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TCM Film Fest 2015: Another Great Experience

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.


Chimes at Midnight

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!

Previewing the 2015 TCM Classic Film Fest

The Sixth Annual TCM Classic Film Festival is nearly upon us – four glorious days of immersion in classic film in the heart of Hollywood along with hundreds of our fellow classic film fans. It’s the best time of the year for those of us who love Hollywood’s golden era of filmmaking.

This year hasn’t been without its controversy, as the early press releases announced programming such as Hollywood’s enduring classic…Apollo 13 (1995)? Malcolm X (1992)? Out of Sight (1998)?! But never fear – though TCM is bringing some newer films to the table, in order to woo some fans who haven’t quite made it as far back in Hollywood history as others, to expand the reach of their theme History According to Hollywood, and honor certain guests like editor Anne V. Coates and stunt coordinator Terry Leonard – they’ve still got PLENTY of pre-1970 films to choose from.

In fact, choosing is the hard part! Some of these time slots are so packed it’s nearly impossible to choose what to see. Such is our burden. I’ve gone through each timeslot, and detailed the choices in each one – basically what to look for if you want to catch all the essential films, if you’re looking for lesser known discoveries, or if you want to make the most of experiences you can’t get anywhere else. Obviously, these are all subjective to some degree.


A few general suggestions to start with, based on my five years experience of this festival.

Plan Meals and Bring Snacks

The schedule is VERY packed if you want to see something in every slot. You’ll often be running directly from screening to another line without a break. Plan ahead and make sure to eat in any hour long breaks you have. It’s not a bad idea to bring some small bags of chips and a bottle of water with you, in case you end up crunched for time. The theatre doesn’t really make a big deal out of it for festivals – if you’d rather not sneak in food, they do have actual restaurant food and a bar as well as regular theatre food. Plus there are several relatively quick restaurants scattered around the top level of the Hollywood-Highland Center, including a pizza place, a Quizno’s, a Johnny Rockets, a Mongolian Barbecue, and a few more right next to the theatre.

See Something at Each of the Palaces

TCL Chinese, the Egyptian, and El Capitan are the centerpiece theatres and they are all pretty amazing venues. The Egyptian is a bit plainer these days than the other two on the inside, but the balcony is very nice. Head up there, because a lot of people don’t know it’s there and the middle front has the best view in the theatre.

2014 TCM Film Festival: Hat Check Girl (1932)

After each TCM Film Festival, I’ve had a film that I considered my “discovery” of the Fest. It helps that TCM has a Discovery section dedicated to lesser-known and rediscovered films, but even out of that group, there’s usually one I latch on to as the one that makes me grateful for the Fest and for going in blind to so many of the Discovery films. In previous years, it’s been Lonesome, Hoop-La, or This is the Night – almost always late ’20s, early ’30s films. This year I pegged Hat Check Girl as most likely to be that film because it was one of only a couple Discoveries from that era; turns out I was wrong and the delightful The Stranger’s Return turned out to be my discovery, but that doesn’t mean Hat Check Girl wasn’t immensely enjoyable.


Sally Eilers plays Gerry Marsh, a hat check girl who wants to stay clean and honest, but keeps being pressured by her boss to sell bootlegged liquor and be an escort at fancy parties. At one such party, she winds up staying late and taking up the host on his offer to stay in a neighboring apartment whose tenant (Buster) is out of town – only he comes back IN town while she’s sleeping in his bed. Yes, this is a Pre-Code. There’s a lot more plot, with Buster romancing Gerry and getting involved in a murder, and it kind of goes off the rails because of course in a 64-minute movie you want to throw in everything but the kitchen sink.

2014 TCM Film Festival: The Stranger’s Return

The tightest scheduling block I attempted was between How Green Was My Valley (see here) and this film, and I was extremely lucky to get in – I was, in fact, the LAST person into a very full theatre. I felt kind of bad (and still do, since I know several people who tried the same schedule and didn’t make it in), because this was initially a filler film on my schedule. It’s short and fit in between How Green and Hat Check Girl, the Pre-Code comedy and MOMA restoration that I expected would be my favorite discovery of the festival. For some reason I didn’t read the program carefully on this film, and I thought “the stranger” was an aging man coming home to be with his family and their struggles in accepting him. I have NO IDEA why I thought that based on this program.


In the end, though, I’m very glad I did make it in, because THIS, not Hat Check Girl (though that’s fine too, post forthcoming), turned out to my gleeful discovery of the fest. Unlike the description I gave above, the story actually concerns a quick-witted and cantankerous old gentleman played by Lionel Barrymore sporting a gruff-looking beard, whose dubious excuse for a family is basically waiting around for him to die so they can take over his lucrative farm. The “stranger” of the title is his orphaned granddaughter from the city (Miriam Hopkins), who has never been to the farm but is cut from the same cloth as Grandpa.

2014 TCM Film Festival: How Green Was My Valley

[Spoiler content: I describe a couple of comical vignettes in relative detail, and I mention vaguely the trajectory of Angharad’s plot thread.]

This timeslot was easily the toughest choice of the festival for me, with John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley in the El Capitan with Maureen O’Hara in attendance vying with a specially curated program of John and Faith Hubley animated shorts introduced by Leonard Maltin (among other tempting things, but those were the most tempting for me). Neither one is likely to be repeatable. I’m not usually a star-watcher and I rarely choose TCM Fest screenings based on the guests, but I finally decided that I’d regret missing the chance to see a 94-year-old Maureen O’Hara more and headed over to the El Capitan line super-early, because the buzz going around was that this was going to be a HOT ticket. And that was certainly true – I got there an hour early, and I was somewhere around number 260 in the passholder’s line. Every seat was full in the 1000-seat theatre.


The love for O’Hara as soon as she came on the stage was just about overwhelming. I was up in the balcony, far from the stage, but looking at the press photos later, she looks pretty great at 94, eh? Robert Osborne started off asking her about John Ford; her response: “I thought I was here to talk about me.” Fabulous, and with a gorgeous Irish lilt. After that, Robert’s planned list of questions fell by the wayside as Maureen clearly had her thoughts on the end of life, the comfort of her faith, and the importance of joy, especially in later life. It wasn’t necessarily what you’d expect of a guest appearance, but the audience didn’t care. I felt privileged to have seen her at all, and heard what she wanted to talk about, and in a way it was refreshing to have that instead of yet another response to “what was it like to work with [insert director and actor].” It also set the mood well for the pleasures of How Green Was My Valley, which deals with the nostalgia, joy, simple pleasures, and hope of a Welsh coal mining community in the face of everyday danger and death.

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