During April 28-May 1 movie fans gathered in Hollywood for the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival, a cinema-lovers’ paradise where you can watch favourite films or discover new ones, see a diverse group of celebrities and experts in person, hear behind-the-scenes stories, insights on film-making and restoration, get books signed and geek out with kindred spirits. A wave of bloggers will be posting their reviews and diaries of the festival, and it speaks to the wide range of eras, guests and genres presented by TCM, that no two fest-goers’ coverage or opinions on what they saw will be alike.
This was my second fest, I had a fabulous time, and loved most of what I saw, so I’ll start with an overview and some general fest thoughts, then in the coming days I’ll put the spotlight on my favourite and most memorable movies and experiences.
What I saw:
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)- talk with Ted Donaldson
- Brief Encounter (1945)- intro by Illeana Douglas
- Shanghai Express (1932)- World Premiere Restoration, intro talk with author Jeremy Arnold and Josef von Sternberg’s son Nicholas
- He Ran All the Way (1951)- 35mm, intro talk with director John Berry’s son Dennis
- Trapeze (1956)- 35mm, intro talk with Illeana Douglas and Gina Lollobrigida
- Private Property (1960)- World Premiere Restoration, intro by Dennis Bartok and Scott MacQueen
- Repeat Performance (1947)-35mm restoration, intro by Eddie Muller
- 90th Anniversary of Vitaphone- 35 mm restorations, intro presentation by Ron Hutchinson
- An afternoon with Carl Reiner/ Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)
- A Conversation with Elliott Gould at Club TCM, with Alec Baldwin
- The Long Goodbye (1973)- 35mm, intro talk by Elliott Gould
- Midnight (1939)- 35mm, intro by Bonnie Hunt
- The Fallen Idol (1948)- US Premiere Restoration, talk with Robert Henrey
- Law and Order (1932)- 35mm, intro by Leonard Maltin
- A House Divided (1931)- 35mm, intro talk with director William Wyler’s son David
- One Potato, Two Potato (1964)- 35mm, intro talk with historian Donald Bogle and director Larry Peerce
- Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934)- 35mm, intro by Michael Schlesinger
On plans I made going in:
Thanks to a (Windows) phone fail, my grand plan of tweeting tons of photos and comments didn’t happen, nor did I find time to make videos. The upside of that is, I ended up taking tons more pictures this year with my “good” camera, and not staring at my phone meant I was able to talk to a lot more people, which was a huge pleasure. I tweeted that there is no such thing as a stranger at this fest, and even the most introverted person would have no trouble striking up a conversation, because when it comes to movies, you have more in common with anyone there than with people back home. Not only do you see your favourite bloggers, writers and twitter folks in person and get to know them, but any person next to you in line or in the theatre is eager to share thoughts on what they just saw, recommend things to attend, and are just as interested in hearing where you’re from, how many times you’ve attended and what you liked best so far. I met and became better acquainted with so many great and fun people, too many to name, and you know who you are: button dealers, bookshop buddies, psychotronic or fabric-swap sisters, fellow bloggers who marveled at the museum exhibits, expressed concern about my frequent blog theme changes, pushed me to go introduce myself to a celebrity, sat next to me sobbing at the tearjerkers, gave me some valuable fest advice, or listened to me drone on about streaming services in Canada.
But back to planning. I went in with a few must-sees, like Shanghai Express and Brief Encounter, plus a goal to see many new-to-me movies, so that mission was accomplished. I also had a “strategy” of trying to guess which of the Chinese multiplex screenings would get a repeat in the six TBD slots on Sunday so I could attend then. This earned me some ribbing because it seemed like I was pretty much betting on reruns for All The Movies. I’m bummed to report that I guessed wrong on the Argentinian noir Los Tallos Amargos (but I wasn’t likely to skip Brief Encounter for that anyway), and the pre-Codes 6 Hours to Live and Pleasure Cruise, but I did get my wish for a second chance at One Potato, Two Potato, A House Divided and Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, and those were fantastic.
I was in line for 6 Hours to Live but walked away when it became obvious I was way too far down the line, out the theatre door and onto the patio, to possibly get in. That one bothers me because it was too late to get into anything else, nothing was going on at Club TCM at that time, which would have been my backup, so that left about 3 empty hours until lineup for the next screening. That seems like a giant waste of time when I hoped to maximize every minute. On the plus side, that made it possible to sit down for a real restaurant meal which is nearly impossible to fit in otherwise. Many festival-goers do skip blocks on purpose to free up that time for eating, get-togethers or sightseeing, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it, I mainly mention it for those of you who’ve never been and might be curious about the different ways of approaching and making the best of the schedule.
I was really glad I made some “appointments” and stuck to times and places to find friends for pre-fest meals and a fun trip to the Hollywood Museum (more to come on that). Even those plans had to bend a bit due to tours going long and my inability to tear myself away from Larry Edmunds Bookshop. Both a plan and lack thereof worked out well and I’m really happy with the amount and variety of things I got to see.
