Jill Blake and Wade Sheeler sit down to discuss, debate and tear their hair out over the most exciting TCM Classic Film Festival EVER! It’s time once again for THE RETRO SET PICKS!
Well, it’s finally here: the Festival of festivals for film fans, obsessive classic compulsives and every other type of movie maniac. Once a year, the network that breeds almost cult-like fanaticism over 20th Century movies and moviemakers gathers for 4 days in the dream-making capital of the world, Hollywood, for the TCM Classic Film Festival. It’s the Comic-Con for the movie crazed, and it draws an audience from all over the globe.
This is our own convention, and the one time of year that many of us crawl out from under the glow of our TVs to bask in the harsh LA sunlight, meet and greet, share war stories and commune with the film Gods, all the while negotiating the onslaught of Power Rangers, Jack Sparrows and baggy Spider Men that lurk Hollywood Blvd. And we wouldn’t have it any other way!
For the 8th year, TCM is taking over the Chinese theaters, the historic Egyptian, and even the Cinerama Dome to screen some of the greatest films in history. TCM insiders are heralding this festival, themed “Make ‘Em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies” as the greatest of them all. And it’s no doubt, with just a casual perusal of the film fare planned, including opening night’s gala offering of a 50th anniversary screening of In The Heat of the Night in the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX with Sidney Poitier, Lee Grant and director Norman Jewison in attendance – a special festival long showing of original nitrate prints of essential and little known classics – and a screening of one of the greatest comedies of all time – The Jerk – offering Steve Martin and Carl Reiner fans the opportunity to share in the excitement of new phone books arriving.
The Retro Set, your favorite purveyors of the past, will also be in attendance, and plan to Tweet, Facebook and Instagram the hell out of all the excitement – so whether you’re right there with us, or thousands of miles away, you will get an up-close and personal experience from start to finish.
At the beginning of this week, the eagerly anticipated schedule was announced, and for us, it’s akin to Coachella releasing its band list. Immediately, attendees and even those who vicariously enjoy the thrill, consumed every detail of the schedule and made their own itinerary. As always, there are conflicts that result in an almost “Sophie’s Choice” quandary for die-hard devotees: do we eat dinner or endure Zardoz? Should we watch Jimmy Durante ejected from a crashing car in Cinerama then duck out to squeeze into a celebration of animator Ub Iwerks non-Disney shorts? Decisions, decisions, decisions!
With that in mind, The Retro Set’s Founding Editor Jill Blake, and Editor Wade Sheeler sat down to game plan, course their trajectory and strategize their every move for maximum coverage and minimum rest. Here’s how we plan on hitting Hollywood so damn hard from April 6th – 9th.
JILL: This will be my sixth festival and every year the opening night is slightly different. For this year’s installment, TCM is opening up the Egyptian Theatre for both blocks. This is a great move by the network, as the Chinese Multiplex on opening night is usually busting at the seams. Matter of fact, last year I skipped out on Thursday night altogether because the chances of getting into my first picks at the Multiplex were pretty slim. I’m really interested in seeing Jezebel, (I have a hard time turning down a William Wyler film on the big screen) but with it being in the smallest house at the Multiplex I have a feeling it will fill up quickly. Seeing the Powell/Loy romantic comedy Love Crazy at the Egyptian with an appreciative audience will be a really fun experience. Plus I just love William Powell’s love bird calls.
WADE: Although I generally stay away from the opening night movie because I hate dressing up, I am dying to see Mr. Poitier and Lee Grant at In the Heat of the Night. I love that damn Mr. Tibbs. Still, I think for that first block, I’m either going to go with Love Crazy too, which I’ve only ever seen once, or Dawson city: Frozen Time which seems like a fascinating documentary on a cache of 1500 nitrate films that were buried just south of the Artic Circle. It’s so in keeping with this year’s focus on nitrate prints!
