[dropcap]A[/dropcap] strange phenomenon occurs in Hollywood each spring. For four days in April, this three-ring circus of a town transforms itself into a fleeting shadow of its former celluloid self. Even the freakish characters that proliferate the Boulevard have no power over the TCM Classic Film Festival’s thrillingly tangible time trip.
What makes it all so singular is that this is a film festival that, in the truest sense of the word, is about film. This is not a Sundance or a Telluride– festivals that bring with them, along with fresh content, the allure of industry hobnobbing and swag bags. Rather, at the TCM Classic Film Festival the audiences are there for one thing only: to revel in the shimmery nitrate glow, the popping Technicolor, and the gritty noirish shadows of classic film. Even films that one has seen before are made new again by the transformative experience of a movie theater. Each spring, the TCM Classic Film Festival conjures movie magic that has all but vanished from existence.
In celebration of the 5th anniversary of the TCM Classic Film Festival, which hits Hollywood this week, the Black Maria decided it would be fun to scrapbook together some favorite festival memories. We approached film critics, historians, bloggers, and regular passholders from across the country who have attended the festival over the past few years, and asked them the simple question: What is your favorite festival memory? The response was terrific, and we are delighted to share them with you here. The sentiments that follow really do drive home what fans have known all along: Turner Classic Movies is more than a cable network– it’s a family of film lovers. And the TCM Festival is our homecoming.
Leonard Maltin, film critic and historian
“I’ve conducted many interviews at the TCM Classic Film Festival since its inception, but one stands out in my memory. It was a Saturday night in 2012 and a sold-out crowd filled one of the Chinese multiplex auditoriums to see Tod Browning’s Dracula—- and its last surviving cast member, 102-year-old Carla Laemmle. If you came in two minutes late, you’d miss her tiny role as a passenger in the coach transporting Renfield to Dracula’s castle. Still, she has the distinction of uttering the film’s first line of dialogue.
Carla is a lovely, charming woman who also appears as a ballerina in The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney. Because her parts were small and were filmed so long ago, she doesn’t have a great deal to share about the experiences. She talks more easily about her unusual upbringing in a cottage on the Universal Pictures property, where her uncle Carl Laemmle ruled the roost.
Moments before the program began, author and historian David Skal came over to me and whispered that Carla actually remembered the sinking of the Titanic, exactly 100 years ago to the day. (She was 2½ years old at the time.) I dutifully asked her about this and the audience audibly gasped as she recalled seeing newspaper headlines about the tragedy. At the end of our conversation, several strong TCM staffers lifted Carla in her wheelchair and carefully hoisted her up the aisle of the theater. As she was wafted away she called out to the audience, “Enjoy the film!”
And they did, all the more so for having had a brush with history prior to its screening!”
Kenneth Turan film critic
Though I cherish the wonders the TCM Classic Film Festival does with vintage Hollywood cinema, my favorite memory was the 2010 screening of the rediscovered-against-all-odds original cut of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Having this legendary film come back to life, being able to watch it accompanied by a live performance by the impeccable Alloy Orchestra, and experiencing it all with an ecstatic crowd of 2,200 in the still vibrant Grauman’s Chinese Theater in the heart of old Hollywood let me feel more hope about the fate of cinema past– not to mention the future of theatrical exhibition– than I usually allow myself.
Kenneth Turan is film critic for the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. His latest book, “Not To Be Missed: 54 Favorites From A Lifetime of Film,” will be published in June by PublicAffairs. Follow on Twitter @KennethTuran.
Scott Feinberg, entertainment reporter/awards analyst
At the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, I had the great privilege of interviewing Mel Brooks before his festival appearance. We hit it off, had a really chat and at the end he gave me his email address and told me to keep in touch. As a kid who was raised on Blazing Saddles (not sure what that says about me or my parents), that was pretty unforgettable.
