TURNER CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: LOOKING BACK 10 YEARS

The Turner Classic Movies Classic  Film Festival celebrated its 10th  anniversary last year, 2019. And as with every film festival or other event this spring, the 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. This year it will be presenting on-air through its cable station highlights from the past ten years of its festivals. This will start on Thursday April 16 at 8:00 p.m. EST and run through Sunday (actually early Monday morning) with its last  showing at a 3:30 a.m. start time.

The films begin with A Star is Born, (1954) which was the opening night event back in 2010. And the second showing will be of the  restored Metropolis (1927) directed by Fritz Lang, which closed that Festival.  Many great films will be shown, including some interviews and shots of stars that have since passed away, including Luise Rainer, Esther Williams, Peter O’Toole, Martin Landau, Burt Reynolds, Max von Sydow, and of course TCM’s long time host, Robert Osborne.

As a ten-year attendee of the TCM Classic Film Festivals, here are my own highlights and impressions from the Festivals. Given that events and screenings were concurrent, my selections were always too  limited.

The first TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL was held in 2010 in Hollywood, as have all subsequent festivals. The venues have remained with the core at the old Grauman Chinese Theatre (now the TCL Chinese), the adjacent multiplex, with the Egyptian Theatre and the headquarters at the Roosevelt Hotel. I didn’t attend the Opening Night screening of A Star is Born, but rather the Roosevelt  pool-side showing of Neptune’s Daughter (1949)with Esther Williams  and Betty Garrett in attendance and featuring a performance by the Aqualilies. Viewing many of these movie classics that year was a thrill, especially in the old movie palaces among rapt movie fans from around the country. My favorites were: In a Lonely Place; Casablanca; Sunset Blvd.; Leave Her to Heaven; The Graduate; and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Panel discussions were also held. Despite some glitches with finding where lines formed, this was a very enjoyable festival.

The TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL 2011 repeated the successful formula from the previous year. The use of themes was further developed, such as, “The Silent Legacy,” “The Music of Bernard Hermann,” “Disney’s Musical Legacy,” etc. One of the idols of my youth was in attendance and was interviewed as part of the screening of Parent Trap: Hayley Mills. Miss Mills revealed that she had been “discovered” by Walt Disney’s wife Lillian in London while on stage.  Walt brought her over to star in Pollyanna (1960), and later films. Peter O’Toole was also in attendance as part of the screening of Lawrence of Arabia, and for a special interview session. In those days at the festival Vanity Fair sponsored a party for Spotlight pass holders and he attended the party, but he was in a wheelchair at this point in his life and was in a cordoned off area with friends.

The Opening Night movie was An American in Paris (1951), and Leslie Caron was in attendance for an interview. Other highlights for me were: Gold Diggers of 1933; To Kill a Mockingbird (1962); with several members of the Peck family in attendance; Carousel (1956); Pennies From Heaven (1981); and The Unsinkable Molly Brown(1964), with an interview of Debbie Reynolds.

 

The 2012 TCMCFF was the biggest and best of the three annual festivals held thus  far. It was a classic movie lover’s paradise. The over-all theme was “Style in the Movies.” Costume design featured in the programming, with costume designer, author, and professor of the UCLA Copley Center for Costume Design, Deborah Nadoolman Landis.  She gave a   talk and visual presentation on “The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful,” a mini-history of costume design in film. Deborah showed us that not only is a Jean Harlow silk glamour gown a film costume, but so is Sylvester Stallone’s sweat-suit in Rocky. 

Debbie Reynolds with Robert Osborne for “Singing in the Rain.” Photo by Christian Esquevin

As the Festival began drawing more attendees, the lines became longer and some venues were filled before you could get in. . I did get to see the two most spectacular epics being offered, the three-hour The Longest Day, and the equally long How the West Was Wonthe latter shown in the Cinerama format at the original Cinerama movie dome. Having seen both of the films on television only, I was unprepared for how spectacular they truly were. Showing the film in the original Cinerama format required three projectors and five personnel. How the West Was Won premiered at the very same theater 50 years earlier. It was the last epic that MGM was ever to produce. It was also costume designer Walter Plunkett’s last film at MGM. His contract had expired and was not being renewed. In another movie actor Richard Widmark gave a tour de force performance as Harry Fabian in the film noir classic, Night and the City. The film was directed by Jules Dassin, and is set in London, but it is otherwise full of noir essence, a film that Widmark makes incredibly palpable.

