TCM Classic Film Festival: No Sleep, No Food, Good Times
Count me now on the list of jerks who’s been to the TCM Classic Film Festival. To say that my experience was incredible is a complete understatement.
I arrived in California on Wednesday evening. After a lovely, relaxing dinner with some close friends, I traveled up to Hollywood from Orange County to check into my hotel. Little did I know, that meal would be the last one for quite a while. After finally meeting some of my Twitter friends in person for the first time, I settled in for a good night’s sleep. It would be the last one of those too. I quickly learned there is no place for eating or sleeping at the festival. After all, “sleeping is giving in, no matter what the time is.”
Thursday, April 12th
My hotel was over a mile away from the epicenter of the festival. Although exhaustion would eventually take its toll and force me into the unpleasantness that is the Hollywood cab culture, on this day I was eager to walk. I enjoyed silently calling out all of the stars I passed on the Walk of Fame– “There’s Bette Davis, Billy Barty, Hattie McDaniel, Mack Sennett, and Errol Flynn!” I listened to Frank Sinatra as I passed Capitol Records. I soaked in the sun knowing that I would rarely see it for the next several days. Once I arrived at the Roosevelt Hotel, TCM’s official Headquarters for the festival, I met up with my fellow bloggers to shoot my first video:
That evening, I met fellow bloggers and Twitter users and relaxed. Carley Johnson and I attended the TCM Tweet-up, which was held in the Marilyn Monroe Suite at the Roosevelt. It was a wonderful time, and I enjoyed great conversation with such lovely people. Later I went to the screening of High Society (1954), which was originally scheduled to be shown at the Roosevelt’s pool. Due to windy conditions, the screening was moved inside. Although lacking in ambiance (no model of the True Love sailing in the pool), it was still great fun. Afterward, completely decked out in my Seven Year Itch-style dress, we headed over to The Cinementals opening night party, which was held in one of the marvelous Cabana suites. With the palm trees and the iconic Hotel Roosevelt sign, this was the perfect spot to kick-off the weekend’s events.
Friday, April 13th
After much talk and drink the night before, morning came too early– though nothing a bottle of water, Excedrin, and coffee couldn’t fix. The weather was rainy and cold, and the stars on the Walk of Fame were like little death traps. You see, when the polished terrazzo becomes wet, it’s like walking on a strip of banana peels. Throw in some unsavory individuals dressed as beloved cartoon characters, excited tourists, and Scientologists conducting stress tests, and it’s akin to a medieval gauntlet. I met up with friends to attend the screening of Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal (1948), introduced by Eddie Muller from the Film Noir Foundation and star Marsha Hunt. The screening was “sold out”, so we decided on Love Story with special guest Robert Evans. Prior to the festival, I made it abundantly clear to my fellow Cinementals that I am not incredibly fond of Ryan O’Neal. I believe I said something along the lines of “I hate him.” I have to admit that I had serious trepidation going into this film, given my strong feelings on O’Neal. I also have to admit that, although the film is overly sentimental and weepy, it is reminiscent of Douglas Sirk’s luscious technicolor melodramas which I love. I didn’t hate Love Story as much as I thought I would, but it wasn’t a highlight for me.
Next we rushed over to the Egyptian Theatre for Frankenstein (1931), with special guest John Carpenter. Although I felt the discussion to be too brief, it was a pleasure to hear Carpenter talk about how he has been influenced by the work of director James Whale. Afterward, I went to my first screening at the palatial Grauman’s Chinese Theatre: Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo (1958) starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, the latter being in attendance for the screening. The event was completely sold out to an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd. Although I’ve always had mixed feelings on Vertigo, it was a pleasure to see on the big screen. The bright colors, the unforgettable musical score, and the grand setting made me forget all the problems I have with the film.
After Vertigo I immediately returned to the Egyptian Theatre for a nearly sold-out screening of Young Frankenstein (1974), with an introduction by Mel Brooks. Growing up, I enjoyed Brooks’ films with my dad. Watching them made me feel like I was getting away with something. Seeing Young Frankenstein in a theatre on the big screen, and with Mel Brooks in person? Perfection. This event made my entire weekend.
Closing out a most interesting Friday the 13th was the bizarre Phase IV (1974) directed by Saul Bass. There are no words for the tragic mess that is this film. I will spare you the misery we all experienced. The only highlight? Seeing the film’s reluctant star Michael Murphy in person, and witnessing his brilliant self-deprecating humor. Confused and afraid my fellow Cinementals and I went back to our Headquarters for a late night podcast. This Cinemental finally made it to bed at 5:30 am.
Saturday, April 14th
My first screening of the day was the 75th Anniversary restoration of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. If there was only one film I had to see over the course of the festival, this was it. In 1983, Snow White was re-released in theatres. I was 3 years old and my mom took me to see it. I still remember sitting in the theatre feeling equally excited and terrified. When I found my seat at Grauman’s, I was immediately taken back to 1983. I sent my mom a text saying “I wish you were here with me” and I started blubbering. I’m sure the people next to me thought I had been dumped or was a drug addict. I assure you neither is true; I’m just a mama’s girl. It’s amazing how a single film can elicit such a powerful emotional response. As for the quality of the print, I’ve never seen Snow White look or sound better.
