Memories of the 2016 TCMFF Still Hold
There’s really nothing like the TCM Classic Film Festival. More and more people discover this truth every year. And although it may only last four days, it is an experience that holds with you for a very long time. Long enough to carry you through to the next one the next year.
The TCM festival 2016 is long over and I am home happy and sated with a head full of wonderful experiences to think over for months, until announcements of the next festival start to pour out. This year’s memories should hold me until then.
The Hotel Roosevelt (my Hollywood home away from home) provided as usual a welcoming, safe, enchanting room to return to each night. The historic hotel, like the lobbies of the Egyptian and the Chinese (I almost said Graumans) gets you in the mood for old time silver screen glamour and then keeps you there. And I got my favorite room for the fourth year in a row (hurray!), which provides me the quiet and seclusion I seek at the end of a day in which I can count four or even five movies watched. The movies bounced my head from decade to decade, from genre to genre, from The King and I, to She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, to Double Harness. So, a soft pillow was definitely needed nightly to cushion the load of my racing imagination.
This year brought unprecedented lines. Of course, the up side is lots of lovely new people to meet and make fast friends who will be there to greet me next year along with all the friends made in prior years. I’m not sure of the ratio of new fans to returnees but there were lots of happy reunions, which is always one of the highlights of the festival. The early forming lines, however, did add a new edge of competition, as well as emphasize the need to map out the day carefully. It was important to know ahead of time which films to see, possibly cutting lunch short or skipping it all together in order to get in line early. Although I think most regulars to the fest think like me and look at the festival as a four-day diet, surviving on water, popcorn, and nutrition bars. Because I got shut out of a movie Friday morning it meant I had an unexpected lunch (a great hamburger), and I did get to see the movie when it became one of the fill-ins on Sunday. It was well worth the wait.
Another first-time experience was the entire audience standing and walking out on Bette Davis. Well, sort of. In the last minutes of the film Dark Victory there was a sudden flashing of lights and the film stopped. A calm young voice said we were to evacuate, because the flashing lights were the fire alarm. I must say I was impressed by the orderly decampment. Perhaps we were all bemused with the idea of being pulled from the fantasy into what seemed an improbable reality. Whatever the reason, the theater I was in, as well as the other theaters in the complex were emptied quickly and without much angst beyond the desire to see the rest of the film. After all, this was Dark Victory.
Some classic films are merely old enough and fondly remembered. Then you have those special films, many of them from the twenties, thirties, and forties, that have some magical quality about them. Dark Victory is one of the magical gems of 1939. The special something in this case is easy to identify. It’s Betty Davis. I am not always a Davis fan. She was well known for her portrayal of bitchy, witchy females, with lots of shouting and posturing. That is not my kind of movie. Dark Victory however is not Davis shouting, posturing, and showing strength. It is a story of bad things happening to even the privileged.
No everyday citizen, Davis’s character is wealthy, willful, and bent on living her life her way, which means one long party. When it is discovered she has an illness that nothing can help, death an inevitable outcome within a short period of time, she holds strong on dying her way as well. In the hands of a lesser actor the film might have become maudlin. It is the skill of Bette Davis and co-star George Brent that turn it into a bittersweet romance with which the audience can connect.
Never mind that the Brent character is a little too good to be true; he is exactly what we want and need him to be. Betty Davis, much like John Barrymore or even Douglas Fairbanks a decade before, balances on the fine edge of over emoting and comes through with just the right note of emotion to bond the audience to the character. To my mind this was Bette Davis’s finest performance. I think the film is a classic “classic”, among the best of the best of years gone by. There is that something more to it. I am so very glad I got to see it on the big screen.
And I, and everyone else got to see the end of it. Less than a half hour later the theater complex had been searched, a vandalized fire alarm found but no fire and we made an orderly return, in our case for the last two or three minutes. That is the strength of a good movie, and a respectful theater staff that understands the devotion of its patrons. I came away feeling quite confident that if it had been a real fire, things would have worked out well - kudos to the staff at the Chinese Theatre for a job well done.
So, now I sit digesting the bounty of great films I experienced from those frantic four days. Soon, I will probably start thinking about the films I want to see next year. It is an unending cycle, which fills me with satisfaction all year long well worth the price of admission and any bumps in the road that may come along. Let the TCMFF 2017 countdown begin!