The Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival breezed in and out of Hollywood for an eighth consecutive year last week. The unique four-day festival, like the cable television channel and brand, is a focused, choreographed affair which is strictly a showcase for movies. TCM can be merchandised and monetized and spread across multiple platforms for streaming, home entertainment, experiences, books, articles and wine (and it is) but, however it’s sold, promoted and presented, Turner Classic Movies exists to show movies.
So does its Classic Film Festival, though TCM adds value by integrating scholars, movie stars (and those connected to them) and storytellers into the theatrical movie experience. TCM is, as General Manager Jennifer Dorian put it at the press conference, Hollywood’s “keeper of the flame”. That it is fueled by impeccable TV and classic movies professionals that appreciate classic motion pictures and their fans comes through. TCM’s fans and festival-goers, the passholders, are a hardy and uniquely American bunch; spending time with these people while waiting to watch movies and, then, watching the movies, is invigorating if you love movies (and probably boring if you don’t). This band of classic movie geeks, romanticists and individualists descend upon Hollywood Boulevard, walk purposefully to the Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard or Musso and Frank for lunch or Club TCM for a drink. They think fast, talk smart and they know exactly what they want.
So they tend to get noticed for not acting as if they want to be noticed, especially by those who work in establishments along Hollywood Boulevard, who would spot my TCMFF badge, stop and ask about the festival with a sense of wonder and respect. TCM passholders also tend to know which movies they like and they can often tell you exactly why. They’re generally discriminating about how they watch movies, too. Unlike other film festival guests, they pride themselves on choosing and knowing which, not how many, films to see, based on certain standards. By my estimate, after four days of hearing their travel tales, festival feedback and thoughts on classic movies and the programming built around them, TCM passholders are generally neither jaded nor pretentious. Like the best movies, especially classic movies, they are sharp, not cutting.
Much of this year’s excitement emanated from new nitrate screenings, especially Laura (1944), and also The Lady in the Dark (1944), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Black Narcissus (1947), all shown in American Cinematheque’s recently renovated theater, Sid Grauman’s The Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard. The original nitrate print showings were well received, despite the fact that government regulators apparently forced the Egyptian’s concession stand to basically shut down during renovations. The nitrate screenings were made possible through the Academy Film Archive, George Eastman Museum and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The projection process for nitrate, which is potentially flammable and dangerous, was paid for by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Turner Classic Movies and The Film Foundation in partnership with the American Cinematheque and the Academy Film Archive.
Though a movie star or someone connected to a movie, historian or scholar attends each screening and appears at various events and tapings for TCM, passholders know that the TCM Classic Film Festival, more than other film festivals, revolves around the actual experience of seeing movies, not seeing who’s who, though inevitably there is some of that (predictably and mostly at the galas). TCM Classic Film Festival‘s exclusive founding partner, Delta Air Lines, is the official airline. Other sponsors include Citi, the official card (sponsoring poolside screenings, such as Planet of the Apes, which are fun) and Bonhams.
Screenings earning passholder enthusiasm this year include David Lean’s Oscar-winning The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Jean Harlow’s biting Red-Headed Woman (1932) and Ernst Lubitsch’s One Hour With You (1932). The latter two pictures were screened a second time due to high demand, though, to my knowledge, no one was turned away from a screening as has happened at past festivals. Howard Hawks’s Red River (1948) starring John Wayne, shown at the Egyptian, impressed those who’d never seen it. The same goes for Billy Wilder’s underappreciated Stalag 17 (1953) with William Holden. People also seemed to enjoy seeing Panique (1946), Cry, the Beloved Country (1951, with thoughts from film scholar Donald Bogle), The Palm Beach Story (1942, with an appearance from Joel McCrea‘s grandson, Wyatt McCrea) and, of course, Singin’ in the Rain (1952), with its references to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which seemed to be the main point of attraction. I heard universal praise among passholders for actress and occasional TCM hostess Dana Delany’s thoughts and facts on Love Crazy (1941).
In fact, in the wake of the recent death of longtime host Robert Osborne, to whom TCM dedicated 2017’s Classic Film Festival, TCM’s on-air talent and heirs apparent was a top festival topic. Of course, fans fondly remembered Robert Osborne throughout the festival. A thoughtfully conceived wall for moviegoers to write thoughts on the distinguished host, journalist and former actor (to be shared with his surviving family) was a welcome addition. Upon reading fans’ posted notes and hearing from attendees, it becomes clear that Robert O. was highly valued for his wealth of knowledge, passion and accessibility about classic movies. Every other passholder made a point to tell me that they think this quality lacks among current TCM hosts. Passholders generally told me that they are fine with Ben Mankiewicz, whom they appear to regard as an innocuous stand-in or comic relief. Actress and sometime hostess Illeana Douglas, who, like Mankiewicz, is known and touted as being related by blood to a famous Hollywood talent, elicits both mild groans and sincere approval. Tiffany Vazquez, whom TCM hired last year to make weekend introductions and festival intros, is not popular among passholders, however, with most citing lack of inflection, engagement and passion. Part-time TCM hosts Alex Trebek, Leonard Maltin and Dana Delany all seasoned TV pros, earned higher praise among TCM’s most devoted fans.
