I wait all year for the TCMFF and it doesn’t matter how well I plan or organize, it just flies by in a flash. Although it’s been a month now since the classic film fest, I think about the best moments every day and I begin to make plans for next year.
I’m not sure why, but it’s taken me awhile to collect my thoughts on the 2015 TCMFF. I know that part of me doesn’t want to believe that it came and went so quick, that maybe it’s still just around the corner. After all, this is something for which I wait all year. So, it’s always sad when it’s all over and I have to get back to the usual makings of my day-to-day life. Of course, I’m one of the lucky ones since my life includes a healthy dose of classic cinema regardless of the time of year. Not only do I live in an area that boasts dozens of theaters that host a lot of classic film presentations on the big screen, but I actually teach the subject and am currently enjoying my favorite class, The History of Moving Pictures every Monday night from 6:00 - 10:00pm. But still, there’s nothing like being at the TCMFF and being completely engulfed by the atmosphere of classic film appreciation every where you turn. It’s truly something special. And I try my best to perfect the experience every single year.
Those who have attended at least one TCMFF know what I mean when I say I’m trying to perfect the experience. The first time is always a bit of a whirlwind. You’re just so excited about being there that you come home with a bunch of blurred memories of screenings all scrambled together. They’re all really good memories but you won’t be able to reliably tell what you saw on what day if your life depended on it. There’s just so much to do and absorb that you can’t fully appreciate the festival until you’ve gone at least a second time. Then you can use what you learned from the first time to improve upon your overall game plan. Yes, a game plan. It’s absolutely essential to getting the most out of any festival, and a great experience at the TCMFF requires some planning.
One of the reasons is the location. The festival takes place in Hollywood after all, and at Hollywood & Highland no less, so if you’re not careful the location will distract you. I lived in the area for more than a dozen years so it doesn’t effect me, but I recommend out-of-towners come in at least a full day ahead to orient themselves to the lay of the land. And I’m not just talking about outside, but inside too. I usually spend quite a bit of time at the Chinese multiplex so it’s good to know about the back stairs that will get you around the crowd and back into line before everyone else. It’s also good to know about the rear entrance to Club TCM if you’re staying at the Roosevelt Hotel, and the side doors that will help you navigate quickly around the crowds in the lobby.
I’m not saying you should avoid these areas, not at all. In fact, spending some time in the most crowded areas is a part of the exceptional time you can have. It’s the best way to meet other classic film fans and speak to scads of like-minded people who appreciate the qualities of an old movie. Club TCM is of course a must stop, as is the lobby of the Roosevelt where the festival gift shop is located. But you do have to be careful to time it so you’re not caught up in a throng that might prevent you from getting a good seat at your favorite film. I also like to include on my must-do list the Pig and Whistle restaurant located next to the Egyptian. Not only does the place hold historical significance but the food is surprisingly good. Every year I also include The Next Door Lounge on Highland and The Formosa on Santa Monica as must stops the night BEFORE the festival begins. If there’s time, a quick stop at Musso & Frank is included.
This year was a particular challenge to me as I had to forego a whole day of the festival for an academic conference. Coincidentally, I had to present a paper on the definition of Classic Cinema on Saturday in Chicago. I was bound and determined to miss as little of the festival as possible, so after my last screening on Friday I drove directly to LAX where I left my car in overnight parking, caught a late red eye flight, landed at O’Hare at 6:00am, drove through corn fields (of course I searched the sky for bi-planes) to a university in the middle of nowhere, delivered the paper at 9:00am and turned around and came back. Sadly because of the time difference I was too late to catch any screenings on Saturday, but fresh as a daisy for Sunday.
I should mention that it helped a lot that this year the TCMFF and my university’s Spring Break landed during the same week, so there was no conflict with work at all. Much of my pre-fest preparation was a lot easier to complete due to my freed up schedule. This included pre-fest primping as well. I’ll admit that I diet for this event specifically, do the nails and what-have-yous (I have my father’s eyebrow that must be attended) days before, and have my hair and makeup professionally done for opening night. I also pick several people up from the airport every year and drop them back, usually on Monday as I head out of town to teach later that day.
It might sound like a lot, but I think I have it down to a science by now - the science of the TCMFF. Perhaps someone should write a book, or at least a pamphlet they can hand out at the festival every year. That way new comers can hit the ground running. But then again, a lot of the fun is making those discoveries for yourself and then sharing those tips with your new found friends as you sit in the dark and wait for the next screening. That is the most important must-do. Talk, talk and talk to as many people as you can. If that’s the only thing you ever plan for then your experience will be as perfect as it needs to be. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll be one of the ones you sit next to and we can compare notes. That would be the best.