The 9 (or 45) Most Exciting Things about TCM Fest, by Scott Nye
For a certain segment of the Los Angeles filmgoing population, there are a few safe havens around town that can serve up sighs of relief and breaths of fresh air when the need for great classic films burns brightest, but there’s nothing quite like the avalanche of programming that is the TCM Classic Film Festival. For four days (April 12th-15th this year), in the middle of Hollywood (all of the venues, save for the Cinerama Dome, are on a 1/3-mile stretch along Hollywood Blvd.), a show is put on that rivals any major premiere and stands toe-to-toe with any festival of contemporary films. For four days, we’re treated to new restorations of the unimpeachable classics, rediscovered soon-to-be’s, and the occasional curiosity, all given the live sheen that TCM brings to its cable programming year-round. Every screening is introduced by the channel’s most stalwart presence, Robert Osborne, or someone equally equipped to give the film due justice, and I’m very excited about the roster they’ve assembled this year.
Even beyond the glitz and glamour of the whole affair, at the heart of the experience are the films themselves. TCM Fest offers more great films in four days than many cities get all year, but even for Los Angeles, it’s exceptional. Devoid of all the urgency of a contemporary film festival, this one is entirely for the pleasure. Here’s just a taste of why, if you’re in the Los Angeles area, you should make it into Hollywood this weekend.
For more information about all of this, including a complete list of the films playing, head to tcm.com/festival, and tune back in early next week for my coverage of what went down.
-Movies on Film Aside from the inherent need, desire, and pleasure to see classic films on film, 2012 presents an especially urgent calling to cinephiles. The major studios are angling for this year, possibly next year, to be the last they’ll offer their catalogue titles to be shown on honest-to-goodness 35mm film in rep houses like the New Beverly here in Los Angeles or the Film Forum in New York, or in festivals such as these. While private collectors will be able to fill some of the resultant gaps, this is a major door actively being closed. While many are fighting for studios to keep that open, this may be your last chance to see some of the greatest films ever made on the format they were made on. Every time I go see a classic film on 35mm, it’s a wonderful experience, and I am thrilled that TCM was able to secure so many films on grand ol’ celluloid (and to be kind enough to note which films are on which format).
-Restorations Nine films will be shown in brand new, world-premiere restorations; two will even be shown on 35mm. Many others will be shown in brand-new “prints” (some digital, some celluloid) that have previously premiered elsewhere, but I promise they’ll still look oh so good. If you’ve never been treated to a brand-new restoration, you’d be amazed at how much they just open the film up to you.
-How the West Was Won in Cinerama What IS Cinerama, you ask? One peek inside the Arclight’s Cinerama Dome, one of three Domes remaining worldwide, will answer all your questions, but the opportunity to see arguably the Cinerama feature is the best introduction you could ask for. While the showtime is not ideal – 9:15 on a Sunday morning! – well…this is Cinerama! Hollywood’s most ungainly bid for spectacle ever. I mean, if you think 3-D is absurd, ain’t nothing compared to three projectors running simultaneously to provide a really, really big, curvaceous image. (4/15, 9:00 am)
-Incredible Guests So maybe you’re not impressed by Robert Osborne. Maybe you haven’t seen him work his magic, I don’t know. I can practically guarantee his sheer old-school charm will win you over in seconds, but all right, all right. How about John Carpenter introducing Frankenstein? Hey. Isn’t that something? John Landis introducing Son of Frankenstein? Mel Brooks introducing Young Frankenstein? Not into Frankenstein? Okay, how about Robert Evans and Robert Towne talking Chinatown? YES. Robert Evans is actually all over the place this year in honor of the Paramount renaissance he almost single-handedly engineered, appearing in conjunction with screenings of Love Story, Marathon Man, Rosemary’s Baby, and Black Sunday. Or maybe you’d like to see Thelma Schoonmaker talk about Black Narcissus? Stanley Donen talk Charade, Funny Face, or the sorely underseen Two for the Road? They got Rick Baker talking Wolf Man, Kim Novak on Vertigo, KIRK DOUGLAS on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Norman Jewison for The Thomas Crown Affair and Moonstruck, Angie Dickinson with Rio Bravo, and noir expert Eddie Muller running all over to all the films noir, among others. Oh, and you know you want to see why Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman, is introducing Sullivan’s Travels.
