There are plenty of great reasons to go to the TCM Classic Film Festival – seeing movies you love on the big screen, discovering forgotten and long-unavailable films, learning about film history firsthand, seeing some of the greatest actors, directors, and behind-the-scenes talent in the history of motion picture, etc. But one of the things that makes it so enjoyable year after year is getting to do all these things in the company of classic film fan friends old and new. Thanks to Twitter, I have a number of friends who come to the TCM Fest every year, and half of the fun is meeting up with them and flocking from film to film together.
Last year, I was only able to attend a few screenings and a lot of the friend magic wasn’t quite there. I still had a great time seeing the films, of course, but one thing I was determined to do this year was work harder to meet up with people I knew and enjoy the atmosphere of the festival, and I succeeded royally. Even when I happened not to be near friends in line, I chatted with a bunch of random cool people – because, I mean, you’re pretty much automatically cool if you come to TCM Fest, right? Right! I still only attended two days this year instead of all four, but they were two of the best fest days I’ve had.
I’ll do full posts on everything I saw later, so I’m going to focus on the festival experience here. Of course, I realized as I start putting this together that I didn’t take ANY photos during the fest, really, so I’ll still have to illustrate with film stills. Oops.
I spent Thursday evening with visiting family, and I worked Friday morning, so I missed a few notable programs, especially the Dawn of Technicolor program, but I got there in time for Chimes at Midnight. I’ve recently begun planning to complete a bunch of director’s filmographies, and when I checked up on Orson Welles to start sourcing his films, Chimes at Midnight was one that I simply couldn’t find anywhere, so when it showed up on the TCM Fest program, I had to get to it. I ended up pretty early in line, and chatted for a while with the lady in front of me. She and her daughter were there from the Seattle area, and they were returning festival fans. It’s great how many people come year after year, and not just local people – people who come from all over the country and beyond. The lady really loved Orson Welles, and was probably even more excited than I was to see this rarely screened film.
I’m not sure there was anyone I actually knew ahead of time at this screening, though – most of them seemed to pick Young Mr. Lincoln in this time slot (it was a TOUGH time slot; Chaplin’s Limelight was also playing at the same time) largely because it left more time to get in line for pre-Code Don’t Bet on Women in the following timeslot. Scheduling is everything, folks, especially when you’re trying to get into a film playing in Chinese 4, a tiny room that always, always, always sells out. I took my chances with a fifteen minute break between Chimes at Midnight and Don’t Bet on Women, but I hedged my bets a little by sitting on the aisle and skedaddling as soon as the credit started. It worked, I made it in, and my friends Kristen (@salesonfilm) and Marya (@oldfilmsflicker) had saved me a seat right in the center, and I got to meet Kaci (@kacik11) for the first time. Perfect!
Sitting down to a raucously inappropriate Pre-Code comedy with fifteen or twenty die-hard classic film fans who I knew to varying degrees from Twitter and previous festivals was the best time ever. The energy in the room of people waiting for an absolutely unknown film to start playing was palpable, and the film didn’t disappoint. We all loved it and staggered out joyously in search of our next film. I split from the majority of the group to run over to the Egyptian to try another roll of the dice to see if I could get in Steamboat Bill Jr. with only a twenty-five minute break. Tip: silent films with a new score by TCM’s go-to silent film composer Carl Davis are always a sell-out, too. I got beat over by one friend, Trevor (@tpjost), who’s such a silent film fan he must’ve run the whole way to make sure he made it. Seats weren’t plentiful by the time I got in, but I snagged one up near the front – which is admittedly a horrible place to sit to see a film in the Egyptian, but it turns out it’s a pretty great place to sit to watch a live orchestra accompanying a film. I’d seen the film before, so getting such a good view of the musicians was actually kind of a treat.
While sitting there, I heard the guy behind me say “Carley” and I looked around and sure enough, there was my friend Carley (@misscarley) of The Black Maria, who I’d met several festivals ago (maybe even the first one!) – even though we both live in LA, we pretty much never see each other except at TCM Fest. Weird thing, that. More to do with my never going to see movies anymore than anything else, I’m sure. :) Anyway, reconnecting was fun, and reassured me that sitting in the second row wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Then Leonard Maltin introduced the film (he introduced 3/4 of the films I saw; he must’ve been stalking me) and told a great story about meeting Keaton when he was thirteen. Once Keaton had survived the hurricane and gotten the girl, I was ready to call it a night. I could’ve stayed for George Lazenby introducing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and then for the late show of Boom!, a forgotten Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton film that I heard is legitimately disastrous, but I had decided to keep my festival low-key this year, and it was the right thing to do.
My family being in town turned out to be a boon for Saturday. I’d planned on doing stuff with them and just seeing a couple of films, but they said, no, go take a day out and enjoy the festival. So I did! It was just like pre-Karina days. :) I was there for just about every timeslot, and did double features in most of them because I like short movies. I also ended up with a similar morphing group of friends throughout most of the day, which made it that much better.