Grauman’s Chinese was the site for the screening of the bewitching Vertigo. And if this screening was not its own reward, Kim Novak was there being interviewed by Robert Osborne about her appraisal of the movie and her role. The next day Ms. Novak got her hand and foot-prints set  in concrete for the Grauman’s Chinese forecourt. The Festival included screenings of some of the Universal horror classics. The seminal Frankenstein was shown at the Egyptian Theater, which was also a Grauman’s Theater when it opened in 1922. The classic 1931 Frankenstein was introduced by director John Carpenter. It’s amazing how compact a thriller the movie is, still powerful after all these decades. It was an iconic movie, made so by director James Whale and the incredible acting of Boris Karloff.  And finally for me,  the screening of the newly restored, 60th Anniversary premiere of the beloved Singing in the Rain. It was shown at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where it had first premiered 60 years earlier and where the film’s opening scene was filmed. Debbie Reynolds was interviewed by Robert Osborne, and following the film, Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene Kelly’s widow, provided personal stories from the late Gene Kelly’s writings and recollections. She could have entertained us for hours, though time had run out, much too soon. The restored Singing in the Rain provided outstanding color – a marvel of fun and theatrical good times.

The old Grauman’s Egyptian Theater for the TCMFF 2012. Photo by Christian Esquevin

The 2013 TCMFF had the theme of TRAVEL, which hardly seemed to matter as the movies I picked to  watch were based on a mix of  proximity, old favorites, new discoveries, and star talent.

The Opening Night screening Thursday  was Funny Girl (1968), the classic musical based on the life of Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice, as played by Barbara Streisand in her film debut – inspired casting. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. The screening was not attended by Barbara Streisand, but the audience was thrilled by the guest appearance of Cher, who was interviewed by Robert Osborne.

A classic not to be missed on the big screen was  the 1959 Ben Hurprobably the biggest film spectacle of the classic era. Indeed, the music and big screen of the Chinese Theater produced a completely different experience than seeing this film on a TV screen. The introduction to the Ben Hur screening was provided by David Wyler, son of the brilliant director William Wyler, who was also the director of Funny Girl. At this screening David Wyler regaled the audience with his stories about being a kid on the film lot in Italy.

Classic animation was also added to the line-up, in celebration of Bugs Bunny’s 75th anniversary. Leonard Maltin and animation historian Jerry Beck introduced a series of ten Bugs Bunny personal favorites, starting with A Wild Hare, Bugs’ first appearance in 1940. Another animation treat was getting to watch Lady and the Tramp (1955) on the big screen at the El Capitan Theater. This fun classic was also introduced by Leonard Maltin. I had not seen this Disney film since I was a kid. It was then and remains a sentimental favorite.

Photo by Christian Esquevin

Silent film also had a strong showing at the festival, with silent film historians introducing or talking about some of the major silent classics. One particularly fascinating talk and slide show was presented by author and silent film historian John Bengston, who has researched and written, Silent Echoes,  about the outdoor Hollywood film scenes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Bengston has used film grabs and old fashioned-shoe leather to track down the filming locations of many of the silent classics, finding them in miraculously still-existing buildings and the streets of modern Los Angeles and elsewhere in California. Much of his current research is now helped by Google street view.

Watching King Vidor’s The Big Paradedigitally restored, was a revelation.It first premiered at the Egyptian Theater in 1925, and it went on to become the most profitable MGM film of its day. The story is centered around World War I, and a young French peasant woman and an American doughboy who fall in love. John Gilbert plays the soldier, in the favorite role of his career, and Renee Adoree plays the Frenchwoman. It is a stirring depiction of the frustrations of love and the horrors of war. The silent film actor Karl Dane gave an impressive performance. I had seen several photos of him but never saw any of his movies or knew why he was a big star for a short period.. He had the kind of strong but pliable face that I can only compare to Lon Chaney’s. The strong emotions of the film were greatly enhanced through a new score composed by Carl Davis and played by the English Chamber Orchestra. The experience was enhanced by Kevin Brownlow’s introduction and his retelling of his student interview with King Vidor.

