TCMFF 2017 in a Nutshell
April 10, 2017
Another TCM Classic Film Festival has come and gone. The preceding 84 hours (give or take) of movies, special presentations and Q&As felt like it stretched a total of 10 days...within one gigantic, continuous time-warp.
At the closing night party yesterday, the most common question asked was: "What were your favorite screenings and festival highlights?" Well, I just don't know yet. I honestly haven't had the time to properly reflect on the experience as a whole and let it all sink in, so I think it will be another day or two (or three) before I can provide a thoughtful response.
TCMFF banners at the Egyptian Theater. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
However, a few revelations popped up as I navigated the fest. So before I dive into my more comprehensive recap (which, again, will take a few days), below are some more immediate takeaways and surprises from TCMFF 2017:
I'm a bad pre-Code fan
WHO HAVE I BECOME?! As a self-professed pre-Code fanatic, I did not see one single pre-Code at TCMFF this year. Not one. Nada. To be honest, I'm a bit disappointed in myself, and I wouldn't be surprised if the pre-Code powers that be seized my Margaret Herrick Library card and revoked my access to the library’s Production Code Administration (PCA) files. Or something like that.
But as I've mentioned in previous posts regarding this year's festival, I knew in advance that several pre-Codes would be bumped for rare titles and special presentations, especially since I had seen all but two pre-Codes screening this time around (those were 1932's One Hour With You, which made my initial list, and 1931's Street Scene). I also must add that as a Los Angeles resident I’ve been afforded many opportunities to watch pre-Codes on the big screen, including fest programmers The Front Page (1931) and Cock of the Air (1932). Though part of me selfishly wishes TCM had selected more new-to-Kim pre-Codes this year, I was also pleased that I didn’t have to make many tough scheduling decisions and that fans from out of town got to experience some of these rarer, restored titles in a theater, too. Plus, TCM can't read my mind. (At least I don’t think they can.)
My pre-Code pal Danny from pre-code.com made these pins for the fest. I feel like I'm not worthy of mine now!
Still, I fully intended to mark One Hour with You off my pre-Code checklist, but when I read that script supervisor Angela Allen would be speaking prior to Beat the Devil (1953), I became incredibly interested in hearing her talk. I’ve attended plenty of Q&As with actors, directors, writers and producers, but I seldom hear live tales from those who worked behind the scenes in non-creative positions during this era, let alone the women who did so! So that was another last minute bump – and it was 150% worth it, because I am now slightly obsessed with Angela Allen (more on that later).
Comedies, what comedies?
I love comedy. It's one of my favorite genres and by far the best type of movie to watch with a crowd. When TCM released the festival schedule, I was stoked to see so many classic laughers programmed, and I (thought I) couldn't wait to watch these uproarious pictures at the fest - many of them titles I've waited years to finally behold on the big screen (ahem, Irene Dunne).
But...that didn't work out. Of the 10 films and 5 special events I attended, only 4 could be counted as comedies, roughly 25% of my total TCMFF haul.
If you ever get the chance to watch this witty, charming film, DO IT!
However, those few comedies I made it to represented a respectable variety of what the genre has to offer: John Huston's Beat the Devil, which I had seen but somehow had no idea how utterly bizarre and dryly uproarious it was - thank you, audience; an Ernest Lubitsch silent, So This is Paris (1926), which I've also watched before, but it made the list again because it's such a rarity...and also the funniest, most radiant silent picture I've laid eyes upon, in my opinion; a British satire, King of Hearts (1966), which was timely, poignant and downright riotous; and The Great Nickelodeon Show, in which 5 performers humorously re-created an evening at the local nickelodeon, circa the early 1900s. This lean number of comical selections on my part, particularly during a year where comedy was the festival theme, astounded me, but then again, if you've read my pre-fest posts and the above paragraph, you know that I prioritized pictures I hadn't seen before, rare titles and screenings with special guests, which pertains to all of the above comedies in one way or another.