Final Decision: Thursday Block one: Jill: Love Crazy, Wade: Toss-up: Love Crazy or Dawson City: Frozen Time
WADE: Now for the second block, I could keep it thematic and roll right over to the nitrate print of The Man Who Knew Too Much, but damn – I have seen that film so many times! I may hang with Eddie Muller and see Requiem for a Heavyweight. I’ve actually seen the 1956 Playhouse 90 TV version with Jack Palance, but never the subsequent 1962 film with Anthony Quinn and Jackie Gleason. I’m also a big Rod Serling nut, and the original play won him a Peabody and helped cement him as a household name.
JILL: You know, Requiem for a Heavyweight sounds really good. I’ve recently renewed my appreciation for Rod Serling; so much of his work feels fresh today. Plus I always enjoy Eddie Muller. That said, I want to try to see as many of the nitrate presentations as possible. I’m not a huge fan of The Man Who Knew Too Much, but it will be stunning in nitrate.
Final Decision: Thursday Block Two: Jill: The Man Who Knew Too Much, Wade: Requiem for a Heavyweight
JILL: This year I’m coming into LA the day before the festival, so I won’t have much time for pre-gaming with my fellow passholders. After Thursday’s second block, I’d like to head over to the Roosevelt Library Bar or maybe the Frolic Room and grab a few drinks. Or maybe Mel’s for a late night nosh. I won’t stay up too late, though, because we’ve got a pretty early wake-up call for Friday. Since 2012, I’ve always planned to go to the Cinerama Dome for a screening, and every year I never make it. Usually those screenings are on Sundays and I usually start to lose steam by then. But this year, I’m going to do it. I’m not a huge fan of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (it’s just too long!), but I know this is a rare opportunity. Plus the screening features a special presentation by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt, something I look forward to every festival. They are hands down the best part of the festival each year, no matter the film they’re introducing. So, I’m going for it. I’ll see you when the movie ends…8 hours later.
WADE: I do have to say – If you’ve never seen “MMMM World” with a live audience, you have not seen that film! And the chance to see it in Cinerama is astounding. That film is all about Dick Shawn for me. But I think for this first block I’m going to check out the Ub Iwerks presentation Beyond the Mouse. He was such a key figure in animation, and we’ve all heard ad infinitum how he was the real creator of Mickey Mouse, but I’ve never seen much of his other work and I have a strange fascination with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who looks like Mickey with stretched ears.
Final Decision: Friday Block One, Jill: MMMM World, Wade: Beyond the Mouse
JILL: The difficult thing about going to “MMMM World” is that I will miss Ernst Lubistch’s One Hour With You. A painful conflict on the schedule. This is what I like to call the “Tantalus dilemma.” Oh, well. So, I’m in a toss-up situation between Rob Reiner and The Princess Bride or Dick Cavett introducing The Marx Bros in Monkey Business. I’ve seen The Princess Bride on the big screen many times before, but any chance to see Rob Reiner should be taken. But the same goes for Dick Cavett! So, I’ll probably decide this one in the moment. That’s how I like to roll.
WADE: Those are two toughies. But for me, I think One Hour With You really has my number. I love all the pre-code Lubitsch films, and I think seeing any of those with an audience, where the innuendos will get the reactions they so deserve, make this a truly special opportunity!
Final Decision: Friday Block Two, Jill: Toss Up: Princess Bride or Monkey Business, Wade: One Hour With You
WADE: Now when we come to the third block, I can already see with my advancing age I’m going to be starving. But I have a secret weapon. One Hour With You is at the Egyptian and my next pick is 45 minutes later at the Chinese 6, so along my walk, depending on when I get out is the Pig ‘n’ Whistle so I can get some real substantial Bangors and Mash and a pint – or if the screening runs long, there’s a really good pizza place almost directly across from the Egyptian where I can grab a slice and hit the boulevard. I’m looking to see Panique, which is a Post WWII thriller from French director Julien Duvivier. I’ve never seen it, it’s been restored, and if it’s anything like Cluzot’s Les Diabolique, another French thriller from the same period – this, to me, could be the greatest find of the festival.
JILL: Up until last year I would laugh off taking a break to eat. But last year, my best friend (who’s also my festival date) and I took a really laid back approach and didn’t try to cram in too many screenings. For this block, I’m leaning toward taking a break, but there’s a part of me that would really like to see Bridge on the River Kwai at the Chinese. But after kicking off the day with a really long film, I don’t know if I can sit through a David Lean epic. So right now this block really depends on how my friend and I are feeling.
