TCM Classic Film Festival 2017
April 17, 2017
Love Crazy (1941)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)-Nitrate print introduced by Martin Scorsese
Hand/Footprint Ceremony for Carl and Rob Reiner
The Princess Bride (1987) introduced by Rob Reiner
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)
The Great Nickelodeon Show (2017)
High Anxiety (1977) introduced by Mel Brooks
This is Cinerama (1952) at the Cinerama Dome
The Jerk (1979) introduced by Carl Reiner
Saturday Night Fever (1977) 4K Restoration
The Incident (1967) introduced by Beau Bridges and Martin Sheen, Larry Peerce
Ask Leonard Maltin at Club TCM
The Palm Beach Story (1942)
Singin in the Rain (1952)
Lady in the Dark (1944)
There’s nothing quite like the TCM Classic Film Festival. It’s one of my favorite parts of the year because all sorts of fellow classic film lovers come together and celebrate some of the greatest films ever made. The late Robert Osborne’s shadow loomed large over the festival and he was sorely missed, but his presence was felt in every screening. I was lucky enough to meet Robert when the TCM Classic Film Tour was being developed and he was just as knowledgeable and sweet in person as he was on screen. The thing that made Robert special was that he cared so much about other people and their artistic output. His compassion for all aspects of classic film has become so inseparable with TCM. The initial program on Thursday (Remembering Robert) was a beautiful tribute filled with anecdotes and clips from his time on TCM. Did you know that Robert had a love for Judge Judy and peanut butter? I certainly didn’t and it further humanized this titan.
On Thursday night, the festival kicked off in spectacular fashion. I was a big fan of the overall festival theme: “Make ‘Em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies.” It’s perfect for a film festival because comedies tend to be shorter in length and lighter in tone, which is helpful when you’re seeing up to five movies in a day. I always like to do a mix of old favorites and new films that I know absolutely nothing about. I know William Powell and Myrna Loy well from the Thin Man film series, but Love Crazy was brand-new to me and an absolute delight. Sometimes, I feel detached when I watch a black and white comedy at home, but in a theatre with a packed house, it comes alive.
Following that screening, TCM pulled off quite a fantastic surprise by announcing that Martin Scorsese would be on hand to introduce a nitrate print of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). There was a lot of buzz around the festival about the nitrate prints that were being shown at the Egyptian Theatre. You can’t get better than having Scorsese talking passionately about nitrate film, but the actual nitrate presentation of this particular film didn’t stand out to me. I have a pretty good eye, but the deeper black and white coloring that was so lauded beforehand didn’t really pop. My final film of the festival, Lady in the Dark, was shown on a Technicolor print and that was a far more effective experience, but more on that later.
The following day, my morning was spent in the standing room area outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre waiting for the hand and footprint ceremony for Carl and Rob Reiner, the first father and son to receive this honor at the same time. As to be expected with two comedy legends, the stars were out in full force: Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Cary Elwes, Tom Bergeron, and Kevin Nealon. It was very exciting to be there for this special honor. In the afternoon, Rob Reiner was on hand to chat about his career and arguably his most famous film, The Princess Bride, with Cary Elwes in the audience watching as a fan. It may be sacrilegious to say, but The Princess Bride just doesn’t do it for me. I thought that maybe with a big crowd I would fall in love with it, but while it certainly isn’t a terrible film by any means, it doesn’t move me the way that Stand by Me or When Harry Met Sally did.
My big comedy day continued with Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, my first W.C. Fields film in a theatre, and what an amazing experience. Comedy takes real dedication and is a fine art. W.C. Fields is a master of the format and it was so lovely seeing his contributions recognized. After that, it was time for The Great Nickelodeon Show, one of the few live events that the festival has ever offered. This event was a mix of nickelodeon shorts along with live performances from a talented group of performers. It was fun, silly, and a great throwback to an earlier form of entertainment.
Closing out the evening was probably the most anticipated event of the festival: Mel Brooks introducing High Anxiety. While I don’t think the film is one of his best, it was entertaining to hear Mel talk about his relationship with Hitchcock and his anecdotes about Hollywood. This was supposed to be a 15-minute introduction, but it stretched to 45 minutes. Who is going to complain when Mel Brooks continues to share an amazing assortment of stories that makes this sold-out house laugh?