The TCM Festival included screenings of many great movies, including Giant, Gilda, The Birds, Shane, Cape Fear, Bonnie and Clyde, It Happened One Night, My Fair Lady, Lady Eve, Mildred Pierce, Ninotchka, Night of the Hunter, On Golden Pond, On the Waterfront, Notorious, and many more. One is definitely in cinema heaven at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

TCM’s 5th Annual Classic Film Festival was held  in Hollywood April 10-13, 2014, this was held concurrently with the 20th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies.  The Festival’s theme was “Family in the Movies: The Ties that Bind.” Actors that were celebrated were: Maureen O’Hara; Charlton Heston; Jerry Lewis; and Richard Dreyfuss. The Opening Night movie was Oklahoma (1955). But instead I was at the Roosevelt poolside watching American Graffiti (1973)Zulu (1964) was screened the next morning, introduced by Alex Trebeck. This was Michael Caine’s first film. The next movie, the nostalgia- twinged Meet Me in St Louis (1944), starring Judy Garland.This screening was made very special by the appearance of Margaret O’Brien, who nearly stole the show as little Tootie. She not only still  looked young but could apparently still can fit in the coat she wore in the film as a 7 year old. The mood changed to film noir and pre-code as I watched Double Indemnity (1944) along with a nighttime wrap-up of Employees’ Entrance (1933). 

The next morning’s highlight was Mary Poppins  (1964) at the El Capitan. The line for the movie was jaw-dropping. Donald Bogle interviewed Richard Sherman, who along with his late older brother Robert composed the songs and wrote the lyrics to Mary Poppins and other Disney films.  The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night (1964), played at the Chinese  Saturday night to a packed house. It was a great movie to watch on the big screen and to recapture the youth of the Beatles (and my own high school days), in this film from 1964. The songs that kept ringing in my head for the next several days were And I Love Her, and those beautiful harmonies by John and Paul in If I Fell (in love with you). Alec Baldwin provided a spirited introduction and interview with music producer Don Was. I closed out the Festival with two more musicals: Easter Parade (1948)and The Wizard of Oz (1939) . “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” filled my head as I drove home.

The 6th Annual TCMFF in 2015 drew some 20,000 people, The theme of this one was “History According to Hollywood,”And this year talent was very prominent, with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Dustin Hoffman, Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLaine, Alec Baldwin, Shirley Jones, Ann-Margret,  Spike Lee, Peter Fonda, Keith Carradine, Robert Morse, William Daniels, Ken Howard, and others.  Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer were there as part of the Opening Night screening of The Sound of Music (1963).

Shirley Jones arriving at TCMFF Opening Night. Photo by Christian Esquevin

The next morning featured a special showing of Lenny, about the radical stand-up comic Lenny Bruce, starring Dustin Hoffman. Dustin Hoffman was interviewed, after the screening, by Alec Baldwin. But “interviewed” is really a misnomer as this was a wandering dialogue that was as fascinating as it was funny as each actor took turns mimicking comedian Buddy Hackett and trading show business lore. In the same Egyptian Theater, and with seemingly the same line length, The Cincinnati Kid followed. The Steve McQueen/Edward G. Robinson movie also starred Ann-Margret, who was in attendance and interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz. She let out that what was special about McQueen was his “animalism.” She shared his love of fast motorcycles.

I attended Rififi (1955)  which was  introduced by Eddie Muller who  complemented the audience for attending what he thought was the best movie of the whole festival, and “as perfect a movie as you can get.” Other great movies I attended were The Philadelphia Story, with a Q&A with Illianna Douglas and Madeleine Stowe; 42nd Street; The Smiling Lieutenant; 1776, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

The 7th Annual TCMFF 2016 had nine themes, among them animal movies, journalism, coming-of-age, and love and loss. Among the actor tributes were stars Faye Dunaway, Gina Lollobrigida, Eliott Gould, Carl Reiner. Director Francis Ford Coppola was also celebrated. The Opening Night movie was All the President’s Men (1976), with Carl Bernstein  interviewed along with Spotlight screenwriter Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy.  A journalist movie of a different sort was the classic Ace in the Hole (1951) starring Kirk Douglas, screened on Saturday . Earlier Saturday morning Francis Ford Coppola was interviewed for the screening of The Conversation (1974), revealing he had been influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966).

Francis Ford Coppola at the TCMFF 2016. Photo by Christian Esquevin

Other notable movies I attended were Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) as part of An Afternoon with Carl Reiner.  This entertaining movie happened to be the last film whose costumes were designed by Edith Head before her death. And there was the silent The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), with live music from an orchestra conducted by Mark Sumner and a choir performing The Voices of Light composed by Richard Einhorn. This event at the Egyptian Theatre was truly unique. Also unforgettable was a long interview of Faye Dunaway  by Ben Mankiewicz at the Montalban Theatre. The discussion ran through most of her career. Although Mrs. Dunaway is known to be difficult, she was most gracious in her answers and to her audience.

