The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review, Days 1 and 2
May 6, 2016
Since I live in LA, there's generally no singular defining moment that signifies the start of TCMFF, like boarding a plane or checking in at a hotel in Hollywood. Though the festivities usually begin for me the evening before opening night with an unofficial gathering of TCMFF-ers at the Formosa, my 7th TCMFF actually kicked off one day earlier this year.
On Tuesday evening, I joined Raquel (Out of the Past) and Carrie (Classic Film Fan) at the Roosevelt, where we were interviewed by the TCM On-Air team and got to roam around Hollywood with a camera and crew following us. I had met Raquel briefly before but not Carrie, and it was nice chatting and sharing the experience with both of them. (Plus Carlos, Raquel's husband, who graciously assumed purse-watching duties. Thank you again Carlos!) As a longtime fan of TCM, it was very humbling to be asked to participate, though I was a bit awkward in front of the camera (which I warned the producer of beforehand!), so we'll see just how much makes it into the final cut, whenever that turns up online.
TCM made me, Raquel, and Carrie feel like stars for an evening! (Picture by Carlos)
Wednesday evening's gathering at the Formosa is always a fabulous time; I really enjoy catching up with people I haven't seen in a year in a more relaxed and certainly less rushed environment. As usual, I intended on being in bed by 10:30 or 11pm for my last decent night sleep before the festivities were to begin. And as usual, I got in an Uber for my 4 minute ride home at about 12:30am. So much for that decent sleep.
Day 1: Thursday 4/28
Thursday was the one morning I didn't have to wake up at an ungodly hour, so I slept in...about 30 minutes later than usual. After taking care of some last minute work obligations, I swung by Mel's Diner to meet up with some Twitter friends, including two Lauras, Chris, Jeff, Ed and many more (sorry I've forgotten everyone; the days are blurring together), as well as gulp down some much-needed coffee, courtesy my fellow-Jerseyian Jeff.
We had our first - and this year, only - official TCMFF Social Producer meeting later that morning, which was filled with mostly familiar faces. After reviewing some guidelines and hearing about everyone's assignment, TCM graciously took us to a hearty Italian lunch that was possibly/probably most of the group's last proper meal for three days.
I rejoined some of the Social Producers for Bruce Goldstein's "So You Think You Know Movies" trivia game in Club TCM. I had to leave early to meet up with Marya from TCM's social team to head over to the red carpet, but I later learned our huge trivia team won! (Which I admittedly did not contribute to at all.)
Being on the red carpet was a memorable, slightly nerve-wracking and ultimately exhilarating experience. I certainly couldn't pull off those journalistic duties full time, but for the hour or so I was there, it was undoubtedly thrilling. I'll write a separate post in the coming weeks with a rundown of who I spoke to and what they shared with me!
The carpet is ready for opening night! (Picture by Kim Luperi)
One Potato, Two Potato (1964)
I dashed a bit early from the carpet (literally, tip-toeing around the area where the stars walk to get out, whoops) to line up for my first film of the festival, One Potato, Two Potato. I usually seek out rare movies or ones I've never heard of, and this picture qualifies as both. Centering around an interracial marriage in the early 60s, the movie's themes echo the more famous Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, released three years later, though shooting on location light-years away from Hollywood in a small Ohio town surely contributed to the film's more realistic style and brutally honest storytelling.
Unfortunately, a fire alarm in the building reluctantly cleared the theater with about 5-10 minutes left in the movie. The audience was so engrossed in the picture that a few people didn't get up until most attendees had already filed out. Of course, this incident was not ideal, though I must say the situation was handled calmly and capably by the theater staff. Upon our return we had to pick One Potato, Two Potato up again at the beginning of last reel, which gave a brief respite to those who were already teary-eyed from the start of the film's conclusion. I was glad they continued the picture, because 1. the audience would have revolted and 2. that ending is one not to be missed; it's absolutely maddening and heart wrenching. This is one film I need to give more thought to, and I definitely plan on writing more about it later.
Brief Encounter (1945)...Very Brief Indeed
My schedule got screwed up on the very first night, when I had to reluctantly scratch Brief Encounter. Though widely available, Brief Encounter is a classic I've never seen, and I was really excited for my inaugural viewing on the big screen. However, after eating a really, really quick dinner due to that darn fire alarm, I wasn't feeling all that great and opted to go home and get a little sleep instead. I was certainly upset to miss the movie, but I'm glad it's available on DVD! Maybe that means I'll watch it...eventually.