Questions about Robert Osborne dominated the press conference, too, with journalists (including this journalist), asking about plans for programming, streaming and home entertainment of the host’s original movie introductions and his Private Screenings series. Programming boss Charlie Tabesh explained that airing the Private Screenings episodes is “very expensive” due to rights and he said that certain episode rights have unfortunately lapsed but that TCM’s goal is to bring them back. Turner Classic Movies’ General Manager Jennifer Dorian (who said she most admires Mary Tyler Moore in answer to a question about women in TV) announced a new online course, TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock, in association with Ball State. The six-week course on Alfred Hitchcock movies is free and runs in conjunction with TCM’s summer programming of Hitchcock movies. Dorian said that TCM is also giving a free, 30-day trial of its club membership for TCM Backlot and may explore other streaming options, such as iTunes, in addition to its proprietary streaming partnership with Criterion Collection, FilmStruck. TCM also has a new wine club, though I haven’t tasted the courtesy bottle of “deliciously spicy” Alfred Hitchcock Zinfandel.
Movies screened during the festival include What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), So This is Paris (1926), America America (1963), The Awful Truth (1937) and The Great Dictator (1940). Three movies released in 1971—The Last Picture Show, Harold and Maude and Gene Wilder‘s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—were shown as well as Rear Window (1954) and the opening night picture, In the Heat of the Night (1967), which I’m told started over 30 minutes late due to tardy composer Quincy Jones, who joined producer Walter Mirisch, actress Lee Grant and director Norman Jewison for a discussion. The movie’s leading man, actor, producer and director Sidney Poitier (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), who is 90 years old, also appeared during opening night, though he did not participate in the exchange.
Other guest appearances included Michael Douglas (Streets of San Francisco, Wall Street, Falling Down) in the lead interview (last year’s guest was Faye Dunaway), talking about his career from acting on television to producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, recently, starring as Liberace. Dick Cavett entertained with tales about Muhammad Ali and others and interviewing Groucho Marx. Mel Brooks attended the 40th anniversary screening of his Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety (1977) and was congratulated by Albert Brooks and Billy Crystal. Other one on one exchanges featured Lee Grant, Peter Bogdanovich and Leonard Maltin. Father and son filmmakers Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner were recognized with a hand and footprint ceremony at the Chinese Theater forecourt. Actresses Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were remembered at screenings of Stanley Donen’s Singin’ In The Rain (1952) and Mike Nichols’ Postcards from the Edge (1990) with family members Todd Fisher and Billie Lourd in conversations at both screenings. Actor and screenwriter Buck Henry introduced a 50th anniversary restoration from Rialto Pictures of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate (1967).
This year’s festival theme, “Make ‘Em Laugh: Comedy In The Movies”, seemed incomplete without a single Buster Keaton movie (Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin scored just one movie each). The comedy theme also left out Abbott and Costello, Jerry Lewis and movies starring Bob Hope. To my knowledge, Richard Pryor’s only appearance was in 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues.
Hollywood Boulevard is as dodgy as ever, and is probably more dangerous, with not a single cop seen patrolling pedestrian routes on bike or foot, despite the risk of sidewalk crime. A thief struck a Starbucks while I was there. I know of worse crimes, too, in recent years. Several merchants told me about slow police response times. Disney and other area businesses employ private security to protect customers from street thugs and hustlers, including those obstructing walkways with snakes wrapped around their necks.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) presents movies, uncut and uninterrupted, from the world’s largest film libraries. TCM airs programming such as The Essentials, and annual themed movies, such as 31 Days of Oscar® in February and Summer Under the Stars in August. TCM also sponsors separate TCM Classic Film Tours in New York City and Los Angeles, produces books and DVDs about classic film, maintains a movie database at tcm.com, a mobile app to pair with one’s cable TV subscription, and other tie-ins such as Backlot, FilmStruck and an excellent monthly mini-magazine, Now Playing. It’s a division of Turner, a Time Warner company, which also owns CNN, TBS, TNT, truTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Turner Sports and is owned by the corporation that owns Time, Warner Bros., and Warner Home Video.
This year, the Spotlight Pass ($2,149) included gifts and privileges, priority entry to all screening events plus entry to the opening-night party following the red-carpet gala screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and more; an Essential Pass ($799) featured gifts, privileges and opening-night screening; the Classic Pass ($649) included access to all film programs except the opening-night screening and the Palace Pass ($299) gave the passholder access to all screenings and events excluding the opening-night screening. The venues were fine, as usual, with the ArcLight Hollywood, The Egyptian, Pig ‘N Whistle and host Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel being the most friendly, accommodating places.