-Serge Bromberg The film aficionado to end all film aficionados. Along with his Lobster Films, he is responsible for the recent restoration of Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon in color, which he will present at the festival in a program he put on last year at the Academy that blew my fool mind. He has another program on the bill called Retour de Flamme/3-D Rarities, which will include uses of 3-D from the 1930s. I don’t know which program, if either, will feature the 3-D shorts from the 1910s and earlier that he showed at the Academy. Best you just go to both and find out, because his enthusiasm is infectious. He’s not just a guest; he’s practically the event himself.
-Silent Films with Orchestras! Yeah, it gets an exclamation point, because how the hell often does that happen? Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy and the 1924 Thief of Bagdad will be given this exceptional treatment.
-Grauman’s Chinese Theatre Look, let’s you and I be honest. It’s hard to sell people on Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. While they still host their share of big Hollywood premieres, most of us don’t get the pleasure of attending such events, and one doesn’t get a sense of the glamour of the place during an average showing of Wrath of the Titans or Silent House. But to see that curtain part for The Searchers? Chinatown? Casablanca? Yeah, that’ll do the trick.
-Not Available on DVD I’m told some people look at these kinds of exhibitions and think, “well, whatever, I can watch all of that on DVD.” Which is true, I suppose, technically speaking, but…well, anyway, live your life, friend. But know that for some of these, that’s just not possible. You can’t just go grab a copy of The Macomber Affair, Cry Danger, Lonesome, Fall Guy, most of either Serge Bromberg presentation (especially the 3-D parts), Call Her Savage, or most notably, Max Ophuls’ Letter from an Unknown Woman. Never mind the many more that don’t have decent prints on DVD, or are just damned hard to come by.
-The Movies Oh yes! Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about the movies. Here are the ones for which I am most excited, and this is still less than half of the total line-up:
Our Dancing Daughters (dir. Harry Beaumont, 1928) – Joan Crawford silent picture. 35mm. I’m not terribly keen on looking up the plot description when that’s all I need. (4/12, 7:15 pm)
Cleopatra (dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 1934) – If anyone can make a great film of this story, it’d be DeMille and star Claudette Colbert. (4/12, 9:30 pm)
Criss Cross (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1949) – Los Angeles-set noir reteaming The Killers team of Siodmak and Burt Lancaster. Noir expert Eddie Muller, who will be there to introduce, once ranked this his second-favorite of the genre. (4/12, 10:00 pm)
Wings (dir. William Wellman, 1928) – Okay, I just saw this at the Academy like two months ago, so I’m not going again. But you really, really should. I know you hear “first Best Picture winner” and you think it’s some stodgy affair, but it’s so, so great. Thrilling and swooning and heartbreaking and so funny. Warm and generous and, man, just a hell of a picture. (4/13, 9:00 am)
The Macomber Affair (dir. Zoltan Korda, 1947) – One of those “not on DVD” picks. Korda had a bit of a run undermining straightforward near-propaganda pieces with a decidedly left-wing stance (see my earlier review of The Four Feathers on Blu-ray), and TCM asserts this is perhaps the finest Ernest Hemingway adaptation. (4/13, 9:15 am)
Cover Girl (dir. Charles Vidor, 1944) – I caught this at the New Beverly two months ago, and I swear to God, it’s among my favorites of the 100-plus films I’ve seen so far this year. Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly star in a melancholy musical about the former’s rise to fame. Has one of the most technically audacious dance numbers I’ve ever seen to boot. Stunning, vividly emotional. (4/13, 9:30 am)
Bringing Up Baby (dir. Howard Hawks, 1938) – If you’ve never seen Hawks’ masterpiece with an audience, you don’t know how truly funny it is. (4/13, 9:00 am)
Funny Face (dir. Stanley Donen, 1957) – I’ve been wanting to see this for years, and the chance to see a big, splashy, Technicolor musical at Grauman’s is too sweet. Plus, Stanley Donen will be there! Donen! (4/13, 11:45 am)
Raw Deal (dir. Anthony Mann, 1948) – Low-budget Mann noir, with a lady giving the voiceover this time! (4/13, 12:15 pm)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (dir. Richard Fleischer) – Because, look, you’re either interested in the industrial side of the art or you’re not. And anyone who’s going to see The Avengers this year can’t tell me they’re not. (4/13, 2:45 pm)
