The 2018 TCM Film Festival
As a classic film fan I’m very lucky to live in Southern California. Not only are film screenings held regularly throughout the area but I’m also within driving distance of a variety of excellent events like Last Remaining Seats, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Lone Pine Film Festival. But I’m especially lucky because the annual TCM Film Festival is right in my backyard and this year I attended my 5th consecutive one as a member of the press.
Last year I was in heaven because the theme, TCM Film Festival, was tailor made for me. This year’s theme, Powerful Words: The Page Onscreen, didn’t excite me as much but, instead of letting that get me down I used it as an opportunity to take a different approach to the fest. Rather than schedule my days I decided to just go with the flow and choose events on a whim. This approach totally worked and I made some wonderful discoveries.
I must admit, I did have one must see event. Harold Lloyd: New Dimensions in Sight and Sound. It’s no secret I’m a huge Harold Lloyd fan so there was no way I was going to miss this special event held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Linwood Dunn Theatre.
A bit of a trek from the festival’s headquarters at the Hollywood Roosevelt it was well worth the detour. Hosted by Randy Haberkamp, the academy’s Director of Preservation, and Suzanne Lloyd, Harold’s granddaughter, it was an event I won’t soon forget.
We started with home movies shot at Lloyd’s famed estate, Greenacres, and they were astounding. Since he was a director as well as a comedian he had access to the latest technologies like Technicolor and we were able to view 1920’s images of Greenacres in vivid color! I’ve long been in awe of this impressive estate and to see it in all its colorful glory was incredible. Also, incredible was to hear Lloyd’s wife and frequent co-star, Mildred Davis, speak. Retired before the dawn of sound it was amazing to hear her voice thanks to his home movies. All the while, Suzanne Lloyd narrated providing fascinating insight into the home life of the star.
Not many people know Harold Lloyd was a huge proponent of 3D. Throughout the years he shot over 200,000 images around the world. Thanks to 3D glasses we were treated to a slideshow of these incredible works. Largely shot in Kodachrome, there were bright and colorful, eye popping images of exotic locales, Hollywood stars and the early days of Disneyland. It was incredible.
As if the images and home movies weren’t enough of a treat we then watched 2 shorts, A Jazzed Honeywoon and Never Weaken, as well as a 3D clip from Safety Last. The two shorts were hand cranked on a 1909 Power’s Cameragraph Model 6 and accompanied by Joe Rinaudo on a 1917 Fotoplayer, a hybrid piano/organ/sound effects machine. It was a real delight viewing the films as they were originally shown.
The event started the film fest with a bang and I wondered if anything could compare. Quite honestly, it was my favorite part of the weekend but I did manage to have some more wonderful experiences.
Since I didn’t have an film preferences I decided to attend a screening of 1938’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I found myself with some free time. Produced by David O. Selznick and directed by Norman Taurog it’s a lavish Technicolor production. Starring the newly discovered Tommy Kelly and featuring a bevvy of character actors it was actually the first color depiction of the children’s classic I had to read Tom Sawyer in school and must admit I was never a fan of the book. Despite this I found the film to be a true delight Tommy Kelly is perfectly cast as the rascally Tom and the colorful depiction of 1840’s America visually stunning.
Also a delight is Cora Sue Collins, who played Amy in the film. A former MGM child actress she sat down for an interview with Carrie Beauchamp after the film. Literally discovered while walking down the street in Hollywood she appeared in several films in her 15 year career and spent so much time working (6 days a week 6am-9pm each day) that she never had time to go to the movies herself. When she was propositioned by a much older MGM screenwriter in 1945 she decided turn her back on Hollywood and lived a happy life out of the limelight. Only in recent years has she revisited her films and gained a a fondness for her childhood career while still maintaining that leaving was the best decision she ever made.
I was lucky enough to meet Ms. Collins after the film and she’s a truly lovely lady.
One of my favorite parts of the TCM Film Fest is Club TCM which offers a variety of intimate programs on various film related subjects. One of my favorite programs is Hollywood Home Movies: Treasures from the Academy Film Archive hosted by Lynne Kirste of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Having missed last year’s presentation I was eager to attend and this year did not disappoint. Among the rare glimpses of the stars at ease were Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Marlene Dietrich playing tennis at his home, George and Ira Gershwin palling around with friends and Gypsy Rose Lee clowning with Lucille Ball, Rock Hudson and my beloved Jack Benny.
Club TCM always has interesting items on display and this year i was able to view Bette Davis’ dress from Dark Victory, the Sara Siddons Award from All About Eve and numerous film posters from Robert Osbourne’s private collection.
I almost skipped the last day of the fest but a screening of This Thing Called Love starring Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas brought me back to Hollywood. Unfortunately, it proved to be so popular that I couldn’t get in and I instead found myself at a screening of Hamlet.
Previously, I mentioned not being a fan of Tom Sawyer. Well, I like Shakespeare even less. But, the film was to be preceded by an interview with Alan Cumming who I absolutely love so I decided to duck into the theatre to check it out
I purposely sat up close thinking I’d watch the interview and leave but Cumming’s comments about the role intrigued me to stay. He played Hamlet 25 years ago and said it was a life changing experience. An arduous, emotional role he found himself on the verge of a nervous breakdown after it ended. Although he has mixed feelings about the 1948 film he still thinks of it as a masterful work. With a preamble like that how could I not give it a try? 2.5 hours later I emerged from the film with a new appreciation of Shakespeare and his forlorn Danish prince.
That’s what I truly love about TCM Film Fest – the opportunity to make new discoveries and gain new appreciation for classic film. As an avid fan of the genre I’ve seen so many movies and read so many books that sometimes it can feel like I’ve experienced it all. Then I go to the TCM Film Festival and see a side of Harold Lloyd I knew nothing about, gain first hand knowledge of life at MGM from once of its stars and discover a newfound appreciation for Shakespeare. It’s truly a magical event and I’m so glad I’ve been lucky enough to experience it these last 5 years.