On Wednesday, March 16, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will celebrate the film preservation work of The Museum of Modern Art with 24-hour program of 14 films drawn from MoMA’s collection. Chief curator of film Rajendra Roy and I flew to Los Angeles in late February to tape cohosting spots with the well-known TCM host Robert Osborne. We were eager to be a part of TCM’s ongoing commitment to spotlighting efforts to protect the world’s cinema heritage. And we also got to sit in the red leather chairs during the interview with Mr. Osborne!
In August 2010, I was contacted by Charles Tabesh, a TCM producer based in New York City, about MoMA’s participation in a special program focusing on our film preservation efforts. TCM had previously invited the UCLA Film and Television Archive to program their treasures in September 2010, and now it was MoMA’s turn. Along with a few of my Department of Film colleagues, we drew up a list of about 20 to 30 films to offer to TCM. The initial list was a first-rate cross section of the collection, including silent and sound, black-and-white and color, shorts and features, and classic and contemporary films. The MoMA film collection is the strongest international film collection in the United States and it incorporates all periods and genres. After some serious discussion and dozens of e-mails with TCM about which films best represent our preservation work and highlight our relationships with supporters such as The Film Foundation and Sony Pictures Entertainment, we had a final list of 14 outstanding films.
The next step was working out the logistics of which four films Raj and I would select to cohost in prime time with Robert Osborne. The 24-hour MoMA marathon begins at 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 16, with Bringing Up Baby (1938), the Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn classic, but it is in prime time—the hours from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m.—when viewership is at its highest. So if you tune in at 8:00 p.m. you will see me chatting with Robert Osborne about Weddings and Babies (1958), by New York independent filmmaker Morris Engel. Following at 9:30 p.m. is Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse (1957), a Technicolor melodrama set on the French Riviera and starring David Niven, with Raj as Mr. Osborne’s cohost. Night owls will be treated to The Projectionist (1970) by Harry Hurwitz, with Robert Osborne and me talking about the challenges of preserving this film and keeping the black-and-white tones neutral and color-free. Finally, at 2:00 a.m., Raj returns to present F. W. Murnau’s iconic Sunrise (1927), in conversation with Robert Osborne.
With the 24-hour line-up in place, Raj and I flew to Los Angels to tape cohosted introductions for the four prime-time films with Robert Osborne. When we arrived at the studio, we entered through a massive garage space where craft services—the people who provide the on set meals—were standing by to prepare any sort of breakfast desired by the cast and crew. I guess I was part of the “cast” that day and enjoyed a freshly cooked omelet with chorizo and arugula. The craft services manager, a cheerful lady named Pat, told me she picked the arugula as well as the other greens that morning from her garden in the Hollywood Hills. Considering I left New York when it was snowing, I was suitably impressed with the bounty of her garden and the Southern California sunshine. Once done with breakfast I was taken to the green room where my name and Raj’s were posted on the door; an unexpected but fun welcome from TCM.
In the green room, which was just upstairs from the studio, you could hear the piped-in audio of Robert Osborne on the set with Conan O’Brien. Once O’Brien’s interview was over, and after a quick stop for hair and makeup, Raj and I were escorted to the set. In short order TCM host Robert Osborne appeared on set and greeted me. Mr. Osborne is a tall, handsome gentleman who regular TCM viewers know as the avuncular guide to classic movies. The director, Sean Cameron, joined Robert and me on set to go over the three-camera set-up and when to look and when not to look at the camera. After taking a deep breath and nodding I was ready, the interview commenced. Osborne, who immediately made me feel at ease, asked about the making of Weddings and Babies and the lightweight, handheld 35mm camera Engel and his partner Charlie Woodruff created. This camera allowed the production to fluidly move the film from the confines of an indoor shoot to explore New York City as the cinematic location. I realized at that moment that there was no need for any worry as I knew the material “inside/out” and would be able to field any question that came my way.
The entire interview, which included a post-screening conversation about Weddings and Babies as well as pre- and post-screening discussion for The Projectionist, took about an hour. Raj was next on set, and he spoke with Osborne about MoMA’s enduring work as a leader in the field of film preservation, Bonjour Tristesse, and Sunrise. Another hour passed, and it was time to go.
Our new friends at TCM sent Raj and I off with several TCM souvenirs, but the lasting souvenir of that experience is the appreciation you could feel on the set and from the staffers at TCM. They really care about the films they show, and were sincerely thankful for MoMA’s endeavors to preserve our cinematic heritage. Raj and I found kindred spirits on set at the Ben Kitay Studios that day, and we hope the MoMA audiences both here in New York and elsewhere will join us in celebration, March 16 on Turner Classic Movies.