Speaking of special guests...
I was rather taken aback at how many screenings I skipped out on, opting to only attend the presentation or Q&A preceding the show instead. Before I get any angry comments on this, please note that I only engage in this practice - 1. sparingly and 2. for programs that aren't sold out. For instance, I really wanted to hear Lee Grant speak this year, but I missed her on the red carpet and didn't make it to her conversation in Club TCM; thus, one of my last chances was Sunday's screening of Detective Story (1951), her screen debut. However, after exiting the Republic Preserved presentation, I found the line for Detective Story about 100 people deep...over an hour before the movie started. So I didn't even attempt it, because I figured the 210 seat theater would fill up quickly, and I'd never take a seat from someone who wanted to watch the film and got shut out because of someone like me! (I've seen Detective Story on the big screen before, too.) Instead, I headed to the IMAX theater for Singin' in the Rain (1952), introduced by Todd Fisher and Ruta Lee. Though I know that's a popular movie, particularly now, the IMAX accomodates almost 1000 people, so I knew there would be plenty of room.
Ben Burtt and Craig Barron present "The Unsung Heroes of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" before the 20 hour movie. (It's only like 3.5 hours, but still.)
Some selections I ducked out of because they knocked out two (or ten) programming blocks, like 1963's epic It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (I always try to make the Burtt and Barron presentations), while others like The Jerk (1979) I skipped because I wanted real food (but it was also a goal of mine to hear Carl Reiner's Q&A). For select time slots devoid of must-sees for me, I opted to get some things (aka writing) done and line up early for other (usually nitrate) programs, which is why I passed on Singin' in the Rain. Those are the 3 screenings this year that I only attended for the Q&As - and all of them played in the largest fest venues, the Cinerama Dome (capacity 834) and the IMAX theater (capacity 920). In the interest of full disclosure, I also left This is Cinerama (1952) halfway through to grab an Uber with Danny and his wife to the multiplex so I could hop in line for 1962's David and Lisa, my only venture into the famed theater 4 this year. If you've seen This is Cinerama, you know that the picture has absolutely no story (intentionally), so it didn't matter too much that I missed the last half.
TCMFF stumps me...yet again
This is somewhat less surprising because it happens basically every single year, but once again, I've found that it's almost impossible for me to gauge what movies will be popular and what selections I'll have an easier time with. On a very joyful note, this was really the first year that I didn't hear multiple reports of jam-packed, hundreds-turned-away sell-out insanity. I'm pretty sure the reason for this - one of the main ones, at least - was the switch of venues for most of the pre-Codes. That change gave these titles, always among the most popular, a bit more room to breathe, which in turn seemed to level out the crowds, to an extent.
A Spanish poster for Lured.
But select screenings featuring movies that are readily available for home viewing, like Beat the Devil and Lured (1947), were packed, with attendees surprisingly turned away from both, something I wasn't expecting at all. Additionally, Panique (1946), a French film noir that I sat down for but ended up leaving before the intro, was also wildly popular. I didn't stay because I was already a bit tired and didn't think I'd fare well with subtitles in my slightly sleepy state - plus, it was lunchtime, and I wanted to line up early for my next pick, so I figured someone else would probably appreciate my seat more than I would at that point. (I was hoping Panique would make a TBA spot on Sunday, but it didn't; I heard from many people that it was wonderful, so that will probably go down as my one semi-regret. Lunch was tasty, though!) On the other hand, presentations like The Great Nickelodeon show, new discoveries like David and Lisa and the silent masterpiece So This is Paris (which I partly skipped Panique for) were adequately attended but certainly not as full as I anticipated. But I guess that's just another TCMFF quirk - one that I'm not complaining about because it certainly keeps us on our toes!
Stay tuned over the next couple of days - hopefully! - for a full fest recap...once I get a good night's sleep and some decent nourishment.