TCMFF 2011: Just as Good 2nd Time Around
After experiencing the first ever TCM Classic Film Festival last year I was determined to go again this year and attend far more screenings. Last year I really enjoyed the festival but found myself not making it to everything I had planned, let alone everything I wanted to. There was just too much to see and do. This year I was far more prepared for the demanding pace of the continuous movie going experience and I solicited assistance in covering the festival to its fullest potential. I think I did pretty well, but I also already know I’ll have to make an even more concerted effort next year.
The day before the festival started, Amanda Glenn (my fellow correspondent) and I were invited to a roundtable with TCM Host Robert Osborne. The invite offered an ideal opportunity in which we could interact directly with the face of Turner Classic Movies. It was one of the highlights of the festival and an ideal way to ease into the hectic schedule that lay ahead. Osborne was incredible gracious and genial as he made his way around the table, shaking the hand of each person, repeating their name as his soft blue eyes made direct contact with yours. This is a moment I will always remember – what can I say, I’m a big fan.
THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: DAY 1
The festival officially began with the unveiling of some nearly forgotten footprints from the original forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. A modest crowd gathered in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel sectioned off for Club TCM. The area was accessible by festival attendees only, and was dressed to the nines with many original classic film posters, and lit to replicate the dramatic atmosphere of an old time Hollywood nightclub. The nearly century old slabs of square cement resembled archeological finds but were still legible as the footprints and signatures of theater owner, Sid Grauman, Silent Screen Star, Mary Pickford and Silent Screen Icon, Douglas Fairbanks. Being a huge fan of movie history I spent my time photographing the footprints as most others crowded Robert Osborne for an autograph. I think this officially marks me as a geek.
The cancellation of a scheduled DVD signing with Mickey Rooney scheduled later in the day was a let down. But it did allow me enough time to prepare for the opening night red carpet event for the restored version of “An American in Paris”. Glenn would be covering the screening of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” next door at the Chinese Cineplex while I interviewed as many stars from the golden age of Hollywood as I could as they passed on their way into the most anticipated screening of the festival.
The reporters on either side of me were very nice and extremely helpful in advising me on the dos and don’ts of my first red carpet. I returned the favor by sharing my extensive knowledge of cinema history and the stars that made it. Not too long into the proceedings the others came to rely upon me to identify the older celebrities as they approached, sharing details on their claims to fame, enabling the reporters to engage in interviews that were more informed than they would have been otherwise. I have to say it did make me feel like a bit of a hero.
It’s hard to say who excited me the most as the hour and a half proceedings flew by and were over before I knew it. Leslie Caron, Peter O’Toole, Mickey Rooney, Eva Marie Saint, and many more all passed within my reach (pictures available on ClassicFilmFan.com Contact/Photos page). Each star, large or small who took the time to stop and talk to me was just as enthusiastic to talk to me, as I was thrilled to speak with them. They were all sincerely appreciative of the recognition and admiration for their life’s work. Nearly every single person mentioned how the existence of TCM has had a direct impact upon their lives and how thrilled they were that there are such venues that allow for the appreciation of Hollywood’s past.
After the last star (Tippi Hedren as it turns out) stepped into the theater it was a bit difficult to let go of the excitement that had been generated for the past ninety minutes. Those of us on the other side of the rope who had bonded during the experience exchanged business cards, and then scattered to our respective screenings. Some lucky devils were headed inside for the main event, “An American in Paris”, but I was headed to catch the Marx Brothers film, “A Night at the Opera” where Groucho’s grandson, Andy Marx talked about the film afterward. It was thoroughly enjoyable, made more so with the anecdotes of an adoring grandson for his beloved grandfather’s work. Reluctantly, I skipped the late night screening. I needed to get home and rest up for the next day’s movie marathon.
THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: DAY 2
My second day of the festival started out with a screening of “Becket” with Peter O’Toole present for a post discussion. I had never seen the film before, so I was anxious to see what film it was that O’Toole had most wanted attendees to see. “Becket” is a personal favorite of O’Toole’s, and although I’ll always prefer “Lawrence of Arabia” over any of his other work, having now seen the 1964 Best Picture contender I know understand his preference.
After that screening I ran as fast as I could from the Egyptian Theatre all the way down to the Roosevelt Hotel to get in line for a DVD signing with Debbie Reynolds. It’s a good thing too; since I was seventh among the last ten allowed in before they had to cut the line, thank goodness. That would have been very disappointing if I hadn’t been let in. But as many people as the corralled past Ms. Reynolds that day she remained pleasant and gracious to the last signature, signing everything placed in front of her – what a pro.
The one on one conversation Peter O’Toole was going to have with Robert Osborne at the Music Box was tempting. But the venue was just too far away to be accessible by foot and keep to a schedule, so I happily settled for “Girls Crazy” with Mickey Rooney back at the Egyptian. Rooney was amazingly spry and energetic for a man of his age. It was heart warming to hear him speak of his Andy Hardy days and the many films he made with Judy Garland. It was moments like this that made the TCM Classic Film Festival so very special for an audience member. I mean, this was Mickey Rooney – he is film history! Sadly I had to miss out on a Tweet party for Twitterers at the festival. It was a new event this year, inspired by a TCM fan that tweets a lot about the cable channel.