Final Decision: Friday Block Three: Jill: TBA, Wade: Panique
JILL: If I skip the third block, then I’ll head over to either Red-Headed Woman with Cari Beauchamp in attendance. I love Jean Harlow, and it’s always fun watching one of her films with an audience. I’m also intrigued by Vigil by Night with Carole Lombard. I’ve never seen it, and it could be a delightful discovery. The downside is that everyone else will want to see it too, and with it being in House 4, it’ll be at capacity. (I’m already calling it: it’ll be a TBA on Sunday.) So it looks like Red-Headed Woman for me. (Again, that’s if I skip block 3.)
WADE: I’ll admit, I’m tempted by Vigil by Night. I’ve had the hots for Carole Lombard since before I was born (don’t make me explain) and I’ve only seen a scene or two from this one, and I think Lombard, while mostly known as a comic actress, had serious chops, so seeing her take on this dramatic role is really a draw. HOWEVER – I’m kind of curious about The Great Nickelodeon Show which is an attempt at faithfully rendering the experience of the early 20th century showings of some one and two reelers interspersed with vaudeville acts. This could be amazing or a crash and burn scenario. If it works, it will be legendary, much like the 2013 fest where they showed Frank Capra’s early talkie The Donovan Affair with missing audio, so it was presented with a live cast doing the voices and sound effects. That was a once in a lifetime experience.
Final Decision: Block Four: Jill: Red Headed Woman or Vigil by Night, Wade: The Great Nickelodeon Show or Vigil in the Night
JILL: Once again, I have to try to go to as many nitrate screenings as I possibly can. I’ve wanted to attend the Nitrate Picture Show in Rochester, NY, but there are always scheduling conflicts (namely with TCMFF). TCM’s collaboration with the American Cinematheque is exciting, and I think we are in for some great presentations in the coming years. So, I’ll be going to see Laura, a film that doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, but Gene Tierney is gorgeous and no one uses a typewriter in the bathtub better than Clifton Webb. It’ll look amazing on nitrate. I will say that I hate to miss Mel Brooks, but I’m not a huge fan of High Anxiety. I saw Mel introduce Young Frankenstein in 2012 and I’m pretty happy with having that memory.
WADE: While the allure of another nitrate print is tempting – I have a terrible confession to make. I don’t like Laura. I think it’s a lot of standing around talking, and yes – I know that’s Noir blasephemy, but I know by block four, this old man will be fighting the Sandman, so I’m instead going to need something that’s an injection of adrenaline, so I’m going to hit High Anxiety. I’ve seen Mel Brooks every year at the fest – The Twelve Chairs was a highlight a couple years past – and even though I’m not a HUGE High Anxiety fan (I know, more blasphemy) Brooks is a national treasure and I’ll see him speak at every opportunity! Now here’s the big question. Midnight: to Zardoz or not Zardoz for you?
JILL: Zzzzzz huh? What? Yeah, last year I didn’t attend any of the midnights. It would have to be something really damn good—like a John Waters flick or something insane like The Visitor.
Final Decision: Block Five: Jill: Laura, Wade: High Anxiety
WADE: So we’ve made it to Saturday, and this is where fatigue begins to set in. I realize I’m taking food and sleep way too much into consideration, but after many fests, I have my priorities!
JILL: Aw, come on, gramps. You can do it! Drink yourself a tall glass of Ovaltine on Saturday morning and you’ll make it!
WADE: Thanks, youngun’! At any rate, I think starting Saturday off with The Court Jester is a perfect wake-me-up. I am in LERVE with Danny Kaye, even though he was a famous asshole, his movies, at least the first half of his career, were great – and I’ve never seen a good print of The Court Jester. But we should mention what a difficult block this one is – there are no bad choices. Along with Court Jester you have Red River, The China Syndrome with an appearance by Michael Douglas, Arsenic and Old Lace and Stalag 17! I mean, c’mon – that is just cruel!