Jeffrey Vance, film historian/author
“I’ve managed to attend all the previous editions of the TCM Classic Film Festival. The first year showcased Luise Rainer, and it was a “trial by fire” situation for the festival to say the least. I saw some of the behind-the-scenes of her appearance, and one wasn’t sure what she was going to do—or not do—next. The festival staff acquitted themselves beautifully that first year, and fun memories of the late Mickey Rooney and Peter O’Toole, Angela Lansbury, and Liza Minnelli (to name a few) have followed.
However, I particularly enjoyed hosting the screening of the silent-film spectacle The Thief of Bagdad at the Egyptian Theatre back in 2012. Annie Hall was the other big closing night film that year, and en route to the Egyptian I saw an actor who had appeared in Annie Hall and asked him if he was planning on attending its screening at the Chinese Theatre. “No, I’m going to see The Thief of Bagdad at the Egyptian,” he replied. Priceless. As Luise Rainer showed me at the first festival, you never can tell what anyone will do—or not do—at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Bagdad sold out— much to the surprise of the festival and to my delight. It confirmed what I always knew to be true: the TCM audience has great taste.”
Jeffrey Vance is a film historian, archivist, producer and lecturer. He is the author of the acclaimed volumes Douglas Fairbanks, Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema, Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian, and Buster Keaton Remembered.
Theresa Brown, writer/filmmaker
“The happiest memory I have of attending the TCM film festival happened to me in 2012, when I had the chance to actually meet Kim Novak after her footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. This was a dream come true.”
Marya E. Gates, film historian/screenwriter
“My first year at the festival was in 2011 (its second year), and I met fellow blogger Kristen Sales (@SalesOnFilm) for the first time after being friends on the internet for a few years. We were both super excited to see Peter O’Toole talk with Robert Osborne at the Music Box Theater. We got into our seats — they had us packed like sardines!– when a little old lady, I’m not going to say yelled, but forcefully told us we were on her stuff. We scooted over a bit (I don’t think we really were on her stuff). Later, Osborne announced that Marge Champion (possibly best known as the model for Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Drawfs) was in the audience. She rose to wave and, as it happens, it was the same little old lady who had just yelled at us. It was marvelous! Then, of course, Peter O’Toole was the most charming thing ever: green socks and all.”
Ariel Schudson, moving image archivist
“I wish I could remember how I discovered the first TCM Film Fest. All I can recall is that I had to go. Each day, I woke up ridiculously early in order to bike across Hollywood and stand in line to try to get tickets for each film. Since I didn’t have a pass, festival access wasn’t a sure thing– but I got very lucky! I saw an inexorable amount of cinematic works on the big screen, was treated to guest Q&As galore and barely ate. It was all film. Five years later, I’m still here and that original “must go” spirit has translated to an almost religious dedication. TCMFF serves as my “Classic Cinema Summer Camp.” It is the one time of year that I may gather with film friends from all over the country to speak the same celebratory film language. We sit in darkened theaters, hearts swelling full to the magic of MGM musical scores or nails digging deep into the arm rests from the marked suspense of a film noir. As a film archivist and someone who works in preservation, this festival is part of my lifeblood. Viva TCMFF 2014!”
Joel Williams, festival passholder
“I attended TCMFF for the first time last year. The best part for me was meeting people in person that I’ve communicated with through social media. One such small memory: I was walking up Hollywood Blvd (I guess from the Egyptian Theater back towards the Chinese Theater) and stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change. When we got the signal to walk, about 10 folks from each side of the street started to cross, suddenly–in the middle of the street–I recognized Twitter’s Jill Blake (and Black Maria co-founder) who was walking in the opposite direction. As we passed each other I shouted ‘Jill!’…she saw me and shouted back ‘Joel!’…and we both kept walking.”
