The 2017 TCM Film Festival
It’s no secret I love classic film and as a fan I’m lucky that the ultimate film lover’s event, the TCM Film Festival, is located right in my backyard. The only event that will get me to visit Hollywood four days in a row it’s filled with screenings, special presentations and lots of camaraderie amongst a legion of TCM fans. This year I was lucky enough to once again score a press pass and decided to make the most of it. I broke my record for number of films viewed, chatted with Dick Cavett about our mutual love of Jack Benny, had my classics loving sister, Shannon, join me for a day and even had an encounter with Oscar. It. Was. Wonderful.
Because I live in an area where classic films are screened on a regular basis I usually don’t spend much of the festival watching movies. But when I heard this year’s theme – Make ‘Em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies, my absolute favorite genre, I knew I would be catching more films than usual. I generally view 1 or 2 but this year I saw 8. 8! That’s small potatoes for most attendees but for me it was a new record.
When I heard Love Crazy starring William Powell and Myrna Loy would be screening opening night I knew I had to attend. I’m a huge fan of the famed duo and Love Crazy happens to be my favorite of their pairings. Viewed on the big screen in the Egyptian Theatre surrounded by a bunch of fellow fans made it extra special. After it ended I had planned to head home but was enticed to stay for the next film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, as it would be introduced by a very special guest.
The Man Who Knew Too Much was introduced by none other than Martin Scorsese. The Eygptian Theatre was recently retrofitted to allow for 35mm projection and the film was to be the first of 4 nitrates viewed at the festival. Who better to introduce it than a man devoted to the history of film? Although I’ve never been a fan of his work I admire Scorsese’s devotion and it was very evident in his introduction. He used his time to detail the history of film stock and he passed on some fascinating knowledge. It was a true treasure to hear him speak in person and a wonderful way to start the fest. And what can I say about the film? The Man Who Knew Too Much ranks amongst Hitchcock’s best.
The next day I decided to go all in and went to three screenings in a row.
I started with a double dose of comedy genius and watched the Marx Bros. in Monkey Business and W.C. Fields in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. There’s nothing like watching slapstick in a packed theatre and I was laughing for hours. For my third screening I decided to do something completely different and watched The Great Nickelodeon Show. A combination of live performance and rare shorts from the early days of cinema it was a true delight. There was a sing along, a magic show and early works of D.W. Griffith and Georges Melies. It was the perfect show to end the day.
On Saturday I was joined by Shannon who decided to try out the stand by line. For three years I’d been telling her how much I missed her at the fest (she’s as big a classics fan as I am) and finally decided to do something about it. I convinced her to give the standby line a try and it was surprisingly easy. If you can’t afford the festival pass but would like to get into a screening I highly recommend it. We watched two films and both times she easily got a seat.
We started with a screening of The Awful Truth at the Chinese Theatre. High on both our favorite film lists it was a true delight to view on a giant IMAX screen. No screen is too big for Cary Grant! Plus, we had the added bonus of easy access to the forecourt as it was open to festival goers only.
Afterwards we headed to the Egyptian to see a film brand new to both of us, The Underworld Story. Shannon is a big noir fan and we both love its star Dan Duryea so we decided to give it a shot. We were not disappointed as it was a darkly comic take on the secrets lurking just under the surface in small town America. Mr Duryea was fantastic, of course.
On Sunday I finished with another one of my favorites (I’m detecting a trend) – The Egg and I. As an added bonus the film was preceded by an interview with Kate MacMurray, the daughter of Fred MacMurray and June Haver. We were regaled with tales of her father and her life growing up in Hollywood. She told us her father was the best man she ever knew and her childhood was nothing short of idyllic. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to hear about Fred MacMurray and listening to her made me so happy. The film was as wonderful as always and a true highlight was the crowd’s cheers when Marjorie Main came on screen. 70 years later and she’s still beloved – just as it should be.
In past festivals I’ve spent much of my time in Club TCM but this year I was just too busy watching movies. I did make sure to stop in to view the Debbie Reynold’s costumes on display and a collection of classic posters.
I also made sure to catch an interview with Dick Cavett who I’ve become a fan of thanks to TCM. The channel regularly airs episodes of his talk show and I’ve grown to admire his interactions with Hollywood legends. He also proved to be a great interviewee! Illeana Douglas was on hand to ask him for insight into his career and he told us several tales of Groucho Marx, Marlon Brando and, my favorite, Jack Benny. Afterwards I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Cavett and tell him how much I shared his love for the great comedian.
But Dick Cavett wasn’t my only celebrity run in.
Yup, Oscar himself. As part of my 2016 Festival press bag I received a membership to TCM Backlot – the channel’s fan club. Up until this year’s fest it proved to be a bit underwhelming. Most opportunities were only available via contest and in the past year I had yet to win one. That is until this year’s fest when I won a spot on a private tour the of the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study.
I’d long driven past the building and always wished I could explore it and, thanks to TCM, I finally did. I joined a group of fellow film fans and met with several archivists who shared many of the treasures they curate. We saw historic photographs, posters and letters from some of the top Hollywood stars. Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed but believe me I saw treasures! Prior to the tour we provided our favorite films and the archivists made sure to share related images. I had named Ball of Fire as my favorite and I was able to view a list of Howard Hawks’ top choices for the lead (Barbara Stanwyck wasn’t even on there!) and a letter Carole Lombard wrote to Samuel Goldwyn turning down the role (it was hilarious yet heartfelt – just as I would expect). I was in heaven viewing these historic documents.
This year’s festival was wonderful if a bit bittersweet because of the passing of Robert Osbourne. Beloved by TCM fans, including myself, his loss has been profound. The festival was dedicated to him and their were several tributes throughout. The acknowledgement of the passing of such an important figure was handled with grace and integrity and many of us felt his presence throughout the weekend. I’m sure he would be so happy to see so many fans continue to come together and celebrate what we all love – classic film. Once again TCM knocked it out of the park and I can’t wait to return next year.