JILL: So, can I admit something here? Um, I don’t like Arsenic and Old Lace. At all. It really, really pains this Cary Grant fan to say that. I love the play, and I can appreciate some of the performances in Capra’s adaptation. But Cary is way too over the top. It makes me twitchy. And the thought of seeing it that early in the morning makes me want to seek out elective surgery instead. I’m in good company here, though: Cary hated it, too. So, I think I’m gonna go heavy with either The China Syndrome with Michael Douglas in attendance or Stalag 17, a favorite of mine.
Final Decision: Saturday Block One: Jill: Toss-up China Syndrome or Stalag 17, Wade: The Court Jester
JILL: Block two has some great choices, but I think I’m going to see The Awful Truth at the Chinese. I love the movie, and it will make up for missing Cary in block one. And most importantly, it will be a much needed laugh after my depressing start to the day. (If I go to The China Syndrome, that is.) I will say that I would really love to see Peter Bogdanovich, but I cannot stand Ryan O’Neal. Bleeding from the eyeballs, people. So I’ll be spending this block with the Warriners and their dog Mr. Smith.
WADE: You’re going to laugh at me yet again, but the toss-up for me here is either The Awful Truth or, getting a bite to eat and lining up early for…wait for it…The Jerk!
JILL: Now, Wade, turning down Cary and Irene for some shady Hollywood Blvd pizza? Just do what I do: grab a 3-day old hot dog at the concession stand. It’ll be just as satisfying and you can avoid being accosted by Scientologists. Of course there’s always the ever-present threat of deep-vein thrombosis, so skipping a movie to walk around would be better for one’s health. In all seriousness, let’s talk The Jerk. This is one of my all-time favorites. My sense of humor is largely influenced by this film (and the other Reiner/Martin collaborations), and I’ve harassed our friend Scott McGee for years about screening it at the festival. Seeing it at the Chinese on one of the largest screens in the country is so ridiculous—very much in Navin R. Johnson’s idiotic man-boy style. And having Carl Reiner there will be a treat. Our friend Jeff Mantor, owner of Larry Edmunds Bookshop will be hosting a book signing with Carl before the screening, so I’m definitely going to try for that. This is another reason why I’m going with The Awful Truth, so I can run out of the Chinese and immediately get back in line for The Jerk.
Final Decisions: Block Two: Jill: The Awful Truth, Wade: Toss-up: The Awful Truth or FOOD and saving Jill a place in line
And Block Three: Jill & Wade: The Jerk
WADE: I think going from Block Three to Four we have the greatest one-two comedy punch of the whole fest, cause, unless I’m mistaken, I think we’re both heading upstairs from the TCL to the Multiplex to see Best in Show, yes?
JILL: Oh, absolutely. A great double feature. I’m a big fan of Christopher Guest and his troupe, especially Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. Having some of the cast there for a reunion will be a lot of fun, especially since Fred Willard will be there. I am a little sad that Guest, Posey, O’Hara, and Levy won’t be there, but it will still be incredible. Since Levy and O’Hara won’t be there, expect me to break out singing “God Loves a Terrier.”
Final Decision Block Four: Jill & Wade: Best in Show
JILL: So, next to The Jerk, Black Narcissus on nitrate is my must-see. A couple years ago I missed a 35 mm presentation of this film and I seriously regretted it. Now I’m glad I skipped out.
WADE: All good points and since I agree completely, I will see you there. Unless there’s rum and possibly food immediately available nearby.
JILL: Lush. You know there is such a thing as a flask…but of course I have no experience with that.
Final Decision: Block Five: Jill & Wade: Black Narcissus
JILL: Blech. I’m not a huge fan of John Landis. Plus the last time I went to a midnight screening (in 2015), I found myself witnessing a really awkward “assault” on a side street next to the Roosevelt. But if you’re going to be there, I might join you. I make a last minute call.
WADE: So here we are, Sunday. I’ve been wanting to see Cock of the Air since about 6 months ago when the Academy screened it with The Front Page and I couldn’t make it. Love me some pre-code and never seen it. You?
JILL: I’m sleeping in, unless that first TBA block is something that I missed the first time around.
Final Decision: Sunday, Block One: Jill: Inside of her eyelids, Wade: Cock of the Air
JILL: I’ve actually only seen bits and pieces of The Front Page , so I’m pretty excited about this one. And with it being a restoration, I’ve gotta be there. More reason to sleep in so I’m fresh.