You can follow Joel on Twitter at @JoelRWilliams1
Cari Beauchamp, film historian/author
When the folks at TCM approached me about participating in the first Classic Film Festival 5 years ago, I was dubious at best. How many people would show up to see Sunset Boulevard at 9 in the morning when they could stay in bed watching it on their television? I was humbled to learn that several thousand people had come to the Festival from throughout the country and they have been selling out ever since. So TCM has totally converted me from being a skeptic into one of their biggest fans and most enthusiastic participant. So many wonderful films and great discussions – last year I interviewed my old friend, film historian Kevin Brownlow and this year I am looking forward to leading a discussion with Thelma Schoonmaker. It doesn’t get better than that. Still, when I think back on past festivals, my fondest memories are of interacting with the audience. They really know their classic films and their enthusiasm is infectious. And the Festival is a wonderful reminder of the lure of the communal experience of seeing classic films on the big screen.”
Cari Beauchamp is the award-winning author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood and Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years. Her work has appeared on Vanity Fair and the Los Angeles Times.
Lindsay Affleck, blogger
My first TCM Film Festival was last year. Besides school, it was the thing I was most excited about moving to Los Angeles for. I can’t say enough about how lucky I was to have “built-in” friends when I got here that I had met through twitter that shared the same obsession I did. That’s what I love most about TCM Film Festival. Beyond the great programming, it’s getting to meet people in line and in the theaters who I’ve either talked to online and am meeting in person for the first time, or just talking to people who know what I’m even talking about (you all know what I mean). The festival is so well-organized as well that even as a “local” who gets to see a lot of classic films on the big screen, there’s a chance to see something new, or an old favorite. I think my favorite experience from last year was seeing Capra’s first talkie, The Donovan Affair, a film which is still missing its soundtrack. New York Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein brought together a cast of actors and sound effects artists and they recreated the dialogue right on the floor of the Egyptian Theater. It was a rare treat that I’ll remember, and will probably be something I won’t ever get to see again. But TCMFF is truly more than just a great movie event, it’s a social gathering where you get to hang out with friends old and new, and that’s what makes it a can’t miss weekend for me.
Karen Noske, blogger
“One of the most wonderful things about the TCMFF is knowing that the person sitting next to you, stranger though they may be, is 100% as nuts about classic movies as you are. When I attended the 2012 screening of The Parent Trap with Hayley Mills presenting, I happened to be seated next to a fellow “Boomer”– a woman who was just about my own age. When Hayley started to speak, I got tears in my eyes, just thrilled to be able to hear and “meet” someone I’d idolized since I was a child. I turned my head and met the eyes of my seat mate, which were brimming over with happy tears just like mine. We laughed together, then reached towards each other in an impulsive “aren’t we lucky ducks to be here” kind of hug. Then we laughed again, wiped our tears, and beamed at Hayley, who was busily wiping away her own tears, moved at the wonderful filmed tribute to her and her dear father. Talk about magical moments! That’s the magic of the TCMFF…sharing memories and making new ones.
In fact, I love The Parent Trap so much that I wrote a detailed examination of Maureen O’Hara’s wardrobe in the film!
Illeana Douglas, actress/writer/director
“The highlight for me was opening night party of for Cabaret. Ben Mankiewicz came up to me and said, ‘Liza Minnelli would Like to meet you.'”
Illeana Douglas is an actress and filmmaker. Follow Illeana on Twitter at @IlleanaRama
Karen Hannsberry, editor/blogger
“As many wonderful memories I have of my first TCM Classic Film Festival experience last year, one stands out far above the rest. After I viewed the film The Killing, which was kicked off with an interview with actress Coleen Gray, I made my way to the area of the auditorium where the actress was sitting. I’d interviewed her years before, and corresponded with her on several other occasions, but I’d never met her– nor did I imagine that I ever would. I introduced myself, shook her hand, and told her what a privilege it was to finally meet her in person. When I turned to walk away, I just started bawling– I was so overcome with what had just happened and the entire experience of finally, actually being at the TCM Film Fest. It was awesome.”
