This post summarizes the events of my first full day at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival on Thursday, April 10. Check out my introductory post about the festival here.
Ok, so I’m already contradicting myself with the title of this post, but for me, the festival actually began a day before “Day 1,” on Wednesday, when I attended two of the pre-opening night parties. Although not an official part of the Fest, these were an important part of the process for me, as many of the blogs that I’ve come to known and love don’t use a personal photo for their Twitter feeds or bios, so often times I have no idea who this person is whom I’ve been interacting with for so long—I know they’re funny and quick and love Robert Taylor, but none of the biographical details people usually lead with in real life. So, meeting people in person, and getting to connect face to name to blog was a real thrill, and everyone I met was completely kind and charming, even though at times I felt a bit like the new kid in class. One of the first people I met was Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, who gave me a big bear hug as soon as I said my blog name—and this welcoming experience was continued from many of the bloggers I met throughout the evening and during festival itself! The first party was held at Sadie’s Kitchen on Las Palmas, and was for the TCM Fest “Social Crew.” Nora, the lovely woman who runs the @tcmfilmfest Twitter, put together the whole thing, which included trivia, games, and delicious food and drinks. Just about everybody I met there was a writer for a blog or Twitter that I already follow, so it was really cool to see them all in person. Thanks to my lovely boyfriend for playing introvert-wingman, and to Ariel (Sinaphile) who seemed to know everyone there, and was happy to make sure I did too! Many of the attendees then moved to the historic Formosa Cafe, where a second party was being held by Warner Archive. This brought a slightly different crowd, including an adorable pair of teen girls who were not going to the Fest, but were fans of Warner Archive and saw them post about the party on Twitter. And to sweeten the pot, the good people at Warner Archive had brought a sack full of DVDs as party favors—I chose the Eleanor Powell flick Rosalie, as I continue to chip away at those stubborn remaining That’s Entertainment entries!
Thursday morning started off fairly early for “media,” as we attended a Q&A-style press conference with hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, TCM’s senior VP of programming Charles Tabesh, and the managing director of the festival, Genevieve McGillicuddy.
Osborne shared his history as a contract actor hand-picked by Lucille Ball, and the close friendship he observed between Lucy and Desi despite their tumultuous relationship. He addressed the fact that part of the reason films don’t seem as “classic” today is that there’s less of an acceptance for artifice, so we lose many of the great, dynamic personalities we got in the golden ages of cinema. When asked about his favorite films, he noted that they were constantly changing, but today he said A Place in the Sun, The Razor’s Edge, Sunset Boulevard, and This is Spinal Tap.
Mankiewicz shared a few stories about his family’s history in the industry, admitting that he wasn’t sure America was clamoring for a continuation of the legacy by the time it’d been passed down to him. He also highlighted some statistics that, despite some preconceived notions, the viewership of TCM is fairly young—66% between 18-49—and that he noticed a lot of younger celebrities also embracing the network. Finally, he pointed to the fact that the audience has a love and trust for TCM that doesn’t carry through to other networks, even if you may enjoy their programming.
Tabesh and McGillicuddy offered some behind-the-scenes details, noting that the festival was a natural extension of the television programming and a visible manifestation of the brand. They described their increasing diversity of programming choices, saying they’ve become a little more adventurous in seeking out films outside of the Turner-owned library—if they’re worthy of exploration. They also hinted that TCM may play a role in the upcoming Academy Film Museum, which is tremendously exciting.
After the conference, I went to pick up my badge at the Roosevelt, which was already decked out in TCM Fest gear and gathering a crowd. The Roosevelt was home base for Club TCM events (live conversations and parties and the like), and the lobby was enlisted for the filming of the “Live from TCM Fest” interstitial interviews being broadcast on the channel, as well as the TCM gift shop.
After lunch, I headed over to the Hollywood Museum for the “Sons of Monsters” panel featuring genre legend Joe Dante and makeup superstar Rick Baker. I’d never been to the museum before, despite it being right off Hollywood Blvd. on Highland Ave., very close to the hustle and bustle of the main scene at that intersection. The museum is housed in the old Max Factor building, so you know its Old Hollywood vibe is actually totally authentic, and, despite my initial thoughts that it might veer towards a Planet Hollywood-esque prop collection, there was actually a ton of worthy vintage ephemera. A whole room is dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, another contains Marlene Dietrich’s dressing room table, and one room is completed covered, floor to ceiling, in retro headshots. There are four floors to explore, plus a basement dedicated to horror and sci-fi props, including a Vampira exhibit and the cells from Silence of the Lambs. I only had a few moments to explore the museum before they let us into ballroom for the panel, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a movie fan in the area.
The Dante/Baker panel, hosted by TCM’s Scott McGee, was a wonderful introduction to the festival, and one of my overall highlights. As friends and collaborators, they had a great rapport and chemistry, routinely lobbing good-natured insults back and forth, as they discussed their influences, past works, and future hopes for the industry. Both creatives pointed to Famous Monsters in Filmland magazine as an inspiration. Dante said he wrote letter after letter trying to get published, ultimately getting a list of “50 Worst Horror Movies” printed in a feature they called “Dante’s Inferno.” It was a thrill for the then-12-year-old, though he admitted he hadn’t actually seen all of the panned entries, and partially culled his list from other rankings. Alternatively, Baker said that since he couldn’t write, he knew he would have to depend on his ability to make something special enough to get into the magazine. He described a similar thrill in finally seeing his name and photos of his work in Famous Monsters, even after having been featured by perhaps more “prestigious” publications.
My first film of the festival would be Fifth Avenue Girl, a Ginger Rogers comedy co-starring Walter Connelly and Tim Holt. It’s a classic situation of 1930s misunderstandings and posturing between upper and lower classes, as struggling Rogers is enlisted as a wealthy man’s faux-mistress, to teach his family to appreciate him. Rogers plays the whole thing entirely deadpan, and her sarcastic, biting remarks are clever and evocative of the era. She’s kind of a low-key constant in the picture, as everyone else’s drama orbits around her, threatening to implode. But she ends up making out with more than just the apple and biscuit dinner she started out with, so I suppose it all turned out okay.
Before many of the films, by the way, there were special presentations highlighting the history of TCM’s 20 year span. Sometimes these were special, informative biography pieces produced by the channel, and sometimes they were vintage ads from decades past. Those ones were a bit like looking at an old yearbook photo and cringing (lovingly!) at the wacky hairstyles, but it was a fun treat. Here is the one that aired before Fifth Avenue Girl:
I stayed in the Chinese Multiplex for my next film, 1954’s Johnny Guitar. This was a very pulpy, stylized, fun Western romp with Joan Crawford at high camp. She plays Vienna, a saloon owner in the Old West with some ties to outlaws, which enrages the local community—and mostly, Emma Stall (Mercedes McCambridge), who fixates upon her with a focused obsession. It’s a very odd film, and nothing like the standard Westerns you’d expect to see in most places, but I thought it was great. The film print we saw was a gorgeous, vibrant Trucolor, which made it all the more enveloping.
And that was it for Day 1! Day 2 was my biggest movie day… coming up soon.
All photos provided by TCM Fest.