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An interesting roster of films this day.

My 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival Diary: Day Two

I started my day with the World Premiere Restoration of Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career (1979). She sat down with Illeana Douglas for a very interesting discussion that revealed she was the first Australian woman in 50 years to direct a film since the the McDonagh sisters and she felt the weight of that pressure for all women upon her shoulders. Initially, another actress had Judy Davis’s lead role, but after six months of preproduction, Armstrong didn’t like her screen test and recast it. Certainly seems like the right decision as Davis is brilliant.

Set in late 19th century Australia, Sybylla (Judy Davis) is a girl ahead of her time, not happy with the limitations society has placed upon young ladies. Not content with life on her parents’ farm, she is sent to her grandmother’s where some may think she is being groomed to be a wife, but no one checked with Sybylla. She begins a romantic relationship with childhood friend Harry Beecham (Sam Neill), but it’s not until the end that the audience learns that the love story they are watching is of Sybylla for herself.

It was quite the dichotomy to watch a film about a woman with such a fierce independence and then watch one where the women are so reliant on men in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). This romantic comedy finds Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall), Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable), and Pola DeBevoise (Marilyn Monroe) looking for love and financial security. The women are staying in the penthouse apartment of Freddie Denmark, who is hiding from the IRS in Europe. Was rather amusing to see the women sell off his furnishing to pay their bills. The movie was fun but certainly little in the way of suspense as it ends up where one expects.

Following the success of Watermelon Man, Melvin Van Peebles passed on a studio deal and made his landmark independent film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), which he wrote, directed, scored, edited, and starred. Melvin was in attendance for the discussion beforehand, but am not sure he was aware of it from his responses to University of Chicago film professor Jacqueline Stewart. Luckily, his son Mario, who made Baadasssss! about what his father went through as a director, was there to offer insight on his father and the film. In creating a strong, sexual black hero that “had enough of the Man,” which is referred to in the dedication, the film and its success helped pave the way for Blaxploitation, although Song doesn’t belong in that genre. While there’s denying its historical significance, Song is a mess.

Sweetback (Melvin Van Peebles) works in a sex show and is set up by two white detectives to take the fall for a murder, knowing he should be released due to lack of evidence. However, things go sideways when the cops also arrest a Black Panther, whom they attack, leading Sweetback to beat the cops so bad he sends them to hospital. He has a series of adventures while on the lam. Sweetback heads to the Mexican border and we see him run. A lot. Too much in fact. An editor could have helped Melvin tighten the pace to the film’s improvement. And while I liked some of his non-traditional editing choices and use of optical effects, like psychedelic colors, their overuse undercut their effectiveness.

There’s strong sexual content, and one scene surely wouldn’t fly today because it happens between an underage Sweetback (Melvin Van Peebles) and an older prostitute. It’s clearly an awakening in the character but his young age and inability to give consent may spoil the scene for some modern viewers.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) tells the story of Rockwell P. Hunter (Tony Randall), an advertising executive who has a scheme to keep from losing the company’s biggest account, Stay-Put Lipstick, by signing sexpot actress Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield) to be the brand’s spokeswoman. She is interested but only if Rockwell will pose as her boyfriend in order to make her actual boyfriend and TV star Bobo Branigansky (Mickey Hargitay, who Mansfield would marry in 1958) jealous. News of their “relationship” leaks, and Rockwell becomes a major heartthrob in the tabloids, something he and his fiancée Jenny (Betsy Drake) aren’t too happy about.

Writer/director Frank Tashlin used little of the Broadway play for this funny send-up of media and celebrity, poking at Hollywood, Madison Ave, and fans, which is just as accurate over 60 years later. Randall, whose character wasn’t in the play, makes a great Rock as his mild-mannered man handles the absurdities of show business. Mansfield, who played the character on Broadway, is wonderful as a beauty who has more brains than she lets on.

I called an audible, skipping the TCMFF midnight show, which has been disappointing the past few years, in favor of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) at the El Capitan Theatre so it wouldn’t be spoiled. I am glad I did because it was a highlight and a future classic film in my book.

Read my coverage of Day 1 and Day 3.

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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