Thursday, March 29, 2018

TCMFF Survival Guide: The Revenge

This time it's personal. 

This will be my fifth year at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), April 26 to 29, 2018. In addition, I have been attending Comic-Con and other fan conventions for a lot of years, so I know what it’s like to spend four or five days in a strange city living out of a hotel room and running around from the time you get up in the morning until the time you collapse in your room late at night. 

Most of what follows are tips to help you get the most out of the Festival while hopefully hanging on to your sanity. Also I've included some links to some other general attending TCMFF blog posts at the bottom. Lots of good info there as well.

The difference between a lady and a flower girl

Left to right, film archivist Ariel Schudson, me,
my daughter Jasmine
This section covers TCMFF etiquette. The most important thing to do is silence your phone and other devices during screenings and do not take them out to post pictures, answer a text, or whatever. You might think it would be cool to take a picture of the movie title onscreen to post for your friends.


There a people sitting next to you and behind you who are trying to enjoy the film. Just the the light from your phone as you bring it up and try to find an app is insanely distracting in a dark theater. I usually put my phone in both Silent and Airplane modes during screenings. For me, most people who would be trying to contact me know I'm at TCMFF, so if I get a text, I tend to think it's an emergency and worry about it, not that I would be able to doing anything while I'm in Hollywood anyway.

It's okay to tweet, post to Facebook, Instagram, whatever while you're waiting in line or sitting in the theater waiting for things to begin. Once somebody starts talking, finish up what you're doing and put it away. Taking pictures/video during the intro is fine, but turn off the flash. It's distracting and won't help if you're farther than about 10 feet away.

Be considerate of those around you. It's generally considered rude to leave before the end of a screening, but sometimes it's unavoidable. If you have to duck out early, try to get to the event you are leaving extra early and get seat on the aisle so you don't have to climb over people. If you know you need to leave at a certain time, wear a watch. A watch screen is way less distracting than your iPhone X.

I shouldn't have to say this but:
  • Don't talk during the movie.
  • Don't take any pictures during a screening. 
  • Don't check your phone for any reason during a screening. 
  • In an emergency, if you absolutely need to use your phone, go into the lobby. You're not going to be able to help anyone from a movie theater anyway.

I'll have what she's having  

If you need to run to a store, Ralphs on La Brea
takes you past former home of Chaplin Studios
This section covers trying to get some sustenance during TCMFF. I know you’re going to be running around trying not to miss anything, but seriously, try to eat something besides movie theater popcorn and Red Vines over the four days.

There are a ton of restaurants in the immediate area, both fast food and regular sit-down restaurants, but bear in mind that the transition times between screenings can be relatively short, so don’t count on being able to get a regular meal. If you’re a coffee drinker like me, you might want to pick up something like a sandwich or a bagel and a piece of fruit with your latte that you can put in your bag and eat on the go later. For things like snacks, there is a CVS Drug Store a block west of the TCL Chinese/Hollywood Roosevelt on the north side of the street, though by Sunday, it usually looks like Cindy Lou Who's house after the Grinch had visited, nothing but hooks and wires.

If you have special dietary needs, there aren’t many good close options for groceries near TCMFF. Your best bets are: 
  • Ralphs (7257 Sunset Blvd). Full service grocery store, should have a deli and salad bar and open 24 hours. About 8 blocks away, but not in the direction of any of the other TCMFF venues, dammit.
  • Ralphs (1233 N La Brea Ave). Full service grocery store, should have a deli and salad bar and open 5 am to 2 am. Again about 8 blocks away, but on the map it looks marginally further than the Ralphs on Sunset. Also, it too is not in the general direction of any of the other TCMFF venues. Possibly, this might be worth the extra walk as it takes you past Jim Henson Co. (historic former home of Charlie Chaplin Studios).
  • Trader Joe's (1600 Vine St). About 12 blocks away and open 8 am to 10 pm.
Other food tips: 
  • Breakfast, the most important meal of the day. Yeah, I know I sound like your mother, but if you skip breakfast, you’re already off to a bad start. Me, I’ve never been real big on the granola bars, but if you like them, and they work for you pick up a box and take with you. Bring a couple extra. You might find yourself in line with someone who’s totally famished. A 75-cent breakfast bar could earn you a friend for life.
  • If you get to a screening too late and get shut out or have a block where you're not psyched on anything, take advantage of it. Go get a real meal, where it’s hot and they bring it to you on a real plate. It might be the only one you get over the four days. Actually, last year, my daughter and I ended up taking a break most days and getting one good meal at the expense of a screening. It was kinda worth it.
  • Hungry late? A good bet is In ‘N Out Burger, a Southern California Burger chain. They are located at 7009 Sunset Blvd., corner of Sunset and North Orange Dr., three blocks south of the Hollywood Roosevelt. They have a really simple menu, but have a secret menu that is probably the worst kept secret ever. My favorite is protein style burger, no bun wrapped in big leaves of lettuce so you can eat like a normal burger, great if you’re doing the low carb thing. They are open until 1 am, Sunday to Thursday and 1:30 am, Friday and Saturday.
  • Water – You should try to do some of that too.

Plan everything down to your breaks

Once you’ve figured out what you want to see, you should probably try to get to events a half hour ahead of the start time, possibly earlier. If it’s something you’d be crushed if you missed, shoot for an hour early, especially if it's one of the smaller theaters. 

How do you make that happen? You should be able to figure out the end times by looking at the schedule. Anytime you have a longer break between events is a good opportunity to get some food that doesn’t come in a bucket with fake butter and salt. Do keep in mind that TCL House 4 and House 6 (at 177 and 210 seats, respectively) fill up really fast. Try to get there earlier if possible. This also counts for Club TCM events. In Club TCM, there are booths on the side and rows of chairs on floor near the fairly low stage. Toward the back of the room is a bar for standing, but once the room gets full you're not going to be able to see well in the back.

Know that getting around is going to take you longer than you expect. Figure that if you’re going from one screen in TCL Chinese 6 to another screen in TCL Chinese 6, five minutes from getting out of one theater and back in line for the next is a decent bet. Everything else is going to take longer, and very likely way longer than you think it will. 

If you look Google Maps, the distance from TCL Chinese IMAX to the Egyptian looks like it’s about 2 and a half blocks, but if you look at the way the surrounding streets are laid out, it’s closer to four blocks, or at least a long two blocks. If you figure you walk fast, you should be able to walk four blocks in about 7 minutes. Think again, if you’re on Hollywood Boulevard, the sidewalks are going to be packed, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

It’s not just TCMFF people, it’s tourists, it’s the guys in the cheesy Spiderman costumes, people stopping to take pictures or answer a text, all in your way when you’re trying to get somewhere fast. The sidewalk might be closed for construction, forcing you to go back half a block to cross to the other side when you weren’t planning to. If you can figure out a way to avoid Hollywood Boulevard altogether, that might be a good idea.

The east west street one block south of Hollywood Blvd is Hawthorne Ave. It jogs a bit at Highland Ave, but does keep going. There isn't a crosswalk to get across Highland Ave., so you are probably better off going back to Hollywood Blvd. to cross at Highland. The worst stretch of Hollywood Blvd in terms of sidewalk crowds/craziness is the stretch between The Roosevelt and Highland anyway. 

If you’re planning to change clothes between the daytime and nighttime screenings, figure out which break you’re going to use to go back to the hotel and change.

Know your venues

The important thing to keep in mind about the venues is where they are and how big they are. I’ve arranged the venues more or less in order by how close they are to the Roosevelt Hotel, since that is the host hotel:

  • Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel – Home to Club TCM and the Poolside screenings. Club TCM is where a most of the guest interviews and special programs will be. In years past, there was a fairly low stage, rows of chairs and a standing area behind the chairs. Again, if you’re at the back of the standing area, you might not be able to see very well. If there is an event that is really important to you, make sure you get there extra early. The pool is just that a swimming pool with a screen at the one end.  Everybody says get there extra early if you want one of the lounge chairs. I've only been to one of the poolside screenings.
  • Chinese Theatre IMAX (920 seats) – This is the old Grauman’s Chinese theater. If you cross Hollywood Blvd. from The Roosevelt, you’re there. They usually run some Disneyland-style switchbacks in front of the theater and then up the stairs up into the Hollywood and Highland mall. Don’t panic if the line goes back a long way. It’s a big theater. 
  • TCL Chinese 6 Theatres is located inside the Hollywood and Highland mall. They are using three screens. The thing to keep in mind here is the last two of the following are fairly small, and they are the most likely to fill up and have to turn people away:
    • House 1 (477 Seats)
    • House 4 (177 Seats)
    • House 6 (210 Seats)
  • Egyptian Theatre (618 Seats) – Great old theater, built in the early 1920s. Personally, I like sitting in the balcony because you get a better view of the Egyptian frescos in the ceiling. The balcony isn't always open. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either two long very long blocks or about four normal size blocks away, so allow yourself some extra time to get there.
  • ArcLight Cinemas’ Cinerama Dome (596 seats) – About four blocks south of Hollywood Blvd. on Sunset Blvd. (at Morningside Court). Note that Morningside does not go all the way through from Sunset Blvd. to Hollywood Blvd.
    6360 W Sunset Blvd.
    • If coming from Hollywood/Vine Station, take Vine St. south to Sunset Blvd. Turn right on Sunset, theater is a block west.
    • If walking you can do either of the following: 
      • To avoid the Hollywood Blvd. craziness, take Sunset Blvd. the whole way. Take N. Orange Dr. (street the Hollywood Roosevelt is on) south to Sunset Blvd. Turn left on Sunset. Cinerama Dome is about 8 blocks east.
      • If you like sidewalk stars, take Hollywood Blvd. most of the way. Go east on Hollywood Blvd. to N. Cahuenga Blvd. Turn right on N. Cahuenga Blvd. and go south to Sunset Blvd. Turn left on Sunset Blvd. Cinerama Dome is about 2 blocks east.

  • Last year, they used The Montalbán Theatre (500 Seats) for the interviews they plan to tape and run on TCM later. As of this writing, they haven't announced any plans for this, but I assume they will. If they change venues, I'll update accordingly. The Montalbán Theatre is about a block south of Hollywood Blvd. on Vine St. Address: 1615 Vine St.
The last two venues are not in the general area of the festival. Both are about a 25-30 minute walk according the Festival web site, I think it's a bit less than that. Your mileage may vary. The ArcLight Cinemas’ Cinerama Dome is about three blocks further than the Montalbán Theatre. I'm thinking your best bet on both is to take the Metro Rail Red line, from the Hollywood/Highland station to Hollywood/Vine, should be $1.75 each way. That's how we went to the Montalbán two years ago. Trains run every 10 minutes week days and every 15 minutes Saturday and Sunday, and it's about a two minute ride.

You could probably take a cab/Uber/Lift, but with traffic on Hollywood Blvd. that might not save you as much time as you'd like. Also, I don't know how long it takes for one to show up in Hollywood, especially when everyone will be trying to get one at the same time. To be honest, I don't think any way you go is going to substantially faster than any other way.

Line numbers

When you get in line for a screening, you will be given a number in the order you enter the line, this means you can leave the line and go do something if need be, use the rest room, or grab a snack. I would check to see when they're going to move the line. Usually the people giving out the numbers have a good idea. That way you know how much time you have. You need to make sure you get back in in line before your number moves in. They will not hold a seat for you just because you have a number. Take advantage of it when you can. It could be the difference between a sandwich for dinner and Jujubes.

It's really simple if the line doesn't get messed up which does happen sometimes. Say you and the person you're with get line numbers and want to leave to get popcorn. You get back to the line and figure out where your number should be. Most people put the numbers in the pocket of their badge, so you can usually see where you need to go. If you need to ask someone what number they are, go ahead. People are really good about helping you out. Say you and the person you're with have numbers 75 and 76. You find the people closest to yours. It might be 72 and 77. So you get in line in front of 77 and behind 72, knowing that 73 and 74 have to get back in line in front of you.

It's better if you do not squish the line forward. There's are always going to be people who will need to get back in line. Sometimes the line will be really full, and you might not want to make it worse. Just figure out where you need to be and find out who has the numbers around yours. Then when the line starts to move you can get back in at the proper spot.

Hollywood and Highland mall

The TCL Chinese 6 is located in the Hollywood and Highland mall. The mall is sort of a tourist mall. Most malls are fairly easy to get around in. This mall, not so much. It was designed so that you could explore, with an eye toward wandering around and getting lost. This means that you may not always be able to tell what level you're on or how to get up or down one level, or most importantly if you're on the correct level for the movie theater. If you have a spare hour before the festival starts, go over and find the TCL Chinese and figure out how to get from there to the Chinese IMAX and how to get out of the mall itself. It should be easy. It’s not. Note any stairs and escalators you run across. The time you get lost is bound to be the time you have least time to spare. If you see any interesting fast food, see if they have a To Go menu. It might be the only hot meal you get.

A friend Will McKinley did a post similar to this several years ago. He’s the one who suggested avoiding Hollywood Blvd. altogether, good call. He also suggested coming in from the back. If you cross Hollywood Blvd. from the Roosevelt, you'll be standing in front of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. If you follow the sidewalk to the left of the wax museum (north on N. Orange Dr.), you'll come to a traffic circle where tour buses line up. Follow the traffic circle around to the back, and there's an entrance to the mall. My mistake my first year was to not following that route all the way to the movie theater. I got distracted by things in the mall. If you go in this way, where you come into mall, there will two sets of stairs going up on the left. One goes to the mall business office. The other goes to the same level as the TCL Chinese 6, about 30 feet from the door. Find this stairway. It will save you a lot of time.

If you're staying at Loews Hollywood Hotel, there's a walkway that leads directly into the mall. I would find that and make sure that you know exactly how to get to the movie theater that way. If you oversleep some morning, you'll thank me.

Read everything you can

Take the time to read everything you can find on the website, Search for blog posts like this one. A good source of info is Twitter, follow @tcm and search on the #TCMFF hashtag. There will be lots of good tips there. Also you might want to join the Going to TCM Classic Film Festival! Facebook group (link at the end of this post). Google the people being listed as guests, you never know, you might be standing next to one of them at Starbucks, and it will give you something to talk about. If they are showing one of your all-time favorites, read the Wikipedia and IMDB pages about the film. You’re sure to pick up some interesting tidbits that most people don’t know. You can look smart to other people in line.

There and back

Whenever I go to an event like TCMFF, I like to take Airborne, Emergen C or something similar the morning I leave and each day while I’m there. Does it guarantee that you won’t get sick? No, but it doesn’t hurt. 

Remember that read everything you can thing. Well, I know how you can get busy and time can get away from you, especially when preparing for a trip/vacation. Most people are going to have a good 5 or 6 hours travel time getting to TCMFF. Make some printouts or save copies to your tablet or whatever to read in the airport and on the plane.

Are you the type who likes to buy souvenirs? If so, are they going to fit in your suitcase? You might want to consider bringing a Priority Mail Flat-Rate box. If you’re worried about items getting lost or damaged in the mail, you can always mail home your dirty clothes. There is a Post Office at 1615 Wilcox Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028 (hours 9 am to 6 pm, Mon to Fri; 9 am to  3 pm, Sat; closed Sun), about another four blocks past the Egyptian. Another option is Mail and More on Hollywood, 7095 Hollywood Blvd. (hours 9 am to 6 pm, Mon to Fri; 10 am to  5 pm, Sat; closed Sun), much closer, about two blocks west of the Roosevelt. It is a private shipping place, so you may pay more. Then again, it's much closer to the Festival than the Post Office. It might even be worth calling your hotel and see if they can mail for you.

Weather, there will be some

I can guarantee you that it will not snow. Beyond that, all bets are off. Personally, I like to check the 10-day forecast about a week out. That should give you a ballpark idea of what to plan for. Then check the forecast again, a couple of days before you leave and make any necessary adjustments. I’ve lived in San Diego my whole life, and we have weather pretty comparable to L.A./Hollywood. Generally speaking, weather in Southern California is pretty mild in the Spring. It might get a little chilly in the evenings, but most of the time a light jacket or sweater is good enough. Having said all of that, what you mostly need to worry about is two rather obnoxious extremes:
  • Extreme heat – While not common in April, temperatures in the 90s do happen, and bear in mind that you might be standing in line in the sun during the hottest part of the day. I honestly don’t remember standing in the sun last year, but I know that at the Egyptian, they run the lines in the courtyard in front of the theater, so if you’re there in the middle of the day, you’re going to be in the sun. Even if we get mild weather, sunscreen is highly recommended and maybe even a hat. If you don’t have room to pack a hat, consider buying a cheap one when you get here and just toss it at the end of the trip.
  • Rain – The song says, it never rains in Southern California, but people always forget that the end of the verse is, it pours, man it pours. Very very true, both literally and figuratively. Hollywood doesn’t get a lot of rain, but there are times, when it comes down in buckets. We had storms in San Diego last year that dropped about 20% of our annual average in a 24-hour period. Because we don’t get a lot of rain out here, we tend to hopelessly ill-prepared for it. Streets flood. Hotel lobbies flood. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it could. That’s where your forecast will help. If you’re coming from a different part of the country, you’re probably already way better prepared than we are here. Even if the forecast doesn’t call for rain, if you have an umbrella that packs easy, bring it. You're not going to be able find one easy walking distance from the Festival, especially if it's raining. One of my TCMFF cronies, Deborah Leigh, an L.A. local recommends an umbrella, rain or shine, to keep the sun off. Good call.

Good and plastered

We all like to think we can hold our liquor like Nick and Nora, but realistically no one can. I know you’re on vacation and want to have a good time, but keep in mind, you’re probably going to want to be up early the next morning for whatever screening. If you do overdo, take some aspirin and force yourself to drink some water before you collapse in bed. It won’t prevent the inevitable hangover, but it might take the edge off a little bit. 

I'm sure if you asked, the good folks at TCM would say don't bring your own alcohol to TCMFF, but they do usually have a flask for sale in the gift shop and on the web site, so I'm going to call that mixed signals and act accordingly. Just don't abuse it.

FYI, drinks in the Hollywood Roosevelt are crazy expensive. There are several bars in the Hollywood Roosevelt. It seemed to me the drinks were better in the Library Bar and the Spare Room on the mezzanine, than in the lobby and pool bars. If you going to pay a fortune for a drink, you might as well get one made with fresh ingredients by a mixologists who know what they're doing. They do usually have complementary beer and wine in Club TCM in the evenings. The problem for me is that most of the time I don't make it back from the last screening before it closes. 

Added April 6, 2019: TCM with a Twist did a great post on Hollywood bars, must reading if you imbibe. Link at the end of this post.

The Red Shoes

This section covers what to wear. By and large, California is pretty casual. You often see people in nice restaurants looking like they just stepped off the beach. If you’re attending the opening night Red Carpet screening of The Producers, a suit for men and cocktail dress for women is recommended, although a tux or formal gown wouldn’t be out of place either. 

For the rest of the Festival, some people dress up and some people dress down. 

Me, I do a little of both, shorts and a t-shirt during the day and something dressy at night. I even managed to procure a white dinner jacket a couple of years ago. God, I hope it still fits. I plan to wear it Thursday night, even though I'm not going to the Red Carpet. If you have 1940s outfit for His Girl Friday, more power to you.

All things considered, most everything is pretty centrally located, but you will do a fair amount of walking and standing. I can pretty much guarantee that at some point you're going to feel like you’re bouncing back and forth like a pinball. If you have new shoes that kind of hurt your feet and you think it will get better, it won’t. If you're dead set on wearing them, at least consider changing into them late in the day. Remember what happened to Moira Shearer when she put on The Red Shoes. I'm not saying the wrong shoes are going to make you jump off a balcony in front of a train, but they might make you feel like you want to. 

If you have one pair of shoes that are really really comfortable, bring ‘em, even if the make you look like you like your Great Aunt Matilda.

Updated March 30, 2018. My friend Kellee mentioned that the AC in the theaters can be pretty aggressive, especially at the Egyptian. If you get cold easily, she recommends one of those roll-up fleece blankets that can be purchased at the airport and fit into your bag.


Think about the electronics you’re bringing. Are you going to be posting on Facebook to make the friends back home jealous? If so, how well does your battery do? If it barely makes it through the day, sitting in your pocket you might want to consider getting one of those portable batteries to recharge during the day. It might not be a bad idea anyway. Sometimes when you’re in a strange city, your phone will die just by virtue of having poor coverage and constantly trying to find a signal.

Last year, there were charging stations in the lobby of the TCL Chinese 6 and in Club TCM. Presumably there will be something similar this year. 

Think about what devices you need. Did you promise your boss that you’d check e-mail? Are you planning to blog during the festival. Can you get by doing that on your phone or do you need a tablet or laptop? You're not going to have as much time as you think you will.

If you’re counting on the hotel having Wi-Fi, it might be worth finding out whether that’s in your room (and what they charge) or only in the lobby. Look at your broadband usage and if you think it might be an issue, possibly see if you can get more from your provider for just the trip. We tend to burned through all of our data at TCMFF. That in itself was not a huge deal, but I find the constant barrage of text messages from Verizon telling me about it annoying.

You’ll definitely want to have a camera. Think hard about how good the camera on your phone is. Cameras on smartphones keep getting better and better, but many still do not do real well at a distance or in low light. Obviously, you’re not going to be taking pictures in a darkened theater, but you might want to get a shot of whoever is introducing the film and movie theater house lights tend to be less than optimum for photography. You might be better off with a point and shoot or digital SLR camera. Then again, if all you're planning to do is post some pics on Facebook, your phone camera might be good enough

Make sure you take the time to empty device's internal storage and/or the SD card. The last thing you want is to find yourself standing next to Ben Mankiewicz and realize you have to figure out which pictures from your cousin’s wedding you can live without. The mistake I made a couple of years ago was to wait until late the night before we left to empty out my camera and phone. I start moving the files and saw, About 45 minutes remaining.... Aw, man, I need to go to bed.

Obviously, all these gadgets will need to be charged, so don’t forget to pack the appropriate chargers. You might be able to find a charger for your iPhone or Android but probably not for your camera.

Be flexible

Despite all of your planning, leave yourself a little wiggle room. Each year they leave four or five TBD slots open on Sunday to repeat films that turned a lot of people away earlier in the Festival. They should announce the TBDs fairly late on Saturday. This could be your chance to see something that you had to skip earlier. On the TBDs, bear in mind that certain things probably will not be repeated. A silent film with an orchestra may not be repeated just because the musicians would have to be available on short notice. Nitrate films can only be shown at the Egyptian, and they don't do any TBDs there; at least, they haven't in the years I've attended TCMFF.

In addition, you never know how you will feel. Last year on Saturday night, I had planned on Black Narcissus in nitrate, but our friend Ariel was raving about The Incident, so I switched. That turned out to be one my favorites of the whole festival. It’s perfectly okay to switch things around. You might be late getting to a screening and get shut out. Check the schedule, you might be able to get into something else. Maybe, you figured that you’d be too tired for any of the midnight movies, but you get out of that last screening and feel really pumped and want to keep going. Go for it.

Maybe, there is a block that you’re not particular enthused about. This is the perfect chance to get a real meal or even sneak back to the hotel for a nap. Just remember, you’re there to have fun. It’s almost assured that you’re going to be running around a lot, but there is nothing that says you have to. It’s okay to take a breather.

Try to do something you've never done before

To a certain degree, this is going to vary from person to person to person. Maybe, you've never been to one of the midnight or poolside screenings, try to find a way to make that happen. Maybe, you've never seen a silent film with live accompaniment. Maybe, you're the type of person who puts a premium on seeing films you've never seen before over old standards that you've seen a bunch of times. Know that seeing something like Casablanca in the TCL Chinese IMAX in a packed theater with an audience who knows the film by heart like you do is a different experience than seeing it on the big screen at the multiplex with Fathom Events.

My second year at TCMFF, they did a special presentation on the history of Technicolor. I thought it sounded really cool, but I decided on something else instead. Afterwards, everybody was raving about how cool the Technicolor thing was. The next year I decided to not make the same mistake twice and went to the Vitaphone presentation. Vitaphone was the first technology to make talking motion pictures viable on a large scale, and the presentation was awesome. 

Just try to step outside of your comfort zone at some point during the Festival. Maybe, it works out. Maybe, it doesn't doesn't work out so well. It's actually kind of hard to make a bad decision at TCMFF.

Try to see something beside the inside of a theater

Even if you only have a couple of hours to spare, take advantage. Maybe you can squeeze in one of the tours. If you keep going east on Hollywood Blvd., things start to get less cheesy and you'll find cool things like vintage clothing stores. Also it seems like more of the sidewalk stars that direction are Golden Age Hollywood people. Me, I want to try to have a meal at Musso and Frank's again and maybe trip to Amoeba Records (6400 Sunset Blvd.). Occupying an entire block, Amoeba Records is arguably one of the best record stores in the country. They also have a great selection of DVDs upstairs, organized into categories that TCMFF people will appreciate, such as Film Noir and Pre-Code.

If there is somewhere you want to go, it might be worth it to call and see that they are still there, or that their hours haven't changed.  A couple of years ago, I did a series of posts on my favorite TCMFF Sidetrips. See links at the bottom of this post.

Talk to people

You probably wouldn’t know but I’m kind of an introvert. Oh, I’m fine talking to people if I feel have a reason to or if I think I have something in common with them, but in some social situations, I clam up or spend the whole time talking to the people I already know. Know that pretty much anybody wearing a TCMFF badge is someone you have something in common with, probably way more than most of your friends back home. This is your tribe. Revel in it. By Saturday, almost anyone you talk to has seen at least one of the same movies you have over the Festival. At any given time, there are about five things going on at once. If you’re standing in line, everyone else in that line has just passed up four other things that under normal circumstances they would love to see. If that’s not something in common, I don’t what is. If you’re shy, try the following conversation starters:
  • What have you seen so far? A lot of the time it’s things you saw too or something you really wanted to see, but had to skip for something you wanted to see more. If it’s one of those rare titles, you can find out whether it was worth it. This may help you decide on those TBDs on Sunday.
  • What’s your favorite thing so far? You might get some great stories: Eddie Muller was very funny. Or I was standing in line for coffee with Ben Mankiewicz. 
  • And don’t forget the standard ones: Where are you from? How was your trip?

Avoid changing your normal routine

This is something I didn't really think about until a couple years aro. If you are a big breakfast-is-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day person, don't skip breakfast every day at TCMFF. I normally drink coffee during the day until about 5 or 6 pm.Then at TCMFF, I would have a cup in the morning and not have time for any the rest of the day and wonder why I was falling asleep on the late screenings. Now I make sure to stay properly caffeinated.

There may be certain things that you can't avoid. Say you normally go to bed at 9:00 and you know you're going to be staying up later. Try to compensate by forcing yourself to stay awake later in the week or so before the Festival. If you do need to make changes, try to not go overboard. Take my example of staying caffeinated. If I'm feeling tired in the evening, I may have a cup of coffee in the evening after my normal 6 pm cutoff, but I'm not going to do a double espresso and risk being up at three in the morning looking at the hotel room ceiling.  


Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful. Don't forget to check the links below. Good info there as well. I will update these links as I see more.

Related links

Most of these links are from last year or older, but the info should still be good. If I see any updates or good new related posts, I'll do my best to update here. If you know of a good one, leave me a comment, and I will update.

My TCMFF Sidetrip posts from 2016:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

µ-Blog – Mr L. Is a Cuck

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

I picked up my 18-year-old high-school-senior daughter today. Before her butt was completely lodged in the car seat, she launched into a tirade about one of her teachers. "Mr. L. is a cuck," she said. [Actually, she didn't say Mr. L., but I didn't see the point of giving the guy's real name here. She probably said a little more, but the gist of it was, Mr. L. is a cuck.]

"Do you know what I mean?" she asked. "I mean do you know what a cuck is?"

[I didn't say anything. I had a guess I was pretty sure was right, but I didn't want to say it.]

"Cuck is short for cuckold. Do you know what that is?"

"Yes, I've read Shakespeare," I said. [I've also looked at porn, I didn't say.]

"Shakespeare?" she asked.

"Yeah, it means a guy, whose wife plays around with other men. It comes up quite a bit in Shakespeare."

"Actually, I have no idea if he's really a cuck or not." [I was glad. You can't possibly imagine how glad.] "It was just the worst possible thing I could think of to call him." She then went on to tell me the things that made him a cuck. [I listened.]

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rosebud Wasn't a Sled – Book Review: Of All the Gin Joints

 I have a bad habit of getting books and then not reading them, case in point Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History, by Mark Bailey with illustrations by Edward Hemingway. I got it for Christmas 2016 and just got around to reading it in the last several days. I was going on a short trip to visit my mom and sister. I read about half of it waiting in the airport and on the short one-hour flight there and back and then finished it up in the next day or so when I got home.

The book is divided into four parts, by era:

  • The Silent Era, 18951929
  • The Studio Era, 19301945
  • The Post-War Era, 19461959
  • 1960s & New Hollywood, 19601979
When I started reading it, I skipped The Silent Era, figuring I was much more familiar with The Studio Era. That really wasn't necessary. Everyone mentioned in The Silent Era was someone I was someone I knew. Though it didn't hurt either, the individual stories were all self-contained. Occasionally, one story would mention something from a previous story, but never to the point where you felt lost. If you wanted to bounce around the book, going from one favorite person to the next, that would work, but I wouldn't because you might miss something.

The book is mostly stories about people, primarily actors, but directors and writers as well. Interspersed with the people stories are profiles of places, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs with addresses; production of films that had particular interesting back stories; and drink recipes and background on the drink itself, especially if a star had a favorite drink or a certain spot was famous for a certain drink. Oh yeah, did I mention that there was a lot of drinking in this book? It is titled, Of All the Gin Joints, after all.  Most of the best stories from classic Hollywood involve drinking and debauchery, and that's what this book is all about. I guess if you don't like stories about people getting drunk and doing crazy stuff, this book is not for you, but for the rest of us, it's pretty awesome.

Each person profile begins with a brief biography; an Edward Hemingway caricature of the person slightly off-kilter in keeping with the exploits that follow; and a famous quote from the person, almost always related to drinking, sex, drugs, or a combination of the three. By the way, Hemingway also provides illustrations for drinks and places as well. Starting as I did with The Studio Era, the first piece I read was Tallulah Bankhead. Her quote: "My father warned my about men and alcohol, but he didn't say anything about women and cocaine."

Broken up the way it is, Of All of the Gin Joint is a pretty fast read, and the structure makes it easy to read a little bit and find a good stopping point if need be. In practice though, that's not the way it worked, at least not with me. Once I started, I wanted to keep going.

I guess it's fair to ask if every the story is true. Probably not, just like not everything in any Hollywood tell-all book is true. Bear in mind, there are probably a couple hundred individual anecdotes in the book drawn from numerous sources. Of All the Gin Joints is well researched. The Sources chapter is two columns small type and runs eight pages. Everything appears to come from plausible sources, and at times, where two versions of a story exist, the author gives you both and lets you make the call. If there is a story that isn't true, it's likely it's because that's the way it appeared in someone's biography, memoirs, etc. There's actually a story about Spencer Tracy that I hope isn't true, but probably is. It's probably the only thing in the book I would rather have not have known about.

If I have one complaint about the book, and it is a minor one, it is that the stories later in the book are more likely to be ones that I already had heard about, but this is somewhat to be expected. In the 1930s, 1940s, and to a lesser degree afterward, studios hired fixers to keep things like affairs, drunken brawls, arrests, and such from becoming public knowledge. These fixers were very good at their jobs, but with the breakdown of the studio system, the stories were much more likely to get out. This was partially offset by the fact that the places profiled later in the book are much more likely to still be open, even if only as shadows of their former selves. Most of the landmarks of classic Hollywood have long been replaced by strip malls and condos.

Still, even when I had heard the main story there was still quite a bit I didn't know. For example, I knew about Nicholas Ray, marrying Gloria Grahame and her remarrying his son from a previous marriage after they divorced, but there were still tidbits of that story that I didn't know. Also, I never knew that Ray had studied architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright before turning to theater and film, and that independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch had studied under Ray.

Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History was published in 2014, but is still available, and I'm sure you can order it through your favorite bookseller or failing that via Amazon in print or Kindle formats.

*** Spoiler Alert ***

I deliberately tried to avoid the temptation of spilling my favorite stories in this review. I allow myself just this one. If you don't want to hear, stop reading right now.

You may have noticed that the title of this post contained the phrase, Rosebud Wasn't a Sled. Herman Mankiewicz, grandfather of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, was once the highest-paid writer in Hollywood, but his obstinate personality put him at odds with studio bosses and peers alike. Herman Mankiewicz was most famous for co-writing with Orson Welles the screenplay to Citizen Kane, a thinly veiled biopic of newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst and his long-time lover, Marion Davies. Originally, Mankiewicz and Hearst were friends, and he was often invited to parties at Hearst castle in San Simeon. Though not a teetotaler by any means, Hearst did not like drunkenness and went to great pains to prevent it at his regular Hearst castle parties, in particular, with regard to Davies. Mankiewicz on the other hand went out of his way to get Marion Davies as drunk as possible, for which he was eventually banned from their parties and from even seeing Davies.

In the early 1940s, William Randolph Hearst was still a powerful figure both in Hollywood and nationwide with a chain of newspapers across the U.S. Orson Welles sought to tone down Mankiewicz's original biting screenplay, but one thing he overlooked was Charles Foster Kane's favorite childhood toy, a sled named, Rosebud. Apparently, Rosebud was Hearst's nickname for Marion Davies' clitoris.

Friday, March 9, 2018

New Films Guests Announced for TCMFF 2018

Yesterday, TCM announced new guests and films for the 2018 Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), April 26-29, 2018. You can read the full announcement here or at the end of this post, you can check my brief recap of the original announcement.

What does this all mean? Obviously, different things to different people. To me, it means I have some research to do.  About half the films announced I haven't seen and some I hadn't even heard of. For example, I was in high school when My Brilliant Career was released, so I wasn't watching many foreign films at the time. I have very mixed feelings about Merchant Ivory films, I loved A Room with a ViewRemains of the Day left me kind of cold, and I hated hated, hated, hated Howard's End. This means I'm going to have to think long and hard about Maurice. On the nitrate films, I think I've seen all of them, but I not a real big fan of any. For some people, seeing a film in nitrate was an earth shaking experience, me, not so much. I only saw one film in nitrate last year, Laura, and while I thought it looked very good in some spots. The earth did not move. I must be nitrate frigid. 

I've never heard of Windjammer: The Voyage of Christian Radich,  and I don't think I've seen any of the Pre-Code films announced, so again, some research is required. Going forward, I think I need to find some of my TCMFF/Twitter #TCMParty cronies whose opinions I trust and see if they can help fill in the gaps on some of the films I'm unfamiliar with it.

What I mostly remember from Grand Prix as a kid, aside 

from the cool race cars, Eva Marie Saint, screaming, 

"Blood! Blood! Is that what you want to see! Blood!
So, what am I most psyched about with all of this at this moment in time? I think it comes down to four things. For me, two biggies are the Billy Wilder offerings, Sunset Boulevard and Witness for the Prosecution. Both are brilliant films and have stars appearing with them. Also I really love the Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet, and considering my now 18-year-old daughter will be attending with me, I think this is likely to be a must-see for both of us. Finally, Grand Prix at the Cinerama Dome with Eva Marie Saint would be awesome. That said, I know it's a three hour movie and with it being a bit far away from the rest of the festival, that means you're likely to miss two other films to see the one, always a tough sell at TCMFF.  That said, I do have a personal connection to the film. It's one of the first movies I remember seeing in the theater as a very small child, and I haven't seen it in the theater since. 

I think I'm going to refrain from revising the top five picks I posted at the end of January. I need to give this some time to sink in. It will take some real soul searching to rectify this with what has already been announced.


The big TCMFF announcements included both new guests and film titles. Director Gillian Armstrong will appear at a screening of her film My Brilliant Career (1979) and screenwriter/director James Ivory, who will be in attendance for a screening of his film Maurice (1987).

A 50th anniversary screening of Romeo and Juliet (1968) will be shown with stars Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting, and Michael York in attendance. Eva Marie Saint returns to TCMFF for a screening of her film A Hatful of Rain, and Nancy Olson will be in attendance at a screening of Sunset Boulevard (1950). Other guest screenings include Nancy Kwan for The World of Suzie Wong (1960), Melvin Van Peeble for Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), and Ruta Lee for Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Finally, Jacqueline Bisset will appear at the previously announced 50th anniversary presentation of Bullitt.

Films presented in nitrate return to the Egyptian Theatre with A Star Is Born (1937), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Spellbound (1945), and Stage Door (1937). Also TCMFF returns to the Cinerama Dome for two presentations, Grand Prix with Eva Marie Saint in attendance and Windjammer: The Voyage of Christian Radich (1958) presented in Cinerama. Finally, TCM announced a selection of Pre-Code films, Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers in Finishing School (1934); Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper in I Take This Woman; and Kay Francis and Joel McCrea in George Cukor’s Girls About Town (1931).

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Free For All Blogathon: Seven Decades, Seven Great Science Fiction Films

This post is an entry in The Free For All Blogathon hosted by CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH

I have a thing for science fiction, well, okay, a thing for what I consider good science fiction. Much of what is considered science fiction for the last 40 years or so could easily converted to a different genre by just changing a few minor details. One of the most successful science fiction franchises is Star Wars, but I've always found the series very light on the science. The films could just as easily be changed to westerns or sword and sorcery fantasies. I was about 14 when I saw the first Star Wars film in 1977. While I enjoyed the brilliant special effects and felt it was a fun fantasy, but I found the story lacking. When I compared Star Wars to other great films I had seen at that point in my life, such as The Sting, Jaws, Planet of the Apes, and Cool Hand Luke, the story just didn't seem to stand up.

For me, a science fiction story must contain some futuristic/scientific concept that if removed would cause the story to cease to be a story. For this post, I decided to look at seven films from the last seven decades that all do that to varying degrees.


Spoiler Alert: I don't know how I can do this post without doing spoilers to some degree, so if you haven't seen any of the films in question and don't want to chance having them ruined, you might want to skip over them.


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is the story of a small town doctor Kevin McCarthy who finds himself in the middle of some sort of epidemic. At first, it seems some sort of mass hysteria. Soon, the doctor, his girlfriend played by Dana Wynter, and two friends soon discover that outer space aliens are taking over peoples bodies with some sort of giant seed pods.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a wonderful film, mostly because it is so much different than other science fiction movies of the era. Most 1950s sci-fi films involved one of two basic scenarios.  Ordinary creatures almost always insects being affected by radiation from the testing of nuclear weapons and mutating into gigantic killers. The other scenario involved aliens coming to Earth in spaceships and attacking. While Invasion of the Body Snatchers does follow the basics of second scenario, it is different in the alien invaders do not come in ships or attack us with ray guns. In fact, it makes no attempt is made to explain how they got here. They are just oversized organic seed pods that replace us in our sleep. And the alien pod people look exactly like the people they replace, except completely devoid of emotions, a very creepy premise. Also unlike  many of the sci-fi films of the era, instead of dwelling on cheesy props. The bodies growing out of the pods are shown only briefly, so you never really know what you're looking at. It works very well.


In Planet of the Apes (1968), Charleton Heston leads a small crew of space explorers. Traveling in hibernation at nearly the speed of light, they have aged only 18 months, while back on earth nearly 2,000 years have passed. Thrown off course, they crash in an inland sea on an unknown planet, a topsy-turvy world where talking intelligent apes have evolved from primitive humans.  Separated from his colleagues, Charleton Heston must fight to survive only to find a disturbing truth about the planet.

One of the things that makes Planet of the Apes work as well as it does is the revolutionary makeup effects by John Chambers. The prosthetic appliances on the actors playing the apes allowed them to have natural looking facial movements, something that had never been done before. Also the film covers the social and religious aspects of the ape society in a way that is interesting and compelling. As a talking human, the apes don't believe Heston's claim that he came from another planet, yet they can't explain him either and feel threatened by him. The film has a twist ending that I won't go into for the benefit of the one or two people reading this who might have never seen the film. The ending blew my mind as a kid when I first saw it, and I think it still holds up today.


Set in the not too distant future 2018, go figure, Rollerball (1975) tells the story of an athlete, Jonathan E., James Caan, in the brutally violent sport of Rollerball. Huge corporations, not countries, now rule the world. Jonathan is the top star for the Houston team, representing the Energy city. Despite having a great season and the Houston team favored to win the championship, Jonathan is being pressured to retire mid-season by the corporate masters, controlling the game. Plus, something else is going on. The rules for the already brutal game are being changed to make it even more violent. Since Jonathan is a celebrity, he is allowed much more freedom than the average citizen, but his efforts to find information on the how corporate decisions are made and why he is being pressured to retire bring him nothing. 

Rollerball is easily the most dated looking of the films I cover here, and it appeared that way only a few years after it was released, largely because of the equipment used in the game. Jonathan E. and the other rollerballers wear what look like football helmets, but not helmets from the mid-1970s, they look more like ones from the late-1960s. I assume they did this because there were fewer crossbars on the face masks, which allowed better viewing of the actor's faces. Likewise the roller skates and motorcycles that some players ride to tow around the other players look similarly outdated. For me, this is just a minor issue, that I can easily overlook.

If the Rollerball was just about the totally made up sport of Rollerball, the film wouldn't work. Sure, the action and violence of game is entertaining, but it wouldn't be enough to carry the movie. Fortunately, there's enough background on the corporate society to keep it from being just a mindless action movie. As the world's most famous rollerballer, Jonathan E. is a major celebrity and has privileges that normal people do not in this near totalitarian society. He wants to learn about the corporate wars and how corporate decisions are made. Still, he is not at the level of the executives who run the corporations and who really control the society and every aspect of Jonathan's life, so he gets nowhere. John Houseman plays Mr. Bartholomew, the head of Houston Energy corporation. He's sinister in the way he uses subtle coercion to try bring Jonathan in line.  Jonathan turns to his live-in trainer Moses Gunn for information about the corporate wars. Though probably thirty years older than Jonathan, Gunn is not quite old enough to remember much about them. In reality, Jonathan isn't concerned with the corporate wars or decisions, he just wants to know why the woman he loved was taken from him and given to an executive. The executives can't take direct action against Jonathan, so 
they change rules of Rollerball to make game so violent that it is unlikely that Jonathan will survive the season.  


In They Live (1988), Roddy Piper plays a drifter who comes to town and gets work at a construction site. A co-worker played by David Kieth brings him to the shanty town, where he lives. Piper soon discovers that there is something weird going on at a church near the shanty town. When he investigates, he finds a cache of what seem to be ordinary sunglasses. When he puts on the sunglasses, he suddenly can see a world that he wasn't aware of. Every bit of printed material, contains subliminal messages, such as Obey, Consume, and Reproduce, that can only be read when he dons the glasses.  Further, certain people are actually humanoid aliens with grotesque skull-like faces. Piper eventually convinces David Keith to put the glasses. Actually convinces is totally the wrong word. Piper and David have one of the most epic fist fights ever recorded on film, and Piper puts the glasses on his near unconscious companion to get him to see the truth. The pair end up joining a secret human underground fighting the aliens. 

They Live is low-budget film-making at its finest. Normally, the alien masks would look hokey and fake, but because you only see them through the monochrome of the sunglasses and later on in the film through contact lenses, you don't notice nor question what by 1988 would have been considered really schlocky alien effects. In some respects, it is very similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The aliens look just like everyone else until you learn to recognize them for what they are, and then they are everywhere. More disturbing than the aliens themselves are the subliminal messages used to placate the unwitting humans. It's a very creepy concept. 

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned Star Wars. I did this, mostly so I could tell this story. My wife and I live in San Diego and have been attending/working at the San Diego Comic-Con/Comic-Con International since the mid-1980s. Our kids grew up at Comic-Con, more or less. One year when our daughter was almost the same age as I was when I saw Star Wars, she told us that she wanted to bone up on geek movies before Comic-Con. She felt that she wasn't getting the jokes that people were making at Comic-Con, because she'd never seen the films they were referring to. My wife and I being dutiful, and geeky, parents, gave her a list of films we thought she should watch. In one 24 hour period, my daughter watched three films, Star Wars (the same film I had watched when I was 14, now, known as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope), Hell Boy (the first one), and They Live. When she was done, I asked her which of the three she liked the best. My daughter didn't think, didn't blink an eye. "The Live," she said. I was so proud.


Twelve Monkeys (1995) is a time travel story set roughly 40 years after bio-terrorist have released a virus that killed most of the human race. The human survivors live underground while the surface is now ruled by animals unaffected by the virus. Future scientist know very little of the virus, only that it was released by a group called the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Bruce Willis plays a prisoner forced to volunteer to time travel back to when the virus was first released to find and bring back a sample of the virus before it mutated. The future scientists believe that with a sample of the original virus, they can create a serum to cure the virus and retake the surface.

What makes Twelve Monkeys interesting is that the scientists don't know what they're doing when it comes to time travel. Often the "volunteers" are sent not only to the wrong time but the wrong location as well. As one of the minor characters says, "Science ain't an exact science with these clowns but, they're getting better. You're lucky you didn't end up in ancient Egypt!" On his first mission, Bruce Willis is sent to 1990, not 1996, gets arrested and ends up in a mental institution. There he is treated by a psychiatrist, Madeleine Stowe, who naturally thinks he is insane since he is talking about being from the future and how everyone on the planet is doomed to die of a virus in 1996. Still, she is unable to explain how Bruce Willis escaped confinement when he was transported back by the scientists.

Much of the story involves perspective. From Madeleine Stowe's perspective, Bruce Willis is clearly insane, but when she finds evidence of other time travelers, she begins to believe that maybe Bruce Willis is telling the truth. From Bruce Willis' perspective, he knows is from the future, but when he falls in love with Madeleine Stowe, he convinces himself that her version is the truth, and his reality of coming from the future is a delusion. So far, I haven't mentioned what might be the best thing about Twelve Monkeys, Brad Pitt's plays the son of a research biochemist. Pitt is associated with the Army of the 12 Monkeys and is also one of the patients in the mental institution where Bruce Willis was sent. Pitt won a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor Award and got an Oscar nomination in the same category for the role. His performance of batshit crazy is brilliant and goes from funny to intense to chilling. 