Jackie Brady, blogger
“I was lucky enough to meet the late Larry Hagman at the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival. This meeting was more than just a fan meeting a celebrity to me. He was in attendance because TCM’s sister network, TNT, was just beginning to air the revival of Dallas. My parents passed away in March 2011. For the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival, which was less than a month after they passed, I think I was still in shock over the whole previous month and what came with it. I had a wonderful time at my first festival. Sad that I couldn’t have shared the experience by telling my mom about it, but I had a great time.
So for the 2012 Festival, unbeknownst to me, the Dallas cast was going to be on the red carpet that evening. It was almost too much for me. I took loads of photos on the red carpet. I was wearing my mom’s bracelet, and I just kept thinking “It’s a Ewing day!” I was thrilled. Then after the movie, at the Vanity Fair party I saw Larry Hagman and wasn’t about to let the moment pass. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind a picture, and thanked him for all the entertainment he’d given me over the years. He actually said after we had the picture taken, “Ok, darlin’ make sure it’s ok for ya.” I might have swooned, I’m not sure. (It might have been the vodka tonic, but whatever.) My night was complete. Larry Hagman, JR himself, called me darlin’. It was, without a doubt, the perfect ending to a perfect day, filled with Ewings from morning til night. Imagine my delight when I was glancing at the photos on the TCM website….a photo of the Ewing clan on the red carpet. There, off to the left of the photo, was my arm (and only my arm) sticking out, holding my camera, to take a photo. And it was the arm that I had been wearing my mom’s bracelet on. My mom, in a photo, with honest-to-goodness Ewings. I got so emotional when I saw that. It was perfect.”
Matt Patterson, podcaster
After running around working the 2012 TCM Festival all day, I finally settled into the midnight screening of Saul Bass’ Phase IV— one of the stranger films to ever be shown at TCMFF. Exhausted, I fell asleep through phases II-III. Then I woke up startled, staring straight into the abyss of Phase IV itself… THE ANTS! THE ANTS! Not sure if I ever fully recovered my sanity.”
Martin Hildebrand, festival passholder
“Last year was my first TCM film festival and it was a dream come true. Being surrounded by other obsessive classic movie fans was so much more exhilarating than I would have ever expected. Spontaneous conversations of all things movies, whether they took place in line for a screening or over impromptu quick lunches, added so much richness to the whole experience.
However, hearing and seeing Eddie Muller introduce The Narrow Margin with Jacqueline White was the most tangible thrill as I’ve followed Muller’s work closely over the years. Film noir is decidedly my favorite genre and his career arc is inspiring as he is a largely self-made writer that pushed to create for himself a path that fulfilled his passions.”
Kim Luperi, assistant to Stan Lee
“Silent movies aren’t my favorite. Neither are shorts. I like to hear dialogue being spoken and give my brain enough time to process what it sees (90 minutes is perfect).
However, the title of film historian/collector Serge Bromberg’s presentation at TCM’s 3rd Film Festival in 2012 – “A Trip to the Moon and Other Trips Through Time, Color and Space” – piqued my interest. After attending the festival for the past four years, I can easily say that this screening is one of my favorite memories. Why? Bromberg, for one. Delightful and clearly passionate about his work, he provided excellent insight into the process of film preservation, which for him has included unearthing ‘lost’ films, restoring disintegrated negatives, and even hand tinting over 3000 frames.
Besides the new tinted version of A Trip to the Moon, the cinematic treasure trove Bromberg introduced and provided musical accompaniment for ranged from George Méliès’ Apres Le Bal, featuring a short but scandalous striptease, 1897 style; Segundo de Chomon’s Les Kirikis, to The Acrobatic Fly, which has to be seen to be fully believed. All of the shorts, whether docs, experimental pieces, or simple fluff, showed that many of the elements we seem to take for granted in modern cinema – sound, color, and technology – thrived in the minds of the early pioneers.
