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Coming to the TCM Classic Film Festival: Mel Brooks and Vitaphone Shorts

Those attending the 15th annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood next month will have an opportunity to engage with Mel Brooks and Vitaphone, both born in 1926. One’s extinct, the other’s still going strong.

While Brooks, 97, will be on hand for a closing-night screening of his 1987 comedy Spaceballs, six Vitaphone vaudeville shorts from the 1920s will be projected in 35mm, with sound played back from their original 16-inch discs on a turntable designed and engineered by Warner Bros.’ postproduction engineering department.

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Also announced Thursday:

• Steven Spielberg will participate in a Q&A with Howard Suber — the UCLA faculty member at the center of the recent six-part TCM documentary The Power of Film — ahead of a director’s cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977);

• Nancy Meyers and Alexander Payne, respectively, will introduce world premiere restorations of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) and John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), both completed by Warner Bros. and The Film Foundation;

• David Fincher will present a world premiere restoration Imax screening of his 1995 thriller Seven;

• Diane Lane will chat with Ben Mankiewicz before a screening of her big-screen debut, George Roy Hill’s A Little Romance (1979), and Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins will be in attendance for Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption (1994);

Jeopardy! host Ken Jennings will set up a U.S. premiere restoration of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (1949), restored by The Film Foundation and courtesy of Rialto Pictures.

• And a cast reunion for Gillian Armstrong’s Little Women (1994) will feature Trini Alvarado, Samantha Mathis and Eric Stoltz.

The “hilarious, often outlandish” vaudeville shorts will be presented under the umbrella “That’s Vitaphone!: The Return of Sound-on-Disc” using a replica Vitaphone machine, said to be the only one in existence. TCM notes this will mark the first time modern audiences will be able to experience these films as moviegoers did in the 1920s.

Our photo shows Miss Tess Horaty checking up on Vitaphone Records at the company's place in Chicago. Since the installation of the machines in various theaters it is extremely hard for the Vitaphone company to meet the supply and demand for the records.
A woman checked on Vitaphone records at company headquarters in Chicago in 1928. “Since the installation of the machines in various theaters, it is extremely hard for the Vitaphone company to meet the supply and demand for the records,” a report noted.

In 1926, Warners, with technology developed by Western Electric, introduced Vitaphone, a system of adding high fidelity synchronized sound to films using discs mechanically coupled to projectors. Vitaphone would usher in the talking-picture era with Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer on Oct. 6, 1927.

By the early 1930s, however, sound-on-disc would be replaced industrywide by the less cumbersome sound on film.

At the Vitaphone screening to provide context will be Rialto Pictures founder and co-president Bruce Goldstein, Warner Bros. postproduction engineers Steve Levy and Bob Weitz and Vitaphone expert Shane Fleming.

As previously announced, the April 18-21 festival will open with a 35mm screening of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) at the TCL Chinese Theatre, and John Travolta will be there.

Over the weekend, Billy Dee Williams and Lois Burwell will be honored, author Jeanine Basinger will receive the Robert Osborne Award, and Jodie Foster will participate in a hand-and footprint ceremony. For more information about the festival, click here.

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