The return of TCM Film Festival following a pandemic-induced two year absence was always going to be an experience, but even I — who always has a ton of fun during the festival — did not expect to have the obscenely good time I had. Although I had barely socialised and not travelled since October 2019, my decision to break the ice by flying halfway across the world was an extremely chilled experience. To be honest, any residue anxiety dissipated the moment I sat on the plane. It was definitely foreshadowing; I laughed and stayed up until 2am most nights and watched a bunch of films with my friends and it was therapy. There are so many anecdotes and in-jokes I that have nothing to do with the festival (most will not be revealed on this blog, lol, others will be shared elsewhere), but here are some bits and pieces and photos and things from festival week:
Films I watched:
Dinner at Eight (1933) All of Me (1984) Miracle Mile (1988) — I keep falling asleep and jolting awake during the midnight screening which added to the experienced of an already excellent film! Three on a Match (1932) The French Way (1945) Portrait of Jennie (1948)— this left me rapt and I’ll be writing about for my next newsletter (currently in the works!) Polyester (1981) — a midnight screening in Odarama with Mink Stole in attendance! Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) 7th Heaven (1927)
Other highlights during festival week included:
This year’s festival was catharsis, and it was greatly needed. Love to all those I hung out with, ate dinner with, gossiped with, and with whom I had the best time. Yes, I did stay on in LA, and I’ll probably write something about moments from my extended time in the city, too. But as for TCMFF, until next time x
After two years away, the Turner Classic Movie festival is back and I will be returning to my beloved L.A. for a prolonged stay in ten day’s time! The highlight of the festival for me is always seeing friends but even more so this year, as I’ll be watching a bunch of good movies with the gang I have not seen since 2019. While I am usually bouncing off the walls by now, I am not going to lie about feeling greater anxiety for this year’s lengthy journey (and all the new paperwork required for International travel). But I know the excitement and realisation will kick in once I’m seated on the plane.
I have other fun things planned aside from movies, which I will be blogging about on here and in greater depth in my newsletter (please subscribe and follow!). But first, festival! Will I stick to these films and schedule? Who knows! Here are my tentative TCMFF picks.
Thursday 21 April
I have a confession to make. I will not be seeing any festival movies on opening day because I’ll be heading to the The Whisky on the Sunset Strip to see the Enuff Z’Nuff perform live. I’m stupidly excited, and of course it clashes, but these things don’t come around all too often. Plus, when else will I have the opportunity to see this band live — and live at The Whisky? So, that’s my plan for Thursday night. However, I will be enjoying the E.T. red carpet up until then, and lurking at The Roosevelt, because the funnest, funniest, most typical festival highlights usually occur when you are just hanging out.
If I didn’t have plans, I would either be at The Harvey Girls, but more likely Jewel Robbery with the divine Kay Francis and the irresistible William Powell at the TCL Multiplex. Or, failing that, hanging poolside Fast Times at Ridgemont High at the Hollywood Roosevelt. As I have seen all of these movies before, I would probably see what every else is doing and maybe head to dinner with friends before the chaos unfolds. As for the later slot, and because I have seen both A Star is Born (1937) and Lover Come Back, I would probably plump for Jules Dassin’s Topaki, especially because I loved Riffifi. Hoping that one gets a re-run slot on the Sunday.
Friday 22 April
This is where it gets insane, which I love. I’ll most likely start my day at the Hollywood Legion for Dinner at Eight, because I still haven’t visited the venue and it’s a great one to start the day. Should I be extremely bleary-eyed, it’ll be either The Sunshine Boys or Maisie Gets Her Man at the TCL. Then I’m hoping to see The Group, followed by Coming Home, and then All of Me. These are all draws because Diane Baker, Bruce Dern, and Lily Tomlin in attendance respectively.
The first evening slot will be tricky, because as much as I love Giant, I don’t want to find myself lagging for the midnight screening of Miracle Mile (which I’ve never seen before!) at the TCL. I love The Letter, but will likely opt for Cocktail Hour at the TCL, followed by Cooley High at the Legion, before heading back for the witching hour. The midnights are always a highlight, and of course I’ll need to refuel at some point in between, so if I skip something so be it. Plans constantly change, that’s the beauty of film festivals.
Saturday 23 April
This one is a tricky day, and the only thing I’m sure about is going to the midnight screening of Polyester with Mink Stole in conversation. So, I’ll likely start my day with James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces, followed by the wonderful Three on a Match or the wildly intriguing The Last of Sheila (all at the TCL). I’ll then scurry along to the Legion for Baby Face.
I figure this will be followed by a break, which will allow me plenty of time to get back in line for The Hustler with Piper Laurie in attendance at the TCL. That being said, Invaders From Mars sounds like a hoot, and when else will I get the chance to see it on the big screen? But when will I get the opportunity to see Piper Laurie, either? As much as I favour seeing the new-to-mes, this choice will be tough.
