It’s hard to believe that it was just over a month ago that they announced the Hollywood edition of TCMFF 2020 was cancelled. The world of early March—in which the prospect of gathering a large group of people in an enclosed space was a hopeful, non-terrifying idea—seems like a completely different time now. Looking back though, I’m grateful that the people at TCM were able to pivot so quickly in planning this year’s at home edition. I think it really shows how much they value us as a community, and not just as a faceless group of ticket buyers.
It may sound silly given the many highs of the festival experience, but the process of going over the TCMFF schedule and making my picks ahead of time is, for me, totally one of the highlights. Every possibility ahead seems wide open, and I can entertain the thought of being able to do everything, without actually making the tough choices yet. Maybe I’ll go to an old favorite, big and loud at the Chinese; maybe I’ll see the obscure 1930s social drama I’d never heard of before; maybe I’ll take this opportunity to finally watch that classic I’ve always meant to see. In the planning stage, I can live all these timelines simultaneously… plus, I don’t have to account for food, sleep, or lines in this fantasy world.
And yet. When I set out to make my “picks” for this year’s festival, something felt… off. Since the festival is airing on TCM, it means that there’s only one stream: no simultaneous options, no tough decisions to make. It was, in short… too easy. If I really wanted to, I could DVR the entire festival run and watch every single moment of it. That’s when I realized: Do I thrive off of unnecessary conflict? Do I need limitations to be satisfied?? Is this why I went back to grad school???
So, in order to give myself the pressure that I apparently need to function, I’ve imposed limits on my selections: just one new-to-me movie and one rewatch per day. I will, of course, be watching much more than that at the festival. But in forcing myself to commit to my top choices here, it’s appropriately tapping into the scarcity reaction in my brain that makes things feel a little more normal.
Thursday, April 16
OK, so Thursday’s already kind of a cheat, because (like the in-person festival), things only get started in the evening, so there aren’t as many choices. Plus, I’ve seen most of these movies, so actually my only new-to-me option is The Good Earth (1937) at 2:30am. I hadn’t ever sought this out because of all the… racism… but I’m interested to see Luise Rainer’s impactful performance.
For the rewatch, I think both Metropolis and Neptune’s Daughter will be really fun and would be worthy watches in any other festival scenario, but my heart and singular selection must go to A Star is Born (1954). I have to show up for Judy, and—as the programmers of both the 2010 and 2020 TCMFF realized—this ode to the ebbs and flows of show business, is the perfect, dramatic start to the festival.
Friday, April 17
Friday breaks down kind of neatly for me, in that everything airing before 1pm is new to me, and I’ve already seen everything after that point. In fact, the morning includes some of my big cinematic blindspots… but perhaps none so big as The Seventh Seal (1957) at 6:45am. I’ve barely watched any Bergman outside of school, so I think the gentle prod of the TCMFF context makes it the perfect opportunity here.
For the evening, there are lots of great options, including Grey Gardens, a movie I saw with my mom on Mother’s Day last year as a preview of our future. But for my choice here, since I went heavy in the morning, I’ll pick Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) at midnight. I love a monster movie, and this is one of the really fun ones—with great creature makeup, “exotic” locale, and Julie Adams’ incredible eyebrows.
Saturday, April 18
Obviously, my rewatch choice must go to the fabled Double Harness (1933), site of much trauma at the 2016 festival, but which I did ultimately see in its TBA replay. I’ll be excited to rewatch it with a slightly lower adrenaline level, which had been pumped up from the high of actually making it inside that year. Though perhaps the 9:15am screening time (6:15 for me here on the West Coast) will make seeing it live an equally daunting prospect. I also recommend the Vitaphone short block at 10:30am, if only because the mere thought of baby Rose Marie scatting still, to this day, makes me laugh.
I am a bit torn on my new-to-me choices for Saturday—I remember being disappointed to miss Mad Love last year, and ’50s Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm seems like a pretty safe choice for me. But for some reason Sergeant York (1941) at 11am is calling out to me here, as the solid, hearty option that I feel like I should have seen, yet doesn’t represent a deep pit of motivating shame that might make me see it soon. It’s not something I’d normally select and put on for myself, which is exactly why it feels like the right sort of thing to watch in the context of TCMFF.
Sunday, April 19
OK, this one is hard. I’ve seen most of these movies, and many of them hit the sweet spot of “movie I love, but haven’t seen recently” formula that often works well for me at TCMFF. (Except Singin’ in the Rain, which I love and literally watched yesterday.)
So I’ll start with the slightly easier, new-to-me choice, which is the film I was looking forward to seeing at this year’s festival: Victor/Victoria (1982) at 3:30am. This feels like something that I know I’m going to love and has just been waiting there for me to see it. It was also one of the last movies to play at New Beverly just before […gestures vaguely at everything] and I’d hoped to go to it then as well, so I feel like it’s doubly foretold.
As for the rewatch. Jezebel is a great entry in the “Bette Davis wears a dress she’s not supposed to” subgenre (see also Now, Voyager); Red-Headed Woman stars Jean Harlow as, according to Wikipedia, “a woman who uses sex to advance her social position” (I mean… you’re going to have to be more specific); I just saw Auntie Mame AND Baby Face for the first time in the past year and adored both. But. In these trying times, I feel a greater need to be honest with myself and what I want out of this world, and the answer is, as always, Paul Newman. Watching The Hustler (1961) is my self care.
And those are my picks! I kind of surprised myself on some of them, and I actually appreciated the restrictions forced me to make a couple selections I might have missed just picking my favorites. As I said, in actuality I’m going to watch as many as I can, so I hope to see everyone around on social media. Here’s to TCMFF 2020!