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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Apr. 28, 2010 | 3:39 PM

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Anyone who’s seen Janet Gaynor’s great silent work in F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise knows that she’s a wonderfully expressive performer with great screen presence.  Singing and dancing is a different story, however, and with the advent of sound, Gaynor was among many stars of the era who had to prove themselves to audiences all over again.  1929 musical “Sunnyside Up” proved that Gaynor could not only make an effective tranistion to talkies, but that she also had a great flair for comedy.  One of the first movie musicals, “Sunnyside Up” screened at the TCM fest on Sunday in a print beautifully restored by the Museum of Modern Art.  A simple story of a girl from the tenements who falls in love with a man of means from Southampton(Charles Farrell), the film tells the story at a leisurely pace that allows the viewer to become fully immersed in both worlds.

“Sunnyside Up” is pretty innocent stuff, with one exception.  At Ferrell’s request, Gaynor’s character and her friends agree to perform at a summer seaside charity show.  The first number we see is called “Turn On the Heat”, and that’s exactly what the pre-code company proceed to do.  Beginning as an eskimo number set on an ice flow, the performers shed their parkas for bikinis, the ice gradually melts into a tropical paradise complete with inflatable bananas, and by the end of the number, the entire company is writhing on the ground in ways that would have had the Production Code censors turning somersaults.  Fortunately for those who missed the screening, the sequence is available on YouTube, embedded below. FilmRadar site owner Karie Bible described the sequence perfectly as “pre-code on crack”.

Of course, in the end, true love prevails, and everyone definitely leaves the theatre with their sunnyside up.

Martin Scorsese’s 1983 gem “The King of Comedy” opens with Ray Charles’ “Come Rain or Come Shine”, but there’s not much light that streams through in this look at the perils of celebrity.  Jerry Lewis turns in what’s easily his most accomplished dramatic performance as the Carson-esque talk show host Jerry Langford, and Robert DeNiro manages a unique comic creepiness as “self-styled” stand up comic Rupert Pupkin.  Lewis had been scheduled to introduce the screening, but cancelled for undisclosed reasons after the TCM Fest programs went to press.  Regardless, the film was screened in a sparkling new print, and Scorsese’s tale of of a comic who kidnaps a talk show host in order to get on national television seems even more relevant now than it did on its original release. 

Perhaps due to Lewis’ cancellation, there were a lot of empty seats in Grauman’s Chinese for “The King of Comedy” screening.  Not so for the final festival screening at the historic venue. The influence of “Metropolis” on both film culture and the culture at large can hardly be overstated, and TCM closed their first festival with the North American premiere of the most complete version of Lang’s film yet available.  Upon it’s original release, nearly an hour of footage was immediately cut from Lang’s film, and over the film has resurfaced in a number of different restored versions.  The most definitive version to date was released by Kino in 2002, and it seemed like that was the closest thing to “Metropolis” that modern audiences were likely to see.  All that changed in 2008, when a 16 mm print of Lang’s original version was discovered in Argentina.  In the entire film, only one scene was damaged beyond repair, and the audience at Sunday’s premiere was treated to an epic 2 1/2 hour version of the film.  The 16 mm footage was incorporated into the earlier Kino version, and the whole film was lifted to new heights by live acccompaniment from the Alloy Orchestra.

TCM host Robert Osborne introduced the screening, and set a poignant tone for the evening by mentioning some of the encounters he’d had with TCM fans over the course of the festival.  Where Osborne revealed he’d always thought of TCM as fine entertainment, he revealed that he’d been approached by viewers who’d turn the channel on for comfort in the face of unemployment,  or illness, or a bad divorce.  Osborne seemed genuinely moved by these interactions, and he got the whole theatre fired up by officially announcing that the TCM fest would return to Hollywood for another run in 2011.  The audience erupted in applause, but once the lights went down and the music began, Fritz Lang had their undivided attention.

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