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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Classic Movies with Mom

It’s Mother’s Day and the best gift you can give dear old mom is time with you. My mom and I live far apart, so we talk by phone and when we do the subject often turns to old movies - the ones we love, the ones we’ve seen recently and if it’s not too long after the TCMFF, both.

For the past three years my mother, Glenn and I have been attending the TCM Classic Film Festival. Our mutual love of classic films started a long time ago, but it really blossomed with the emergence of the popular classic movie channel in 1994. No matter where we are or how many miles apart we live it gives us an automatic and easily accessible topic of conversation on a subject we both love. So, when Turner Classic Movies (TCM) created the festival that takes place just blocks from my home in Hollywood it seemed only natural to have my mom be a part of it. With her life up on the Oregon coast and commitments to three other children the festival has become the one time of year I know I can get mom to myself. Well, to myself and a couple thousand or so other classic movie fans.

So, this is how it works: the day TCM announces the forthcoming dates of the festival (usually six months ahead of time) I get on the phone and check mom’s availability (this is really just a courtesy call since she and I both know she’s gonna come). Then I buy the plane tickets as soon as we hang up. Buying so far in advance is relatively inexpensive and she doesn’t put up a fuss since we treat it like a birthday/Christmas/mother’s day present all wrapped up in one. It really does make the perfect gift too since I know she’s gonna like it and I don’t have to worry if it’s going to fit.

The next several months are spent with the occasional phone calls speculating about what the year’s TCMFF theme is going to be. The phone calls become more frequent as the months trim down to weeks and scheduling announcements are released. It’s fun talking about what films are “must sees” for us and why. For instance, I always knew my mother liked the John Wayne film Hondo, but I had no idea how much until it was included in the most recent TCMFF. No matter what other films were added to the lineup my mother’s festival plans this year were entirely built around the opening night screening of the special 3-D presentation. That and any Fred Astaire film that might pop up. This year it was Flying Down to Rio which screened late Saturday night. She’s only seen Fred and Ginger on the small TV screens she grew up with so the opportunity to see the pair dance across a large theater screen is too much to pass up.

Now, the festival only happens once a year and we do have our own preferences. So, we don’t impose our individual choices on each other, although we do discuss our reasonings. A night or two before the opening night we sit down and discuss our individual tactical plans. Kind of like a pre-battle run through of the next four days. Inevitably many preferred choices get scheduled in the same time slot or at theaters far apart so you have to be prepared with well thought out movie to movie maneuvers. Although we have similar taste in films we differ in our approach to making our 4-day viewing plan. Mom tends to steer toward the films that she loves but hasn’t seen on the big screen, where I always opt for the film I’ve never seen before, period. Because of this our schedules often vary, but there’s usually at least a couple of films we end up seeing together.

This year we didn’t end up in the same theater until half way through Saturday when we both got into line early for the John Gilbert, silent classic, The Big Parade. It was presented in a gorgeous new print to a packed audience who applauded enthusiastically at the final frame. The next day we shared the experience of watching Yankee Doodle Dandy. Although it was a less than full audience at the early morning screening it was obvious that those who were there were ardent fans. This was particularly notable when the entire theater sobbed as one during a poignant scene between star James Cagney and co-star Walter Huston. And to see Cagney dance from frame edge to frame edge not only took our breath away but kept the house tapping their feet in unison through out the scene. Even guest introducer, Malcolm McDowell stayed to watch until at least half way through the movie, sitting only a few seats away from us. Now, you can’t get a movie going experience like that in Oregon!

Sunday continued to be a big day for mom and me as we also ended up at It Happened One Night together. We had both seen the film many times before but seeing it with a new print with a live audience was like seeing it for the first time. The presentation really heightened the chemistry between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, making it completely understandable why the two each won Oscars for their performances. If anyone ever says a tough guy can’t do a rom/com just sit them down and have them watch It Happened One Night. They will instantly eat their words and understand why Gable was “The King” of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Finally, we ended our four-day immersion of classic films with The General at the famous Chinese Theatre. I love Buster Keaton, but mom and I agree that the presentation (complete with a live orchestra) just didn’t match the bang of last year’s The Thief of Bagdad. Not that we had anything to complain about. It was a gorgeous print presented in one of the world’s most beautiful movie palaces. It’s just kind of hard to place on par a film that has enjoyed previous presentations across the globe with one that is specially restored for the TCMFF. What can I say? The last few festivals have spoiled us.

Overall our expectations of the 2013 TCMFF were well met and our “jones” for seeing classic films on the silver screen are completely satiated. At least for now. In six months, when news of the exact dates for the 2014 festival emerge the anxious and excited feeling will return. I’ll be calling mom, and thus will start a whole new series of phone calls in anticipation of our annual week together. So, I thank you, TCM for giving me and mom a lot to talk about - today, at next year’s festival and every time we see a favorite film on TCM we just can’t wait to talk about. Which happens just about every day. Thank you, and Happy Mother’s Day!

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