Ten years ago, the Turner Classic Movie channel teamed up with Delta Airlines and founded the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival.
It was a gathering of individual film fanatics who had the time and spare change to meet up in Hollywood for a three or four day event in celebration of historic films that have made an impact. It was more or less a niche marketed event, denoted by the classic cinema and the styles with which it was presented.
The famous channel, founded by philanthropist and media icon Ted Turner, itself crashed upon television sets and cable junkies what seems like a mere 25 years ago, and has gone to become something of a haven for film lovers of every generation, whereas in it’s initial outsets, it was deemed “television for your grandparents” and though well received and critically acclaimed, it was never popular with the burgeoning onslaught of cable’s younger generations.
This didn’t seem to matter, as was the same case with the similarly founded AMC (American Movie Classics) which was programmed to reach audiences of similar, specific tastes. It’s important to note, that AMC drowned it’s the competition from TCM, and began to insert commercial breaks, schedule half hour specials, and start showing a range of movies that are considered sub-par to plain bad (Jaws: The Revenge comes to mind) and would later begin to modernize it’s franchise by the formation of now iconic original television series, such as “Mad Men”, “The Walking Dead”, “Breaking Bad”, and “Preacher”, among others.
TCM by way of contrast, and some would even say, genuineness, has maintained it’s purity of uninterrupted broadcast, poignantly themed scheduling, and it’s own expanding repertoire of cinema titles that range from the earliest silent novelties, to choice cult picks of the 1980s (the latter, under the banner of TCM Underground).
In it’s literal tenure, The TCMFF (abbreviation, respectively) has, like the exalted channel itself, grown into something of a cultural phenomenon. What started as a niche event for a handful of “classic” film fans, has become a mecca for film fans of all ages, every generation, sporting the most diverse, eclectic tastes. So much so, that the audiences now include directors of scores of pictures from the 60s and 70s who attend as patrons, instead of as guests. Indeed, a haven for all things class and style when it comes to the varying degrees of cinema in all forms.
Quite so, as the festival has begun to franchise itself, offering a boutique with ever more trinkets, apparel and merchandise, all centered to the festival in itself, and not so much the pictures which it celebrates. This is a lively fact that has no doubt showered the company with social media ubiquities and garnered many new fans to tuning in to the channel itself.
The film prints were front and center in unique and pristine presentations of classic screwball comedy (which included a beautiful archive print of Richard Thorpe’s 1937 slapstick opus Double Wedding, which reteamed William Powell and Myrna Loy in the seventh of their fourteen films together, a glimmering, shimmering 35mm nitrate print of Irving Reis’ The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, which was once star Shirley Temple’s own, and also featuring Loy and a dashingly debonair Cary Grant).
Other titles of note were Leo McCarey’s 1939 Love Affair, which would have ruled the Oscars of it’s year were it not for Gone With the Wind changing the game (Wind was also shown in a restored DCP for the Grauman Chinese IMAX screen), George Marshall’s Life Begins at 40, among others.
There were a great number of prestigious DCP (Digital Composite Print) restorations that were screened in celebration of 20th Century Fox . These titles were shown for the most part at the Grauman Chinese IMAX and included Star Wars, Steel Magnolias, Working Girl, Hello Dolly!, Do the Right Thing, and Sleepless in Seattle to name a few. They certainly drew in most of the crowd, particularly the titles associated with guests who were presented.
Once such guest, who was present and featured very prominently, was Billy Crystal. Probably his most famous role, When Harry Met Sally was screened at the Chinese IMAX to accommodate his Hand/Footprint ceremony, that is, having his hand and footprint inducted into (and on to) the Grauman Chinese courtyard (a coveted honor bestowed to the very best that Hollywood has ever had to offer). Meg Ryan and Rob Reiner, respectively showed up and gave adequate testimony though the screening and it’s dedication were clearly in Crystal’s favor.
These were all the highly anticipated routine of the Festival, tried and true. Something that was completely novel, was the emergence of a new venue: The Hollywood Legion Theatre at Post 43. Located just past Franklin Ave, north of Hollywood Blvd, the Post 43 offers a multi use facility that acts as a bar (open to the public during daily hours, a fancy lobby (where Guests, patrons alike can socialize) and biggest of all, the new screening auditorium, lavishly designed in a throwback stance to movie palaces of the 20s and 30s, replete with arch structures adorning the ceiling, a front and center screen that is seeable to all eye levels, and red carpet and seating that gives an illumination of the Oscars or some such event that is a pure invite to the audience to join in sophistication. Better still, the swanky new cinema joint is equipped with 16, 35 and even 70mm Norelco projectors in addition to the now (quite unfortunately) standard DCP.
The event wasn’t without it’s usual beset of problems: The patronage has grown to such proportions that there were lines too long to accommodate. The staff seemed a slight ill [prepared to deal with this as well, and by the third day, the arrangements to fill theatres and get Guests secured caused problems, leading some of the screenings to start over a half an hour later than scheduled. We are all grateful for what TCM does to give us this festival, and it should go without saying that the greatness certainly outweighs the shortcomings, but situational headaches like this should be foreseen and finessed months in advance.
One thing that came as a very unpleasant addition to the programming, was the inclusion of a short film, which played right before the nitrate showing of Jean Negulesco’s 1948 noir classic, Roadhouse. The latter, being one of the most anticipated of the festivas’s screenings, the nitrate print was a glistening, glowing and looked superb on the Egyptian’s screen. Before the film, however, was a totally unrelated short called Light is Calling which, while appreciatively posed as a chronicle of the film aging process, was an indulgent and pretentious effort, which should have been avoided at all costs.
Another issue that seems to be cresting this otherwise righteous wave of extravagance, is how many people are starting to catch on. There almost didn’t seem enough venues or pictures being screened. Given the arm and leg that TCM will charge for patronage, you’d think more appropriate venues and a greater selection of motion pictures would be happening, if they can afford to spend money on the franchising and merchandising as they have done.
Time will tell if this will ever be the case, in the meantime, it’s nonetheless a pleasure to have experienced the enthusiastic sea of faces, many new, even more already known in the feast of Cinemania that trails the Blvd this time of year. What started as a niche festival has indeed brought about screenings of great films and expanded upon it’s programming to reflect how times have changed, and are changing – ever more than just a fan driven event. What would be better than TWO TCMFF a year? The possibilities are endless, and if the company plays it’s cards right, it could prove beneficial for all areas.