Tcm Classic Film Festival (#110 of 6)

The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Edward M. Pio Roda

The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Almost by definition, any festival dedicated exclusively to the treasures, glories, and the occasional folly of the past is likely to be visited by ghosts, and the spirits of the dead are practically a staple at the TCM Classic Film Festival, which held its eighth gathering in the heart of Hollywood this past weekend. The memory of the late Debbie Reynolds, who had made several in-person appearances at TCMFF over the past eight years, was invoked through yet another screening (the festival's third) of the indisputable classic Singin' in the Rain, in which Reynolds made her first big Hollywood splash back in 1952, and at a screening of Postcards from the Edge (classic status somewhat more disputable), before which Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, were remembered fondly by Todd Fisher, Reynolds's son.

Even though he wasn't represented at the festival on screen, Don Rickles, who passed away on April 6, the festival's opening day, couldn't be ignored. Rickles's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located on Hollywood Boulevard across the street from the Chinese Theater complex, and as I made my way through the usual crush of tourists, desperadoes, and TCMFF pass holders toward my first screening on Thursday afternoon I wasn't surprised to see the little square of sidewalk devoted to Rickles surrounded by flowers, curious bystanders, and entertainment reporters trolling for soundbites, and even adorned by one fan's thoughtful memorial: a brand-new hockey puck.

The ghost that made its presence felt at almost every turn of this year's festival belonged, of course, to TCM's beloved host Robert Osborne, who died one month to the day before the launch of this year's festival. Osborne began his Hollywood career in the early 1950s as an actor; his highest-profile moments were uncredited, blink-and-you'll-miss-them appearances in Psycho and Spartacus. But his heart was never in it, and at the encouragement of Lucille Ball he abandoned acting and combined his love of movies and journalism to concentrate on writing and documenting Hollywood history, eventually becoming the genial, knowledgeable, silver-haired host who won the allegiance of TCM fans worldwide.

The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

TCM Classic Film Festival

The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

Like several of its previous incarnations, year seven of the TCM Classic Film Festival, which concluded this past Sunday in the grimy, glittery heart of Hollywood, was organized around an overriding theme. But unlike such past umbrella constructs as “Family in the Movies: The Ties That Bind,” “Hollywood Style,” and “History According to Hollywood,” this year's official theme, “Moving Pictures,” was one that was perhaps less precisely defined.

According to the official press release, TCMFF 2016 would be dedicated to exploring films “that bring us to tears, rouse us to action, inspire us, even project us to a higher plane…the big-time emotions of big screen stories, from coming-of-age pictures to terminal tearjerkers, from powerful sports dramas we feel in our bones to religious epics that elevate our spirits.” By the time the final schedule had been announced, there was even a sentimental subdivision of films centered on animals—Lassie, Come Home, Bambi, and Old Yeller among them. Of course, almost every film, whether we respond to it with warm feelings or revulsion, “moves” us in some way, emotionally or intellectually, sometimes even physically, so it seems a forgivable response if, going in, TCMFF's announced theme seemed too broad to inspire much in the way of great expectations for an above-and-beyond level of curation.

The 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival

TCM Classic Film Festival

The 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival

As far as matters of its own history goes, Los Angeles has a reputation for having one eye set to the rear-view mirror, the other eye focused more intently on what's happening in the trendy, modern now. Districts like Bunker Hill and neighborhoods like Chavez Ravine remain sobering monuments to aggressive urban development (and residential displacement), though groups like the Los Angeles Conservancy and other organizations dedicated to social responsiveness and representation of the citizenry have been aggressively and successfully raising funds, awareness, and levels of appreciation for Los Angeles history and the city's landmarks for several decades now. But in the city that once almost exclusively signified the heart of movie production in less globally focused times, while some original studio sites are still in use or at least recognizable, many others have been lost: The historic Pickfair Studios in West Hollywood, where Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks first formed United Artists, the first artist-run movie studio, during the silent era, fell victim to “progress” just three years ago.

