2013 TCMFF Arrival, Press Day, and Activities
I returned from my trip to Los Angeles and the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival late on Monday, April 29th. First thing on Tuesday morning, I was back to toddler wrangling. Today is my first opportunity to write the first in a series of recaps of my experience.
It’s hard to believe that this time last week I was in the homestretch of the 4th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. It’s amazing how time seemed to slow down leading up to the Festival, yet once it started, it ended all too quickly. This year I managed to add on an extra night and day prior to the start of the Festival so that I could spend time with friends and relax.
I arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening (4/23) and was welcomed by my friends Sean and Clay. The two of them, along with the lovely Carley of The Kitty Packard Pictorial, accompanied me to the legendary Hollywood institution Musso & Frank Grill for dinner and cocktails. The four of us sat in the cozy Chaplin booth, Charlie Chaplin’s favorite place to sit when he dined (and drank) at the restaurant. Although we sat in his favorite booth, we refrained from having his favorite meal: lamb kidneys. Later our party doubled when more friends arrived, and we all enjoyed very good wine and even better conversation. The evening was the perfect kick-off to a fun-filled week in Hollywood.
At 10 am Wednesday, TCM held an official Press Day event allowing bloggers and reporters access to hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz as well as Senior Vice President of Programming Charles Tabesh and Managing Director Genevieve McGillicuddy for Q&A’s. When I arrived to the event, I recognized many of my fellow classic film bloggers. TCM has done an excellent job of including social media, blogs and classic film websites like The Fence, along with the more “traditional” media outlets. One might think that a network which focuses on preserving the past would be hesitant to embrace the latest technology and social media. The opposite is true. TCM prides itself on engaging its audience via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc., and is always looking for new and exciting ways to reach viewers.
Host Robert Osborne was the first to speak at the press event. Here are a few highlights from his Q&A:
- Over the years he has discovered that TCM has sustained people through so many terrible life events. He meets people all the time who tell him that the network and its programming has helped them get through an illness, job loss, etc…
- At the festival, Osborne attempts to introduce the films he is particularly fond of or knows so well he doesn’t necessarily need to revisit.
- When he is scheduled to interview someone, like Eva Marie Saint or Jane Fonda, he will spend time researching beforehand.
- Robert emphasized that Charlie Tabesh, VP of Programming, always tries to obtain the best possible prints of films to show on the network. One time, a horrendous print of Road to Bali (1952) starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby was shown during primetime. Charlie assured Robert that it would never be shown during primetime again. Some years later, Road to Bali was shown again during primetime….but it was a better print (as promised)!
- Osborne gave a teased about an upcoming special event on TCM featuring author and historian Molly Haskell. No date announced.
- Osborne was asked about the imminent conversion of the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly and more famously known as Grauman’s Chinese). He stressed the importance of maintaining old neighborhood theatres. He is the co-owner of The Rose Theatre in Port Townsend, Washington, and explained the difficulties including cost of digital conversion.
- On working with Cher during the TCM Friday Night Spotlight- A Woman’s World: Osborne said ”Cher is marvelous” and she was “no diva” and that it was “kind of disappointing”–all said with a good-hearted laugh.
- When asked what he was looking forward to seeing most: The Razor’s Edge, “Babs 3 stories tall”, Cluny Brown, and Desert Song. Osborne also noted he was excited to interview Mel Brooks and Ann Blyth.
- On Ann Blyth: Osborne always found it amazing “she didn’t play bitches the rest of her career” [after Mildred Pierce]. Osborne also noted that he would have rather seen The Great Caruso (1951) on the schedule than Kismet, but they were unable to obtain a decent print.
After Mr. Osborne’s Q&A, I managed to snag him for a quick chat and photo. I told him I had visited his set in Atlanta last summer, and he said he remembered me. Then he kissed my hand and said he was very glad I was at the festival. Unfortunately, I missed most of Charlie Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy’s Q&A, but I think it was totally worth it.
Following the Tabesh/McGillicuddy Q&A, Ben Mankiewicz arrived for the last segment of the press event. Here are some highlights:
- He joked about wearing a pocket square (yes, he was really wearing one) and how his brother Josh (correspondent for Dateline) would be proud. Fatherhood is definitely treating Ben well.
- Ben joked about some of the films chosen to fit in with the “Cinematic Journeys: Travel in the Movies” theme for the festival. He specifically called out the hilarious Airplane! (1980), saying “it was shot for $4.75.”
- The network’s demographics are not necessarily what one would think, given the content: 2/3 of the viewing audience is under 49 years old.
