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TCMFF 2021 in Review

May 27, 2021

The 12th annual TCM Classic Film Festival wrapped a few weeks ago. Though this marked the network’s second virtual event, it was the first one to utilize HBO Max for programming and daily Zoom sessions to emulate the intimacy of Club TCM. That meant one thing: decisions. And just like the good ol’ days, there were many of them. 


But unlike the in-person celebrations, the event was not the center of my attention this year; it shared my time with work, an intense cleaning schedule for upcoming house guests, and a few other things.


By Friday, I realized I definitely would not be able to see everything I wanted, especially on HBO Max, which boasted most of the special features I usually prioritize; so, I focused on TCM’s movies and HBO Max’s extras.


Without further ado, here’s a brief rundown of what I watched. Expect longer posts about a few new-to-me discoveries, as well as some of the special events, over the next several months.


As usual, the festivities began before the official Thursday starting line. For years, I’ve wanted to attend the Meet TCM panel event, and for years I couldn’t because of work. This year was no different, but at least I was able to tune in to the virtual conversation online while I finished my day!


From top left, clockwise: Ben Mankiewicz, George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn and Rita Moreno discuss West Side Story.


Working from home also meant that I got to catch the opening night film, West Side Story  (1961), at a decent hour, 5pm PST. First of all, I would like to request a weekly series of Ben Mankiewicz chatting with Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, and George Chakiris, please. The adoration and respect they share for each other is heartwarming, and their memories of filming, the Oscars, everything – it was such a delight. Especially Moreno’s honesty about representation in Hollywood. She’s already won all the awards but give her many more.


This was actually my first viewing of West Side Story. I went in knowing a lot of the songs and the central theme, but that was it. Most of the elements impressed me, especially the artistry – the choreography, the songs, the production design – but in the end, despite many incredible performances, the film felt too long and slow to me. Weirdly, I think I would enjoy a live stage production more; I actually adore Broadway musicals, but movie musicals still aren’t my thing. 


Perhaps the greatest publicity still ever: Doctor X.

The rest of the evening I dedicated to finishing up an interview, but I caught a little of Doctor X (1932). The restoration looked stunning, with crisp seafoam green and peach hues adding a bit of menace to the proceedings. I wish I could have stayed up to live tweet with some other (presumably) west coast folks, but a 10:30pm start time is late for me, especially with an early day ahead.


I planned on rolling out of bed at 6:50am to watch The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951) with the east coasters at 7am. That I did, but before the picture started I hopped on TCM’s west coast feed to enjoy a few scenes of My Favorite Wife (1940), which started at 5:45am EST. It thoroughly surprised me that I was awake that early to do so!


The Whistle at Eaton Falls was a film I had never seen, let alone heard of. I always look forward to new-to-me flicks at TCMFF, and I’ll definitely be including this in an article next month exploring my fest discoveries.


Work demanded my attention most of the day, save for an informative Club TCM conversation with members of the network’s programming team. I always wondered what that entailed, and it sounds absolutely intriguing, just as I imagined, even all the paperwork involved. Sign me up to sit in on one of those all-day programming sessions, please. (I’d also love to know how they keep everything organized, from licensing to past themes to the actual business of scheduling films.)


I loved the miniatures used in the SF Sketchfest table read of Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Work ended on Friday just in time for me to join the east coast folks for SF Sketchfest Presents: Plan 9 From Outer Space table read adapted by Dana Gould. I had never seen Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), and I still haven’t, but with names like Maria Bamford, Oscar Nuñez, Laraine Newman, and Bob Odenkirk, I couldn’t miss this. Trying to picture the story, in the lowest budget way possible, proved a little difficult, but I did get a kick out of the virtual performances. Some of the actors went ALL IN, and that was much appreciated. As were the miniatures. And the Newman asides. This basically counts as seeing the movie, right?  


