February Highlights on TCM
In partnership with The Film Foundation, Turner Classic Movies is proud to bring you this exclusive monthly column by iconic film director and classic movie lover Martin Scorsese.
31 Days of Oscar® - Every February, TCM devotes their programming to the history of the Academy Awards®. I've pointed out before that you tend to see the same names turning up from year to year. And sometimes, when I settle my mind and consider the programming, the contrasts and juxtapositions start to interest me and set me on a train of thought. For instance, Our Town, made independently in 1940, and King's Row, made two years later at Warner Bros. The first is an adaptation of Thornton Wilder's play, one of the most famous titles in American theatre. The second is based on a scandalous best-selling novel by Henry Bellamann. Both have distinctive musical scores; the first by the American composer Aaron Copland and the second by the Viennese emigré Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who worked at Warner Bros. Both pictures are about small-town life in America, though set in very different parts of the country (New Hampshire and the Midwest, respectively). And both were made by the team of Sam Wood and William Cameron Menzies. Wood is credited as the director and Menzies as the Production Designer (he was the first to take that credit), but they functioned as co-directors. I think that Our Town and Kings Row are great films. The first one feels homemade while the second has the flavor of a Warner Bros. production: the first is framed from a cosmic perspective while the second is earthbound, a pure melodrama. As movies, I don't believe that one is better than the other, and I find the contrast between them absorbing and rewarding.
There are also two different pictures shot by Haskell Wexler, separated by 16 years and coming out of two extremely different eras in American moviemaking. America America was Elia Kazan's most personal film and one of his best, like Our Town a truly handmade independent project. Kazan wrote the story himself, based on the experience of his uncle as he did anything he could to get out of Anatolian Greece and Turkey at the turn of the century and make his way to America. Wexler, who came out of documentary and semi-documentary filmmaking and had a sense of immediacy that matched his artistry, had many political differences with Kazan, but they had nothing but mutual respect as artists. A decade later, right around the time that Kazan was making his last picture, there was a project making its way through the Hollywood studios that Wexler was slated to direct, an adaptation of Woody Guthrie's autobiography Bound for Glory (Wexler actually knew Guthrie from their days in the Merchant Marine during WWII). The project wound up in the hands of Hal Ashby, a remarkable filmmaker, with David Carradine in the lead (it also happens to be the first picture to make extensive use of the Steadicam), and you could see it as either "studio" or "homemade," depending on your perspective. Taken together, America America and Bound for Glory represent peaks of artistic ambition from two moments in American cinema, both long gone, and two distinctive ways of bringing history alive on the screen.
by Martin Scorsese