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Scorsese Screens - February 2013
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Remind Me

February Highlights on TCM

TCM is organizing their 31 Days of OscarĀ® festival a little differently this year, with a series of tributes to studios large and small, from MGM and Warner Bros. to Allied Artists and Svensk Filmindustri. I wanted to draw attention to a few of the producers who started their own companies and competed with the majors.

DAVID O. SELZNICK was the son of distributor Lewis Selznick, and he worked his way up during the silent era and was appointed RKO's Head of Production in the early '30s. Selznick was behind several excellent films there before he formed his own production unit at MGM with Val Lewton as his right-hand man. Within two years, he set up his own studio, which is where he gambled on Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (February 14, 8pm). I recently took a fresh look at that picture, and I never cease to be amazed at its vigor and dynamism, and by the sweep and sheer beauty of its visual storytelling. There were many hands in Gone With the Wind, as everyone knows, and the great production designer William Cameron Menzies gives it a remarkable visual uniformity, but it's Selznick's picture through and through, as is the 1948 Portrait of Jennie (February 14, 4:30am). His pictures with Alfred Hitchcock are a different story, balanced between their two sensibilities, some of them (like Notorious; February 12, 10:15pm) leaning decidedly in Hitchcock's direction, others (like Rebecca on February 14 at 12am, and Spellbound at 2:30am) leaning a little more toward Selznick. There was a time when it was fashionable to dismiss Selznick as a meddling and obsessive producer who drove directors crazy. But with every passing year, the beauty and the grandeur of his pictures have grown, and the extraordinary care with which they were made has come to seem increasingly unusual.

WALTER WANGER, like Selznick, also made his name during the silent era, and formed his own company in the mid- '30s. However, he had a different temperament. He didn't make epics like Selznick, but smaller-scaled pictures with interesting tones, themes and stories. Wanger made one of the only Hollywood films to deal with the Spanish Civil War as it was happening (Blockade, being shown as part of the tribute on February 21 at 8am, which was written by one of the most famous members of the Hollywood Ten, John Howard Lawson), and he appeared to have good relationships with many directors, including Don Siegel, Anthony Mann, Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford. Like Selznick, Wanger turned to Menzies on a few occasions. Menzies is credited with "special production effects" on Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (another topical picture, airing February 21 at 5:45pm), but you can feel his presence keenly throughout the picture, particularly during the remarkable windmill sequence. And Wanger made two great films with Ford: Stagecoach (February 21, 1:45pm) and the slightly lesser known Long Voyage Home (February 21, 3:45pm), a lovely mood piece shot by Gregg Toland and adapted from four plays by Eugene O'Neill, who adored the picture. Wanger later became known for another reason, when he was arrested and convicted of shooting his wife Joan Bennett's lover, the agent Jennings Lang. However, his brief moment of infamy (which resulted in the film Riot in Cell Block 11) seems unimportant in comparison with his rich body of work.

I also want to say a word for SAMUEL GOLDWYN, who was one of the people who built the motion picture business. As was the case with Selznick, it was once fashionable to dismiss Goldwyn, but many of the pictures he produced have become more impressive over the years. He had a fraught relationship with William Wyler, but together they created some of the high points in American cinema. Two of them--Dodsworth (February 26, 8pm) and The Best Years of Our Lives (10pm)--are being shown in this program.

by Martin Scorsese

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