The long-awaited live Hollywood return of the TCM Classic Film Festival arrived Thursday night with a biggie: The 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 masterpiece E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. TCM had to go virtual the past couple of years so getting back to normal with the four-day fest in the heart of Hollywood is welcome news indeed, and spirits were high at this Coachella for movie nerds. Sporting a brand-new remastered Imax print, the beloved film has never looked better and was especially impressive taking up every inch of that giant screen at the TCL Chinese Theatre, where the gala event took place.
Previously announced appearances by co-stars Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore did not materialize as each was stuck with prior commitments and couldn’t make the trip, but other stars of the film including Dee Wallace and Robert McNaughton were introduced in the audience, as well as several artisans who worked on the movie including film editor Carol Littleton, production designer Jim Bissell and sound Designer Ben Burtt, among others.
But it was the presence of Spielberg that really got the capacity crowd going as he sat for a 27-minute Q&A with TCM primetime host Ben Mankiewicz before the film rolled. Mankiewicz skillfully weaved the conversation through the beginnings of the multi-Oscar winner’s legendary career including his first studio job — which, at age 22, was directing none other than Joan Crawford in the TV pilot of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. This TCM golden-era-movie-loving audience certainly appreciated hearing about that, but Spielberg assured there was no evidence of any kind of “Mommie Dearest” personality in his relationship with the screen legend; in fact, he pointed out she had Pepsi Cola machines installed (her then-husband was a major player at Pepsi) and provided for cast and crew 24/7.
There was also talk of his classic 1971 ABC TV movie Duel and a nifty tale about how the network paid for reshoots so the truck could be blown to smithereens instead of the more subtle Hitchcockian approach the young director had shot. Of course pre-E.T. classics Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) were discussed, including Spielberg saying the casting of the great great French director Francois Truffaut in the latter was one of the great honors of his career to this day. He also admitted the next film he did, the epic comedy 1941, was indeed a critical and box office failure but because he had such major success with the other films, the studio gave him carte blanche. He pointed out that for about 20 years its reputation was not pretty, but I saw it in a beautiful print at American Cinematheque a few years ago and it really is a movie that deserves a second look. It was much better than I remembered — even if as Spielberg now says, “We made a comedy with no laughs.”
Finally the conversation landed on all things E.T., with lots of interesting revelations including the fact that the original voice of E.T. was none other than Spielberg friend Debra Winger, who supplied the voice for an early version. “The first 50 people I showed the film to actually saw it with Debra Winger as E.T.,” he said. Like always, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time the end credits rolled. Check out the entire conversation by clicking the link in the photo at the top of the post.
In that Q&A Spielberg also talks about the infamous audition tape of Henry Thomas, who plays the titular role of Elliott. A scene reading from the script didn’t go so well, so they decided to ask young Thomas to improvise something after it is explained authorities are trying to take away a creature he has hiding in the house. The rest is history. You can hear the voice of Spielberg confirming he got the job at the end. Check it out here:
Spielberg returns to the fest tonight to help introduce (with George Stevens Jr. and Margaret Bodde) the world premiere of Warner Bros and Film Foundation’s new 4K restoration of George Stevens’ Oscar-winning 1956 classic Giant, which starred Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean (in his third and final movie). TCM recently announced it has expanded its partnership with a multi-year financial commitment to The Film Foundation, which was founded by Martin Scorsese 30 years ago and has restored a staggering 900 movie classics so far. Scorsese and fellow board member Spielberg hand-picked Giant for this restoration.
“Anything that presumes to call itself Giant better have the goods to keep such a lofty promise,” Spielberg said in a statement announcing the TCM Classic Film Festival premiere. “Both Edna Ferber and George Stevens far exceeded the title to bring such an epic American story to the big screen, and I’m proud to have been a small part of the restoration team of this classic motion picture.”
The new 4K restoration was completed sourcing both the original camera negatives and protection RGB separation master positives for the best possible image and color corrected in high dynamic range for the latest picture display technology. The audio was sourced primarily from a 1995 protection copy of the Original Magnetic Mono soundtrack. The picture and audio restoration was completed by Warner Bros. Post Production Creative Services: Motion Picture Imaging and Post Production Sound.
Meanwhile, among other special moments at this year’s fest will be Sunday’s screening of the Oscar-winning 1952 western High Noon, celebrating its 70th anniversary appropriately at noon. Among those introducing it will be star Gary Cooper’s daughter Maria Cooper Janis, who then will hit the freeway to USC, where she also will talk about High Noon when it screens as the USC School Of Cinematic Arts premieres its six-month Gary Cooper Exhibition featuring all kinds of artifacts from Cooper’s iconic career. She will join me on a panel following the film that also includes Amanda Foreman, daughter of the film’s screenwriter Carl Foreman, and Glenn Frankel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. Gary Cooper won his second Best Actor Oscar for the movie, which might be even more timely now than when it was made.
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