I hope so, because I skipped the actual movie and flipped over to HBO Max, opting for Ben Burtt and Craig Barron’s Chain Lightning (1950) special feature, Jet Jockeys in Love: The Making of Chain Lightning. As the Oscar-winners noted in my interview with them (which you can read HERE), they took it up a notch for this production. Rest assured, though, they still retained their signature rapport and dry sense of humor.


Speaking of my Burtt and Barron interview, I had to furiously finish that on Friday evening, so I drifted in and out of Grease 2  (1982) with the east coast crew, which was probably the best way to watch that movie. I certainly enjoyed hearing TCM Slumberground’s thoughts on this one.


Elaine May and Mike Nichols.


I had some things to take care of Saturday morning, but I was happy to catch the 1996 documentary Nichols and May: Take Two. I may have to borrow the book I got for my boyfriend for Christmas, Nichols and May: Interviews, because I learned that they are, um, an incredible comedy team. I couldn’t believe the skits I was watching were performed 60 years ago; their comedy holds up unbelievably well and feels so modern.


After that doc, it was time to binge a ton of HBO Max extras in between fits of cleaning:


  • I really liked how The Hawksian Approach to Screwball Comedy compared frames from The Front Page (1931) and His Girl Friday (1940) to juxtapose the difference in blocking and speed. That was eye opening.


  • The conversation between Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from Once (2007) was lovely; I had forgotten how grand of a force that tiny film was, you know, winning Oscars and getting nominated for a Grammy!


  • Hearing about the different dispositions of dogs from animal casting agent Greg Tresan was very interesting. I would have never thought to have a conversation with an animal casting agent – or that the role existed.


  • I found the US premiere of The Mystery of Méliès (2021) fascinating. I knew about the pioneer’s work but had absolutely no idea about his life or career outside of those few early years. Not to mention, the rediscovery and restoration tale that the second half of the movie covers was exhilarating. More on that one next month.


I feel like I’m pushing a lot of my TCMFF coverage to the next few months: I will be going into more details of Burtt and Barron’s Saturday Club TCM conversation in June or July, and I’ll also cover my first viewing of They Won’t Believe Me (1947) next month along with the rest of my fest discoveries. That world premiere restoration included 15 additional minutes of footage cut from the film’s reissue in the 1950s. As someone who studies the censorship of pre-Code Hollywood, I relished Eddie Muller’s illuminating live tweets recording exactly where all the edits took place.


A Spanish language poster for Her Man.


Sunday began with a pre-Code, as all Sundays should. I’ve seen Her Man (1930) before, but I was mesmerized by the beauty of this restoration – and how unabashed the movie is. At the last minute, I shared some gems from the film’s censorship file on Twitter, such as: “The story in itself is pretty bad, with no apparent reason for making it. There is no moral in it... In short, it is a bunch of apple strudel with a lot of hooey poured over it.” Always a fun time.


I hopped over to the east coast feed for Princess Tam Tam (1935), another fest discovery that I’m happy TCM programmed, chiefly because I had never seen Josephine Baker in a movie. (I also didn’t know this was in French!) There’s a lot to unpack about this film – race-wise, culture-wise, class-wise – that I’ll delve into next month.


The final movie I caught live with the east coasters was the bubbly cocktail that is So This is Paris (1926). I’ve seen it twice, but this screening was the world premiere restoration, complete with a brand-new score by Ben Model. As if I needed two more reasons to catch this effervescent silent picture.


As I had yet to watch Chain Lightning (1950) on HBO Max, I ended the fest with the Humphrey Bogart-Eleanor Parker aviation yarn, armed with visual and sound effect knowledge from Burtt and Barron’s short. Bogart didn’t exactly fit the role, but Parker’s presence alone made up for that.


And that’s wrap on TCMFF 2021. Though I still enjoyed interacting with everyone from the comfort of my own couch, I very much look forward to seeing fellow fans and friends in person (crossing fingers) next year!

thanks for stopping by!

I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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