WADE: Yeah, I will see you there. I’ve only seen a torn up old print of this one, so really looking forward to this print – plus I believe it’s a version we’ve never seen in the states. Even though this was still a pre-coder, this version was shown in Europe and had some riskier material and, because we had a toned down version here, many “takes” were not what the director initially intended.
Final Decision: Block Two: Jill & Wade: The Front Page
WADE: One of the greatest things about the TCM fest in general, and I’m seeing a pattern here for myself as well, are the Special Presentations. These really are the unique experiences you can’t get anywhere else. In the past I saw that rare Houdini film, and as you mentioned, the Barron and Burtt presentations are legendary. So I want to check out the Republic Preserved. This is supposed to be an exploration into preserved Republic Pictures films, one of the legendary “poverty row” studios, with a Paramount Archivist showing selected scenes from their westerns, cliff-hangers, serials and early work from John Wayne, Allan Dwan and Anthony Mann.
JILL: I’m really torn on this one. Palm Beach Story is one of the funniest movies ever made. Mary Astor is hysterical and Joel McCrea is gorgeous. Seeing a beautiful DCP of this at the Chinese is really appealing. On the other hand, I feel like I should pay my respects to Carrie Fisher and go to Postcards From the Edge. I have a feeling that I’ll be calling an audible here based on mood.
Final Decision: Block Three: Jill: Postcards from the Edge or Palm Beach Story, Wade: Republic Preserved
JILL: Depending on what I see in block three, I’m leaning toward seeing Detective Story. It’s one of the few William Wyler films I haven’t seen, and seeing Eddie Muller and Lee Grant would be great. I’d also love to see Bob Newhart at the Hell is For Heroes screening. This will be an audible as well.
WADE: I’ve never seen Detective Story either, I know it’s from a stage play, and it’s directed by one of my your, all time faves, Wyler, so I’m interested. Unless I’m starving again.
Final Decision: Block Four: Jill: Detective Story or Hell is for Heroes Wade: Detective Story or FOOD
WADE: Well here we are…the final block of the festival. I always find around this time there’s already a sense of depression that sets in. There’s been so much anticipation, especially all the folks who have traveled so far to get here. These last screenings are either raucous beyond belief, either a final blow-out, or a bit nostalgic and quiet. So with that in mind, I’m either going to go for the live musical accompaniment of Harold Lloyd’s Speedy, which I know will be a big party, or the nitrate print of Lady in the Dark. What about you?
JILL: This is such a tough block. By the time Sunday rolls around I’m so exhausted that I usually play the entire day by ear. There’s really no bad choices here, plus we have the unknown of the TBAs. I usually like to attend a silent film, especially if there’s accompaniment. The Alloy Orchestra is incredible, so I feel compelled to go with Speedy. That said, ending with a final nitrate screening would be great, too. I’m in the same boat as you, Wade. It’s a toss-up.
Final Decision: Final Block: Jill & Wade: Toss-Up: Speedy or Lady in the Dark
WADE: You know we’ve only slightly alluded the TBA screenings which show up on Sunday and are always the focus of much conversation and debate. Depending on which screenings get filled to capacity throughout the fest these slots get filled with repeats. What’s your strategy usually for these? When there’s a toss-up do you choose based on which screenings could get a repeat?
JILL: I’ll tell you, those TBA screenings are sometimes the greatest discoveries of the festival each year. A few years ago, we punted on the flashy closing film with the 1948 version of The Great Gatsby with Alan Ladd. We didn’t have the impressive surroundings of one of the palaces, but it was an intimate, appreciative audience. The TBAs could throw off some of my plans for Sunday.
WADE: Well, I’m pretty exhausted just thinking about all the possibilities. It’s going to be an amazing fest. Final thoughts?
JILL: I feel like I say this every year (I do): I think this year’s festival will be the best yet. Plus THE JERK!!!!!! It’s gonna be a fun one, Wade. I can’t wait.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! Please share your stories and let us know what your schedule looks like! And we’ll see you all at the Fest!