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival
The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival

I emerged out of the train station and onto the roiling snake pit of Hollywood Boulevard this past Thursday afternoon with a singularity of purpose that has served well those who have learned to safely navigate this peril-ridden stretch of tourism and other desperate forms of humanity. Among the mass of logy sidewalk gawkers, shaggily costumed superheroes, and barkers hawking coupons for bus tours and free drinks at comedy clubs, the guy in the Creamsicle-colored tuxedo and matching top hat didn't even cause me to balk as he moved toward me on the sidewalk. He certainly didn't seem out of place, even as his lanky, six-and-a-half-foot frame towered above the stumpier heights of most everyone else bobbling down the Walk of Fame. But as we passed each other, this orangey giant suddenly offered up a loud, impassioned plea to the crowd, for no readily apparent reason, which put me at attention: “Remember Bob Hope!” Wondering if a declaration of fond tribute for, say, Mickey Rooney would have been timelier, I moved right along. No matter. There could be no doubt, if there ever was any, that the 2014 edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival, headquartered as always in the very heart of the mythological realm of Hollywood, was now officially under way, a gathering of film buffs vacationing from the real world among the icons and memories of movie-studio glory, where there would be no lack of warm remembrance for Hope or Rooney or any of a hundred other stars whose images and talents would be ceaselessly evoked and reminisced upon over the next four days.

My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival

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My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival
My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival

I suppose it's inevitable that some of the bloom would have come off the rose that was last year's first annual TCM Classic Film Festival. I am, after all, a year older, and the time spent in between the first festival and this year's model has found life getting more complicated, with less room for the study of cinema, classic or not, than my selfish patterns would prefer. But just because I may be mired in a sophomore slump of sorts doesn't mean that in 2011 the TCM Festival was equally bogged down. Familiarity hardly bred contempt this time around, or complacency. If anything, there was a certain comfort factor built into the festival for me this year, a feeling that, while not radiating the kind of freshman excitement generated by last year's fun (and my own initiation into the rites of festival film-going), certainly resonated with the buzz of discovery, of learning, about films unfamiliar, and blessedly, seemingly genetically remembered, and even of the value of an adrenaline rush of straight-up nostalgia. Without a doubt, this 2011 edition was the film festival experience of the year for me.

Four Days at the TCM Classic Film Festival

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Four Days at the TCM Classic Film Festival
Four Days at the TCM Classic Film Festival

Ever since it was announced that Hollywood would host the inaugural (and ostensibly first annual) Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival in April 2010, the general community of film fanatics was set to buzzing. People in the Los Angeles area, and presumably those in other major urban areas like New York and Chicago, seemed enthusiastic, but that enthusiasm also seemed to be tempered by the fact that a certain degree of exposure to revival cinema, of the classic Hollywood and foreign varieties, is a more-or-less everyday phenomenon for these film fans. Even in this age of disappearing repertory screens and evaporating posts for established film critics, we in Los Angeles and New York and Chicago can be, if we choose to be, somewhat spoiled by the opportunities we are offered every month at the venues we frequently haunt. Yes, the announcement was definitely a big deal, backed by the most compelling force in current pop culture for exposing audiences to classic films and making sure those films stay available, but many I imagine suspected that the TCM Classic Film Festival might too readily ride the straight and narrow—didn't the prospect of seeing Casablanca and 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen yet again seem, I don't know, kind of ordinary? And why get excited about seeing a bunch of films you can often see here in theaters, or always on DVD? Then TCM announced the full schedule, and suddenly a lot of that talk evaporated too. Suddenly the Turner Classic Movies 2010 Classic Film Festival had acquired, even for the happily jaded, a bit of cache, not to mention all the earmarks of a major event. And of course, for all the millions of people outside of those urban areas, for whom revival cinema pretty much does boil down, if it boils down at all, to the occasional showing of The Wizard of Oz, or Singin' in the Rain or (shudder) Grease on an outdoor screen at some city-sponsored summer family-oriented gathering, the TCM festival represented not just an occasion for major geographically based cinema envy; for some it would translate into an irresistible lure as well.