It’s time for me to take a moment to reflect a bit on what I learned from my rather hectic but definitely fun and enlightening time at the TCM Fest. As previously reported here and everywhere else, it turned out to be a fairly roaring success and is promised to be repeated next year in Hollywood. Because of time constraints and because I wasn’t able to enjoy the truly titanic number of films seen by, say, a Dennis Cozzalio — currently working on a detailed and sure to be great summary of the event — I’m going to limit myself to a few random observations covering material I have not mentioned in prior TCM-centric posts. (Here, here, and here.) Naturally, it’ll still turn out to be much longer than I originally intended.
Borgnine, Donen, Rainer
As someone with parents in their eighties and nineties, I’ve become especially interested lately in the way things work for people of a certain age. So it was with some some special interest that I listened to the words of 100 year-old thirties star Luise Rainer, 93 year-old star character actor Ernest Borgnine (“Marty,” “The Wild Bunch”), and 86 year-old directing great and one-time boy genius, Stanley Donen — best known for co-directing “Singin’ in the Rain” and other MGM musical classics with Gene Kelly but also an outstanding director in his own right of both musicals and “straight” films.
I’m just a hair late but, as I write this director Stanley Donen’s 86th birthday has just wrapped up. The man largely responsible for several of the greatest musicals ever made always seemed to excel especially at cafe scenes, and this send-up of modern dance from 1957’s “Funny Face,” with a frustrated Audrey Hepburn “expressing herself” is certainly one of them.
Mr. Donen will be in attendance at a screening of his most famous and perhaps greatest musical classic, “Singin’ in the Rain,” at the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood, on Saturday, April 24. Should be amazing.
Early on, Liza Minnelli did a fantastic job of making the world forget her “somewhat famous” parents. In Bob Fosse’s 1972 film version of “Cabaret” and in “Liza with a ‘Z’,” the TV variety special he put together for her, she proved herself a first-rate actress, singer, and dancer with a humorous, gently ironic style all her own. Despite solid acting performances in numerous movies and TV shows since, her overall career trajectory since has been, of course, difficult.
In 2008, Minnelli regained her diva status with a critically acclaimed concert/theatrical performance, “Liza’s at the Palace,” which incorporates a recreation of the legendary nightclub act of her multi-talented godmother, Kay Thompson (“Funny Face“). Taped before an adoring, celebrity-studded audience at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, this late 2009 performance is sure to please hardcore fans. For some, however, it will be painful to watch, for all the pizazz. It’s not that age, illness and all the rest have taken their toll on Minnelli’s almost too powerful voice, nor would any sane viewer expect her to dance like it’s still 1972. Her commitment remains undeniably powerful. The problem lay elsewhere. For all her attempts to tell a personal story, Minnelli’s style when communicating through song or spoken word has become — and I don’t know how else to say this — bizarrely phony and off-putting. It’s one thing for a second-generation powerhouse performer to have show business in her blood, it’s another thing when nothing else appears to be in it.