When all eyes turned to New Orleans, I thought, finally, things will change.
Jane Fonda made the peace sign as she dipped her hand in wet cement during the April 27 autograph ceremony at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre. The ebullient two-time Academy Award winner addressed a crowd of hundreds of fans, reporters, relatives and celebrities, including brother Peter Fonda, Jim Carrey and Eva Langoria.
"What's particularly special to me is that I'm going to be right next to my dad," said Fonda, referring to the slabs of concrete bearing the footprints and handprints of both herself and father Henry Fonda along with those of the other stars that decorate the Chinese Theatre's world famous courtyard near Hollywood Boulevard's fabled "Walk of Fame."
Referring again to her famous father, who starred in progressive pictures such as the Spanish Civil War drama "Blockade" and the pro-union "The Grapes of Wrath," the joyous Jane declared: "I can feel his presence right now, and he used to say to me, 'Jane, don't let this town walk all over you!' Well, Dad, right now the town can walk over both of us."
Forming a "V" with her fingers, Fonda waved the peace sign -- which she'd immortalized in cement -- as members of the audience did likewise and held cardboard signs supporting the actress who is next portraying Nancy Reagan in the upcoming movie "The Butler."
Jane Fonda's hand and footprints at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre. Photo by Ed Rampell.
The occasion for this bestowal of one of Hollywood's highest honors was the fourth annual TCM Classic Film Festival. After the cement ceremony, Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, who'd emceed the event, interviewed the iconic activist actress prior to a packed screening at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre movie palace of 1981's "On Golden Pond," the only film Fonda acted in with her father. She choked up while discussing shooting intimate scenes with the aging Henry, who went on to win his sole Best Actor Oscar for the role Jane had handpicked for him. Fonda also impersonated and dished the dirt on co-star Katharine Hepburn, revealing that after Jane failed to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar she called to congratulate Hepburn on winning her fourth golden statuette, who cackled: "Now you'll never catch up to me!" in terms of Oscars won.
The TCM Classic Film Festival, which took place in Hollywood April 25-28, presented personal appearances by movie greats, such as Fonda's "Coming Home" co-star Jon Voight with his "Deliverance" co-actor Burt Reynolds, Tippi Hedren of "The Birds" and and Swedish actor Max Von Sydow. The festival also screened vintage films, including a number with progressive themes.
On the opening night Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1958 "South Pacific" was screened poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz -- grandson of "Citizen Kane" co-screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz -- moderated a talk with the musical's 70-something co-stars, the feisty Mitzi Gaynor (Nurse Nellie of Little Rock) and France Nuyen (Liat, the "Happy Talk" girl).
Mankiewicz pointed out that "South Pacific" "teaches a very powerful message... The idea that people of different races can fall in love was a big deal in the 1950s." The spunky Gaynor interjected, citing the specific song Mankiewicz was referring to, "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," which stresses that racism is inculcated into children. As Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics put it, "Before you are six, seven or eight... You've got to be taught to be afraid, of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade, You've got to be carefully taught."
"We almost lost that song," Nuyen revealed, because the studio executives wanted it cut from the film version of the Broadway hit. But Gaynor insisted, "Oscar wouldn't stand for it. He was really a fine man. He was for world peace."
In "South Pacific," the "younger than springtime" Liat is Tonkinese -- from northern Vietnam -- and has a red hot love affair with a Marine, Lt. Cable (John Kerr), just a few years, ironically, before the bogus Gulf of Tonkin incident led to LBJ's escalation of the Vietnam War. (Make love, not war -- indeed!)
Hammerstein also has a screen credit in 1943's "The Desert Song," which Osborne called, "The movie more than any other I want to see at the Festival because it hasn't been seen for 45 years," due to a rights dispute. In this Warner Bros. Technicolor musical. Dennis Morgan plays a Yank who fought in the Spanish Civil War, then relocates to Morocco, where he leads the Riffs as the masked "El Khobar" in their struggle against forced labor under French colonialism. He reconciles the French and Riffs who join forces to fight the Nazis in this movie about desert warfare and Arabs resisting foreign occupation made decades before "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Battle of Algiers." In the grand finale, the Arab masses sing a perfect expression of the WWII era's anti-fascist films: "There's a place beneath the sun for all, When all is for one and all for one."
Two Festival screenings dealt with the Hollywood Blacklist, which purged those Popular Front movies. Eva Marie Saint presented 1954's "On the Waterfront," with its coded justification of informing, made by screenwriter Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan, ex-Communists who "named names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s. Beau Bridges, son of actor Lloyd Bridges -- who ran afoul of the Blacklist -- co-introduced with author Eddie Muller the gripping 1950 black and white film noir classic "Try and Get Me," wherein Lloyd plays a murderer who is killed by a lynch mob, following a riot whipped up by yellow journalism. Muller said the class conscious movie came out "at the height of the Hollywood witch-hunt and was deemed 'un-American' at the time because of its vigilante justice."
This made Bridges' eyebrows rise, and he added, "Cy Endfield [the director, who subsequently went into exile in England] was a victim of the witch-hunt, like my dad... My father was in Stanley Kramer's  'Home of the Brave,' the first film about racism. Because dad took the Black star home to dinner they called him a 'Communist' and said you've got to talk to the Committee [HUAC]."
In his introduction to William Wellman's 1931 pre-Code film "Safe in Hell," which is set at a Caribbean island, Donald Bogle -- the preeminent historian of the African-American screen image -- noted that the Black actors Clarence Muse, Noble Johnson and Nina Mae McKinney did not behave or speak in the stereotypical manner usually associated with Black actors during Hollywood's not-so-Golden Age.
Documentarian Albert Maysles, who along with his brother David was a pioneer of cinema verite, was celebrated with screenings of the Maysles Brothers' 1970 "Gimme Shelter" -- about the Rolling Stones' disastrous Altamont concert -- and 1968's "Salesman," which followed a quartet of Bible peddlers hawking their wares around the country.
In an interview with Mankiewicz preceding "Salesman" the 86-year-old said, "The film parallels what's going on at Wall Street. It's about the defects of the capitalist system. Maybe I should make a film about Wall Street?" Maysles mused, causing the audience to applaud.
In describing his fly-on-the-wall technique with lighter camera and sound recording equipment that allowed the Maysles to be more mobile and less intrusive, Albert stated that he aims to reveal a "genuine experience... where the camera isn't in the way... Engagement, that's the word I love. I give my hearts to my subjects," who he "humanizes," from "Grey Gardens'" eccentric Beales to the Beatles in "What's Happening!" and "The First U.S. Visit" to "Meet Marlon Brando" to boxer Muhammad Ali to the rockers of "Monterey Pop" to the Roma of "When the Road Bends: Tales of a Gypsy Caravan."
From the Fondas to a screening of Robert Redford's 1975 anti-CIA "Three Days of the Condor," attended by thousands of fans, the TCM Classic Film Festival proves there's still an audience for period motion pictures, including those in glorious black and white, and even silent movies with Buster Keaton and Clara Bow accompanied by live orchestras. The film fete also shows that progressive cinema is one of the essentials of Hollywood history. Perhaps at next year's TCM Fest Peter Fonda will dip the tire of his "Easy Rider" motorcycle in wet cement at the TCL Chinese Theatre.
For more info see: http://filmfestival.tcm.com/.