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Nine for Nine: My Top Moments from Every TCMFF

January 11, 2019

In honor of TCM Classic Film Festival’s 10th anniversary this April, I thought I’d share my favorite experience from each of the nine events I’ve attended so far.  As you’ll see, my TCMFF adventures have ranged based on the type of access I’ve had, from volunteer and standby line-attempter to Social Producer and Media passholder. I’ll be writing another article covering all the different capacities from which I’ve enjoyed TCMFF, but for now, here are my most memorable fest moments from 2010-2018, presented in chronological order… because I’d just rank them all #1 if I were to attempt to arrange them otherwise.


I was given this poster at the staff party at TCMFF #1, featuring autographs from Angelica Huston, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Osborne, and Danny Huston.


Favorite moment: Finally getting to work for TCM

When I moved to LA in 2009, two of my goals were to work for 1. TCM (yes, though Atlanta-based) and 2. a film festival. Little did I know I’d accomplish both at the inaugural TCMFF.

I just so happened to be winding down a job when the fest began, allowing me to saunter into a packed theater 15 minutes before show time on Friday morning with a standby ticket for Murder, He Says (1945), which doesn’t even appear in the program. (The slot was listed as TBA.) Afterwards, I approached a volunteer table to ask if help was still needed; to my delight, they said yes, and less than 24 hours later, I reported for my first shift. I gather I was one of the only volunteers who thoroughly enjoyed the whole atmosphere, not just the money—yes, TCM pays volunteers. What struck me most was how highly they valued their festival assistants, as we were called; we were even granted access to the staff party, complete with an open bar, food, and DVDs and signed posters handed out left and right. I relished being treated as a member of the team, and that first year goes down as one of my all-time greatest volunteer experiences.


My pal Christy snapped this photo of me with Turner's Shannon Clute at TCMFF 2018. I met Shannon at the very first festival.


Favorite moment: A cup of joe

Yes, really. 2011 was the year I learned the truth about the pre-Codes. Even this early into the festival’s history, pre-Codes had solidified their popularity with audiences. With a full time job, I relied on the standby line for access nights and weekends… and that method failed miserably. Queued second on Saturday morning for This is the Night (1932) and third for Hoopla (1933) later that day—didn’t matter! Both sold out.


So, this year’s memory isn’t about the films, because I saw none. Rather, it’s about the coffee I shared with TCM staffer Shannon Clute. I made it a point during the 2010 fest to meet someone who worked at Turner, and that just so happened to be Shannon. To my surprise, he agreed to meet me for coffee when I invited him during the 2011 fest, and we shared a pleasant conversation chatting about TCM, his background, and my senior thesis on Baby Face (1933). Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of running into him at subsequent festivals; I greatly treasure the friendship we’ve cultivated and the support he’s shown me throughout the years.

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Sorry that this is the worst photograph ever taken. But this is all the evidence that I have of being in the same room as Serge Bromberg (on the right). I'm usually too mesmerized by his presentations to snap pictures during them!


Favorite moment: Serge Bromberg, human extraordinaire

Despite my 2011 experience with the standby line, I made it into most of the films I targeted in 2012, including Call Her Savage (1932). (Curiously, being second in line for 1948’s Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House didn’t suffice.) Honorable mentions this year go out to two incredible screenings with two delightful guests: one of my all-time favorites, Gun Crazy (1950), with star Peggy Cummins, and Raw Deal (1948) with Marsha Hunt. Seven years later, I’m kicking myself for not thinking of this blog sooner and recording those Q&As.


But the winner here is a Frenchman. The 2012 event served as my introduction to charming film collector/historian/preservationist/all-around exceptional person Serge Bromberg, who hosted “A Trip to the Moon and Other Trips Through Time, Color and Space,” a fascinating compilation of early shorts. Bromberg's passion and energy never cease to amaze me, and his charisma alone elevates his programs into a category all their own; whenever his name appears on the schedule, I make it a point to attend, regardless of the subject.

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Ben Burtt (left) and Craig Barron (right) entertaining the audience with some speculations regarding the origin of the infamous Tarzan yell.

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Special shout-out to the TCMFF 2013 key art.


Favorite moment: Burtt and Barron

Also known as the year of the greatest festival key art ever. I finally figured out to how volunteer again, and returning as a festival assistant meant fewer movies—I got shut out of Safe in Hell (1931) TWICE—but there were two epic memories, and this year is a toss-up between those events: a live recreation of The Donovan Affair (1929), Frank Capra’s first sound picture (most of the sound discs are lost), and Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939) with Oscar-winners Ben Burtt (sound effects) and Craig Barron (visual effects). The deliberation between these represents one thing I love about TCMFF: the incredible one-of-a-kind special presentations they bring to Hollywood.


Usually, The Donovan Affair would win, but Burtt and Barron’s absorbing peek behind classic Hollywood technology (in this case, the Tarzan yell) hooked me; like Bromberg, I never try to miss their programs. The duo epitomizes another facet of TCMFF I adore—the chance to engage classics in new ways that are both entertaining and educational—and as a result, their popularity has grown each year. Their 2013 appearance was also memorable for another reason: I finally got to chat with Burtt, a man well-known at the tiny northwestern Pennsylvania college we both graduated from, Allegheny.

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What an interview. Robert Osborne chatting with Maureen O'Hara.