Almost none relating to what I picked and experienced (even almost getting beaten up in line for Carl Reiner was more a fun story than a disappointment), and more to do with what I had to miss. I wish I had the stamina to stay up for at least one midnight movie. The one I really wanted was the restored Gog in 3D, but there was no way I’d stay awake for it and still be able to get up for the next day’s first movie. I loved hearing about Herbert Marshall and his flamethrower though!
I wish a trip to the Cinerama Dome for Holiday in Spain (1966) in Smell-o-Vision didn’t mean missing three other screenings; I was terribly curious about the scent dispersal method and asked everyone who did go to explain how it worked. Tiny spray bottles were distributed to the audience along with a fan and some other souvenirs, and when a number cue came up on screen, people with the corresponding scent bottle would spritz into the air around them. Some lucky folks got the garlic spray instead of the perfume or orange blossom, and most of the smell-o lingered on clothes and hair for the rest of the day.
I wish the print of Trapeze was better quality, but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the movie and its physical and emotional stuntwork.
I really wish I’d made it to Fat City and saw Angela Lansbury at The Manchurian Candidate, and War of the Worlds, I really wish Burt Reynolds had made it, and I wish more than a dozen other things, but as the tune on the broken record goes, choices are tough and you make the best combination out of possibilities and interests.
In the days to come I’ll write a lot more about my many favourite moments and discoveries. A few to start with:
Nicholas von Sternberg
I’ve seen Shanghai Express a few times, most recently just months ago, but it seemed like a bucket list item to see Marlene on a big screen, and it was indeed an incredible experience. In that gorgeous print and those shimmering, glowing, textured visuals and performances writ large, I saw new things (Blake Lucas if you’re reading this, now I see what you mean about Doc Harvey’s character and Brook’s acting), and was so tempted to go watch it again on its Sunday repeat. Pure glamour, art and silver screen magic. I loved hearing that so many people got to see it this way for their first time ever.
I’d also seen Midnight before but was craving a wacky finish for what turned out to be a funny Saturday. It’s one of the all-time best comedies with delightful work by Claudette Colbert, John Barrymore, Mary Astor and Don Ameche, and Bonnie Hunt’s introduction was perfect. She talked about how, during her time as an oncology nurse she’d show this movie to her patients to give them a therapeutic laughter break, and how modern comedy has a lot to learn from this movie’s light, lively and witty touch.
Robert Henrey and Cari Beauchamp
When it comes to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, He Ran All the Way, Brief Encounter and The Fallen Idol, I could say the same about all of them: they’re Great Films I hadn’t seen in years, and they felt new and powerful on a big screen. Brief Encounter is a gorgeous, intense and passionate look at repressed love. Norman Lloyd was in the audience at He Ran All the Way and got a standing ovation, and Dennis Berry talked about his father’s flight to France through Canada during the blacklist era. We had the pleasure of listening to two actors who gave such fine performances as children: Robert Henrey, who played the admiring and slightly blabber-mouthed boy in The Fallen Idol, spoke of working with Carol Reed and Ralph Richardson, while Ted Donaldson talked about his A Tree Grows in Brooklyn “aunt” Joan Blondell and her sweet response to his giant crush on her.
Huge line for He Ran all the Way
The Vitaphone shorts presentation was great, with Vitaphone project founder Ron Hutchinson describing the development of the technology, the sauna-like recording spaces, the initial resistance to and obstacles faced by these early talkies. He held up a 16 inch disc and asked us to contact him if we ever happened across one in a thrift shop. It was very educational and the 7 shorts were hysterically funny. George and Gracie were sweet, little Rose Marie was already a pro, Zelda Santley did impressions of Maurice Chevalier, Mae West and more, and Molly Picon reflected on her tenement days through the Yiddish blues, peeling potatoes down to nothing as she sang. I loved the loony Shaw and Lee in “The Beau Brummels,” where they deadpanned and interrupted their way through great one-liners and songs: “this is the chorus of the song, this is the cho-rus you’re hearing now, you make up the words as you go along, cause no one pays attention anyhow, tra la la…” The last selection featured the husband-and-wife team of Myrtle Glass and Jimmy Conlin, who roughhoused it through some stand up and a tune with a hundred false starts. Conlin ended up with his Shempy hair mussed up and half his clothes torn off, while a chorus of men echoed his frequent “ho!” from behind a curtain, and making things even funnier was the improv effect–they both kept losing it and cracking up through the whole bit. I have a volume of Vitaphone shorts on DVD and now I’m really eager to dig into them to relive the fun.
Now, before this so-called overview turns into a full rambling diary, I’ll stop and paraphrase Shaw and Lee: “this is the part everybody recommends, because it comes just where the post ends.” Come back for more on the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival.