San Diego Classic Film Calendar

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – Postpartum Wrapup, Part I

At this point, I've been home about 24 hours, but I wanted to get my initial thoughts posted on the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF). Not intending this to be a comprehensive look (that'll come later), this just the handful experiences that jump out each day. As I started going through it, I found that I was over 2000 words on just highlights of the pre-TCMFF activities and the first day, so I decided to break the Postpartum Wrapup into three parts. I'm shooting for getting the three parts up this week, with detailed posts on everything from each day in the coming weeks.

Day 0 – Wednesday 

As usual my 17-year-old daughter Jasmine accompanied me on the train up from San Diego Wednesday, a relaxing way to get to the festival. One of these years, I want to come up earlier. Many TCMFF regulars come in several days early to soak up as much classic film as possible as a prelude to the festival. We arrived in time to drop our luggage at the hotel, pick up my Media badge and bag, and get a quick bite before the press conference at 2:00. 


Charlie Tabesh, I honestly think he's a good guy, but
if you zoom in, he looks like he's up to something here.
I'll cover the press conference in detail later, but I will say I like the new format. Charles Tabesh, TCM SVP, Programming and Production; Jennifer Dorian, TCM General Manager; Ben Mankiewicz, TCM Host; and Genevieve McGillicuddy, TCM Classic Film Festival Director discussed the festival and TCM in general. Then they brought out guests, David Strohmaier, Film Editor to discuss the challenges of restoration and projection of Cinerama films, and Randy Haberkamp, Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences and Jennifer Ahn, Managing Director, The Film Foundation to discuss nitrate film and film preservation.

That said, a highlight for me was not any one thing from the press conference, but something that happened immediately afterwards, as we were milling about. A little background here, at the 2015 and 2016 TCMFFs, my daughter Jasmine and I worked as TCM Social Producers as a father-daughter team covering the festival. TCM discontinued the program this year. In getting ready for the 2015 TCMFF, I told Jasmine that there was a chance she could get to meet Ben Mankiewicz. She kind of freaked out, not at meeting him, but at the thought of meeting him. She couldn't handle meeting someone who was on TV. Just the thought of it was giving her a panic attack.

Ben came up and hugged one of my former Social Producer colleagues, Christy Putnam (Christy's Inkwells). We spoke briefly and I introduced Jasmine to him. She shook his hand and spoke to him. From the young teenage girl who practically melted at the very thought of meeting a celebrity to the young woman who could meet and speak with Ben with grace and composure just two years later, that was a treat for me to see as father. 

The Spare Room
The other highlight of Wednesday was the TCMFF Media Influencers Party at The Spare Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Now, when I heard The Spare Room, I was half expecting to find some multifunction room with a temporary bar set up in one corner. Oh my God, it was so cool. The Facebook page calls it a modern-day gaming parlour and cocktail lounge. The bar features designer cocktails 1930s/1940s decor and gaming theme, that features games such as chess, dominoes, Monopoly, Connect 4, and get this, a two lane bowling alley.


Near as I can tell, The Spare Room opened in 2013, but from the looks of the place, it seems like it has been around since the 1930s, you could easily imagine, Robert Benchley sitting at the bar with Raymond Chandler, while Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart roll a few lines in the back. I've stayed at the Hollywood Roosevelt the last three years, and I didn't even know the place existed. 

The party all boiled down to three things. First off, the people. I knew about three quarters of the people there, most of whom were classic film bloggers like myself, and it was great to hang out with them before all the craziness starts. Second, the venue was just a treat to hang out in. Third, the bartenders were totally on point.

Shortly after arriving, I made my way to the bar. I could tell at a glance that the bartenders knew what they were doing. Usually, at a place like this, I skip the vodka, cucumber, lime, Douglas Fir, and grapefruit tonic concoction (not making this up, I swear), in favor of a classic drink. Looking at the bartender as he put the finishing touches on one of the signature drinks, I thought to myself, I bet this guy knows how to make a really good old fashioned. Sure enough, I was not disappointed. I've never had a old fashioned that tasted like this, and I mean that in the best possible way. It was less citrusy and had pronounced spicy notes, I assume from a second custom bitters in addition to the traditional angostura bitters.

After getting a drink, Jasmine and I took a crack at bowling. I only expected to do a couple of frames but after about three frames, it morphed in to a full-fledged game with me, Jasmine, and Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings' husband, Doug. He edged me out by a couple of pins in the last frame. All told, it was great way to open the festival.

Kristin Sales (salesonfilm.tumblr.com)
in the next lane. she was quite good. 
I mention it to her. She said, she wasn't
 that good, but compared to us....
For more info on The Spare Room, visit their site at: http://www.spareroomhollywood.com/. Yes, the drinks are a bit pricey, so is almost anything at The Hollywood Roosevelt. With their specialty cocktails running, $15 to $17, I have done worse for drinks not nearly as good.

Day 1 – Thursday 

By TCMFF standards, Thursday is a slow day with a handful of events during the day and a full slate of films starting in the early evening. The first sort of official event was the Hitchcock Meet and Greet at the Library Bar hosted by Dr. Richard L. Edwards who taught the Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir and Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies classes. Jasmine and I arrived about 15 or 20 minutes early to find the tiny Library Bar filled to fire marshal No-You-Can't-Have-This-Many-People-In-This-Room levels. 

