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TCM Classic Film Festival: Steven Spielberg + George Clooney

TCM Classic Film Festival Steven SpielbergTCM Classic Film Festival with Steven Spielberg – filmmaker and The Film Foundation board member – discussing the importance of film preservation.
  • Filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Steven Soderbergh, and Paul Thomas Anderson, and actor (and sometime director) George Clooney were among the Hollywood celebrities in attendance at the 2023 edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival. Spielberg and Anderson discussed film preservation; Soderbergh and Clooney talked Ocean’s Eleven.
  • This year’s TCM Classic Film Festival was held from April 13–16 at several Hollywood venues.

At this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson discussed the importance of film preservation

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Besides Angie Dickinson, who introduced the screening of the 4K restoration of Howard Hawks’ 1959 Western Rio Bravo, also in attendance at the 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival’s opening night on April 13 were two-time Best Director Oscar winner Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, 1993; Saving Private Ryan, 1998) and three-time Best Director nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, 2007; etc.), both Film Foundation board members who, along with Warner Bros. Discovery CEO and self-avowed TCM fan David Zaslav, took part in a panel discussion about their film preservation efforts.

In answer to Ben Mankiewicz’s question as to how movies are selected for preservation, Spielberg explained:

“In 1990, Martin Scorsese put this entire Film Foundation together. … We all [including Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, and Francis Ford Coppola] sort of joined him to go around all the studios to get them to try to finance this rescue operation to save our cultural heritage. And we’ve been doing that. We’ve restored, since 1990, about 997 films.

“Early on, the decision was made to restore films that we thought united a director[‘s oeuvre] – collected the body of work of that filmmaker so nothing would be lost. And then we started to make decisions based on the quality of the negative, what was still survivable.

“… David and Warner Bros have their own archivalists [sic?] and they have titles they’d like, from the Warner Bros. archive, to be preserved. And every studio does have that. But we try to find the films – not the films that are our favorite movies, but films that tell a very unique story of this country and the people of this country.

And not only this country, but we’re rescuing experimental films, documentaries. We’re rescuing international films now. We’ve already rescued 97 international films.”

Rescuing Max Ophüls & Jules Dassin

Paul Thomas Anderson, for his part, told the TCM festival crowd that he had wanted Max Ophüls’ Caught cleaned up after realizing how difficult it was to find a decent print of the 1949 noir, while Jules Dassin’s 1964 heist caper Topkapi received a Film Foundation facelift (with funding from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) after Christopher Nolan noticed its lamentable state.

Following an explanation about the need for a movie’s original negative before a (quality) restoration can be effected, Spielberg added that at one time it had been all but impossible to find a good copy of the 1961 Western One-Eyed Jacks, directed by and starring Marlon Brando. And that led to a Film Foundation job.

Lastly, Zaslav singled out three socially conscious titles: Archie Mayo’s Black Legion (Humphrey Bogart joins the titular white nationalist organization), Anatole Litvak’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy (Edward G. Robinson goes after Nazis in the United States), and Elia Kazan’s Best Picture Oscar winner Gentleman’s Agreement (Gregory Peck sets out to demonstrate the pervasiveness of anti-Jewish bigotry in the U.S.).

Much work still to be done

In his initial reply to Ben Mankiewicz, Steven Spielberg affirmed that film preservation “is something that’s not going to stop.”

It better not. Thousands of titles remain in dire need of restoration.

Here are just four major ones from the Warner Bros. Entertainment library, all released within three years after the end of World War II: James V. Kern’s romantic comedy Never Say Goodbye, Raoul Walsh’s Western Silver River, Vincent Sherman’s noir melodrama Nora Prentiss, and George Stevens’ immigrant family drama I Rememer Mama (an RKO release), featuring names like Irene Dunne, Ann Sheridan, Errol Flynn, Eleanor Parker, Kent Smith, and Barbara Bel Geddes.

And let’s not even get started on the countless silent movies all but hidden from view at various archives. Or that are publicly available in subpar prints – e.g., Fred Niblo’s 1928 spy drama The Mysterious Lady (another Warner Bros. Entertainment title) that happens to be one of Greta Garbo’s last – and best – silent star vehicles.

Immediately below: Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Zaslav, and Ben Mankiewicz at the 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival.

George Clooney TCM Classic Film FestivalGeorge Clooney at the TCM Classic Film Festival: Remembering the 2001 Ocean’s Eleven reboot.

George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh remember the making of the 2001 blockbuster Ocean’s Eleven

On Friday, April 14, Oscar winners George Clooney (Syriana, 2005; as one of the producers of Argo, 2012) and Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, 2000) attended the screening of their 2001 Warner Bros. comedy Ocean’s Eleven, a loose remake of the 1960 Lewis Milestone original starring Frank Sinatra and friends, with added elements from Peter Yates’ 1972 heist comedy The Hot Rock.

After Clooney (one assumes) jokingly snapped at Ben Mankiewicz, “You know, I I don’t like [Brad Pitt]! Pretty boy bad,” he explained (see video below) that Soderbergh, who had made his name with indie fare like Sex, Lies, and Videotape and King of the Hill (the big-screen drama, not the small-screen comedy), attempted to give an offbeat touch to Ocean’s Eleven (reported production budget: $85 million):

“The studios were making very big, broad, not very good films at that time. It was kind of an ugly period. And Steven had this idea of trying to infuse all of this sort of independent film stuff, that all the young filmmakers were learning, back into the studio system. … [Ocean’s Eleven] was going to kinda get back to the things they were doing in, like, 1964 to 1975, bringing that kind of style and feel back to storytelling inside the studio system.”

It was up to TCM Classic Film Festival attendees to decide whether a) the Hollywood studios’ “kind of an ugly period” has ever come to an end b) Steven Soderbergh succeeded in making a big-budget mainstream movie with an indie feel – unlike, say, his own (Oscar-nominated) Erin Brockovich.

Pickpocket casting picks

Something else left for festivalgoers to decide: Whether either Mark Wahlberg or Johnny Depp would have been a better (or worse) casting choice than Matt Damon for the role of the pickpocket Linus Caldwell.

As George Clooney explained (it’s often unclear whether he’s joking or just pretending to be joking), “Some very famous people told us to fuck right off,” among them, apparently, Wahlberg and Depp.

“They regret it now,” Clooney added. “I regret doing fucking Batman.” (More specifically, Batman & Robin.)

Immediately below: George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh, and Ben Mankiewicz discuss Ocean”s Eleven at the 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival.

“TCM Classic Film Festival: Steven Spielberg + George Clooney” notes

TCM Classic Film Festival website.

Steven Spielberg and George Clooney images: TCM Classic Film Festival video screenshots.

“TCM Classic Film Festival: Steven Spielberg + George Clooney” last updated in July 2023.

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