Despite the ease of access – and despite being so in love with classic cinema – I have never been to the TCM Film Festival until this year. After starting this blog, I decided I probably should immerse myself in the classic film community and share the joys of watching the likes of Gable and Garbo onscreen.
This year, I decided to test the waters and graze the movie screenings and free events at the TCMFF. The level of passion in classic movie fans is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. There’s so much respect in the movie palaces – nobody checks their phone or whispers to each other. It’s immersive and transformative, an intimate relationship between the screen and the audience-goer.
Tuesday, April 24th, 2018
Before the festival had even started, I went to a talk by Kimberly Truhler called Fashion in Film of TCMFF 2018 at the Women’s Club of Hollywood right on the corner of La Brea and Hollywood Blvd. It was a fascinating discussion about costume designers and how the clothes of movie characters influence the story. In Sunset Boulevard, for example, Norma Desmond tries valiantly and pitifully to dress like a star, despite the expired 1920s flair of her fashion. In Heaven Can Wait, the monogram knitted on Gene Tierney’s nightgown reveals the eventuality of her narcissism.
Wednesday, April 25th, 2018
Now this was the true eve of TCMFF. The Roosevelt Hotel was packed with attendees who had arrived early to take in the glamor of Hollywood. They all milled in the lobby, walked the boulevard, and enjoyed the nice weather.
Starting at 4PM by the pool at the Hotel Roosevelt, there was a pre-fest party hosted by “Going to TCM Classic Film Festival“, a Facebook group I’m a part of. The theme was Strong Women in Hollywood, and everyone got to mingle without the hustle and stress of running from theater to theater. At the party were folks like Meredith Ponedel, who presented a new book, About Face: The Life & Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the Stars, about her aunt Dottie Ponedel, who was Judy Garland’s make-up artist.
Actresses Cora Sue Collins and Barbara Rush were also there to reminisce about their life in film. Barbara famously won a Golden Globe for her role in It Came From Outer Space and Cora Sue amassed a staggering total of 47 film roles including Anna Karenina before she retired at the age of 18. Both are now 91 and still sharp as a tack.
I had a lovely conversation with Cora Sue about her decision to retire from show business at 18. She assured me it was the best decision of her life. Cora Sue told me a story about a meeting with Louis B. Mayer. “Cora Sue, you’ll never work in this business again,” he warned her when she asked to be let out of her contract. “Mr. Mayer,” said Cora Sue calmly, “I’m fine with that.” Louis B. Mayer huffed, puffed, and threw a tantrum, Cora Sue delightfully attributed this to his Napoleon complex.
Also at the party was Mary Astor’s great-grandson, who brought along her 1941 Oscar for The Great Lie. The actual statuette wasn’t given to her in 1941, as there was a war going on and material was being siphoned towards artillery, but was finally reimbursed in the ’60s. He was there to support the new documentary Scandal: The Trial of Mary Astor.
It was such a wonderful experience finally meeting all the classic film fans and faces behind the blogs that I’ve been following for years. The TCMFF is like the high school reunion, and everyone packs together to catch each other up on their lives. I’d see the same faces again and again no matter what screening I went to, and in that sense, it really does make the TCM community feel alive. Some folk even flew all the way from Sweden!
At 8PM, I went down to Club TCM in The Blossom Room to attend A Conversation with Louis Gossett Jr., the unofficial kick-off to the TCMFF. The acting legend spoke with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz about his career, reminiscing about his childhood in Brooklyn and the first time he drove down Sunset Boulevard and the trouble he got with the law for doing so.
Afterwards, I told Gossett to try one of my local haunts, Brooklyn Water Bagels in Beverly Hills, as they source their water all the way from New York. It’s owned by Larry King, Gossett’s old high school classmate!
A born-and-bred Chicagoan, I had to talk to Ben Mankiewicz about his brief stint hosting At the Movies, the programme that taught me to appreciate cinema.
