, The Jungle Book and Sahara (the last of which with the always agreeable Humphrey Bogart)
Michael Curtiz's
Mildred Pierce
Douglas Sirk's
Imitation of Life
Hal Ashby's
Bound for Glory and The Last Detail
George Cukor's
David Copperfield and Pat & Mike
Carol Reed's
The Fallen Idol
John Huston's
Moulin Rouge
Louis Malle's
Pretty Baby
Istvan Szabo's
Jean Renoir's
The Southerner
Masaki Kobayashi's
Frank Borzage's
Three Comrades

Do these films make up for selections like
Moonstruck, Sophie's Choice, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Awakenings? Almost. Still, I'll be looking forward to March, which looks like it's going to hit the ground running.

My memory doesn't recall if they've had themes in the past; I always thought that TCM arranged them by the categories the Academy Awards did. This year they've decided to a simultaneously lame and hilarious College-theme, with films organized by 'Department'. Film-square extraordinaire Robert Osborne is the so called "Dean of Ceremonies". Somehow, I think TCM may have found the perfect shoe to fit Osborne's tweed personality.

Like college itself, I'll attend enthusiastically, but perhaps finding myself day-dreaming during some of the 'required' courses.

TCM's full schedule can be found here .


Jill said...

Hey! What's wrong with Sophie's Choice, Moonstruck and Awakenings?

Ryan Kelly said...

Because you are my one loyal commenter; nothing. Those movies are all wonderful.

The whole point of this post was my lamenting that TCM's usual unpredictability becomes so...predictable, at least one month out of the year.