At least I didn't end the first night of the festival in tears. That's the one upside to missing Brief Encounter.
Day 2: Friday 4/29
Shanghai Express (1932)
Friday began bright and early with a hurried breakfast in the Roosevelt for the Social Producers. From there, I hit theater 1 for my first pre-Code of the festival, Shanghai Express. My friend Jeremy Arnold, whose book The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter the Social Producers received from TCM this year, interviewed director Josef von Sternberg's son Nicholas before the screening. Shanghai Express holds the distinction of being the only movie I watched at TCMFF that I had seen previously; the gorgeous world premiere digital restoration and interview with Nicholas were selling points over selections like The More the Merrier (1943), which is one of my all-time favorites. (Note: I'll be writing about the pre-Code selections from this year's TCMFF at a later date as well, so I won't go into detail about them here.)
Also, at some point on Friday (I think), I ran into frequent line buddies from last year, Kayla and her aunt Trudy. It was nice bumping into them a few times during the festival this year and chatting again; we even stood near each other in line again once or twice, you know, for old times sake.
Double Harness (1933)
Luckily, Shanghai Express was the shortest of the morning block of films, and afterwards I jumped immediately into the line for Double Harness. Being a pre-Code, Double Harness was definitely on my radar, but the fact that it's played on TCM (TCM owns the rights) and at the UCLA Film and Television Archive meant that if I didn't get in, it wouldn't be the end of the world because I was confident I'd get a chance to see it one day, unlike *cough* 1933's Pleasure Cruise *cough*. To my astonishment, the theater filled up extremely quickly with VIP and Spotlight passholders, and only about 40-50 of us with regular credentials made the cut. Other than The Manchurian Candidate (1962), I'd guess that this screening turned away the most people, and it did so twice! Though Double Harness is a fun little pre-Code comedy romance, I'm still dumbstruck as to why this particular title proved so popular. (Seriously, can anyone explain that to me?)
I must admit, this is not a very good poster, but there's not many options out there.
Amazing Film Discoveries with Serge Bromberg
After Double Harness, I snagged a seat at Amazing Film Discoveries with Serge Bromberg and got to witness Bromberg clown around with TCM staff for the official fest photographers, which only makes him that much more perfect in my eyes. Bromberg put on quite the show, as he's known for, combining his passion for restoration and the medium of film in a way that is educational and entertaining at the same time. Though I had to miss the program's centerpiece, Laurel and Hardy's formerly lost The Battle of the Century (1927), I was glad I was able to catch most of the show. I'll highlight more of Bromberg's discussion on the blog at a later date.
6 Hours to Live (1932)
As I mentioned in my preview post, a brief commitment stood in between me and 1933's Pleasure Cruise. The upside of missing that popular picture? I managed to return to the theater early enough to line up for another pre-Code, 6 Hours to Live, before the 5pm block let out. With TCMFF's program guide reading: "This rarely seen science-fiction film about a murdered diplomat (Warner Baxter) brought back to life to catch his killers...", I figured this eccentric-sounding pre-Code had to be a hot ticket; however, though the theater filled up fast, 6 Hours to Live didn't draw Double Harness numbers, based on the feedback I read on social media. (This was also another title I figured would nab a Sunday TBD spot but failed to.) 6 Hours to Live was the pre-Code I was most curious to watch based on the plot, and while I'm definitely glad I got to see it in all its zany sci-fi glory, it didn't blow me away.
Man, the Swedes and their movie posters.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
I raced from 6 Hours to Live to line up for The Manchurian Candidate, another new-to-me movie, at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX. Though I've been in the theater several times, I've actually never watched a movie at this historic venue. When I arrived near the start of the line, I was directed "just around the corner," which in reality meant around about four corners AND the entire Hollywood and Highland complex, to the intersection of Orange and Hollywood. I passed hundreds of fans and several familiar faces before the line eventually met with Standby (and I'm sure lapped that!). I picked up my queue number, 545, and ended up being one of the last groups let in, which meant at least a few hundred people were turned away, which is unreal for a theater with a capacity of 932.
After a long day, I feared that a two hour plus film screened late at night would put me to sleep, but I was pleasantly surprised that I remained wide awake throughout the entire picture. Surely, that's a testament to how incredible and thrilling The Manchurian Candidate is, though that heart racing finale may not have been the best way to end an evening if you have to wake up early the next day...
Two days down, two to go! Look out for the 2nd part of my festival review next Tuesday.