Finally, the soundtrack contains a theme, "Suite Punta Del Este (12 Monkeys Theme)", played on a bandoneon, a type of accordion, and strings that is just creepy as hell. I probably shouldn't tell this story,  but since I was bragging about my parenting skills with my daughter and They Live, I feel obligated to share the story of the flip side of my parenting skills with regard to my son and Twelve Monkeys. My son is now 24, and he only told me about this three or four years ago. Apparently one time when he was about 6, I was watching Twelve Monkeys on DVD and I fell asleep on the couch. The movie ended and went to the menu screen and started playing that creepy-ass song over and over and over and over again. My poor son who was only 6 sat in his room hearing that creepy-ass play song over and over and over and over again, being totally traumatized by it. I felt like the world's shittiest dad, retroactively of course.


In Moon (2009), Lunar Industries has solved the energy crisis by harvesting helium from the Moon. Sam Rockwell plays a maintenance worker serving out the tail end of his three-year contract on the mostly automated station. His only companion is GERTY, a robot with artificial intelligence, voiced by Kevin Spacey. There is a problem with the station's communications array, and his only contact with the earth is recorded messages from his wife. While attempting to recover a canister of helium, Sam Rockwell has an accident. He wakes with no memory of the accident but senses that GERTY is hiding something. He convinces GERTY to let him go outside. When he investigates, he finds an injured man in the support vehicle who appears to be a copy of himself.

I love this movie. It shows that you can make a truly great science fiction film without an army of digital effects artists. While there are some special effects in the film, they are relatively simple. The story is compelling. I probably should have part of it coming better than I did, which is a good thing. I felt like there were a number of possibilities as to what was going on, but the one that should have been the most obvious was not the one that jumped out at me. The interactions between Sam Rockwell and his dopelganger are good, as Rockwell tries to unravel the inconsistencies of what his twin as well as GERTY are saying. 

Actually, GERTY is a very good character as well. Robot is something of a misnomer. GERTY is more accurately an electronic box suspended from a track in the ceiling that follows Rockwell around and keeps him company. GERTY has no face, but rather a small screen that displays a series of happy face emoticons that go along with what he is saying and what is being said to him. As a being of  artificial intelligence, GERTY interacts the way a person would and is often conflicted by the needs of the company that installed him and the needs of Sam Rockwell, whom he is charged with providing support and comfort to. Again all done, with virtually no special effects. It just tells a good story about the future and the needs of individuals and how they are ultimately exploited by the corporations that employ them


The 2010s have had a number of very good science fiction films, Safety Not Guaranteed, Looper, and The Arrival,  among others. I selected The Shape of Water (2017) because it is the one film that brings me full circle back to the 1950s where I started. Director Guillermo del Toro was inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and his desire to see the creature succeed in the romance that was hinted at in the 1954 Universal film. For me, it was like an unauthorized sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon, admittedly a very good monster movie and one of the better science fiction films of the 1950s. Instead of making making  monster movie, del Toro treated it as a love story, set against the backdrop of the Cold War in 1962 with an in-depth examination of how mainstream society mistreated those on the fringes.

I like Creature from the Black Lagoon a lot. It was different from many of the monster films of the era in that it treated the creature at least in some respects as an intelligent being. The two alpha males in Creature fight over what should be done with it. Richard Carlson thinks the creature/gill-man is an important biological discovery and needs to be studied. Richard Denning thinks it has to be captured at any cost, even dead or alive. Denning's motivation is the fame and the money he can make bringing the gill-man back to civilization. The conflict between the two male leads is as important to the plot as the action of the gill-man. Clearly there is also an attraction between the gill-man and the female lead, Julie Adams. Both of these concepts were pretty radical in the 1950s, that the gill-man has value as a biological being, not  just a monster to be killed and that it might have a sexual desire for the human woman. Creature from the Black Lagoon pushes these concepts about as far 1950s audiences would accept, and I suspect as far as censors would allow.

What makes The Shape of Water so intriguing is that keeping it in a historically context similar to that of Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Cold War in 1962, it can expand on the strengths of the original film. The gill-man played by Doug Jones has already been captured.and much of the action takes place in a top-secret military research institute. Sally Hawkins plays a mute cleaning woman working at the institute. She is teamed with an African-American woman, Octavia Spencer, who interprets for her via sign language. Certain scientists want to study the gill-man, but the colonel in charge, Micheal Shannon,  sees the gill-man not as a source of fame and fortune but as a potential weapon to be used against the Russians. Shannon is a vicious power hungry bastard, but since there is a Russian mole in the institute, you see that the Russian operatives working in the U.S. are no better. 

Sally Hawkins' neighbor and mentor is a middle-aged gay man, played by Richard Jenkins, who had lost his job as a commercial artist for being gay and must grovel to his old boss to get freelance work. Likewise, Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins are ostracized, Spencer for her race and Hawkins for her inability to speak. When Hawkins has to clean the laboratory where the gill-man is imprisoned, she finds that he is not only intelligent and can communicate via sign language, he is also empathetic and capable of love.

The Shape of Water is a number of things. It is a visually stunning film. Primarily, it is a love story between Sally Hawkins and the gill-man. It's also a Cold War thriller and a story about human rights, as well as non-human rights. It mixes all of these things so well that you forget that it's also science fiction monster movie, the best science fiction monster movie you've ever seen. I mentioned earlier, that The Shape of Water could be considered an unauthorized sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon, and I still believe that's true. What amazes me is that Guillermo del Toro had the vision not to make a monster movie, which I know he was capable of, but had the vision to make a love story and all of the other things I mentioned. It's a wonderful film.

Now, if you've never read my blog before, you might think that I write about films and always try to include some story from my personal life related to the films I cover. The truth is, I don't, even though I've done this twice in this post alone. Well, I have one more story related to The Shape of Water. My wife reads a lot more than I do, novels. Paranormal romance, she says. Vampire porn, I say. Yes, I know that they don't all have vampires. Some of them are werewolf porn. Some are witch porn or demon porn. You get the idea. Even paramilitary psychic porn. She actually got me to read one of the latter. It was actually pretty good, though it would take a lot to get me to admit it in front of her.

We saw The Shape of Water together. We both loved it. I was beaming. It was a visual treat. The love story worked phenomenally well. The Cold War intrigue worked phenomenally well. The social aspects of gay people and minorities in the early 1960s worked phenomenally well. My only serious complaint is that the gay guy should have cussed out the guy who made the crappy pies. My wife let me go on like that for a while. Then she said, "It was like a really good paranormal romance."

"Fuck you," I said. It's shameless the way we flirt. Yes, my husbanding skills are about on par with my parenting skills. Thank you very much.