Faye Dunaway at the TCMFF 2016. Photo by Christian Esquevin

TCMFF 2017 was the eighth annual Festival held April 6-9, 2017 in Hollywood. We missed the great Robert Osborne as MC the last couple of years. And this year TCM officially paid homage to him after his death on March 6. Without irony, and perhaps as Robert would have wanted it, the theme this year was Make em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies. With only a Classic Pass,  my choice for the Thursday night movie was the romantic-comedy Love Crazy (1941) with Myrna Loy and William Powell, their tenth and zaniest film together. With co-stars Gail Patrick and Jack Carson it’s a fast-clipped and wacky movie where love and marriage is tested but eventually wins out Fitting the Festival theme was Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad Mad, Mad Mad World (1963) . It was screened at the fabulous Cinerama Dome, built in 1963.  This crazy comedy of a film was beyond analysis, so instead the discussion was about the technical aspects of filming the climactic last scene at a supposed public square with lots of  traffic  and a tall building and a ladder fire truck rescuing people. All of this was actually shot on a studio back lot. Craig Barron and Ben Burtt were on hand to talk about the making of the film. Ben Burtt is a legendary movie sound designer, having created the voice of R2-D2 and Darth Vade. Probably my favorite film of the Festival was the French Noir Panique. This little known film gem is based on a Georges Simenon novel and stars the great French actor Michel Simon in the title role (the French title is Les Fiancailles de M. Hire). This is a very dark noir with an unblinking depiction of the cruelty of  mob mentality.

One of of the films I didn’t want to miss was The Last Picture Show.  Director Peter Bogdanovich was on hand to talk and answer Illeana Douglas’ questions about the 1971 film. It starred Timothy Bottoms, Cybil Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn, and Jeff Bridges among others and was a multi-Oscar nominee including Best Picture and Director. It won Best Supporting Actor Awards for Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman. Bogdanovich related how he had wanted to make the film using deep-focus cinematography, like Citizen Kane. Orson Wells told him not to film it in color. And besides, he added. “All the best performances are in black and white.”  So Bogdanovich asked the producer and was told to go ahead. Bogdanovich was also a fan of the John Ford westerns, and wanted Ben Johnson to play the role of Sam the Lion. But Johnson turned him down. “Too many words,” he said about his part in the script. So Bogdanovich turned to Ford for help. Ford said Johnson always said that about a script. But after Ford called him, Johnson accepted and called to tell Bogdanovich he would accept. It would become the most iconic role of his career. The director’s cut was screened.

Peter Bogdanovich at TCMFF 2017. Photo by Christian Esquevin

Among other films awaiting me were two memorable ones. One was The King of Hearts (Le Roi de Coeur) 1966. Directed by Philippe de Broca and starring Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold along with a strong supporting cast. I hadn’t seen the movie since the late 60’s and I remembered it as a gem of social satire. During World War I the Germans occupy a small French town and leave munitions timed to blow it up as they leave. The locals get wind of this and leave town. Only those inhabiting an insane asylum are left behind. When a lone Scots Black Watch “bomb disposal expert” is sent in to the village he manages to escape the Germans by entering the asylum where the inmates crown him king. After they leave, the inmates get out and find costumes to wear and assume roles they always wanted in life – from the mayor and firefighters, to whores and hairdressers.

The other remarkable film was the screening at the Egyptian Theater of The Black Narcissus (1947). The fuss was about the projection of this Powell & Pressberger classic on nitrate film stock – a great early Technicolor copy owned by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. In order to show it, the projection room at the Egyptian had to be retrofitted, courtesy of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, TCM, the American Cinematheque, Academy Film Archive and George Eastman Museum. This work included having the room meet fire codes and installing a panic button in case of fire that would stop the projectors and drop metal louvers to encase them. The film itself was magnificent. It’s a gripping story of a group of nuns sent to the other-worldly Himalayas to open a convent.