I saw Shannon Clute, Director of Business Development and Strategy at TCM, and asked why they had put the event in arguably, the smallest room in the building. He said that they tend to assume that no one is here this early on Thursday, so they booked in the small room, but he said they thought they were trying to find a bigger room. Standing near Shannon was Professor Edwards, and I introduced myself as the guy who was joking on twitter with him the day before about MacGuffins and Lincoln's nose. I gave him one of my MacGuffin ribbons, I had left over from a couple years ago:


Fortunately, the TCMFF staff adapted well and moved everyone into the adjoining room and were able to accommodate I assume most of the overflow. Though the new L-shaped room with pillars about every 12 feet was ill-suited for the event, Dr. Edwards on a wireless mic used a theater in the round approach and made it work surprisingly well. The big announcement was a TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock online course coming up in June. 

Registration for the course is open now at: https://www.canvas.net/browse/bsu/tcm3/courses/hitchcock50.

Dr. Richard Edwards, Hitchcock in the round
In his talk, Dr. Edwards asked the audience to share stories about their first Hitchcock movie. Someone about my age got up and talked about The Birds. It dawned on me that although I remember seeing The Birds on TV, I had probably seen Lifeboat earlier, as they played it fairly often on the local stations. I raised my hand and he called me. I spoke briefly about what it was like being an 8-year-old kid seeing a film like Lifeboat

Also associated with the class is a Card Against Humanity-like card game, where you can download the files, print on card stock, and cut up to play the game. Now, I'm a huge fan of Cards Against Humanity, so I was stoked on this. Again, he was looking for volunteers, so I decided to volunteer Jasmine and started pointing at her.  Well, Jasmine was all, No, no, not me, and she started to point at me. Well, with all of this pointing going on, Dr. Edwards volunteered both of us. This how it worked. He got suggestions from the audience for the following from Hitchcock movies:
  • Male character – L.B. Jeffreys (James Stewart) from Rear Window
  • Female character – Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) from Vertigo.
  • Setting  – Mount Rushmore from North by Northwest
  • Plot point or possibly and murder situation  – Murder on a train, not sure which film this would be from, possibly one of the early British ones that I don't know well
  • Weapon – Rope from Rope, duh
  • And a plot twist – This was Jasmine's job; she was going to come up with a plot twist that would be thrown in at some point
My job (as Director, I think) was to come up with a film using all of these things. The following is more or less what I came up with, though possibly, a bit more cohesive, since I'm recapping and not pulling all of these things out of my butt on the fly.
L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries is sitting in his somewhat slummy Greenwich Village apartment, which despite being rundown would now go for several million dollars.  Grace Kelly has left Jeff, because she finally realized that he was never going to commit. He decides that he needs a change of scenery and takes a trip, even though he is still in a wheelchair. Thelma Ritter offers to go with him, but she's not exactly his idea of a perfect woman. On the train, he meets Madeleine. Eventually, a murder occurs on the train, and Madeleine and Jeff leave the train and persue the murderer to the top of Mount Rushmore, where they use the Rope to climb down after the murderer. 
At this point, Dr. Edwards jumps in and asks Jasmine for her Plot Twist. Jasmine says, "The rope gets tangled." 
Crap, I think. Okay, so Jeff, still in his wheelchair and his broken leg sticking out in front of him, is being lowered down by Madeleine, and it is working surprisingly well. He is going slow and steady. Then suddenly, the Rope gets tangled and wraps itself around the wheel on the wheelchair causing it to flip over and Jeff has to grab on to the wheelchair to keep from falling to his death. Meanwhile, across the way a Park Ranger Sharpshooter is standing next to Leo G. Carroll and James Mason (okay, in all honesty, I didn't think of Leo G. Carroll and James Mason, but in a perfect world they would be there). The Park Ranger sees that the is a small ledge underneath Jeff, and he shoots the Rope so that he falls safely to the ledge.  Umm, and breaks his other leg (okay, I didn't come up with him breaking his other leg, but that's what would happen). The End.
The next highlight for Thursday was the So You Think You Know Movies trivia contest, hosted by Bruce Goldstein of New York's Film Forum. By the time, Jasmine and I got there, most people who were planning to compete had already formed teams. Joel Williams (Joel's Classic Film Passion and one of the co-founders of the #TCMParty Twitter group) came up to me and said that Paula Guthat (Paula's Cinema Club and also a co-founder of #TCMParty) was looking for two more people for her team. I looked around and saw, Peter Avellino (Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur) standing about 10 feet away. Last year, our team had won, and I remember that he had come up with one or two answers that no one else got). By the way, Goldstein's questions are insanely hard.

Before the contest, Theresa Brown (CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH), who was on another team, came up to me and said something to the effect of, you're going down. Thus, throughout the whole contest, we making gestures at each other across the room, pointing at your eyes with two fingers and pointing to the other person's eyes with two fingers (I'm looking at you), pointing at the person and doing a thumbs down, broad fisticuffs gestures, you know, very mature, high-brow stuff. To steal a line from Gene Kelly, Dignity, always dignity.

Well, our team, Robert's Raiders, tied with another team and won the tie-breaker round, so I got the extreme pleasure of lording it over, Theresa. Hah! Dignity, always dignity. To be honest, in terms of trivia, I didn't do much of the heavy lifting for our team. I think I only knew the answers on about one in three question, and by the time I turned around, they had already circled the answer, so I agreed with it. I did, however, bring Peter aboard, and he knew one answer, that no one else got. With questions this hard, one question could be huge. As a prize, we all got a gift bag of TCM swag.

The Winners, Robert's Raiders.
Take that, Theresa. Dignity...

Finally, though Jasmine and I do not walk the red carpet, or even cover it as Media, we do dress to the nines. In 2015, I bought a white dinner jacket for the James Bond screening, so I break that out on opening night. Getting dressed up with my daughter who is way prettier than I care to admit for my 17-year-old not-so-little-anymore girl, that is always going to be a highlight for me.

Jasmine and me, her eyes are half closed but she
 still looks way better than me

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