Favorite moment: Maureen O’Hara

Still sticking with the standby line, I was astonished to make it into a wide variety of programs in 2014, including The Lodger (1927) with live accompaniment, the sparkling On Approval (1944), and the Japanese Godzilla (1954). On Approval, in particular, was a huge highlight for me, but the battle comes down to a favorite actress vs. favorite film, and the former won out.


Seeing one of my all-time favorite flicks, The Innocents (1961), on the big screen was thrilling, but being in Maureen O’Hara’s presence with 1,000 other fans was an experience of a lifetime. With lines snaking into alleys I didn’t know existed, I was fairly certain my mid-30s standby number wouldn’t cut it, but I ended up being one of the last people let in. I even forgot that How Green Was My Valley (1941) was on the docket, that’s how awe-struck I was with O’Hara; her conversation with Robert Osborne had us all in tears, and it turned out to have an extra special resonance because this festival was Osborne’s last as well.


Hello, beautiful pass.


Favorite moment: Social producing  

2015 marked a transformation in my TCMFF experience. The past five years I spent trying my luck in the standby line or volunteering, always arranging my schedule around work. But before the 2015 event, TCM’s social team reached out to a number of fans to ask for pitches for their inaugural Social Producers program. Mine integrated history with the classics, sweet and simple to go with the fest theme that year, History According to Hollywood, and something I genuinely enjoy doing. Happily, I was accepted not long after submitting my idea.


Once again I joined the TCM team in some sort of “official” capacity, which came with a shiny Classic pass! Movies were easier to get into, I had access to Club TCM for the first time, and I got to share historical nuggets on TCM’s Instagram for fans to enjoy. I also savored the new friendships that began in this program; I was basically on my own during previous festivals, sometimes with a friend or two in tow, but this time I felt like I found my people, and it was nice to know that I could spot a pal in every screening I ventured into.

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Lots of history both on and behind the TCMFF red carpets.


Favorite moment: Live from the red carpet!

Aside from the abovementioned red carpet, which I’ll get into in a second, 2016’s festival marks two more firsts: 1. My first time appearing on camera for a TCMFF promo, alongside the lovely Raquel and Carrie, and 2. The first time I’ve watched a movie twice during the festival—a film that didn’t even make my initial schedule, no less! That honor goes to 1934’s Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back.


But undoubtedly my most cherished memory from this festival was covering the red carpet as a Social Producer. I was offered the chance to interview special guests at the last minute, and though it was initially a terrifying notion, I knew I had to say yes. The experience was alternatively a daunting and extraordinary one, but I had a ball, and I was very grateful to be given the opportunity. The high point? Ann Robinson politely correcting me when I asked about shooting War of the Worlds (1953) in 3D. Hey, I barely had time to plan! (I’d correct that oversight and over prepare for the carpet in 2017.)

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Say hello to my new BFF, Angela Allen. Thanks to my friend Christy for capturing this.


Favorite moment: A lady named Angela Allen

After two years, the Social Producers program folded, and I finally nabbed my first Media pass in 2017. There were many enjoyable screenings this year, from the debut of nitrate programming to another discovery, 1962’s David and Lisa, but this fest I found myself unexpectedly enamored with an unfamiliar guest: Angela Allen.


If Allen’s name doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry; I doubt attendees recognized her before the fest, but boy, did she capture audiences’ hearts! This adorably feisty and frank Englishwoman served as a script supervisor for 50 years, working with John Huston 14 times. I’m so glad TCM invited her for a screening of Beat the Devil (1953), because not only did we get to learn about her job, but it turned out Allen had some incredible stories to tell. After the Q&A, I was smitten with her, conjuring up dreams of helping her write her memoir (because that needs to happen). Very rarely do I ask for photos with celebrities, but I got one with Allen at the closing night party, where we shared a short conversation. Sadly, I don’t remember much of it, because I was awestruck just to be speaking with her!

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Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!


Favorite moment: Surprise! Marsha Hunt

2018’s fest boasted great guests (Cora Sue Collins, Claude Jarman Jr.) and wonderful discoveries (1949’s Intruder in the Dust), but I’m relying on an old favorite here. It’s a treat watching little-seen movies finally gain the respect and attention they deserve, and None Shall Escape (1944), the first Hollywood picture to actually show the atrocities being committed against Europe’s Jewish population, was that movie this year.


Though I’ve seen None Shall Escape twice, I knew it would mean a lot to watch it with a theater full of first timers, and it certainly did; I even heard several gasps and audible comments—it’s a tough film to endure, especially given today’s political climate. Having star Marsha Hunt, my favorite centenarian, there to discuss her memories was the icing on the cake, and because she’s a legend, she received TWO standing ovations. Of all the times I’ve heard her speak, she’s always been the ultimate lady, but during this Q&A she tossed out a few remarks that suggested a naughty encounter, stopping just short of spilling the beans, cause she’s classy like that. (But really, we were all dying to hear the story, even Eddie Muller!)

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It’s still hard to believe that TCMFF is celebrating a decade in Hollywood. The past nine years have flown by, and I’ve relished attending and watching the event grow each year. I’m appreciative of all the opportunities TCMFF has afforded me, and I’m especially grateful to have forged so many wonderful friendships at the fest. TCMFF #10 is going to be one gigantic memorable experience in itself, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Only 3 more months till the big celebration!

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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