TCMFF 2017: Pre-Festival Thoughts
March 30, 2017
As expected, news of the TCMFF schedule release on Monday, March 20th sent me into a flutter. It was my last day of vacation with my family in Newport Beach, and though I was pretty positive the line-up would drop that morning, I still slept in a bit - well, like 8:30 (because, vacation). But upon discovering a flurry of tweets, I rushed over to my laptop, hopped on the TCMFF site and commenced with my schedule scrutiny. I posted my fest preview last week (which covers about half of the selections, just FYI), but as I've had the chance to settle in with the full agenda and my picks, below is my broader reflection on the program as a whole, including a few personal scheduling surprises.
Spotted in Beverly Hills last night! (Picture by Kim Luperi)
I always experience a mixture of joy and heartbreak when I parse through each TCMFF line-up for the first time: the delight of plugging an unknown title into IMDb and then adding that to my fest picks, blocks boasting 3-4 movies I just NEED to see and so forth. But after acclimating my eyes to the entire TCMFF timetable, I paused. That was the fastest I'd browsed through the four day calendar in my eight years attending the festival. Several others commented similarly too, though where many bemoaned the speed at which they perused the selections, I found it rather welcome. For me, the (relative) ease of choosing my game plan had less to do with the programming of films I had absolutely no interest in at all (those are present every year, because I'm pretty picky), and more to do with a plethora of pictures I'd already seen - in theaters, on TCM or on DVD - and those I know I can easily access. Though the scheduling of movies that are widely available or repeats from past festivals (like 1942's Casablanca) was a point of contention for a few people, I really had no problem with it; for almost every time slot, if there wasn't a must-see title scheduled, there was at least one movie I'd be more than happy to watch. And who knows, maybe I can sneak in a break or two, you know, for food, health and sanity sake.
TCMFF is always full of scheduling surprises. Normally, I'd kill to see Love Crazy...but I'm probably going to watch a doc about the discovery of 533 reels of nitrate film in a swimming pool near the Arctic Circle instead. And I couldn't be more thrilled.
Piggy-backing off the above paragraph, I was also astounded at the number of pictures I was passing up - movies I'd otherwise do my best to catch. This even includes films I've been dying to see in a theater, like The Awful Truth (1937). In my opinion, classic comedies are the best to watch with a crowd because the energy and laughter is so infectious - it's an experience home viewing simply can't deliver. But while nothing really beats sharing a film with hundreds of like-minded fans, when it comes down to a title I've never heard of or an absolute rarity versus a cherished favorite, 95% of the time I'll choose the former group over the latter (which generally tends to be a selection I can catch elsewhere). That's why my initial satisfaction of check-marking movies like Love Crazy (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), The Palm Beach Story (1942) and the aforementioned The Awful Truth - films I'd love to experience in a packed theater - fizzled quickly...and then the disappointment at missing these pictures was promptly replaced by anticipation and excitement over lesser-known, new-to-me selections or special presentations, such as the documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016), This is Cinerama (1952), Republic Preserved and David and Lisa (1962). Seriously, it's extremely atypical that I'd pass up a chance to watch a non-Thin Man William Powell and Myrna Loy pick (Love Crazy), but so goes TCMFF. However, I am proud of myself for making a point to pencil in at least one Irene Dunne title, 1937's Theodora Goes Wild, as a Dunne comedy is something I've been longing to see on the big screen for approximately 10 years. I'm super confident in that pick right now...one week out.
Can you tell I have a thing for foreign posters? I believe this one for The Palm Beach Story is from Italy.
Another schedule-related item I instantly noticed had to do with the venue for most of the pre-Codes - not theater 4, the smallest house in the Chinese Multiplex. (Well, for the most part.) Despite the camaraderie the beloved theater 4 inspired in many fest-goers, I'm very happy that TCM has taken our pre-Code roars for a larger setting into account this year; I smiled broadly when I spotted those 1930-1934 titles spread out mostly among the Egyptian (which can screen 35mm) and the Chinese theaters 1 and 6 (for rare and newly restored pictures like 1932's Cock of the Air and 1931's The Front Page); theater 4 will be utilized for one selection, 1931's Street Scene, and some TBDs, if they end up including any pre-Codes. Unfortunately - or fortunately - for me, I won't get to bask in the leisure of arriving 30 minutes early (as opposed to 1.5-2 hours minimum, theater 4-style) to take advantage of the larger capacity venues most of the pre-Codes will cozily reside in this year. The reason? Many of the titles on the docket are ones I've seen before (Cock of the Air and The Front Page), I own (1932's Red-Headed Woman) or are available for viewing on DVD/occasionally TCM (1932's One Hour with You, 1933's Rafter Romance, Street Scene). Though I'd love to comfortably (hopefully) watch any of these movies - some for a 2nd or 3rd time - with a TCMFF audience, most look like they'll be bumped on my personal schedule in favor of special presentations, discoveries, or titles that rarely screen - basically, what I mentioned above. I'm probably most crushed for Red-Headed Woman, which I mentioned previously that I wanted to see with an audience (the way the Studio Relations Committee urged censors to see it back when it was released!), but unfortunately, it's pitted against another must-see from that original preview: The Great Nickelodeon Show. Of course.
Street Scene was produced in 1931, but this poster looks like it was fashioned in a more vintage style.
Finally, as someone interested in film archiving, restoration and preservation, the number of selections highlighting those topics thrilled me. These include the documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time (which bumped my beloved Powell and Loy), Bring 'Em Back Alive: Tales of Film Restorations, Hollywood Home Movies and Republic Preserved. Living in LA, I've had the good fortune of attending events like the UCLA Festival of Preservation and Cinecon, where I regularly hear tales - many quite capitvating - from those who are fighting the good fight in the restoration and preservation trenches. Right now, I intend on catching three of the above-mentioned presentations/pictures (Bring 'Em Back Alive is sadly pitted against 1926's sparkling So This is Paris), with Dawson City: Frozen Time ranking #1 as my most anticipated selection among the four total. (Seriously, read more about it here. This extraordinary story sounds absolutely fascinating.) I can only hope that the well-deserved attention and praise these professionals, enthusiasts, companies and individual tales receive at TCMFF this year will shine a brighter spotlight on the important work that is being put in to recover, restore and save precious cinematic treasures.
We're ONE week out from TCMFF 2017! Any readers have thoughts on the line-up this year? If so, please feel free to share below!