We’re officially a month away from the 20th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies, and to celebrate, the beloved television station has partnered with StarLine to launch a month of bus tours for classic movie fans in Los Angeles. The free, 3-hour ride chauffeurs visitors to a variety of historical film and filmmaking locations around Los Angeles, and runs through the TCM Film Festival in April. The tour celebrates a love of film from nearly every angle, highlighting on-location filming locations, studios, and historical and modern movie theaters, tracing its history from the earliest silent films to the latest CGI blockbusters.
The tour starts at Hollywood and Highland, the current epicenter of Hollywood tourism, and a modern landmark in and of itself—not only is the Dolby Theatre the current home of the Oscars, but the architecture of the structure is a salute to D.W. Griffith’s silent epic, Intolerance. Guests board a newly customized StarLine tour bus lined with ceiling-high windows and a large, heavily utilized television screen at the front. From there, the tour features a combination of live commentary by a knowledgable, wise-cracking guide, video introductions by Ben Mankiewicz, and relevant film clips and photos to provide context to the locations outside the windows. As we made our way out of Hollywood (a slightly difficult proposition, as the Captain America: Winter Soldier premiere had shut down a block of Hollywood Blvd.), we were treated to a unique view of a city forced to rapidly evolve. While many of the historical buildings in the Hollywood area have been cleared to accommodate increases in modern development, as we moved farther away, we saw more and more neighborhoods that had been more or less preserved: the boon of 1920s opulence in Hancock Park; repurposed movie palaces on Broadway downtown; Victorian-style mansions in Angeleno Heights. Living in Los Angeles, it’s easy to forget how interconnected the city can be when you’re not just rushing through stop-and-go traffic from one part of the city to another, and it was great to hear about the forgotten Hollywood history of a building that you may pass by every day on your commute.
The tour included several stops where passengers were allowed to stretch their legs and see the interior of a location; the first was at the Bradbury building, downtown. The iconic Bradbury building (above) has been featured in many films and TV shows in its history, perhaps most notably Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, but also Chinatown, (500) Days of Summer, and The Artist. As with the rolling location stops, the on-site tour was preceded with clips from the films, to make sure we would fully appreciate what we were about to see.
I got the sense that the TCM tour is probably a welcome treat for the guides, at least—our guide, Michael, was very excited that his Steve McQueen references and Road to Utopia jokes were landing (and landing HUGE), instead of the typical blank stares he’d typically face attempting the same bits on a busful of people expecting a TMZ-style tour. Still, there was a nice mix of both older and newer films featured in the clips and location choices. That’s partly because Hollywood loves to re-use a location once it’s been proven photogenic—as the juxtaposition of some of the clips showed, filmmakers from Charlie Chaplin to Michael Bay could often be drawn to the same location.
The bus ride covers a lot of ground from Hollywood to Hancock Park, and Downtown, then back up through Echo Park and Silver Lake—all historical hubs of filmmaking throughout the industry’s development. Clips featured included classic films like The Great Dictator, Sunset Boulevard, and Kiss Me Deadly; period pieces like The Aviator, L.A. Confidential, and Gangster Squad; and undeniably modern entries like The Fast and the Furious, Independence Day, and Transformers. Although the tour is geared mostly for classic film fans, there’s a wealth of locations for almost any interest.
The tour starts today and runs through April 14, though tickets for the tour are already sold out—and did so within a matter of hours on the first day they were available. Our hosts did suggest that additional tickets may be released within the coming weeks. They also offer standby tickets in case any of the pre-ticketed guests don’t show up, which, although not a guaranteed proposition, could at least get you on the bus. Check the TCM anniversary page for more details.
See below for a few more photos from the tour—culled from a trigger-happy collection of more than 200.