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AISHA HARRIS, HOST:
The 2021 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival is taking place in your local living room. Beginning this Thursday, a special lineup of curated programming will be airing on TCM and streaming on HBO Max. There will be new interviews with legendary movie stars, guest host introductions and, of course, the movies themselves. I'm Aisha Harris. And today we've got your guide to the 2021 TCM Film Festival on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR, so don't go away.
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HARRIS: Welcome back. Joining us from her home in Denver is Monica Castillo, who is an arts and culture reporter with Colorado Public Radio. Welcome back, Monica.
MONICA CASTILLO, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.
HARRIS: It's so great to have you here. And I understand that you have been to the TCM Fest in person twice before. Correct?
CASTILLO: Yes, I had the privilege of going the second year it happened, when Peter O'Toole was being honored at the festival. And then I had the privilege of going again when I lived in LA.
HARRIS: Awesome, yeah. I've been once before, too, in person in 2017. And that was the year that they were honoring the 50th anniversary of "In The Heat Of The Night." So it was awesome to see Sidney Poitier from afar (laughter). It was such a dream.
So I do miss the fact that, you know, the TCM Film Festival is not in person. But I think one of the pluses, obviously, this year is that way more people can access the festival now that it's on these multiple platforms. So this year, the at-home film fest experience is going to be taking place on TCM and HBO Max starting tomorrow. And in case you miss out this weekend, the festival programming on HBO Max will be streaming for a limited time after the official events conclude this Sunday.
The festival kicks off with a celebration of the 60th anniversary of "West Side Story" on TCM. We'll get into that and a few of the other special events we're looking forward to in a bit. But first, let's talk about some of the movies playing during the festival that we both want to recommend listeners check out. Monica, what's the first thing you brought for us?
CASTILLO: The first recommendation is probably one of my favorite classic movies. It's the 1948 movie "The Red Shoes" by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It's a story about a ballerina torn between her passion for dance and the love of her life. And when I saw it when I was younger, I just - I fell in love with how enchanting it looked and just how gorgeous the colors are. And the dance sequences are amazing. As I've gotten older and as I've continued to watch it over and over again, I've gotten a new appreciation for the sort of central tension between a woman having to choose between what she's passionate about and, you know, the love of her life. And I see a lot of modern parallels between that in a lot of women today who maybe how to have chosen between their careers and, you know, taking care of their family or a partner or another loved one. So I see that as a sort of very classic tale, even though it was made many, many decades ago. This movie just dramatizes it in such a gorgeous and entrancing way.
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MOIRA SHEARER: (As Victoria Page) I thought once, Mr. Lermontov, that there would be no room in my life for anything but dancing.
ANTON WALBROOK: (As Boris Lermontov) You will think so again, my dear.
SHEARER: (As Victoria Page) But if Julian goes, I shall go, too.
WALBROOK: (As Boris Lermontov) And what exactly do you intend to do?
SHEARER: (As Victoria Page) I shall dance somewhere else.
WALBROOK: (As Boris Lermontov) Oh, yes.
CASTILLO: I highly recommend anyone who hasn't seen a Powell and Pressburger film to check it out. And anyone who's even remotely interested in dance will probably find something to like about this.
HARRIS: Yeah, this is one movie that I only recently saw for the first time. It had always been on my list of things to watch. And you know, every film person will tell you, like, this is a must-see. Martin Scorsese has listed it as one of his favorite movies of all time. And I don't know why it took me so long. But when I finally watched it, I was like, oh, man, I get it. So got to say that that is a great choice. So that's "The Red Shoes." And that's going to be streaming on HBO Max as part of the special collection that they have for Powell and Pressburger, so everyone can check it out on HBO Max there.
My first choice is "Harlan County, USA." It is another movie that I only saw within the last year or so after hearing so much about it. And it's a documentary from 1976 directed by Barbara Kopple. And it actually won the Oscar for best documentary. I think it's a much better choice than something like "My Octopus Teacher" this year, just going to say that (laughter).
CASTILLO: I'll agree with you.
HARRIS: But anyway, if you haven't seen it or if it's been a while since you saw it, Barbara Kopple basically embedded with a bunch of miners who went on strike in 1973 in Kentucky against the Duke Power Company. And the men voted to join the United Mine Workers of America, and the Duke Power Company had refused to sign the contract. So she followed these families and these men around, was like there when they were picketing. There's a lot of contentious moments in the film, that are super, super, just, like, real and really engrossing.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Well, you have me sick, too.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...To you and tell you what they tell me that you're running around with their husbands and you're trying to take their husbands away from them.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Well, OK, then if - they told me that you're an alcoholic and everything else.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I don't care who takes whose man, who lives with whose man or what they do. If they can take mine and take him on, they can have him. I'll shed no tears. I'm not after a man. I'm after a contract. I'm raising two boys.