However, the selection that astonished me most was undoubtedly the least flashy of them all: the Miles brother’s A Trip Down Market Street, which captured footage of the city from a camera traveling on a Market Street trolley. The glimpse into turn of the century city life was simple yet stunning: men, women, children, and horses walked, ran, and trotted through the streets, some narrowly escaping being hit by the street car or other moving vehicles. Kids and adults alike pointed and stared at the camera passing by, as we would gawk today at shiny new technology. But the real kicker was that the Miles brothers shot A Trip Down Market Street just days before the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire that destroyed 80% of the city. The mere fact that the film survived not only that event (it was shipped east right after it was completed), but the next 100 years is simply amazing. It was a portrait of a city, its people, and a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore, moving in more ways than one.
Thanks to people like Serge Bromberg who uncover, rescue, and rehabilitate these pieces of history, audiences can still watch and enjoy them over a century later.”
Jessica Bursi, event project manager/director
My favorite TCM Classic Film Festival memory has to be the entire 2011 festival. See, I’d had an absolute blast at the 2010 fest and convinced my movie-loving mother to fly out from Springfield, IL for the long weekend. We had more fun than we even imagined. From watching Hugh Hefner and his playmates play musical chairs at the opening night restoration premiere of An American in Paris to the after-party where Mom somehow ended up chatting up the hunky star of an ABC Family show to our ill-advised (and non-TCM sanctioned) visit to Cat & Fiddle to try and watch the wedding of Will & Kate! Hint – don’t make your mom walk a mile at midnight for a show that’s coming on at 5am! And then, of course… there were the movies (and more men!)… James Mason in Larger Than Life, Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales, and even a visit with Bob Osborne! Best of all? Our Tropicana poolside lounging that turned into an extended live viewing of “Colin Farrell on his cell phone.” Spectacular!
Sierra Irwin, festival passholder
My favorite festival moment was seeing the Harold Lloyd classic Girl Shy at the 2013 Festival, with a live orchestra and a receptive audience. It was an amazing experience to hear everyone laugh and cheer along with the movie, as audiences would have done 90 years ago.
Follow Sierra on Twitter @StarEyedSierra
Kristen Sales, film blogger
“Apart from the films themselves, TCMFF offers a fantastic opportunity to hobnob with the film people you’ve been fan-girling over for years. In my four years of attendance, I’ve very shyly said hello to Leonard Maltin, chatted up film historian Kevin Brownlow about Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, knocked back bourbon with the czar of noir, Eddie Muller, and taken a drunken group photo with Ben Mankiewicz. All in all, amazing fangirl moments.
But as every TCM fan knows, it’s really all about Robert Osborne. The man has women crushin’ on him from ages 8 to 80. He’s the star of the show. He’s also super nice, accessible, present, and humble– an all-around mensch. But usually, unless I have a few Club TCM after-party drinks in me, I like to leave the “celebrities” alone. I’m a professional, I’m here for the films (right).
One day last year, I was chillin’ at Club TCM before walking out to the Roosevelt Hotel poolside for some reason (I think there was free food). I open the door to walk down the ramp to the pool, and who should be right there in front of me, but Robert Osborne. He’s being guided by a large security man. They’re walking at a leisurely pace, but I’m kind of right behind them and the security guard looks at me. “Sorry,” I say to them awkwardly, “I’m not trying to stalk you guys, I just happen to be walking to the pool at the same time…” Robert Osborne turns around to face me, a huge smile on his face: “That’s okay! We can walk together!” And then he takes my hand (completely unprompted, mind you) and we basically skip down the walkway, holding hands and chatting casually. He asks me how the festival is going. I’m pretty sure I manage to make words but I have no memory of this. All I can think is, “I’M HOLDING HANDS WITH ROBERT OSBORNE!” Before parting, the large security guard looks at me and smiles, as if to say, “Yeah, this kind of stuff happens all the time.” And that was my favorite memory from the TCM Classic Film Fest. (Thanks, Robert!)”