After Snow White, I took a field trip to the courtyard in front of Grauman’s Chinese for quick photo op. Although the area was filled with passholders on line for the next screening and tourists fawning all over the Twilight footprints, we were able to take a few shots for The Cinementals family albumn.
The next film I attended was Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy (1924). I have seen many of Lloyd’s films, but this was a first time viewing for me. The screening was introduced by Leonard Maltin and Lloyd’s granddaughter. The main attraction was live accompaniment by the Robert Israel Orchestra. The score was light and fun, and the nerdy and handsome Lloyd filled the screen with his larger than life personality. I sat on the edge of my seat in the Egyptian’s balcony enjoying every single minute. A truly unforgettable experience.
I left the Egyptian, only to immediately return for Gun Crazy (1950), starring John Dall and Peggy Cummins, another first time viewing for me. The film was introduced by Eddie Muller and the lovely Ms. Cummins, who is, contrary to popular belief, not at all gun crazy. I cannot think of a better way to see this movie for the first time. The theatre was packed and the audience response to the sometimes humorous dialogue and blatant sexual undertones really enhanced the experience. At the end of the movie, I met the lovely Laura from Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings.
One of the things I quickly learned is that food is a luxury. If you want to make the most out of the festival, there isn’t time for insignificant things such as basic sustenance. Protein bars, peanut butter crackers, and almonds were a staple for me. And lots and lots of coffee. After Gun Crazy I was feeling a bit peckish. Luckily, friends Drew and Nicole felt the same way. The three of us decided to skip the next block of screenings and venture over to West Hollywood to enjoy some delicious Mexican fare at El Coyote. Before you criticize us for doing something non-film related, hold on: El Coyote is infamous for being the last meal of actress Sharon Tate, then wife of director Roman Polanski. With a now full stomach, I met my friend Carley at the Egyptian for a midnight screening of The Marx Bros’ Duck Soup (1933). The film was introduced by TCM senior writer/producer and our good friend Scott McGee. Although the crowd was sparse with a snore or two (seriously), it was a fun time.
Sunday, April 15th
This day did not go as originally planned.
I will say this: if you stay in a two-star hotel, you get two-star wake-up calls. Lesson? Ask family and friends on the East coast to make the call. Also, make sure to set a fast-paced, rollicking wake-up song on your phone. The Rolling Stones’ “Angie” is too sweet and quiet. The unholy mess that is Jagger and Bowie’s rendition of “Dancing in the Street” would be more appropriate, methinks. Most importantly, it helps if you actually set your alarm.
In an attempt to salvage the day, I met friends at the Chinese Multiplex for an encore screening of Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal (1948). Although Marsha Hunt was not in attendance, Eddie Muller enthusiastically introduced the film. Although I enjoyed Raw Deal, it’s a far cry from the incredible Gun Crazy. Afterward I went to the famous Larry Edmunds Bookshop on Hollywood Blvd. Owner Jeff Mantor is helpful and knowledgeable. If he doesn’t have what you’re looking for he will help you find it. I scored a book on Fredric March, Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut, and several production stills from Footlight Parade (1933) and Notorious (1946).
For the closing night film, I struggled between attending The Thief of Bagdad (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks and Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977), with special guest Tony Roberts. Since I was having a generally rotten day and Hollywood was really starting to get on my nerves, I decided there’s only one person who would understand: Alvy Singer. Annie Hall is a favorite and this particular screening was the only 35mm film shown at Grauman’s Chinese. The print was fantastic, although the sound was tinny and distorted at times. Friend and fellow El Coyote patron Drew Morton attended with me. The two of us took solace in Alvy’s self-analytic and neurotic behavior.
After the film, the two of us trekked over to Club TCM at the Roosevelt for the Festival wrap party. It was lovely meeting fellow passholders, TCM staff, and special guests. I enjoyed a lovely conversation with film critic and classic film champion Leonard Maltin. Although I paid $15 for a cocktail, subsequently losing what little remaining innocence a redhead may have, I had a wonderful evening. I recorded the final podcast of the weekend and said goodbye to all of my friends.
It’s hard to imagine that just a few months ago I was not attending the TCM Classic Film Festival. Now that I have been, I’m hooked. It’s a wonderful feeling to know there are other classic film fans out there in the world. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with fellow fans was an amazing experience that I will never forget. And now that TCM has announced that the festival will be a regular annual event, maybe you, dear reader, will get to make your own wonderful memories…
This piece was originally posted on TheCinementals.org
Jill Blake is the owner of the classic film website Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. She is also a co-founder and editor of the film site The Black Maria and film editor at CC2K. In 2012, she was interviewed on-air by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. In 2013, she was a featured guest on the TCM podcast. In her spare time Jill is a stay-at-home mom, wife, fried okra connoisseur, and the neighborhood’s own L.B. Jeffries.