The 9th Annual TCMFF was a full-card of film screenings and other events that thrilled every classic movie fan in attendance. The first film screening I attended was a surprise hit at the Fesival: Finishing School (1934). Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers starred. This was an RKO production, where Dee met Joel McRae and the two subsequently married. The classic  Stage Door (1937) was next. Gregory LaCava’s adaptation of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s play, with Anthony Veillor’s script (and ad-libbing), is a gem of a movie that everyone should watch. The all-star cast includes: Katharine Hepburn; Ginger Rogers; Lucille Ball; Eve Arden; Gail Patrick, Ann Miller; Andrea Leeds (steals your heart) Constance Collier; and Adolphe Menjou. This was The Women before there was The Women. It played at the American Cinematques’s GRAUMAN’S EGYPTIAN Theatre. It was preceded by The LetterOne of Bill Morrison’s unique films made of edited deteriorated remnants of silent films.  A unique event I attended was a cinematographers panel moderated by director Taylor Hackford. The panelists provided inside information on their art and many anecdotes about working with directors and actors, and the weather. The event was held at the historic American Society of Cinematographers Club House. Another fun screening was Cracking Wise, an edited medley of movie wise-cracks taken from dozens of films in the Paramount Archives. The clips came from Republic B pictures and were presented by Andrea Kalas.

Other great movies I saw were Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943),How to Marry a Millionaire (1953 in Cinemascope), Three Smart Girls (1936), Silk Stockings (1957), and Places in the Heart (1984), a special screening with both director Robert Benton and Sally Field in attendance. Sally Field received her second Academy Award for Best Actress for her role. They gave a lively remembrance of their working together on this excellent movie. She played a recent widower in  rural Texas trying against all odds to save her house and land by farming cotton with the help of an itinerant black man (Danny Glover) and blind roomer(John Malkovich).

John Benton director with Sally Field at TCMFF 2018 Photo by Christian Esquevin

 

The 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival celebrated love in all of its forms. This was the 10th annual Festival, and the 25th anniversary of TCM, The hosts and TCM made over the ten-time attendees such as myself. We were given special lanyards for our name badges and thus greeted warmly at each screening or event. There was also a Roosevelt Hotel Rooftop party for all the Ten-Timers.

Alicia Malone and Eddie Muller at 10 Year Celebration for 10 Timers. Photo by Christian Esquevin

The Opening Night Screening featured When Harry Met Sally (1989), with Rob Reiner as director and stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. talking about making the film. Carl Reiner revealed that the woman in the scene at Katz’s Deli that says “I’ll have what she’s having” after Meg Ryan acts out her fake orgasm was his mother Estelle.

Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, and Meg Ryan at TCMFF 2019. Photo by Christian Esquevin

There were many great movies to be seen over the week-end. Some of my favorites were: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, that made a star of 21 year old Catherine Deneuve; The Postman Always Rings Twice; The Clock (with Judy Garland); Day for Night, with Jacqueline Bisset in attendance; Love Affair; The Killers, the remake with Angie Dickenson in attendance, Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and a special Fox: An Appreciation, this before  20th Century-Fox was absorbed by the Disney Company. This program was presented by Schawn Belston,the then Exec VP of 20th Century-Fox. And I also attended , as I usually do, Bonham’s Entertainment Exhibition and Appraisal. This is held Sunday morning and people bring in their collectible Entertainment memorabilia for appraisal. As a collector, I’m always interested in what turns up.

This wraps up my 10 years with the TCMFF, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. THANK YOU TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES.

 

4 thoughts on “TURNER CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: LOOKING BACK 10 YEARS”

  1. Hi Christian! My apologies for late arrival to your look back on all the TCM festivals to date. What wonderful memories, and the films! I’ve been to three of the festivals – with plans to go to two more (2016 and 2019) that had to be scrapped. Of course, I had plans for this year, too. Hopefully, next year. I haven’t seen Lady & the Tramp in a theater since it was new. It’s always been my favorite Disney animation (kids and dogs!). Would love to have seen it again in the festival setting. Among many others you mention , naturally.

    1. Thanks for your comment Patty. It was too bad you had to miss the 2016 and 2019 TCM Film Festivals, as every one was worthwhile. And this last April just didn’t come off as so many other things were cancelled as well. But it was a good time going through the memories of the past festivals and films, some of them happily shared with you. And some of those films go way back in memory, like you say, with Lady and the Tramp and others.Let’s hope for next year.

  2. I have never been able to attend one of these film festivals. Thank you for the thorough synopsis. The festivals sound as wonderful as I thought that they would be.

    1. Thanks for your comment Kate. I didn’t really mention the level of excitement and also the need to rush from one movie to the start of the next. All of that plus all the people and the business of Hollywood Blvd,
      adds to the atmosphere. Still, you may want to tune in to TCM starting Thursday evening if you receive it to get the flavor of the offerings from the festivals.

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