First up, the late silent Why Be Good with Colleen Moore trying her best to be bad but really just being as adorable as could be. It was introduced by Cari Beauchamp, a scholar who I sadly didn’t know already, but several of her books are now on my wishlist, especially one she’s written about screenwriter Frances Marion. This film had long been thought lost until the records of its soundtrack were found in the early 1990s (the film is silent, but with fully synchronized music and sound effects, just no dialogue). It turned out there WAS a copy of the film, too, in an Italian archive which had no intention of giving it back to Americans to preserve. They finally got it worked out and restoration began in 2012, leading to the gorgeous 35mm print we saw at the festival. Never give up hope, folks – up to 80% of silent films are lost, but many are probably languishing unknown or unidentified in archives around the world.
When I stepped into the theatre for Why Be Good, I wondered if I would find any friends (I knew Trevor was there already, of course!) – it turned out that basically everyone I knew had chosen this screening. Kristen, Marya, and Carley, Laura of Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings (@laurasmiscmusings), Kristina of the Speakeasy Blog (@HQofK), Karen of The Dark Pages (@TheDarkPages), J.P. of Comet Over Hollywood (@hollywoodcomet), Angela of the Hollywood Revue (@materialgirl850), Joel Williams (@joelrwilliams1), Jill of The Black Maria (@biscuitkitten), Lara of Backlots (@backlotsfilm), and I’m sure a bunch of others who I’ve forgotten. (I actually didn’t even realize the Lara I was chatting with before the film was Lara of Backlots until literally just now. Chatting comes easy with classic film bloggers even when you have crappy recall.) I have good friends, y’all, who like good things. We were not disappointed, and there were at least a couple of times the theatre broke out into spontaneous and well-deserved applause. Colleen Moore is fierce. FIERCE.
Then our group split, half of us running to 42nd Street and the other half heading to So Dear to My Heart. It was a tough choice, but I went with So Dear to My Heart, which I grew up watching and assumed it was well-known, but apparently it’s one of Disney’s more obscure live action films. Thankfully it held up quite well, and everyone enjoyed it.
Next up, John Ford Pre-Code Air Mail, which is barely Pre-Code in anything but date (and an unapologetic affair in a subplot), but has some pretty great aerial and model work. I fell in with a related but slightly different group this time, a mostly LA-local set of people, some of whom I’ve chatted with on Twitter a bunch but never officially met. So that was cool, but I was back with my morning crew for Christmas in July. And I got to meet Jay (@007hertzrumble), who I only recently met on Twitter and let me know what I missed at the Lazenby interview the evening before. Apparently Lazenby had enough risque stories to more than earn his Bond credentials. Also had more of a chance to chat with Will (@willmckinley) than I’d had yet, despite saying hi in passing a few times.
I could’ve headed to The Apartment next (I know my American Movie Critics collaborator and fellow Wilder completist Ryan McNeil is disappointed in me), but I ended up taking a break and having dinner with my family at Mel’s Diner. At least it was an iconic Hollywood spot, right? After they left I had a couple of hours to kill. I was highly disappointed to find that the TCM Boutique closed at 6pm, so there was little for me to look at when I got there at 6:45pm. Oh, well, I need to not spend money anyway.
Finally jumped in line for my last screening of the festival, The Return of the Dream Machine, a program of early short films (1898-1913) projected on a vintage 1909 hand-cranked projector like the ones traveling exhibitors would’ve carried, showing films in small towns around the country. It was pretty amazing. Where else can you see a program like that with a packed house of appreciative fans? Not many places. Anyway, I’d gotten separated from the majority of my friends during the break, though I did see Kristen and Trevor in the house. In the line, I chatted with a couple from New York who proved just what a diverse festival this is. They had spent most of their day in the Special Conversation events with Sophia Loren and Norman Lloyd, two events I know were fantastic, but I almost never choose celebrity appearances over films. The previous evening they saw Apollo 13, one of the most recent films at the festival. They were a great couple and fun to talk to, but they had a completely different festival to the one I had. (Side note: that also turned out to be the case for Kristen of Journeys in Classic Film (@journeys_film), who I’d hoped to see, but we never ran into each other; she seemed to be focusing on Club TCM events.) Once we got in, I chose a seat near someone I THOUGHT was Danny of Pre-code.com (@precodedotcom), and thankfully I was right. Otherwise it would’ve been really embarrassing when I called out “Danny”, if it wasn’t him. We had a good chat about pre-codes (he had, of course, been at Don’t Bet on Women as well), silents, and Billy Wilder. Good stuff.
Old friends, new friends. Old films, new films (well, new-to-me). I didn’t get to anything in big Chinese theatre, and only one thing at the Egyptian. I chose mostly rare films to watch, which meant a lot of multiplex screenings, and that’s fine with me. I thoroughly enjoyed everything I saw, and the company I saw it with – you can’t ask for more from a festival than that. I can’t wait until next year to see what new friends I can add to the mix! Here’s to TCM Fest 2016!