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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

TCM Film Festival 2018 Highlights

Now that I'm effectively back on East Coast time (!), and my memory is returning, it's time to share my personal highlights from this year's Turner Classic Film Festival!  As I've done in past years, I shot a few photos of the screen when the pre-film video montages were running - I am mesmerized by these and I think they capture the dizziness and wonder that is the festival. That, or it represents the imaginings of a brain deprived of sleep.

Pre-Festival Entertainment
Since my friend and I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and our stomachs were telling us it was dinner time, of course we headed to our favorite restaurant, which is on Hollywood Blvd. right across the street from Larry Edmunds Book Shop (bookstore heaven for the classic film nerd). Why the wonderful restaurant
 ¡Loteria! isn't better known among festival patrons, I can't fathom. They make the best margaritas this side of Mexico, great food and atmosphere as well.  Tuesday evening we took advantage of a presentation by Kimberley Truhler, fashion author, at the Women's Club of Hollywood, on the historic site of the Hollywood School for Girls, which educated budding stars like Jean Harlow in the 1930s.  The talk was fantastic, and attended by many festival-goers. It was fun to see some old friends there!
Ms. Truhler discussing the 'bias cut' dress sported by 1930s
leading lady Kay Francis
1930s Hollywood scale model,
being restored for exhibit.
April Clemmer provides details.
Wednesday we had a tour of historic sites on Hollywood Blvd called 'Old Hollywood Walking Tour' hosted by April Clemmer, film researcher and lover of all things Hollywood. The tour was a lot of fun, as the average tourist would totally bypass the Pacific Theater (formerly Warner's Hollywood movie palace), which is sadly now boarded up. We still got a peek inside, where the famous film that broke the 'sound barrier', The Jazz Singer, had its premiere.  We also saw an original 1930s scale model of Hollywood being refurbished to be exhibited at a local museum. The tour finished up with a coffee inside the Musso & Frank Grill, continuously operating from the 1920s, when Charlie Chaplin worked on scripts there.  The partying started later in the day when we met many members of the TCM Festival Facebook group at a special gathering at the Roosevelt Hotel pool area. We left that a bit early to join our good friends from NYC, Minneapolis, and Toronto, for our annual tradition - dinner at Micelis!
Italian dinner at Miceli's with the gang
Notable films and TV shows
made on Stage 20 at Warners
Small town America, courtsey Warner Bros.
Thursday was notable first for touring Warner Brothers' Studio - the tour specifically focused on the classics, which was well done. I hadn't visited a movie set since I was 14 and my family took a trip to California and we all took the Universal tour. I don't remember much of that! I have to admit that since the Warners tour, every time I watch an old film with a small town setting, I'm reminded of a particularly inviting part of Warner's backlot, and I'm kind of pulled out of the movie. (Hang 'Em High with Clint Eastwood was the most recent example.  I don't think that was filmed at Warners, but I suppose small town settings in studio backlots have a lot in common!).  

The screen poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel
 - wish it were warmer!
After the tour, we quickly headed back to the Roosevelt Hotel for the festival opening party and then our first film. Sadly, I didn't see my first choice, the pre-code Finishing School, as I got wind through social media that the queue was already getting long a full 2 HOURS before the movie started. Not wanting to head over late and risk being shut out (it was in the smallest theater at the festival), I decided to stay put and watch Them! -- the first of the several poolside screenings. This was quite a bit of fun, due to the insect-shaped lights and antennae headgear that we all got for showing up. A bonus was that there was still plenty of food left from the opening party, and servers roaming around with plates of food passed by us on average once every three minutes. We certainly didn't leave hungry! I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Them! - for a 1950s nuclear-age sci-fi flick, the story was well-paced, good acting, and the suspense was just about perfect. 

The rest of this post provides some of my reactions, out of chronological order.
Strange-looking insects grab first row seats for Them

Basil Sydney (left) and Peter Cushing in Hamlet (1948
Unexpected festival pleasures
I missed the Kurosawa version of MacBeth, e
ntitled Throne of Blood, but did make it to Olivier's Hamlet from 1948. I loved it more than I expected I would. It was a semi-theatrical staging, with expressionistic camera work and wonderful black-and-white cinematography. All actors excelled in their roles, but I was especially taken with the subtlety and range of Basil Sydney, a British stage and screen actor previously unknown to me, playing the role of villainous Claudius, Hamlet's uncle and stepfather. I'd definitely like to see more of his work!