HARRIS: It's just a really great look at the sort of struggle between laborers and big corporations. And I think so much of it is so relevant and resonant to today. I also love those little touches, like the fact that the soundtrack is mostly Appalachian folk songs. And so it has like this really sort of lived-in, thoughtful feel that doesn't feel condescending. She was able to really gain the local people's trust. And so it's really great to watch. And I highly recommend everyone check it out. Monica, are you a fan of this film? Have you seen it?
CASTILLO: I have seen it. I am a fan of it. You touched upon, like, something that's so good. It's not just like a parachute in sort of dispatch from the latest news. It really feels like you're immersed in this community, and you're getting to hear, you know, all sides of the conversation. But I also really appreciate that she also turns the cameras towards the families. Like, this is the reason why the men are fighting. And you get to hear their wives' voices. You get to hear a little bit from their children. It takes it a step farther than, you know, your typical documentary.
HARRIS: Yeah. So that is "Harlan County, USA." And it's going to be streaming on HBO Max. It also will include an intro by Barbara Kopple herself, so everyone should check that out. Monica, what did you bring next?
CASTILLO: I picked another one of my favorite movies (laughter). I went with 1991's "Daughters Of The Dust." It was written, directed and produced by Julie Dash. It's the first film directed by a Black woman to receive a wide release in the U.S. And it's this, again, sort of very engrossing, immersive story that's set in the early 1980s in the Gullah community off the coast of South Carolina. And it's this sort of intergenerational conversation about whether or not to move towards the mainland, whether to stay. What traditions and practices are we going to hold on to? What are the memories of our ancestors we take with us?
And I think this is just a gorgeous, gorgeous movie. I would say that Beyonce probably agrees with me. She paid an homage to it with "Lemonade." Once you see this movie, you absolutely see why. It's also very dreamlike, in essence. I saw this a few years ago when they had a restoration, and I was just smitten with it. I don't think I've been able to watch the movie without crying. It's so beautiful. And it's so moving. And it's women centric. It's - you know, deals a lot with about immigration and diaspora. I love it. And I can't recommend it highly enough. If folks haven't checked it out or even haven't checked it out in a minute, you know, rewatch it.
HARRIS: It's such a great recommendation. I agree with you. It is gorgeous. It is the type of movie you really have to, like, sit with. And it makes me really sad that it took so long. Like, in some ways, it took Beyonce to bring it to...
HARRIS: ...The mainstream in a way. Like, obviously, it's been championed by film fans for a very long time. But a lot more people have seen it in part because of Beyonce. And it's good and a bad thing.
HARRIS: Well, it's going to be streaming on HBO as part of their LA Rebellion collection, actually. And the LA Rebellion was a movement from about the late '60s into the early 1990s, around when "Daughters Of The The Dust" was released, of filmmakers mostly out of California and LA, out of UCLA film school. And I highly recommend checking out that entire collection. In fact, one of the other movies that I want to recommend is part of that collection as well.
So this is a great segway. That would be "To Sleep With Anger," which is directed by Charles Burnetts, and that's from 1990. And he was part of the LA Rebellion Movement. It's another film that I feel like was underappreciated and has grown in esteem over the years. And it's about a Black couple who's living in LA, played by Paul Butler and Mary Alice. And one day, they're unexpectedly visited by an old friend from the South who is played by Danny Glover. And this old friend, as soon as he arrives, weird things start to happen. And what I love about this film is the way it plays with supernatural and fantastical elements while dealing with the sort of tensions that arise between Black people who left the South and the Black people who stayed in the South.
You know, I know that tension that - it exists within my own family, and I think it does a really good job. And Danny Glover, by the way, is just so fantastic in this role. He's kind of like a trickster, a sly kind of - you don't know if you can trust him or not. And I just think he's - it's really great to see this. And I should note that this is - also kind of coincides with some other extras that are happening. There's a Q&A actually with Danny Glover that Ben Mankiewicz does that will also be on HBO Max as part of the festival. And they get into that a little bit and also talk about his career more at large. But it's great to see this movie getting the recognition that it deserves.
CASTILLO: I was also going to add, I think Jacqueline Stewart has a conversation with Charles Burnett as also one of the extras about the LA Rebellion itself. So if more folks are curious about that film movement, they'll get a little bit of an introduction.
HARRIS: Yes. It's a interview between Charles Burnett and Billy Woodberry, who collaborated together on the film "Bless Their Little Hearts," which is also definitely worth checking out.
I think we also want to get into a little bit more of the extras that are happening, because it's not just about the movies. There are also a few, like, fun things. Lisa Rinna is introducing "A Star Is Born," which I just think is (laughter) - it's fun. Like, sometimes the host that TCM gets to introduce things, it's cool to see. You don't expect them to necessarily be like, oh, this is my favorite movie or I have a connection to this movie, and to, like, see those types of things happen is great. Monica, what are some of the extras that you think is worth checking out for our listeners?