Thursday, April 26th, 2018
While everyone with a Spotlight Pass rushed towards the Chinese Theater to attend the opening ceremony red carpet and catch a glimpse of Scorsese, I went west of Highland Ave to a quieter movie screening, knowing that one block away, Scorsese, DiCaprio, and Mel Brooks were living their best lives.
My first picture was Stage Door at the Egyptian Theater. As I didn’t buy a pass for the festival, I went the standby route. It was fairly simple, and the size of the Egyptian Theater practically guaranteed my admission to the screening. As luck would have it, most of the movies I wanted to see were at the Egyptian, so I could’ve stood in line an hour early or walked in ten minutes late and still get in!
Stage Door was a beautiful picture, shown in cinematic nitrate film – dangerous, but luminescent. To see Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, and Eve Arden share the screen on one of the greatest movie palaces in the world might be one of the most classically Hollywood moments one could ever experience. Outside the Egyptian was a gestating tourist avenue, but inside was cinema magic at its finest. We all laughed at the spunk and wit of Ginger, we marveled at the intelligence of Hepburn, the natural-born charisma and deadpan attitude of Lucille Ball, and, by the end, we cried for Andrea Leeds.
Friday, April 27th, 2018
Back at the Egyptian Theater at 9:30PM to see Leave Her to Heaven, a Technicolor meal starring Gene Tierney in her only Oscar-nominated role as a brooding and spiteful femme fatale. As much as I loved Tierney, Vincent Price’s hammy performance mesmerized me, and once again in nitrate, the saturated colors made the presentation all the more glowing. Truth be told, I hadn’t seen a single Tierney film in my life up till that point! Nope, not even Laura. Must add to Letterboxd watchlist.
Saturday, April 28th, 2018
Saturday morning I found myself back at the Roosevelt Hotel in Teddy’s for the Musical Fans Meet-Up and Sing-Along. Hosted by Prof. Richard Edwards (whose online TCM “Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies” class I took two years ago) and foley artist extraordinaire Vanessa Ament, both of Ball State University, we all sat on comfy couches and sang along to the likes of Meet Me in St. Louis, Cheek to Cheek, Singin’ in the Rain, and other classic musical moments. It’s all to promote the upcoming TCM online class “Mad About Musicals” dedicated to the history of Hollywood musicals and the month of musicals airing on TCM in conjunction.
At 7PM, I returned to the Egyptian – ten minutes late – to see Show People, the best role of Marion Davies’s career. I walked into the theater right as Leonard Maltin went up to introduce the film. He sat down with Lara G. Fowler, who is currently working on the first official biography on Marion Davies, about her life. It was a delightful and funny silent comedy with cameos from the likes of Chaplin and Fairbanks (the Chaplin one drawing the biggest laughs).
Halfway through the film, the fire alarm blared like the klaxon on the bridge of the Enterprise and we were all told to evacuate the theater! Thankfully, 15 minutes later, it was deemed a false alarm, the film was respooled, and the show recommenced.
Sunday, April 29th, 2018
I had intended to go to the screening of the 1925 Phantom of the Opera at the Chinese Multiplex in the evening, but a prior dinner engagement pushed back my ability to make it on time. When I checked on it, The picture was nearing its end, so the TCM staff waved me in to watch the rest of the film. There was a live original score from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra which made the picture feel so different from previous viewings. During the era of silent film, as Rich Edwards told me after the screening, orchestras came up with their own scores to play in the theaters. It’s amazing just how different a film can feel with individual scores.
There were so many people who shared such passion for classic cinema that sometimes it became overwhelming and exhausting. I had never encountered anything like this before, not even from people working in Hollywood. I wish I could’ve done the things exclusive to passholders from attending the Roaring Twenties party at the pool to schmoozing in Club TCM. It was an open and friendly atmosphere of wide-eyed, filmstruck people and that was so refreshing to see in such a movers-and-shakers town like LA. I’m definitely getting a pass next year.