TCM Classic Film Festival Day 3: Gunga Din

The second day of the festival, I saw the 1975 classic, The Man Who Would Be King. Thirty-six years earlier, in the greatest year of Hollywood, 1939, this Adventure film, also based on a work by Rudyard Kipling debuted. It is the cinematic grandparent of the second film, filled with comedy, daring do and adventurers who are sometimes more motivated by their own greed than anything else but who are loyal to a fault. This movie is one of the great classics of the golden era and seeing it on the big screen at the Egyptian Theater demonstrates why.

As great as the movie is, the screening is elevated substantially by the program surrounding the film. This was one of the Academy Conversations screenings. Two Academy Award winning technicians presented an in depth analysis of the making of the film, including background on the locations, sound effects in the film and behind the scenes film clips not readily available on your home video version of the movie. I happened across the same two wonderful teachers on a showing of “The Wizard of Oz” just two nights ago on TCM. They did another wonderful job there as well, explaining how studio shots were matched with matte paintings and how the colors were controlled and a dozen other pieces of fascinating information. I haven’t mentioned their names yet because I have a special little clip to do that for you:

Craig Barron is an Academy Award Winning Special effects guy and Ben Burtt practically invented the sound effects awards of  the late Twentieth Century. Best of all though is that they are movie fans. They treasure the classics and eat, drink and dream of the techniques used by the earlier generations to do the things that they do today. What especially drew me to this screening was the work that the two of them did the previous TCM Festival for my favorite movie, “The Adventures of Robin Hood“. It is my hope that the video of that screening will someday be shown on TCM so that I can relive it. That was my first TCMCFF event and it hooked me completely. These guys know their stuff and they enjoy talking about it.

It turns out that Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and director George Stevens, all had home movie cameras that they brought to the set. What is really amazing is that some of those movies were in color. Our hosts frequently contrasted the images of a scene in the classic black and white film with the color shots of the same scene shot by one of the principals. It was a very unique look at the film.

Just as they had done on “Robin Hood” they made a treasure hunt out of tracking down the original shooting sites of the movie. They matched up contemporary photos of the locations with the same location as it appeared in the movie. Sometimes there is a housing development in the spot where a scene was shot, but frequently, the locations remain unchanged. In fact there is one site that they claim an archeological dig would recover artifacts from the movie, including props and set foundations. Most of the movie was shot outside of Lone Pine, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range here in California. When I was a scout, Lone Pine was usually our last stop before we got to the trailhead that our ten days of back packing would take up. Today I’m afraid I would need to be able to drive to the location, and according to the two jocular hosts, you can actually do that.

They showed a neat match of location with the suspension bridge used in the film and then the layered mattes and animation that gave the illusion of depth and movement.

This video is not their work but it is similar to some of the things they showed.

There were also some film clips of explosions that had been tested out and some comparative sound recordings that showed how the locations substantially increased the retort of the guns being fired during several scenes in the movie. One homemade film showed the complexity of a choreographed fight going wrong and when it showed up in the film in it’s correct form, everyone got a good laugh at what they had just seen.

I hope to heaven that these guys continue to contribute to the festival in this way. It is the best mix of old and new Hollywood that I’ve seen here and there are dozens of movies with histories like this that deserve this kind of quality presentation. It would be a crime if these talks stayed in some archive somewhere and never get to take a walk out among a broader film loving audience.

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