As for the evening, I’d would relish the opportunity to see Diner at the Legion, especially with multiple members of the cast in attendance, but the minimal time between that and Polyester means it will be tricky — and that’s providing everything runs on time. So, I figure I will plump for always enjoyable Drunken Master II at the TCL. EDIT: I stupidly overlooked Portrait of Jennie, and am now leaning towards seeing that — it’s about art, how could I not! But it’ll be tricky deciding, for sure. Once again, the day is all about the midnight slot.
Sunday 24 April
The final day already? With a chunk of the schedule TBA, very often repeated showings of earlier films, I’ll just tell you what I know. As much as I love The Thin Man series, seeing Paper Moon on the IMAX screen is too irresistible to refuse. That being said, the Wim Wenders doc, Desperado, has really piqued my interest.
My Sunday choices certainly have a retro theme. At noon I’ll be watching Kathleen Turner and Nic Cage in Peggy Sue Got Married which means missing Key Largo and Bogie and Bacall on the Legion screen. Maybe I’ll change my mind on the day. This is why I never write my choices.
No midnight screening means two slots left, and The Sting at the IMAX is very tempting, giving me an hour to grab a bite before my closing festival film: A League of their Own. It’s always nice to go out on something special and in my eyes this is a perfect movie, plus cast members Megan Cavanagh, Ann Cusack, Jon Lovitz, Lori Petty and Anne Ramsay will be in attendance.
Then, onto the afterparty at The Hollywood Roosevelt, but we know the real fun comes after. See you at In-N-Out Burger!
“I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls”
Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls may have obvious connections to the Manson Family (the cultish leader, the devoted followers, mass murder in the summer of 1969) but it is much more than sensationalist fiction. At its core, this is an astute examination of teenage girls: a story of female friendship, idolatry and devotion, of emotions as raw and exposed as wounds, of isolation, obsessions, sexual hunger and curiosities intensified with the heat of the long summer months.
In the summer of 1969 Evie is fourteen years old and lives comfortably in “the good part of town” thanks to the legacy of her Grandmother, an actress during Hollywood’s golden age. However recently divorced parents, a mother absorbed by New Age therapies and out-growing her best friend has left Evie seeking something more (“I was waiting for something without knowing what”). Deeply self-critical – “there was no shine of greatness on me” – she is an easy target for predators, a wanderer to be moulded and manipulated, made to believe anything if they tell her what she wants to hear.
Her world changes when she claps eyes on ‘The Girls’ at a summer fair. Cline’s language is love-struck and dreamy, like a thunderbolt from the sky, meriting both an internal and external shift (“there was a subtle rearranging of air”). This is the beginning of Evie’s new obsession; an intense infatuation with the nineteen year old, dark haired Suzanne, the noticeable ringleader of this group of skinny girls with their parted hair and dirty summer clothes, who shoplift groceries and dumpster dive for discarded produce in skips outside restaurants.
Evie offers to steal for them and is soon on their bus to their ranch, described as “an orphanage for horny children”, littered with the skeletons of cars, hangers on, animals and grubby feral children. They tell her that she is a solstice offering to the mysterious Russell (obviously Manson) who resides over the ranch as an emperor or King, his loyal followers falling or clinging to his feet as if he were a deity. He is cooed over, described as ‘a Wizard’ and wields a sinister influence over everyone – men, women and children.
Yet, for Evie, it is never about Russell. It is never about his invisible hold, never about his philosophies, never that he ‘shares’ his women or even what he is capable of making others do. Instead, it’s all about Suzanne whose approval she is desperate to obtain. She loots money for Suzanne’s approval, runs away from home on two occasions and fails se Suzanne’s aloofness as anything other than her mask of protection. It’s an unrequited love affair – a girl who just wants to be seen – yet the relationship makes Evie feel needed and with purpose. She finds her time at the ranch freeing; she can be whoever she wants to be and is able to discard her privilege like a burden she was made to carry all of her life: “I was one of them.”
The brutality and knowledge of the Wonderland murders constantly hovers in the background and the horror is never diminished. Importantly, Cline’s interest is more in the family’s female followers than Manson himself. Although this is obliquely present in The Girls, Russell’s invisible, sinister hold them ensures his hands are kept clean while others do his bidding and the moment of carnage builds with a gripping intensity and inevitable horror. The description of Suzanne, her bloodied hands over a mother and child, is a penetrating, deeply disturbing image.
Cline excels at the small details that others may consider inconsequential – the beauty rituals of girls, the doubts plaguing the female mind – especially Evie’s internal conflict: whether she would have joined in or stopped them – and of strength (“the girls had been stronger than Russell”). The Girls is touted as the read of the summer and it deserves it’s reputation. Last summer Karina Longworth devoted her Old Hollywood Podcast titled ‘You Must Remember This’ to the Manson murders and now Cline has ensured that the ghosts of 1969 remain stronger than ever.
