TCM Festival Opens With Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Angie Dickinson and a Focus on Film Preservation
The 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival opened Thursday night with Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson as featured guests putting an emphasis on film preservation — and a celebration of Angie Dickinson, who recalled her experience making “Rio Bravo,” the 1959 film that had a fresh Film Foundation restoration premiering as the capstone of the night.
The gala at the TCL Chinese Theatre also had TCM host Ben Mankiewicz talking with Warner Bros. Discovery president-CEO David Zaslav about the company’s partnership with the Martin Scorsese-founded Film Foundation on preservation efforts, as the 100th anniversary of the WB studio dominates the festival’s programming in this year’s festival, which runs through Sunday.
Dickinson, 90, was the belle of the ball Thursday night, as she walked the red carpet and posed in front of a giant mockup of herself circa “Rio Bravo.” Upon being introduced Mankiewicz, she walked out in front of the Chinese’s IMAX screen and symbolically enveloped herself in a hug to return the warmth from the invitation-only house’s standing ovation.
Mankiewicz promises that Dickinson was no-nonsense, and that proved true as she spoke politely but not gushily about what it was like to work in a boys’ club setting as the only female actor of any note on the “Rio Bravo” set. “This was a boys’, a men’s, movie,” said Mankiewicz, citing Howard Hawks as director and John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson as the stars. “Were you accepted by your fellow actors?” Dickinson noted that they did not invite her into their poker games — despite the facility with cards she demonstrates on screen in the role — but said the mood was not antagonistic, either: “By not being against me, they were for me,” she explained.
The host noted that he had just recently learned Frank Sinatra had been Hawks’ first choice for the role that went to his Rat Pack buddy Martin. “I was curious whether you ever met him,” Mankiewicz asked, in his best deadpan manner. “Thank God I did,” Dickinson responded. “He was wonderful, and yes, I think he was the love of my life.”
“I didn’t expect that,” said Mankiewicz, who followed up to ask if she still thinks about Sinatra. She said, “Yeah, I have Google… not Google, what’s the thing… Siri. I’ve got Siri, and I’ve got my Frank all day long.” Responded the host, a little taken aback: “That’s the sweetest damn thing I ever heard.”
The preceding conversation between Mankiewicz and Spielberg, Anderson and Zaslav was less sentimental. But maybe only a little less when it came to Anderson, the “Boogie Nights” director, talking about his love affair with film.
“Sometimes it goes even beyond the history of the business,” said Anderson. “I don’t want to get philosophical, but it ends up being about the protection of memories — like, very, very important memories that we each individually have. Where I was when I saw ‘E.T.,’ I remember it very well, and I remember the friends I was with, and I remember who I took to see that film, as much as I remember the film. So, yes, it’s preservation of our work, but” also a conduit to bringing back personal associations, “it’s also preserving our memories and helping us to preserve those memories, “so that when you want to revisit that moment or that feeling of when you walked into a theater, you can. We all want to hold onto our memories, but sometimes they fade away from us, and we can hold onto them if we preserve them this way.”
Spielberg gave the practical rundown of how the Film Foundation began and how far its accomplishments have come.
“In 1990, Martin Scorsese put this entire Film Foundation together. He had discovered that half the silent films ever made … had completely decayed and fallen apart. And so he launched a huge rescue operation and he enlisted a lot of filmmakers at the time” — citing Sydney Pollock, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas and others — “to go around to all the studios to get them to try to finance this rescue operation to save our cultural heritage. And we’ve been doing that: We’ve restored, since 1990, about 997 films. Early on, the decision was made to restore films that we thought united a director(‘s canon and) collected the body of work of that filmmaker so nothing would be lost. And then we started to make decisions based on the quality of the negative, what was still survivable.”
At this point, Spielberg said, “Margaret Brody of the Film Foundation manages everything and keeps me aware of titles that she would like to see restored. David and Warner Bros. have their own archivist and they have titles they’d like from the Warner Bros. archive to be preserved. And every studio does have that. We try to find not the films that are not our favorite movies, but films that tell a very unique story of this country and the people of this country. And not only this country, but we’re rescuing international films. We’ve already rescued 97 international films, so this is something that’s not going to stop. And I have to just say I’m so proud that Marty, when we were already busy making our movies in 1990, Marty put everything inside and said, ‘No, we’re prioritizing this. This is what needs to be done.’”
Warner’s Zaslav credited Kanye West for being the impetus behind spotlighting a film on TCM — albeit not for anything positive he’d done, but by bringing ongoing antisemitism more out into the open as a subject of concern.
The film in question was “Gentleman’s Agreement” with Gregory Peck. “I think I called Steven when I saw it,” said Zaslav, “and it was right at the time when there was a big incident with Kanye West and we were questioning this whole moment in America with Turner Classic Movies… We tell stories to entertain, but a lot of what you do and what the history of film does is, it’s a way for us to heal, and it’s a way for us to say what’s OK and what’s not.”
The evening began with Mankiewicz recalling the first edition of the festival 14 years ago, when Robert Osborne was hosting a restoration of the Judy Garland/James Mason “A Star Is Born” there in the big house, and what had not changed since then — like, he said facetiously, the idea of Hollywood as “the most glamorous place in the world. Because nothing says glamour like a store where everything is $5.” Speaking of preservation, Mankiewicz marveled that after 14 years, everything is still five bucks — and true to his words, sure enough, patrons exiting to get on buses to the after-party at the Mother Wolf restaurant were greeted by a vendor shouting out his $5 offerings.