It wouldn't be a TCM festival without watching a western.  This year it was Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, a star-studded epic western with the fingerprints of the Italian director in evidence. Henry Fonda was an icy villain, and Charles Bronson and Jason Robards were mysterious rival gunfighters. The love interest was played by Claudia Cardinale, an Italian actress I last saw in I Soliti Ignoti (1958). Considering the film was nearly three hours long, and the first film for a Sunday morning, I stayed awake and enjoyed every mysterious twist and turn.  

An unexpected delight was the short interlude on Saturday, hosted by the folks at the TCM Wine Club. Yes, this is the club that allows you to pair your favorite films with just the right wine! As a club member, I was invited to the reception on the 12th floor roof deck, where the wine was flowing and the views were stunning.  Such a nice afternoon.  
I took advantage of my extra day in LA on the Monday after the festival to make it to ¡Loteria! one final time, meet up with a friend of a friend, and then head over to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for my first ever visit.  This cemetery, near the Paramount Studios, is one of the best-known burial places of stars.  Rudolph Valentino is interred here, and while I didn't see his final resting place, I was impressed by those of the Douglases Fairbanks, Tyrone Power, and Judy Garland. 
Tyrone Power (1914-1958)

Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939), & Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1909-2000)

Judy Garland (1922-1969)

So I was really excited for the Roaring Twenties Party on Friday night, but didn't meet expectations. First, hanging outside by the pool on an April night in Hollywood, as I discovered during the Them! screening, can get one quite chilly. I left early and ended up missing the film The Roaring Twenties to go watch Leave Her to Heaven at the Egyptian. The other issue refreshments were served at the party...other than a cash bar. I would have thought this detail would have been attended to. Nevertheless, it was still fun, for a while, to hang out and see everyone's twenties outfit. Friends Andrea and Richard styling in '20s attire:

Films on nitrate are a popular attraction at this and other festivals. Nitrate film was discontinued long ago because of flammability dangers, but due to film preservation efforts and theaters like the Egyptian being equipped to screen nitrate film, filmgoers can watch them as originally produced. Nitrate films have the reputation of captivating audiences with beautiful images and deep colors.  Frankly, I'm not able to appreciate the (to me) subtle distinction. I saw three this year on nitrate: Leave Her to Heaven, A Star is Born (1937), and SpellboundOf these three, I really only enjoyed Leave Her to Heaven. 

Expected Pleasures
My schedule for Friday and Saturday consisted of films that were, more than anything, a thrill and joy to see on the big screen.  It was my first time seeing Intruder in the Dust (1949) and Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1943). This drama and comedy were back to back, making a nice contrast.  The 'don't miss' film on Saturday was None Shall Escape (1944), a wartime noir recently restored and presented by the 'Czar of Noir' Eddie Muller, with special guest, star Marsha Hunt, who still is sharp at 100!  Finally, I loved The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I may have seen this many years ago, but it was pretty fresh. For a childs' film, it was very cleverly done, putting the viewer right inside the minds of the kids. One of the child actors in the film, Cora Sue Collins, was on hand to talk about her career. I wish more people had been in the audience to hear her.

All in all, a wonderful time--I couldn't resist sharing more photos.  Can't wait 'til next year!  
Fun to look at, but I resisted the temptation. Festival
attendees are not known for their healthy dietary habits!
Getting in the mood.
Silent film accompanist Ben Model addresses
the TCM Facebook group, with Kelly Wickersham,
group organizer, looking on. Thanks, Ben, for the DVD!


  1. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed almost a completely different version of the Festival than you did. Isn't it great that there is enough diversity to satisfy all kinds of classic film fans? We did share a theater for Hamlet, it was quite great i will agree.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Richard. You're right - the festival is so bountiful that it leads to a very wide array of experiences. Nice to know you appreciated Hamlet, as well.