Envious kids used to ask me in those days, “How do you become a star? Is it talent? Pretty face? Is it body? Is it who you know? Who you sleep with?” well, it’s a little of each and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Barbara Payton was, to put it mildly, a hot mess. The once beautiful twenty year-old – who acted opposite James Cagney and Gregory Peck – saw her star value not so much plummet but shatter. Her final years were spent destitute, drunk and turning tricks in seedy apartment, surrounded by rats and empty wine bottles. Payton did it all, saw it all, and lost it all.
In 1963 Payton’s perfectly titled memoir “I Am Not Ashamed” (ghost written by Leo Guild) was released. The book is perfect Hollywood memoir – hugely more satisfying than any number of gossip columns that flood the Internet and fill today’s newspaper shelves. Early on when she brazenly declares, “I was the queen bee, the nuts and boiling hot,” you know this is going to be a treat.
Simply put, Payton was a bombshell, she knew she was a bombshell and she lived her live according to these rules. She did everything and I mean everything! She went from the glamour-puss ‘iced in diamonds’ at film premieres to turning tricks in her seedy apartment where she was knifed in the stomach by a client. Her affair with the actor Tom Neal – while she was married to the French star Franchot Tone – resulted in a fight between the two men and Franchot’s hospitalisation. She was even arrested for stealing liquor on Sunset Boulevard.
Yet she did not suffer fools gladly and knew how to hustle with the best of them. In some instances we see her assume the role of the fairy Godmother for younger co-stars, calling out inappropriate male behaviour and protecting girls as no one had done to her. She wanted to help out those on their way up, only too aware of an industry that would gobble you up and spit you as soon as looks fade or they grew bored of you. If only she had taken her own advice….
The inevitable happened: she got older and weight gain was part of her problem. No doubt this was aggravated by her bottle-of-wine-a-day habit. She failed to care for herself as she had cared for others. Instead, she plunged into a Rosé wine addiction that only added to – and addled – her downfall.
Despite her numerous mistakes you cannot help but want her to succeed; to have made the comeback she talks about and instead of falling into the tragic Hollywood trap of addiction and sleaze. You wanted her to be guided, as she wanted to guide others, and to stage that epic comeback that she talked about instead of dying of heart and liver failure at the tragically young age of thirty-nine.
“I Am Not Ashamed” is a fascinated read that exposes Hollywood in all of its sordid glory. Payton’s memoir could be a blueprint for all future young female stars: don’t let them suffer and follow in her footsteps.
Nina Simone was a fascinating woman whose life and music continues to intrigue and captivate. I have always loved her voice, marvelled at her piano skills, and admired how she used lyrics to seduce in one song and damn in the next. Yet, appallingly, my knowledge of Simone’s life and character remained appallingly limited.
I unsurprisingly lapped up Liz Garbus’ Oscar-nominated, Netflix produced What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) on its release. The warts-and-all film shows Simone’s undeniable talent – a musical genius whose audiences would be spellbound in her presence – yet whose personal life was extremely troubled and unsettled (loneliness, physical and chemical abuse, illness). She made mistakes. She was a difficult character. Yet she was a transcendental performer whose talent shines brightly on the screen. Would a written biography be able to capture her musical talent in quite the same way?
Nina Simone, born Eunice Waymon and raised in Tryon, North Carolina, was a musical prodigy who dreamed of becoming the world’s first black classical pianist. Playing the piano at her preacher mother’s sermons brought her to the attention of congregation member Muriel Mazzanovich – aka “Miss Mazzy” – her first piano teacher who co-founded a fund for Eunice’s musical education. This fund supported her move to New York to attend New York’s Juilliard School. As the fund dwindled she tried, and was rejected, for a scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Although she never fully recovered from this unfortunate incident, we can pinpoint this event as changing the course of the young woman’s life, initiating her evolution from Eunice Waymon to Nina Simone.
Alan Light’s biography of the singer, also titled ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?,” is an engrossing companion piece. Due to Simone’s electrifying performances, some individuals may find themselves preferring the faster paced, snappier, musically charged film to the written version. However, the book is richer in detail and includes periods of Simone’s life which Garbus, due to time restraints, naturally omitted. Light utilises additional first hand accounts by those closest to Simone – her musicians, ex-husband Andy Stroud, and her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly – providing a full yet stark account of this flawed but extraordinary artist whose life included numerous love affairs, struggle with sexuality, activism in the fight for civil rights, and career highs and lows. Fundamentally, Light paints Simone as a woman who never recovered from the lack of attention and affection her mother showed her in childhood, setting a precedent that would greatly influence Simone’s relationships with lovers, with her musicians, with her audience, and most significantly, with her daughter.
‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ is a richly personal biography and a fitting companion to an enthralling film. Simone was a tormented genius – a mass of contradictions – who, underneath all of the drama and problems remained Eunice Waymon: the little girl from South Carolina whose biggest regret was that she never became the world’s first black classical pianist.
* ‘What Happened, Miss Simone’ by Alan Light is published by Cannongate Books