Coming Attractions at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival
Like most film festivals, the TCM Classic Film Festival is endlessly customizable. I was not too surprised to find that, when comparing schedules with a friend, we only had one film in common – even if you’re not taken in exclusively by the star appearances and more glamorous aspects of the weekend (this year, April 10-13) – or, hell, even if you are – you’d almost have to work at it to come away with a bad experience. Are you a purist who only wants to see 35mm prints for four days straight? Done. An all-auteurist weekend? Sure thing. Focus on the 1930s? 40s? 50s? Musicals? Westerns? Comedies? Those might not fill every slot, but you’ll walk away far richer in any of those areas. All I can do is point you to the festival website – http://filmfestival.tcm.com/ – and highlight the ones I can vouch for, or which are of enough interest to find their way to my schedule. All films in bold are being shown over the course of the weekend.
TCM Fest’s big opening night play is a digital presentation of 20th Century Fox’s brand-new restoration of Fred Zinnemann’s 1955 musical Oklahoma!, but you can only get into that part with a Classic, Matinee, or Palace pass, all of which are completely sold out (you can still catch other screenings without a pass; more on that later). Despite being immensely fond of exclamation points, never mind musicals, I’ve yet to see this particular feature, and, as I don’t have one of those passes, that’s not about to change now, which is absolutely fine by me, as I have a double feature of Ginger Rogers movies on 35mm calling to me – 5th Avenue Girl and Bachelor Mother, directed by Gregory La Cava and Garson Kanin, respectively. I’ve never seen either film, but seeing as La Cava directed Gabriel Over the White House and My Man Godfrey, Kanin directed My Favorite Wife and co-wrote The Girl Can’t Help It, and Ginger Rogers is one of the greatest actors of all time, I’m feeling pretty positive towards that evening’s entertainment. Not much for 1930s comedies? Well, hell, you could do so very much worse than to see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Johnny Guitar. Some would call it a campy double feature, but I don’t recognize such reductive and distancing approaches to film; call it an evening of audacity and bravado.
The following morning, I am quite excited to finally take in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden, digital a presentation though it may be. It’s the only one of the big three James Dean films (the other two being Rebel Without a Cause and Giant) that I’ve yet to see, and boy do I love the novel upon which it is based. I’m sure they packed the whole thing into 108 minutes though, right? Absolutely. Three great options surround it, if you’d prefer – W.S. Van Dyke’s giddy detective film The Thin Man, John Ford’s toweringly brilliant Stagecoach, and the rather risque and totally delightful British comedy On Approval, about two couples who try a platonic trial marriage to see if they’re suited to one another. Following that, one can see Orson Welles’ spectacular Touch of Evil in a new (digital) restoration, or just pick that up on Blu-ray when it comes out in a few weeks – you’d be better off with Leo McCarey’s absolutely heartbreaking Make Way for Tomorrow, truly one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. There will not be a dry eye in the house. If you can survive an emotionally tumultuous double feature, cart yourself over to Meet Me in St. Louis, Vincente Minnelli’s great melancholic musical, or enjoy Invasion of the Body Snatchers, that great sci-fi thriller that has become reductively read solely in political terms. I’ll be seeing My Sister Eileen, because it’s on 35mm and stars Rosalind Russell.
That evening is a real can’t-go-wrong situation. You’ve got your Double Indemnity in a new restoration that, if it’s at all what Masters of Cinema used in their recent-ish Blu-ray release, will look absolutely stunning (but which, again, comes to Blu-ray in a few weeks). Better still, take in Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry?, presented with a live orchestra. Or you can go see Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon or the spectacular, dramatically bombastic The Lion in Winter. Me, I’ll be checking out the 1934 version of Imitation of Life; Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake was a major discovery for me this year, and while John M. Stahl’s Claudette Colbert-starring version has not enjoyed a similar reputation, well, you know, it does star Claudette Colbert and all. Finish the day off with The Best Years of Our Lives or, if you’re into that kind of thing, Blazing Saddles (it’s one of the better Mel Brooks movies, anyway; plus, Brooks will be there!). There’s a 1933 Roy Del Ruth movie (Employees’ Entrance) playing alongside them, so fat chance finding me anyplace else (though The Innocents does sound quite intriguing). If you’re the night owl type, Eraserhead plays at midnight.
