Dame in the Game: Turner Classic Movies Film Festival Preview

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The 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival taking place in the heart of Hollywood this week, April 28th through May 1st, has an abundance of female-centric films and programming on offer. We here at “Dame in the Game” know classic Hollywood is full of fierce ladies both onscreen and off, and we are excited to see some of them featured at the TCM Film Festival.

Thursday:

The opening night of the festival has no shortage of female-driven content, with the launch of the weekend film series’ “Love and Loss” with Dark Victory (1939) starring the incomparable Bette Davis. Davis famously saw potential in the story after it was a Broadway flop starring Tallulah Bankhead—she convinced studio head Jack Warner to buy the rights to the play and develop it as a starring vehicle for her. The role is one of her most famous, earning her a third Oscar nomination and her biggest box office hit to date at that time. Davis later cited this as her favorite role.

Other options include the beautiful female coming-of-age story A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), adapted from the autobiographical novel by Betty Smith and the classic comedy Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) starring dame extraordinaire Katharine Hepburn. Both films feature complex women at their center dealing with a variety of issues from the Depression and alcoholism to race relations.

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Friday:

Friday morning sees the showing of a film essential to all “Dame in the Game” readers—a screening of Never Fear (1949), Ida Lupino’s directorial debut. Lupino was our first ever “Dame in the Game,” honored for her groundbreaking work as a female director tackling weighty subjects. Never Fear was the first film produced by Lupino’s independent production company, Emerald Productions. It follows the story of a dancer suffering from polio and draws first-hand on Lupino’s own experiences with the disease, which she contracted in 1934 at the start of her career. The film is noteworthy for its documentary style, shooting on location at a treatment center in Santa Monica and featuring actual patients as extras. The screening will also feature a talk with the Associate Curator in the Department of Film from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Anne Morra. New York’s Museum of Modern Art has been instrumental in restoring and preserving Lupino’s work for future generations.

Other Friday highlights include a book signing with actress Illeana Douglas, who hosted TCM’s Trailblazing Women programming, and a series of Discoveries screenings featuring more risqué, progressive pre-Code Films. Don’t miss Pleasure Cruise (1933) in the afternoon – a 35 mm print of pre-Code film that echoes the devilish delight of Noel Coward in its tale of a married couple who take separate vacations.

Friday evening is capped by a screening of The Manchurian Candidate preceded by a conversation with Dame Angela Lansbury. Lansbury is one of the longest working actresses in Hollywood today, with a career that spans the studio system to Broadway to television. A chance to see an icon like her in the flesh is reason for celebration enough, but it’s even more delightful when accompanied by a screening of a film featuring one of her most indelible performances. Lansbury stole the film from stars Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey as Harvey’s chilling, politically calculating mother (despite being only three years older than Harvey at the time). Her performance laid early groundwork for other female anti-heroes like Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood in House of Cards.

Saturday:

Saturday is all about the women being honored at the festival – icons Rita Moreno and Gina Lollobrigida will be on-hand to celebrate their careers. Moreno will participate in a book-signing of her memoir, as well as introduce a screening of The King and I (1956) featuring her as Tuptim, a slave in the King’s household who rebels against her lot in life to be with the man she loves. Moreno is remarkable for not only building a successful career as a Puerto Rican actress at a time when few opportunities existed for actresses of color, but also for being one of the first people ever to achieve the EGOT (that is, to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award).

Lollobrigida will be on-hand all weekend as one of the featured performers honored with a Festival Tribute. Saturday will feature her comedic chops in the film Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968) – the film tells the story of a woman who receives three support checks from three different GIs she convinced were the the father of her child. Hilarity ensues when they all arrive in town wanting to meet their daughter. The film would unofficially inspire the Broadway sensation Mamma Mia!. Lollobrigida is notable for her career as an actress, which garnered her rave reviews and numerous international awards, but she earns the moniker of “Dame in the Game” for her incredible work as a humanitarian and artist. She is a sculptress and photographer, whose photography has documented the lives of children around the world, which earned her a position as an ambassador to numerous humanitarian organizations.

Saturday will also feature a book signing with feminist film historian Cari Beauchamp, whose work on women in early Hollywood has often been instrumental in “Dame in the Game” columns.

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Sunday:

Start Sunday-morning with the King of 1950s female melodrama Douglas Sirk and his All That Heaven Allows (1955). Sirk was famous for his lush photography and over-the-top love stories about women in crisis – yet, his work and its commentary on the stifling restrictions of 1950s femininity would come to inspire generations of filmmakers, having a heady influence on recent films like Haynes’ lesbian romance Carol (2015). All that Heaven Allows tells the story of a widow who scandalizes her neighbors and children when she falls for a younger, poorer man.

The afternoon brings a tough choice between another chance to see Gina Lollobrigida speak about her career in a Club TCM conversation and a screening of Children of a Lesser God (1986) with special guest Marlee Matlin. Matlin made history with the film becoming both the youngest actress named Best Actress and the only deaf actor ever to win an Oscar. Since her break-out role with this film, Matlin has become a passionate advocate for deaf actors in Hollywood.

The schedule is also dotted with TBD’s that we hope will be filled with more naughty pre-Code discovery films that we might have been unable to catch earlier in the weekend.

“Dame in the Game” recommends closing the festival with another stellar lady, Faye Dunaway, as she introduces her Oscar-winning performance in Network (1976). Dunaway made a name for herself playing complicated, vulnerable, gritty women in the “New Hollywood” of the 1970s, and Network showcases her talents as her star was on the rise. The film famously used satire to critique contemporary society and modern news media, a commentary that has only become more relevant with time.

Those are the “Dame in the Game” recommendations for the Turner Classic Movies 2016 film festival. It’s a rare chance to catch some groundbreaking work on the big-screen, as well as to hear from women who have paved the way for today’s Hollywood movers and shakers.

A pass is the preferred mode of entry for the festival, but stand-by tickets can be purchased to all screenings by waiting in a line near the theatre ($20 for adults, $10 for those with valid student ID). For the full schedule, visit: www.filmfestival.tcm.com

Maureen Lenker

About Maureen Lenker

Maureen Lee Lenker is a writer, actress, director, and producer. She has written for Turner Classic Movies, Stage Raw, @ This Stage, LA Weekly, and more. She is also working towards an MA in Arts Journalism at USC, reporting on arts, theatre, and entertainment. When not at USC, she works on theatre productions throughout Los Angeles (primarily as an assistant director). She is a native Angelino who hates driving and cites peacoats and scarves as her favorite clothing items. An Anglophile, she attempted to fulfill her dream of attending Hogwarts by completing her master’s in British History at the University of Oxford. She is a cock-eyed optimist, rom-com aficionado, classic movie buff, musical theatre geek, and general pop culture enthusiast.