CASTILLO: I know. I had to actually pare down my list because I just kept adding and adding on. One of the things I wanted to highlight is this featurette called "Cinema Of Decay: The Films Of Bill Morrison." Bill Morrison is this sort of experimental filmmaker who uses old kind of decomposing - well, very decomposing film footage that otherwise wouldn't get shown to the public and repurposes it in these sort of narrative stories and features and shorts, so people get the chance to appreciate what once was and also kind of reflect on, you know, the way that not all art can be saved. You know, memory kind of fades and, you know, the effect of time on, you know, organic substances, you know, like us. So he - not to get too dark, but it's really gorgeous, beautiful work.
"Dawson City: Frozen Time" is one of the films that I probably liked the best of the last decade. And he has - actually a broadcast premiere of his new short called "Let Me Come In," which is - repurposes decayed film reels from a lost German silent film called "Ponds Of Passion." And he'll be collaborating with the Los Angeles Opera with this broadcast. So I'm very excited for that.
HARRIS: I'm actually not familiar with that work at all, so it sounds really cool. And I think there was one more thing you wanted to suggest.
CASTILLO: Absolutely. I wanted to highlight Bruce Goldstein's featurettes on filming in New York City locations. He highlights the movies "Speedy," "The Naked City" and "The Taking of Pelham 123" - very New York-centric movies. Bruce Goldstein, for folks who don't know, is basically his own New York institution. He's the programming director of Film Forum. The man really knows his New York movies. He takes us right to the street corners, to the old buildings, to this is where this used to stand, this is where this old train used to run through - and walks us through the sort of process of making these movies. And it kind of gives you a new appreciation of, you know, the logistics of being able to tell these stories.
But also, you know, a look-back at film as, like, historical capsule. You know, we wouldn't normally think of narrative films as being some sort of a documentary, but these scenes and shots that capture what it was like in the 1920s and the 1940s and the 1970s. You know, New York doesn't look like that anymore. And through, you know, his sort of tour guide, we get to see and get a new appreciation for how much the city has changed, as well as, you know, all the work and filmmaking that actually went into, you know, creating these unforgettable movies.
HARRIS: That sounds awesome. I miss Film Forum so much.
HARRIS: (Laughter) And those will be streaming on HBO Max. I've got just a couple more suggestions that I think everyone should check out. "West Side Story" is one of my favorite movies of all time. I realize it's problematic. I know why, and I get it. But I've always loved it. And so I definitely want to recommend people check out the Q&A with Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn, in large part because Rita Moreno talks about Natalie Wood in a way that is both respectful but spicy. And I appreciate it because she gets into the sort of politics of the film and the problems with it in terms of, you know, who was cast and also the browning of the faces that was done to both her and George Chakiris and the other actors in the film playing Latino characters. And so I just really love it. I also love the banter that they have. They all seem like they really like each other and love each other still even 60 years later. So it's a fun Q&A. And I think no matter how many times they've talked about this film, there's always like new little tidbits that arise. So that'll actually be both airing on TCM and will be streaming on HBO Max, so people can check it out.
And my final recommendation is a reading of "Plan 9 From Outer Space," the, you know, infamously terrible but fun Ed Wood film. And this is airing on TCM on May 7, followed by a showing of the original "Plan 9." It was a virtual live reading that occurred last fall at SF Sketchfest. And it was adapted by Dana Gould and features Laraine Newman doing some, like, fantastic narration. It's not just a reading. It is also a sort of like "Mystery Science Theater" commentary while the reading is happening. And there are very cool miniatures designed by Mike Carano. There's fun music by Eban Schletter. And the cast is stacked. You've got - on top of Laraine Newman and Dana Gould - Bob Odenkirk, Paul F. Tompkins, Maria Bamford, Bobcat Goldthwait and more.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The elderly man walks off screen and is hit by a car - off screen. So just to be clear, he left the house physically and left the scene existentially. This is also the moment in the story where we realized this very creaky old man was married to the very hot, very young Vampira. So even though he's dead, you have to admit he had a good run.
HARRIS: And it's just really, really fun. So I think it's one of, like, more quirkier selections amongst the TCM Film Festival, and I definitely recommend everyone check it out. So tell us your favorite classic films and what you're looking forward to watching at this year's film fests. You can find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter @pchh. And that brings us to the end of our show. Monica, as always, it is so great to have you here.
CASTILLO: Thank you for having me again.
HARRIS: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. And if you have a second and you're so inclined, please subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. We'll see you all tomorrow, when we will be talking about the new Peacock series, "Rutherford Falls."
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