But, frankly, being a film festival attended primarily by those later on in their lives, really taking in TCM Fest means getting up a little on the early side, so it’s a 9:00 AM showing of King Vidor’s Stella Dallas for me. Barbara Stanwyck’s first Oscar nomination! Had I not just picked up The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray, however, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights would be mighty tempting. Or you can see Jerry Lewis stick his hands in cement outside the Chinese Theatre, which, if you’ve never seen Jerry Lewis make a public appearance, should at the very least be memorable. Afterwards, I’m very happy to have the opportunity to see Mary Poppins, which I’m quite sure I saw as a very young child, but which I remember virtually nothing about. And co-songwriter Richard Sherman will be there! C’mon, how cool is that? Admittedly, far and away the best of Woody Allen’s dramas, Hannah and Her Sisters, is playing at the same time; like I said, it’s a festival of too many great options.
Saturday afternoon makes for some very tough decisions – a new restoration of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Goodbye Girl in 35mm with Richard Dreyfus in person, the all-black 1943 musical Stormy Weather, John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, or the rarely-screened and not-at-all-available-on-DVD 1949 version of The Great Gatsby, which, as it goes with adaptations of The Great Gatsby, contains shadows of the great novel without completely capturing its spirit. It is obscenely well-cast, especially Alan Ladd as Gatsby, Shelly Winters as Myrtle, and Howard Da Silva as Wilson, and Ruth Hussey, with whom I am otherwise unfamiliar, but who is really fantastic here, as Jordan. If that’s a hard choice, it’s only going to get worse – A Hard Day’s Night, The Godfather Part II, The Nutty Professor (with Jerry Lewis in person), and Written on the Wind are up against one another. I’ve seen them all, so I’ll be checking out my 1930s crush Miriam Hopkins in King Vidor’s The Stranger’s Return and sneaking in the hour-long Hat Check Girl (once again featuring Ginger Rogers), but boy, I would love to see Written on the Wind on 35mm again, if only for Hudson’s brutal, deeply felt but so reserved performance. It’s an incredible film. The real draw that evening is William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, but as it’s playing at Cinefamily the following week, I’ll be investigating Edgar G. Ulmer’s Her Sister’s Secret. If you can stay up ‘til midnight, Tod Browning’s Freaks really is all that.
The seasoned TCM Fest attendee knows to keep Sunday somewhat open – the To Be Announced slots end up getting filled by the most in-demand and rare films being shown at the festival. If those end up filled with films I’ve already seen, there’s always The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gone With the Wind, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, John Ford’s seminal The Quiet Man, Easter Parade, The Wizard of Oz, Hitchcock’s recently-restored The Lodger, David Lean’s hilarious and touching Hobson’s Choice, and Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai to pass the time. One could do much worse.
So let’s say you don’t have a pass, but are still looking at this amazing roster of films and thinking, “well, hell, I’d like to see one or two of those!” And really, who wouldn’t? All you have to do is show up to the screening in question (times and locations are detailed on the festival’s website), wait around for a little bit, and, if there are seats available ten minutes before it’s set to start, you’ll plunk down $20 cash ($10 if you have a student ID on hand), and in you go. I know the fact that the passes are sold out and this being a very happening festival seems like your prospects of entry are daunting, but as someone who did this one year myself, and whose girlfriend has done this for the past three, I assure you, the odds really are ever in your favor. It’s not all that common for a theater – particularly the larger venues like the Chinese, Egyptian, or El Capitan – to fill entirely, and it’s pretty common to have a great many empty seats in even the smallest of venues.
If you find yourself in Hollywood this weekend, come on down. It’s a really fun, very enthusiastic environment, and each year I’ve found at least one film (or several) that I’ve come to cherish in a very permanent way. The TCM staff has exceedingly good taste, great connections to celebrities, scholars, and archives, and a true sense of showmanship.