The ninth annual Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival is now over. The 2018 edition, my third, was a whirlwind experience. I squeezed in 15 movies between catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in two years, finally meeting some friends in person and making friends with new people I’d never met.
What makes TCMFF feel different from other festivals and events I’ve been to is the sense of community going to the festival repeatedly can create. It’s not just about seeing movies – it’s about sharing movies.
Below is my recap of the events I attended at TCMFF 2018. I hope to write more on some of these films in the future.
Thanks to a bizarre SuperShuttle ride that involved a tour of Beverly Hills and a quick look at the Armenia Day parade, I did not quite get to my hotel as early as hoped on Tuesday. I was a little too exhausted to do anything but make sure I got my In-N-Out Burger and did my pilgrimage to Amoeba Music.
On Wednesday, I got a full-night’s sleep and was up early to go to Griffith Observatory. My goal for this year was to do as many things for the first time as I could, and this was one place I really wanted to go. It was awe-inspiring to say the least. I love science museums (even if I’m not all that great at science…) so this was really cool. I do wish I went at night, but the daytime view of the Hollywood sign was amazing.
That afternoon, the Going to TCMFF Facebook page organized a cool event with actresses Barbara Rush and Cora Sue Collins, who traded stories about working in Hollywood. Collins was a child actress who played the younger version of just about every MGM star, including Greta Garbo in Queen Christine. Rush also has an impressive resume, including Magnificent Obsession and The Young Philadelphians.
Here’s the 15 films I saw:
- Finishing School (1934, 35mm) – I got in line 2.5 hours before this began and it turned out to be the only Pre-Code I saw this year. This was really cool, and Wyatt McCrae – the grandson of star Frances Dee and actor Joel McCrae – gave an engaging, informative introduction.
- FAIL-SAFE (1964, Premiere Digital Restoration) – Many people were shocked when I said this was one of the films I was looking forward to the most, but once they saw it, they understood why I was so excited. You could hear a pin drop in the theater as the tension continued to build in the film, to an incredible climax. Unfortunately, writer Walter Bernstein was in the hospital and couldn’t attend, so Ben Mankiewicz ended up just riffing on why he loves the movie so much.
- Grand Prix (1966, Digital) – This film had two things going for it: a) I had never seen it before and b) it gave me a reason to finally go to the Cinerama Dome. Although it was digital, TCM went above and beyond to recreate the “roadshow” experience, complete with the program, full overture, 10-minute intermission and a little exit music. Eva Marie Saint was hilarious as always, and it was funny to hear her say she didn’t like the movie that much!
- The Set-Up (1949, 35mm) – This is one of two discoveries that left me shocked at the end. Just a great film, and one of the finest boxing pictures ever made.
- Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971, 35mm) – I had always wanted to see this, mostly because of the title. It took awhile to get into it, but once you could comprehend the film’s language, it began to work for me. Perhaps I won’t get it on Blu-ray, but it was an engaging piece of film history… even if it was very un-TCM-like.
- Romeo & Juliet (1968, Digital) – While everyone was running to Leave Her to Heaven, I left the Egyptian Theatre to go to the Chinese Multiplex. I just had to see Romeo & Juliet, with stars Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting there, as I’d never seen it before. Plus, the chance to see Michael York in person was too much to pass up. I was surprised by how animated he was, and just excited to be there. At TCMFF, there are few things better than seeing a celebrity realize how loved they are by fans.
- The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962, Digital) – The less said about this… the better.
- The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, Digital) – Sure, seeing a movie about a lynching at 9 AM might not be the best idea, but I love this movie. It’s William A. Wellman’s finest work (even he thought so) and seeing it on the big screen made it clear how beautiful a film it is.
- Bullitt (1968, Digital) – I finally got into the big TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX. Jacqueline Bisset had a family emergency, so she was not there, much to Eddie Mueller’s chagrin. Still, this screening will make it impossible for me to ever watch on TV again. Yes, the car chase is incredible, but that chase on the airport tarmac was unforgettable with that sound system.
- Maurice (1987, Digital) – This is another film I had not seen before. The highlight was director James Ivory disagreeing with everything Mankiewicz asked him!
- Heaven Can Wait (1978, Digital) – And it was back to the IMAX theater for this comedy classic. Buck Henry and Dyan Cannon were a riot before this screening. They could say whatever they wanted about Warren Beatty, since he wasn’t there.
- The Big Lebowski (1998, Digital) – Yeah, it didn’t make a whole lotta sense for TCM to play a 1990s classic, but it’s not every time they get the chance for The Dude to show up in person. I had to see Jeff Bridges and he lived up to expectations. He went on so long that Lebowski was delayed and did not end until after midnight! By then, I was too exhausted for Night of the Living Dead.
- Once Upon A Time In The West (1968, Digital) – I think this might have been the first time I saw a super wide movie in the main Chinese theater. It was incredible to see the curtains open so wide that the picture stretched from one wall to the other. This was truly like seeing the movie for the first time all over again. I can’t see how I can ever watch it on the small screen again.
- Intruder in the Dust (1949, 35mm) – This was the first time I went to a TBA on Sunday. I really wanted to see this film on Friday, but went to Grand Prix instead. Intruder in the Dust is a film I hope to write on more soon. It was surprisingly frank in its depiction of racism for the time.
- A Star Is Born (1937, 35mm Nitrate) – By this point in the festival, I was so tired that I dozed off a bit during A Star Is Born. I feel bad, but I have seen it before and I really just wanted to see what a Technicolor Nitrate print looks like. It was gorgeous. The film just proves we need more Janet Gaynor in our lives.
I only went to one Club TCM event. On Sunday, I attended the Library of Congress’ “Mostly Lost” presentation. The “Mostly Lost” event is a fun gathering the LOC hosts every year, where silent film buffs help identify mysterious film fragments in the archives. I was hoping that they would do a short version of that, especially since they carved out a two-hour block, twice as long as usual Club TCM events.
Instead, it was just an advertisement for the event during the first hour. During the second part, silent film accompanist Ben Model essentially did a live version of his essay on Criterion’s The Kid Blu-ray, where he discussed undercranking in silent comedies. That might be interesting for camera geeks, but it kind of takes all the fun out of City Lights and The Freshman for anyone else.
So aside from the “Mostly Lost” presentation being a dud and Timothy Carey’s The World’s Greatest Sinner turning out to be awful, TCMFF 2018 was a success for me. I met so many people who have never been to the festival before, from college students to retirees.
As the festival progressed, I noticed I was going to more “modern” movies, and sticking with more color movies. In 2014 and 2016, I remember whole days of just black and white movies. This time, I think I unconsciously wanted to do something different. Before I was obsessed with seeing as many prints as possible, but I realized that for some movies, seeing them on the big screen is magical no matter what the format is.
I can’t wait to get back. Maybe I’ll do it next year if they follow my suggestion and play DUCK, YOU SUCKER!.