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Previewing the TCM Classic Film Festival

The TCM Classic Film Festival is set to kick-off this weekend in a fully virtual capacity on both the TCM channel and on the streaming platform HBO Max. TCM hosts Alicia Malone, Ben Mankewicz, Eddie Muller, Jacqueline Stewart, and Dave Karger spoke with Awards Radar on which film selections they’re most excited for on this year’s program line-up. Additionally, we chatted with West Side Story actors George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn on TCM commemorating the film’s 60th anniversary as well as their thoughts on the new Steven Spielberg remake due out later this year. Lastly, we also spoke with actress Jacqueline Bisset whose 1968 film Bullitt will be showcased during the remote fest.

Awards Radar: George (Chakiris) and Russ (Tamblyn), what does it mean for the both of you to commemorate 60 years of West Side Story as part of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival? 

George: For me, it’s really wonderful. I can remember the 40th anniversary when, then, Robert Osbourne hosted an interview with (Maria singing voice actress) Marni Nixon, (executive producer) Walter Mirisch, and myself at the Roosevelt Hotel. And there was a 40th anniversary at the Radio City Music Hall also with Robert Osbourne. So starting then, and then the 50th anniversary, and now the 60th, I mean who knew that we’d be so lucky and blessed to be part of something so livable and such a beautiful film.

Russ: It’s pretty incredible. I think it should be on my gravestone. (laughs)

George: Maybe it will be. (laughs)

Russ: ‘One more interview for West Side Story.’ It’ll just keep going on. I do feel that the Spielberg movie is like passing the baton, like a relay race. Just like they did with A Star is Born where they made three or four different versions. Every one and a while, they make a new version. And they made it with this. We’ll see how it does.

Awards Radar: I would actually like to get both of your reactions on the new Spielberg remake of West Side Story. Were you involved at all in the preparation for that film? Did Spielberg go to you guys when he was planning it? If not, what did you think of the trailer when you watched?

George: I thought the trailer was wonderful . I really loved it. The only person who was in the Spielberg version that makes sense is Rita Moreno. There would be nothing for me that I can think of to possibly do. Russ probably feels the same. It absolutely makes sense in the wonderful way they’re using Rita. I think she’s the widow of Doc who owns the drug store. I think her name’s Valentina. So it makes wonderful sense that Rita is part of this film. And it’ll be so wonderful for audiences to see the SPielberg version and to see Rita as well.

Russ: We’ll see how it is. It’s gonna be a big premiere for sure. A lot of great, talented people will have connected with it.

Awards Radar: Ben (Mankewicz), how significant was West Side Story in your upbringing as part of your film education?

Ben: It was not terribly significant. I had initial resistance to musicals and snapping. I say that because it’s true. I had more realizations later in life that are obvious to everyone on the planet. I grew up in a political family so I knew there was this movie part of my family but the politics mattered more. So my movie education, despite being Herman Mankewicz’s grandson and Joe Manciewcz being my uncle, that happened late. I’m sure I was probably 30 when I started to see it and realize that I saw things I just didn’t see before. The energy that they took from the stage to the screen and you could just feel this pulsating energy. It had nothing to do with whether you liked musicals or not. Do you like movies? Do you like to feel entertained? And that’s what West Side Story.is. And me, like an idiot at 32 years old in 1993 going ‘do you guys know about West Side Story? It’s a very good movie. You should see it.’ In that sense, it played a critical role. Just a little embarrassingly late in my life.

Awards Radar: Jacqueline (Bisset), what does it mean for you to have Bullitt be a part of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival? What has it been like walking down memory lane from working on this film with TCM?

Jacqueline: Since the 50th anniversary, there’s been a fair amount of conversion with me. So it wasn’t like it was coming out from the dark passage of the past. It feels reasonably fresh in my mind. I’m quite surprised by that since it was done such a long time ago. But it was so pleasurable, I think TCM is a wonderful institution. I’m just happy to be part of it. There’s so many films that don’t get out there in the world with a full campaign and everything. So the ones that get well-supported and turn out to be good, it’s nice.

Awards Radar: How impactful was Bullitt in shaping the rest of your film career moving forward?

Jacqueline: I don’t think it shaped my career at all. I remember sitting on a plane going from Los Angeles to London sitting with a bunch of people having a drink. Nobody recognized me from the movie. They were all talking about the movie. And I remember thinking ‘well, I really did not get any impact from that’. And I was slightly shocked. I did look like I did in the movie and was still in the same time period. And they just hadn’t noticed me. At one point, I almost had to admit I was in the movie. It was very embarrassing. It impacted me career-wise I suppose. But the character that I play was really not necessarily in that film. It was a guy’s movie and I was playing a symbolic female. It was nice to have in the list of films I was in. And I really enjoyed working with Peter Yates. I worked with him again later. So probably that film helped lead me to The Deep which I did about 12 years later. So it did impact me. Both of those films were with that particular director and they were very successful.