- Ben also noted that it’s the family connection that often keeps us interested in these classic films.
- Ben jokingly said that after 10 years with the network, he is allowed to call Robert Osborne “Robert.”
- When asked if he gets to pick what films he introduces at the Festival, Ben stated that he doesn’t always get the opportunity. For example, he really wanted to introduce Three Days of the Condor (1975), as it is one of his favorite films, and Max Von Sydow will be in attendance. Robert Osborne will be introducing instead.
- Ben noted the uniqueness and importance of fan involvement with the network. As an example, he said that he enjoys watching ESPN, but doesn’t necessarily care what happens to their shows/programming. The TCM fans, however, keep a close eye on the network to make sure the the films are handled properly, and their level of involvement keeps the network honest. The fan involvement is definitely appreciated by both Robert and Ben, as well as the rest of the TCM family.
- Funny story: when Ben first signed his contract, he had to maintain his goatee. He wanted to get rid of it, but couldn’t due to a technicality in his contract. Someone at the network actually floated the idea of a fake goatee so that Ben could shave! Eventually Ben was able to adjust his contract.
Following the press event, I met up with several bloggers, some I met last year and some I was meeting for the first time. Laura from Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, Raquel from Out of the Past, Aurora from Once Upon a Screen, Kristen Sales from Sales on Film, Lara from Backlots, and Marya of Cinema Fanatic to name a few.I joined Laura and Raquel for a nice lunch in one of the Roosevelt’s restaurants. It was a great opportunity for the three of us to sit down and have a chat face-to-face since the next 4 days would be spent in the dark, sitting in front of a big screen.
After lunch, I walked from the Roosevelt Hotel over to West Hollywood to meet my friend Sean. Walking in LA is interesting, mainly because hardly anyone does. Everyone drives a car, rides in a car, and complains about it. Public transit is laughable. It’s a lot like my beloved Atlanta, but hyped up on a dangerous cocktail of steroids, trashy designer handbags and excessive plastic surgery. Oh, wait. That’s exactly like Atlanta. So maybe the only difference is the amount of people. Woody Allen noted the ridiculous LA car culture in his masterpiece Annie Hall. Allen’s character Alvy Singer, after getting out of Annie’s car says “Don’t worry. We can walk to the curb from here.” Although Alvy has a tendency to exaggerate, he is right on point in this instance.
But I digress…
On my way to meet Sean, I saw things I would likely miss in a car, like an up-close look at the former Charlie Chaplin Studios, which is now The Jim Henson Company Lot. The Jim Henson Company has paid homage to Chaplin by placing a statue of Kermit the Frog dressed as Chaplin at the front gate. Seeing the studios intact and recognized as a Historic Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles is quite remarkable. One thing I have learned from my visits to Southern California and conversations with locals, like Carley (of Kitty Packard), is that nothing’s sacred. For example, a recent controversy in the LA classic film scene revolved around the destruction of Pickford-Fairbanks Studios (fondly referred to by fans as Pickfair). Knowing that it’s rare to see anything “historical” in LA, I made sure to slow down and take a peek.
Following a quick rest after my walk, Sean drove me to the Bronson Cave Trail in Griffith Park. The Bronson Cave is better known as the Batcave from the original Batman television series. The area has also been featured in several 1950s science fiction B-pictures, in addition to films like I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) and The Searchers (1956). I don’t know if it was fear of rattlesnakes (I’m terrified of snakes) or serial killers hiding out in the bushes (I have an overactive imagination!), but the cave and the surrounding area has a creepy vibe to it.
One nice thing about the short walk along the Bronson Cave Trail is the great view of the Hollywood sign. If you have all day and don’t mind dodging lady-killing mountain lions and rattlesnakes, you can hike all the way up to the Hollywood sign through Griffith Park. Needless to say, I’m not the outdoorsy or adventurous type, so I settled for a photo of the sign from afar.
After our journey to Griffith Park, we took a detour to Hancock Park to see a very (in)famous house:
That night, Marya from Cinema Fanatic held a get-together at the legendary Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. This place definitely oozes old Hollywood charm (read it smelled of boiled cabbage and vodka) as it’s filled with photos of celebrity patrons, many from classic Hollywood. The party ran past midnight and ended with a very long walk back to the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd.
Coming up: Recap of the entire Festival weekend!
Check out my pre-Festival coverage: The Tantalus Dilemma Redux
Jill Blake is the owner/managing editor of the classic film website Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. She is also a co-founder and editor of the film site The Moviola 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.