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Turner Classic Film Fest: A history of violence

I know, pretty dark headline for  a post about a really fun, glamor heavy film fest. All the more so because, at least for me, TCM  Fest is the kind of event that  can put you in a kind of steel bubble which the daily news can barely pierce. If another Cuban Missile Crisis happened during Comic-Con, what would happen? Maybe if it ended differently this time.

Indeed, even a momentous event  like the death of Osama Bin Laden could just barely penetrate TCM’s  mix of Hollywood fantasy and scholarship. For me, the news first came as I overheard another filmgoer during an intermission of “West Side Story,” which I had popped in on just to see how good the 70mm print was, say to another. “No, he’s really dead.” I figured it was another classic film star gone forever. George Chakiris, who played Sharks leader Bernardo, had introduced the screening, but how were Jets Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn doing?

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Mission to TCM

If I may delve into hardcore cinephilia for one post, Turner Classic Movies is doing a very funny thing this month, they’re letting a movie blogger — along with a better known film critic — mess with their nightly schedule.

To be specific, the wondrous Self Styled Siren, who recently emerged as one Farran Smith Nehme of New York City, is co-curating with Lou Lumenick of the New York Post, Shadows of Russia. It’s a series of classic and rarities dealing with the former Soviet Union and it’s complex relationship with the United States and the West. Tonight’s centerpiece, showing at 10:00 Eastern/7:00 Pacific, is “Mission to Moscow,” one of a few pieces of World War II-era wartime propaganda requested by the U.S. government in order to create a better image of our wartime ally to the East. Despite the fact they had basically been made to please the U.S. government and assist the war effort, these films later came under suspicion from the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as the Cold War heated up again almost immediately after the end of the war.

I’ve never seen “Mission” but it’s apparently a faux-factual, completely absurd whitewash of the very real evil of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union. Making it a lot more interesting is the fact that this was no cheapy, but a glossy A-picture directed by Michael Curtiz and written by Howard Koch, both of whom had extremely illustrious careers on their own and whose most famous effort together was arguably the best American propaganda film of all time, “Casablanca.” No one thinks it’s a great movie or even a particularly good one in any normal sense of the word, but apparently its sheer wrongness makes it a really interesting movie experience. If you even one bit interested in mid-century history, this is one you won’t to miss.

The Siren and Lou Lumenick have more on “Mission to Moscow,” another interesting sounding tale called “The North Star” which you’ll have to be very quick on the trigger tonight if you want to see it (it’s 5:00 Pacific/8:00 Eastern) and some other possible goodies showing later on, including “The Kremlin Letter,” a hard-to-find 1970 spy thriller directed by John Huston I’ll have a hard time resisting.

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A movie moment for the Siren

The Empress of Cinephile Bloggers has some great news thanks in part to the good folks over at Turner Classic Movies. As far as I know, she’ll be the first film blogger to help program a series on the network, or any network, which she’ll be doing with Lou Lumenick of The New York Post. As far as I’m concerned, it couldn’t happen to a nicer or more thoughtful and talented member of our film-crazed clan.

This scene from one of the series selections, directed by Joseph von Sternberg and featuring the wonder that was Marlene Dietrich, seems as appropriate a clip as any to help her celebrate.

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