Day 3 of the festival began with This is Cinerama at the Cinerama Dome introduced by a personal hero of mine, Leonard Maltin. To see this film the way it was meant to be seen with three projectors and the stereophonic sound was amazing. I wish it were better attended, but there were many hot ticket screenings going on at the same time. After a rare long lunch break, it was time for The Jerk introduced by Carl Reiner. The movie is a comedy classic and any opportunity to hear Carl Reiner speak about comedy and life must be taken.
Next on the docket was the 40th anniversary screening of Saturday Night Fever in a beautiful 4K restoration with director John Badham and actress Donna Pescow in tow. I had never seen it before, but boy oh boy it was not what I expected. My preconceived notion was that it would be a fun disco movie with great dancing sequences. While the dancing and music were indeed spectacular, that movie takes a very dark and disturbing turn in that last 30 minutes. I walked out of the theatre more shell-shocked than uplifted. Day 3 finished with a brutal little film, The Incident, celebrating its 50th anniversary with stars Beau Bridges and Martin Sheen in attendance along with director Larry Peerce. As a New Yorker, this film is my absolute worst nightmare for a subway experience. This movie doesn’t pull any punches and the combination of Saturday Night Fever and The Incident was a pretty numbing way to end the evening.
The final day of the festival was a much lighter day by choice. I had no preconceptions about The Palm Beach Story, but it was one of my absolute favorites of the festival. It was packed for an early afternoon screening and I cannot wait to share it with my fellow classic film lovers who have never seen it. The Debbie Reynolds/Carrie Fisher tribute was beautifully executed and the 65th anniversary screening of Singin’ in the Rain was another highlight. I completely forgot that major scenes of that film were shot in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and to be sitting in the audience of the Chinese watching Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in the audience of the Chinese was an out-of-body experience. My closing night film was a Technicolor nitrate print of Lady in the Dark. While the social politics and takeaways of that film are appalling by today’s standards, I finally understand what all the fuss over nitrate prints is about. The dream sequences were absolutely stunning and seemed to radiate off of the screen. I wanted to spend the whole movie in those dream sequences. It was a beautiful way to end the festival.
Here are some other thoughts about this year’s festival:
-It seemed like there were fewer attendees this year, which was not a bad thing at all! Last year, I sometimes felt like a herd of cattle moving between screenings. I did not have any trouble getting into any screening or getting a great seat. Whether this was due to lower attendance or better programming, it always seemed like there was something for everybody at any given time this year.
-I would love to see more horror and action films represented at the festival. Both of those genres get a bad rap sometimes, but a well-executed one like Rosemary’s Baby or Raiders of the Lost Ark are certainly deserving of that classic signification.
-I wanted more in-depth discussions with some of the stars both at Club TCM and before/after screenings. One of my favorite events last year was An Afternoon with Carl Reiner where, after a screening of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, we had an hour-long discussion with Carl Reiner that was absolutely fascinating.
Some advice for prospective attendees:
-Always make sure to have some healthy snacks in your bag. This year, I always had apples, fruit bars, almond granola bars, and beef jerky to prevent myself from continuously eating popcorn. Also, plenty and plenty of water!
-Queue cards are given out an hour before the showing and the house opens 30 minutes prior. Use that 30 minutes before the house opens to get some real food. There were way more healthy food options outside of the TCL Chinese Theatres.
-Don’t do what I did and end your evening on a string of depressing movies. While I really wanted to see The Incident and I don’t regret it, I needed to go back to my friend’s place afterwards and watch some silly comedies to brighten myself up.
-Make sure to talk to the people in line with you! You never know whom you’re going to meet, and I have found that TCMFF attendees are some of the most friendly and passionate people in the world.
The TCM Classic Film Festival is a must-see event for any classic film fan. I always find myself looking around the auditorium during the movie to see my fellow fans engaged with these classic films on the big screen. If you can’t make it out to LA for the festival, the TCM Classic Film Tour in New York City is a great way to share your love of classic films and see where so many of them were shot on location. A major thank you to Lauren and Yacov at TCM for the passes. I’m always thankful to have an opportunity to enjoy seeing classic films the way they are meant to be seen. I hope to see you on the TCM Classic Film Tour!