Thursday April 22 marked the midpoint between the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

TCM’s festival (Thursday April 22 – Sunday April 25) marks another evolutionary stage for the specialty TV channel that boasted (and still does offer) classic movies, uncut, commercial-free, and in widescreen. From books to merchandise and tie-ins with Warner Home Video as well as the Warner Archives Collection, it seemed natural that the channel (which has domestic variants in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Spain, France, Latin America, Asia, and Germany) would take a stab at a film festival.

There remain countless neglected films, unrestored classics and rarely seen gems to discover, and certainly one advantage is to see them on the big screen in classic Hollywood movie palaces. Including film prints.

For TCM, it shows them to be a patron of the commercial arts, and that’s not a bad stance, since TCM’s offerings are essentially classic Hollywood fare, and their film festival is the perfect launching pad for recent restorations to make their international or North American premieres, which in turn help publicize the DVDs and Blu-ray releases coming soon.

TCMCFF isn’t a blatant commercial event, as it does bring attention to film preservation and the results of hard work and results from much-needed financial support. Theatrical runs also help sell physical home video product, and as digital downloads continue to erode the sale of hardcopies (and perhaps eclipse them), theatrical runs will be the deluxe presentation of a film.

Kind of like the old road show engagements of event films in theatres at premium prices, as was popular during the sixties, except with far shorter theatrical windows. Roughly $20 gets you the IMAX or 3D version, before it slides to home video.

In Toronto, there’s a problem with those deluxe theatrical venues; we don’t have enough centrally located IMAX screens (er, we have ONE), for example, and the bulk of the multi-screen houses have been relocated to the Dundas line, leaving areas like Bloor and Yonge weaker.

(That intersection, as well as a long stretch of Bloor, once housed several big screen theatres before they were razed and replaced by condos. Maybe the boost in density might prompt a rethink, but if the inhabitants are strictly property investors and seasonal inhabitants, a deluxe theatre centre ain’t gonna happen.)

In any event, in the case of TCM, they have the venues and audience base for classic films, whereas Toronto has been oddly ignored by the U.S. when it comes to premieres and touring classics. The norm of Los Angeles-New York-Toronto for premiere North American engagements is kind of gone, and the test will be whether we’ll get some of the goodies premiering at TCMCFF, or will have to wait for the home video edition instead of that one-time theatrical run.

Top-lining the first day of TCMCFF’s line-up is the restored version of A Star Is Born (1954), which was first reconstructed as close as possible to its original nearly 3-hour length in 1983, but given an overhaul using contemporary technologies. That film is joined by Monkey Business (1952), Casablanca (1948), the rarely seen Frank Capra adventure-drama Dirigible (1931), and the Janet Gaynor comedy-musical Sunnyside and Up (1929).

With the exception of the last two, everything else is available on DVD, in case you want to program your own selective TCMCFF. (Casablanca is also available on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video, who will release A Star Is Born on DVD and BR June 22nd.)

Also worth hunting down is Ronald Haver’s 2002 book, A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration for a detailed background of what was, at the time, one of the biggest archival hunts in film history – the missing footage of this once-maligned classic.

Over the weekend, I’ll have reviews of some of the titles still unavailable in North America, but released on DVD in Europe. For details of the goodies being offered, check out TCMCFF’s website.

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The TJFF began last Saturday April 17, but the big event was the Canadian premiere of Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today, a 1948 documentary of the postwar trials that was designed as a de-Nazification tool for the allies. There exists Russian and German versions, but the English version was never completed, as it was thought the contents – which includes some concentration camp footage – was unsuitable for schools, and an American populace the government felt was better served focusing on rebuilding the economy than dour WWII horrors.

Reconstructed in 2009 from various sources with a new narration track, Nuremberg premiered to a sold out house, but the TJFF have slated a second screening this Sunday (the festival’s last day) at the Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Cinemas at Yonge & Sheppard. (Check TJFF’s website for further details.)

No word on whether the guest roster from the premiere - restoration project director Sandra Schulberg, restoration picture/sound editor Josh Waletzky, and CBC Journalist Evan Solomon - will be present, but those unable to get tickets the first time around will be able to catch the film on the big screen, and absorb its intensity before it inevitably makes its way to DVD. (More info on the film can also be found at the film's official website.)

This year’s offerings are quite diverse, and perhaps the two main strands that dominate the content are the consequences of the Third Reich’s anti-Semitic doctrines, and Jewish artistry and culture in comic books and humour.

Some of the films have repeat screenings, and the venues include the Al Green Theatre, the Bloor Cinema, Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Centre Cinemas, and the SilverCity Richmond Hill Cinemas.

I’m thematically grouping some of the reviews of films I’ve seen at the festival, and will have the first set up Saturday: The Brothers Warner (recently released on DVD by WHV), Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood (recently aired on PBS), and Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust, a Canadian premiere.

Lastly, I’ll also have a round-up of this week’s recent soundtrack releases, followed by several CD reviews.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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