Awards Radar: Alicia (Malone) and Eddie (Muller), can you speak a bit to the feedback you gave in curating the programming for this year’s festival? Alicia, I know you’re a huge proponent of women in front and behind of the camera. And Eddie, you’re the host of Noir Alley on TCM. How are both of your niche interests in film represented through this year’s programming?

Alicia: I didn’t have any involvement really in the programming .We have such a fabulous programming team. I know Eddie had a bit more involvement particularly with one film. Our programming team is wonderful in curating these films. They’re people who genuinely know and love movies. That’s what’s so wonderful in having HBO Max. It’s not gonna be an algorithm telling you what to watch. It’s going to be people who know and love movies. But as you said, I’m a big supporter of women behind the camera so I was very excited to see the wealth of movies on HBO Max directed by women from all over the world and hopefully people can delve into those as those films will stay on the service once the festival is over.

Eddie: I’ve been hosting on TCM for 5 years and I do enjoy the fact that we are like a family. While, on occasion, I do make a formal pitch for something, when I talk with the programmers a lot of times it’s just conversational. And I forget about it. And then I’m surprised when something comes up. And there’s no ego thing involved. It’s just like wow, they’re listening. They Won’t Believe Me, the film I’m showing right after Bullitt on May 8th is a film I’ve been lobbying to have resorted for almost 20 years. The fact that this finally happened. I really had nothing to do with the resoriation of it other than being a complete pain to the owners of the film to say that they really must restore this possible and I knew it was possible. So that delights me to no end.

Awards Radar: Jacqueline (Stewart), you host Silent Sunday Nights on TCM which showcases silent films from all over the world. Can you speak a bit to the silent films that are showcased as part of this year’s festival that you’re especially proud of?

Jacqueline: Sure, well one of them is So This Is Paris by Ernst Lubitsch. A really entertaining film. It’s a film that allows us to see some of the shifts in Lubutch’s approach between the silent and sound period. But then also some continuity. People always talk about the Lubitsch Touch, the way he brings the kind of sophistication and wit to the dialogue between his characters. Even in the intertitles and the silent acting style in the film, the Touch is there already. People think silent films are silent, but they’re not. They always are accompanied by music. And we have a new score by the brilliant Ben Model that he composed for the version of the film we’re sharing. And the film has a very crazy, kind of musical scene with The Charlston. There’s a musicality to silent films that people don’t necessarily recognize. And then we have a tribute to Georges Melies as part of the HBO Max part of the festival. He was a magician and translated those techniques to his filmmaking. So people will see restored versions of his films. Also get to see the kinds of color elements that he incorporated in those films that were not always replicated when people showed his films in later years. I think it’s really going to give the earliest pioneers in medium their due.

Awards Radar: Also, I believe you joined TCM just under 2 years ago and this is your second Fest as a host. What has the experience been like getting ready for the Fest both last year and this year with this fairly new role of yours at TCM?

Jacqueline: And both of them virtual. I’m very fortunate that I was able to attend two festivals before I was a host in person. It’s amazing to me how hard the TCM team has been working in re-creating the liveness of the in-person festival. I had been on the air once with Ben Mankewicz. And I was running into people all day every day who had seen me talk about these early Black cast films and the warmth of the community and TCM fans. People are just so committed as a community. We’re fully expecting that folks will just turn out in these spaces we’re creating. I’m ready to live-tweet and try to treat it as much as possible as an in-person experience and show appreciation to the fans by responding to as many questions as I can.

Awards Radar: Dave (Karger), did you have any impact on adding to the festival lineup this year that you’re especially proud of?

Dave: All of the selections of the films are done by our programming team. We’re in awe of them. The fun and joy of it is that if there’s something that we have a personal connection to, we’re able to reach out to the TCM executives like I did and say “I interviewed Antwone Fisher 19 years ago and had an interesting experience with him. I would love it if you don’t already have someone in mind for that, I would love to do that”. That’s where we’re able to give more of our impact on the festival and get to have those experiences that we think we would be right for. That was really fascinating to come full circle. Although it was a bit distressing to realize a movie that I covered earlier in my career is now considered a classic.

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Written by Max Geschwind

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