TCMFF 2019: Day 4 for the Classic Film Fan
The fourth and final day of the TCMFF always arrives too soon. I've always met it with a mix of exhaustion and wistfulness. Like just about everybody else, I don't ever want it to end. Although, there's a temptation to sleep in after three packed days of screenings and classic film activities, it's got to be resisted if you're going to squeeze every bit of what you can out of what's left of the weekend. A weekend attendees look forward to all year. So, it's no wonder we're a bit regretful when it's all over. And the 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival is no different.
Unfortunately for me, my sore throat turned into laryngitis, leaving me without a voice and a fatigue I couldn't be sure wasn't contagious. So, I stayed home (oh, the pain!). My first festival in ten years where I missed the closing night festivities and all the last day "TBD"s. I was miserable. I couldn't even watch the TCM channel at home because we don't have cable (that may have to change). I slept a lot, but when I was awake I thought of the films I would have seen had I been able to make the drive to Hollywood. And I really regret not seeing these films on the big screen. It would have been my first viewing of each of them, and as I've said before there's just no better way to see a classic film for the first time other than on a big screen in a darkened theater. Below I've listed what I would have seen. These are the films I was really looking forward to.
As it was Sunday, it would not be a difficult drive in from Riverside - an hour at most. So, I could have easily made the 9:00am screening of Merrily We Go To Hell. This was a film that had been so popular on Friday morning that it became the first "TBD" of the day. It's one of those pre-Code films that emphasize all the things the soon to be censors would disallow in the coming days, such as excessive drinking during Prohibition, and making light of marital infidelity. Popular stars of the era, Sylvia Sidney and Fredric March star with a very young Cary Grant in an early supporting roll - can you imagine?! Although the film has a some what tired plot about a playwright who becomes successful and philanders while his wife reciprocates with a dalliance (with Grant), I was counting on it being entertaining all the same. Particularly since Dorothy Arzner (the only female director of the time) directed the film. Apparently it wasn't a hit when it came out, but many of the very early films selected for the festival are good as curiosities if nothing else.
At 11:45am I had hoped to see Night World, a film I had missed on opening night. Again, due to popularity it became one of Sunday's "TBD"s. Classic film fan favorites Boris Karloff, Lew Ayres, and George Raft feature in the fast-paced underworld tale. And of course, being another pre-Code, it's filled with all kinds of risqué material, like a woman of the street seen before and after a pick-up, and chorus girls shown in varying stages of undress. There's even a dance sequence by Busby Berkeley full of his usual overhead kaleidoscope, cinematography, and a camera pushing between the legs of a long line of dancing ladies. Presented in actual 35mm film and not on DVD or Blu-ray, it really would have been something to see.
Then I was going to have a pretty long break until there was another film I hadn't seen before. That's how I usually pick my lineup at the TCMFF since it's a rare opportunity to see such old films for the first time in the way they were meant to be presented. So, after what would have been a leisurely meal, at 5:15pm I was gonna see the Greta Garbo/John Gilbert love story, A Woman of Affairs. It's a Romeo & Juliet story full of desire, despair, and unsavory pre-code situations (the TCMFF loves the pre-Code). MGM had bought the rights to a notorious novel, and changed the title, characters’ names and plot elements in order to get it past the Hays Office’s objections (the "Code" in pre-Code). The film was a smash hit upon its release, as fans flocked to see the legendary Garbo-Gilbert duo romancing each other on screen. Honorary Oscar recipient Kevin Brownlow revived the film in 2002, and would be presenting the film with a live orchestra performing a score composed and conducted by long time TCMFF friend, Carl Davis. This would have been the perfect way to see such a film. Any time you have Kevin Brownlow introducing a film, or even a live orchestra, you just gotta go and see that film!
Oddly enough, my very last film of a festival has almost always been a silent film, and I was looking forward to the same situation this year. I would have had time for one more film, except the end of A Woman of Affairs, bumped right up against the starting time of the Film Noir, Open Secret at 7:00pm (another "TBD" I missed out on seeing in its original slot of Friday night). I was really intrigued by what was described as a low-budget thriller with a combination of noir and social commentary on anti-Semitism. The film was long thought to be lost and only available in dingy public-domain prints until it was restored by UCLA. It would have been another exclusive experience for which the TCMFF is known.
So, I would have been off to the closing night party, arriving long before it was scheduled to begin and allowing time to find a perfect spot to sit and watch as everyone else arrived, and everyone I knew to be able to see me. It can be a chaotic scene, but it's very, very fun. But this year I completely missed out on from home. I did manage to get a bottle of champagne to enjoy. And with my eyes closed as I sipped away I tried to pretend I was there. It's not the same, it's not even close to being the same. However, it was just enough champagne to help me think of next year. A year that was sure to be, for me, a much better experience than this year. There will be more films I have never seen before, and that's something to really look forward to. Until then, more champagne!