Again, the venue was just too far out of the way to go to and not sacrifice the viewing of another film. And for me that film was the one my parents went to on their very first date: “The Little Shop of Horrors”. This time, my mom would be watching the film with me, her daughter and hearing Roger Corman reminisce about the making of the film directly after (to me that was an easy call to make). Immediately after that we watched a family favorite, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” with a live Jane Powell interview afterwards. Admittedly, this was a strange mother/daughter double feature, but a memorable experience for both of us.
THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: DAY 3
Saturday morning was the next and final big press event. At 10AM Peter O’Toole entered the forecourt at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and proceeded to place his signature, hands and feet in cement for posterity. It’s a simple procedure, but believe it or not it’s pretty exciting to see it happen before your very eyes. As Robert Osborne pointed out before the ceremony, far fewer people have had their prints immortalized than those who have received Oscars. It is a rare Hollywood privilege indeed, numbering in only the hundreds as opposed to the thousands who have received Academy Awards.
I stuck around Grauman’s for the screening of Clint Eastwood’s “The Outlaw Josie Wales”. I had never seen it before, and that was one of my main guides for selecting films to see. I think it’s best, whenever possible to see films for the first time on the big screen. Although this film in my opinion turned out to be one of Eastwood’s lesser efforts, I still contend that it was best for me to see it in a grand old theater like the Chinese for my initial viewing.
After that let down came the best film of the festival as far as I’m concerned. “Went the Day Well?” was an unknown for the most part, but it had generated a lot of buzz before hand and ended up being a tough to get ticket. Glenn had also managed to get in, and boy, were we glad we made the effort. Historian and honorary Oscar recipient, Kevin Brownlow gave a very informative and enlightening introduction to this modest, but thoroughly enjoyable British production from 1942. The film featured no so-called name actors, but it didn’t need any. Set in a quite little town in England, “Went the Day Well?” is about a fictitious Nazi invasion where the villagers are left to fend for themselves, and do so exceedingly well. It was basically a propaganda film, but it was a terrific example of one done very well.
I skipped an evening film in favor of a meal, but made it back to Grauman’s to catch an introduction by Angela Lansbury for “Gaslight”. It was a difficult choice between that and Richard Roundtree introducing “Shaft”, but these were the decisions I had to make at every screening. Sacrifices had to be made all throughout the festival. Of course, Ms. Lansbury was delightful and just as energetic as she appeared in “Gaslight”, the first film in which she ever appeared. That initial role earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and set her upon a career that hasn’t slowed down since. THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: DAY 4
As much as I wanted to make it to the midnight screening of “The Mummy” the night before I knew I had to go home and rest in order to get in line early Sunday for the much-anticipated screening of “Night Flight”. The film turned out to be nothing more than a very cheaply made melodrama about the problems of early aviators, the company they work for, and the women who love them. The real sell for the screening was Drew Barrymore who was in attendance afterward to discuss the work of her Grandfather, John and Grand Uncle, Lionel who both appear in the film. She was full of pride as she spoke of being a member of such an illustrious dynasty.
Unable to make it down to the Egyptian in time to see “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” I settled for “The Trouble with Harry” which was a delightful second choice. Child actor, Jerry Mathers was on hand for a brief Q&A after the screening and shared many a fond memory of his time spent with co-stars John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine, as well as his ongoing friendship he continued after production with the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. The vibrant Vermont colors of this oft overlooked Hitchcock gem pop off the big screen with the equal beauty of Monte Carlo in “To Catch a Thief”. And the droll humor is not to be missed – pure Hitchcock.
After a quick bite to eat inside the Hollywood & Highland mall, Amanda Glenn and I got in line for what we felt was the second greatest screening of the festival, a tribute to the Nicholas Brothers. It was a very popular selection, and with the theater being packed many people had to be turned away. The hour and a half presentation included an introduction by director, Robert Townsend and an ongoing narrative by the film’s creator, Bruce Goldstein. Home movies were mingled with clips from the many shorts and features in which the Nicholas Brothers had performed. Their most astounding sequence can be accessed through the Clips Page at ClassicFilmFan.com. It was truly the most amazing and inspiring thing I saw on screen during the whole festival.
I was still riding high from watching the Nicholas Brothers as I made my way down to the festival’s grand finale screening of “Fantasia”. I had played with the idea of going to “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf” instead. Especially when I heard that cinematographer Haskel Wexler was going to be at the screening to discuss his Academy Award winning work on the film. But I stuck with my original plan and I have to say I ended up regretting my choice. I know what “Fantasia” represents to film history and what it means to many fans who hold the film as a cherished childhood memory. But I just didn’t get it. It may have been something amazing in its day, but the film’s concept and animation simply doesn’t hold up over time and has lost a considerable amount of its luster. I’m glad I’ve finally seen it, especially on the big screen, but I do feel I missed out on something a little more special happening up in the multiplex theater 1. Oh, well, I guess I’ve learned to go with my instincts for next year.
And that is the good news. The TCM Classic Film Festival is now a confirmed annual event for Hollywood and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. So, come this time next year I’ll get to do it all over again with a whole new batch of terrific films from which to make impossible choices. Of course, some decisions will be easier than others, but I will not be saddened if next year TCM makes it even more difficult for me to decide. In fact, that is my sincerest hope. Please, oh, please TCM; I hope you make each succeeding year of the festival so jammed packed with great classic movies that the job of selecting what to see becomes more grueling every year. That desire definitely makes me a full on film geek, and I like it.