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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

TCM Explores Comedy, Now and in the Spring

Do you like funny movies? Then the TCM sponsored online course, Ouch: A Salute to Slapstick is for you. And the 2017 TCMFF with its theme of Comedy is a must destination. With a prep course in the oft misunderstood genre of Slapstick, TCM is betting the broad theme will please the masses come next April.

Last summer, TCM (Turner ClassicMovies) collaborated with Ball State University to create an online course on Noir. It was a huge success with more than 8,000 people signing up to discover and explore the nuances of the dark and mysterious genre. I was one of those thousands who participated, and I now proudly display a certificate of completion on my office wall (I also have a commemorative t-shirt listing some of the iconic films studied in that course). Naturally, this year there was high anticipation within the online community that there would be another stimulating topic of study. However, without any official confirmation of a 2016 course there was some fear as the summer went on that there might not be one at all. So, it came as a huge relief to fans when the announcement was finally made that Ball State is once again working with TCM to present an online study program, and this time the theme is Slapstick Comedy. Brilliant!

Like Noir, Slapstick is a genre that is often misunderstood and under appreciated. Any organized examination of its origins, history and specific properties is a natural fit for TCM and fans of classic cinema. Although the class officially started August 28, enrollment is open until September 19th. Students are joining all the time, and its really just gotten started. So, don’t feel as if you’re too far behind at this point to join. The course is designed for each person to follow at there own pace so catching up is very doable, but I encourage you to get on board as soon as possible so as not to miss out on the fun. And if you’ve got TCM at home you’ll be able to “play along” with their synchronized programming of Slapstick comedies, scheduled to mimic the films highlighted in each week’s discussions.

Now, coincidentally round about the same time the subject of this year’s online course was revealed so was the theme to the 2017 Classic Film Festival. Interestingly, the theme is Comedy... and just comedy. Not a specific kind of comedy, just comedy. This is a surprise to many as it’s just so broad. In the past some of the themes have been Travel, History, Family and last year’s vague and some what intriguing motif, “Moving Pictures”. Of all of the online discussions I’ve encountered I have yet to hear anyone be notably enthusiastic about the theme of Comedy. It’s just not very specific and leaves a lot of room for interpretation that it questions the need for a theme at all. My small group of steady contributors and I got together to briefly discuss the choice and the result is the attached recording below (if you use the Chrome server you may not be able to play).

The biggest question right now on every TCMFF fan’s mind is, “what will be the opening night film”? Obviously, it will have to be a major, influential and popular comedy. So what does that mean? And most likely it will be in color, as well as produced after 1950 since these are the parameters of past opening night films. That doesn’t mean TCM wont shake things up and do something completely different. However, lavish, Technicolor spectacles do make for a much more spectacular presentation. And if there’s an anniversary involved with a restoration and the potential of the appearance of cast and director showing up then you’ve really got a great pick for a red carpet gala. With the strong connection TCM has with director Mel Brooks, Blazing Saddles would make an excellent choice IF it hadn’t already played the festival in 2014.

So based on these parameters what could be the big film of the 2017 TCMFF? I say something produced either in 1957, 1962, or 1967. That way you’ll be assured of a significant anniversary milestone without the film being too young for the die-hard cinephiles who like their movies to be very old. Lets focus on a 50 year old film first for arguments sake. I have no idea what might be in the works for a restoration as we speak but here are some intriguing possibilities for a spectacular night at the movies. What about Funny Face, Silk Stockings, or even Les Girls? Put the fifty year old Warner Bros. cartoon What’s Opera Doc in front of it and you’ve got a pretty impressive evening. Any of those choices would also stick with the festival’s tendency to show a musical on opening night. If not a musical then I think The Prince and the Showgirl would suit just fine. Or even Designing Women, or Desk Set. For a choice that’s a little younger you’ve got The Music Man, Gypsy and That Touch of Mink celebrating their 45th anniversary. Casino Royal, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Thoroughly Modern Millie are all tuning 40.

What will be really interesting is to see what ends up on the program in general that hasn’t already played at one of the previous seven festivals. Maybe that’s the real reason for the broad theme? If they were to get too specific it would make it too challenging to come up with a reasonably impressive line up. After all, there have been very few repeats year after year. Any year now, that’s going to be a difficult task to complete. So enjoy the themes while you can, because I predict at some point they’ll have to abandon the idea all together. It just won’t be sustainable. Either way I’ll be on the edge of my seat waiting for the big announcement, and every announcement after that until the 2017 TCMFF schedule is fully revealed.

As ever, I’m Care Respect for Classic Films

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