Nothing Sacred (dir. William Wellman) – Screwball comedy and early Technicolor? Yes please. (4/13, 3:00 pm)
Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1931) – I am one of those who thinks Bride of Frankenstein is better, but this ain’t chopped liver, either. Plus, hey, John Carpenter’s going to be there talking about it. (4/13, 3:30 pm)
Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) – Hitchock’s finest, hands down. So relentlessly horrific in a very different manner than, say, Psycho, because it’s always safer when the threat is something else. That this is a digital presentation makes me a little nervous, as you have to really have it together to hold up to a screen the size of Grauman’s Chinese, but…boy, Vertigo, huh? (4/13, 6:00 pm)
Two for the Road (dir. Stanley Donen, 1967) – Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn make a smart couple. I didn’t even know this was getting a restoration, and yet here it is, at its world premiere. A wonderful picture about marriage, the highs and the lows. (4/13, 6:00 pm)
Swing Time (dir. George Stevens, 1936) – Astaire and Rogers create pure cinema just by showing up. I’m sure they had to work their asses off, but the result is so effortless, so ethereal, so damned flawless, that you’re sure it’s as natural as breathing. (4/13, 8:45 pm)
Grand Illusion (dir. Jean Renoir, 1937) – This is it, folks. One of the greatest. New restoration. Nothing I could say in so little space could convey the magnificence of this one. (4/13, 9:00 pm)
Letter From an Unknown Woman (dir. Max Ophuls, 1948) – I cannot stress enough the importance of this opportunity. One of the most acclaimed films of all time, and it still doesn’t have a Region 1 DVD release. This will be my first time seeing it, and I’m positively giddy. (4/13, 9:15 pm)
Chinatown (dir. Roman Polanski, 1974) – Hands-down one of the greatest, most perfect films ever made, presented at the glorious Chinese Theater. It’s a testament to the draw of Letter that I won’t be attending this one. (4/13, 9:30 pm)
Who Done it? (dir. Erle C. Kenton, 1942) – Abbott and Costello feature in which they play soda jerks aspiring to be mystery writers who then pass themselves off as detectives when a radio producer is murdered. I love movies. I love them so much. (4/14, 9:00 am)
Fall Guy (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1947) – First, how have Trekkies not adopted that director as one of their own? Second, TCM bills this as one of the most noir of all films noir! Third, this stars Leo Penn, who went on to father Sean Penn! Ain’t that something? (4/14, 9:00 am)
Lonesome (dir. Pál Fejös, 1928) – Mostly-silent film that has been long discussed for its evocative, thrilling camerawork. And it’s only sixty minutes, perhaps proving that most movies are just trying too hard. (4/14, 11:30 am)
Bonjour Tristesse (dir. Otto Preminger, 1958) – The great Otto Preminger directs a film I’m told is “nice and cold and depressing.” In Technicolor! (4/14, 1:30 pm)
Trouble in Paradise (dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1932) – My third-favorite film of all time. I could not possibly love this film more. Still the sexiest film ever made, I don’t care what anyone says. (4/14, 1:45 pm)
Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942) – Needless to say, if you’ve never seen THE studio film of the 1940s, you’ve barely touched the cinema. If you’ve never seen it in a theater with a responsive audience, you’ve got one of the definitive moviegoing events still ahead of you. To see it at Grauman’s Chinese is, I feel, almost an unapproachable experience, but someone has to be the brave one. (4/14, 3:45 pm)
Night and the City (dir. Jules Dassin, 1950) – I remember seeing this for the first time at the Brattle in Boston, MA and just being riveted through every second. A breathless experience, with possibly star Richard Widmark’s finest hour. Oh, and if you’ve never seen a Richard Widmark movie, I’m not kidding when I say you will have a whole new dimension of screen acting opened in front of you. One of the greatest actors the medium will ever witness. (4/13, 4:15 pm)
Girl Shy (dir. Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, 1924) – Yeah, just wait for THAT GUY to stand up and be like, “Chaplin and Keaton get all the recognition, but we really should pay more attention to Harold Lloyd.” But the thing is we really should pay more attention to Harold Lloyd. As previously mentioned, there’s a live frickin’ orchestra for this one, and it’s the Robert Israel Orchestra at that! Criterion Collection fanboys will know them from kicking ass on The Collection’s Josef von Sternberg set. Everyone else, what joy you have ahead of you. (4/14, 4:15 pm)
Singin’ in the Rain (dir. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952) – FEEL THE RAIN. Who doesn’t love Singin’ in the Rain? I can’t possibly imagine. Another one that, you know, there’s seeing it, and then there’s seeing it, and the world premiere of the 60th anniversary restoration at Grauman’s Chinese, well…that’s seeing it. (4/14, 6:30 pm)
The Black Cat (dir. Edgar G. Ulmer, 1934) – One of the earlier talkies to use a persistent score, which is enticing, as is the first pairing of Boris Karloff and Bela Legosi. Reportedly, Ulmer told Karloff to model his performance on Fritz Lang, which is pretty inspired. (4/14, 7:15 pm)
Gun Crazy (dir. Joseph H. Lewis, 1950) – Parts of this play a little campy for me, but it’s a whole lot of fun, and the one-take bank robbery is a masterstroke. (4/14, 6:45 pm)
Call Her Savage (dir. John Francis Dillon, 1932) – Honestly, after Wings, I’d follow Clara Bow anywhere. (4/14, 9:00 pm)
A Night to Remember (dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1958) – I’ve still yet to see this version of the Titanic sinking, but man does it sound terrific. There’s a lot of fanfare surrounding the screening taking place exactly 100 years to the night of the Titanic hitting the iceberg, and historian Don Lynch will be in attendance to give the event its due perspective. (4/14, 9:30 pm)
Seconds (dir. John Frankenheimer, 1966) – Totally insane in that great late-60s, let’s-tear-down-the-studio kind of way. Rock Hudson is twice the actor you thought he was. (4/14, 9:45 pm)
Black Narcissus (dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947) – You ain’t seen Technicolor yet, that’s for sure. Unless you’ve seen this movie of course. A riveting experience from top to bottom. (4/15, 9:15 am)
Rosemary’s Baby (dir. Roman Polanski, 1968) – Another Robert Evans/Roman Polanski joint at Grauman’s Chinese, another opportunity for Evans to spin his magic. And, look, I’m not saying Roman Polanski’s the greatest person who ever lived, but he’s easily one of the greatest directors, and this is one of the strongest arguments for that case. Show up and crane your head with 1200 strangers! (4/15, 12:00 pm)
The Grapes of Wrath (dir. John Ford, 1940) – Once was a time I didn’t get John Ford. Then I saw The Grapes of Wrath. Now I love John Ford. And if you don’t mind me getting political, this is the kind of hardcore 30s liberalism that I yearn for in today’s climate. Also fun to watch for stodgy bastards calling helpful government programs “Communism!” even then! (4/15, 12:15 pm)
Charade (dir. Stanley Donen, 1963) – Here’s what a bastard I am – for no good reason I was convinced I wouldn’t like this film. Then I saw it and, of course, I flipped for it. It’s so light and sprite and twisty and carefree, and people call it the best Hitchcock movie the master of suspense never made, and I don’t know, maybe, but it’s a good deal more romantic than he ever managed, that’s for sure. Come hear Stanley Donen talk about it! (4/15, 12:15 pm)
There are also six TBA slots on Sunday the 15th. Typically those get filled in with repeats of shows that were just a little too popular the past few days, so it’s a good time to play catch-up, and of course I’ll be updating my Twitter feed (@railoftomorrow) with just that information as it becomes available.
I should quickly note that ticketing at TCM Fest is a little tricky – they operate chiefly by the pass system, most of which are sold out by now, but I can testify from personal experience that buying individual tickets for screenings is not as daunting as it first appears. You simply show up a half-hour or so before the show starts, wait in line, and pay $20 cash ($10 with a student ID) upon admittance. The “cash” part is key to the operation, by the way – unless they’ve drastically changed their set-up, they won’t take debit or credit. And while seats are not guaranteed, I wasn’t turned away from anything I tried to get into last year, even Spartacus with Kirk Douglas in attendance, for which I arrived all of fifteen minutes before curtain. I did hear of people being turned away for rarer films in smaller venues (two of the screens at Mann’s Chinese only hold 177 people), but it’s a risk worth taking. And there’s always something else worth seeing if you do have trouble.
Once again, head to tcm.com/festival, which will answer most of your questions and provide you with the entire festival line-up, or ask me about it in the comments below. I’ve done this before as a regular ticket-buyer, so I know the ins-and-outs. But I really hope some of you can make it. TCM Fest is something about which I am very passionate; its artistic imperative and just the fact of it are so worth supporting beyond the enormous joy it is just to be there.