Wednesday, April 24, 2019

TCMFF 2019 – Wrapup

Another TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) is in the can, and boy, are my arms tired. That makes no sense. I must be tired. Again, it was a great event, and the folks at TCM outdid themselves.

I do have to admit that coming into TCMFF, I was less enthused about the schedule than I had been in previous years. Was I worried? Not in the slightest. I knew that it was going to be a great event, and the best experiences would come where I least expect them, just as they always do. 

Pre-Festival – Tuesday

This year I came up on Tuesday, a full day earlier than in previous years. Even though, I had only one concrete plan for that extra day, it was well worth coming up early. The concrete plan was Kimberly Truhler's, Fashion in Film presentation, held at the Hollywood Women's Club. There was a bit of confusion about the start time online (the eventbright page said one thing and Kimberly's Facebook event said another). It turns out both were correct. The earlier time was the opening reception/tour of the club and the later time was Kimberly's actual presentation. 

The Hollywood  Women's Club was maybe a ten minute walk from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and about a dozen of us headed out for it about 15 minutes before the start time. The reception included complementary champagne. I'm not a big fan of champagne, but they were serving it with little star-shaped chocolates in the glass. I figured I'd give it a shot. It helped I think, but I was kinda bummed that they never melted. 

Ruth Mundsack playing teacher in Edith Head's classroom; teachers at
the Hollywood School for Girls lived in these tiny classrooms
The tour of the Hollywood Women's Club was led by Rosemary Lord. The site was the former home of the Hollywood School for Girls, where Jean Harlow, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and the children of Cecil B. DeMille and David Selznick’s had attended. In addition, Edith Head and Charles Laughton had taught there. The tour included one of the tiny classrooms, where a young Edith Head lived and taught American Literature and French (I think).

Kimberly Truhler's Fashion in Film presentation; note to self:
next year, try to get one picture of the speaker with her eyes open
Kimberly Truhler's Fashion in Film presentation was entertaining and informative. She tailored it to films shown at the Festival, highlighting key outfits in the films and how they influenced fashion in the decades that followed. Personally, I tend to not pay too much attention to costumes, save how they highlight the people wearing them. But having this info in my head as I watched the films really did enhance the experience, so kudos, Kimberly.

One of my favorite parts was the portion about Gentlemen Prefer Blonds. One of the most famous outfits was designed for the film by costume designer, Travilla, and intended for Marilyn Monroe in the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number. The original dress (left in image below) was the one intended for the number, but was too revealing for censors. As a result, it could only be shown from the back (center below) in a brief scene, where she dances with Piggie, Charles Coburn. Travilla had to come up with a plan B for the Diamonds number in just two days. The result was one of the most iconic dresses in film history, the pink gown (pictured on the right below).

Afterwards, Ana Roland, her friend Richard Rivera, and I made our way to a tiki bar named Lono on Hollywood Blvd, kind of a hole in the wall type of place. If you weren't paying attention, you'd walk right past it. The food was good and the drinks, better, including a flaming monstrosity, called the Curse of Lono. We were later joined by Ariel Schudson and later Ana's friend, Isabella Sanders Miller. 

The dreaded Curse of Lono, actually not  dreaded at all, quite tasty.
this was the second light after I blew it 
out the first time.
Photo: Richard Rivera.

Pre-Festival – Wednesday

Wednesday was all about the get-togethers, official and otherwise. Of course, there was the Going to the TCM Classic Film Festival Facebook page mixer. I only caught the beginning and tail end, because also going on at more or less the same time was the TCM Media Reception, which as much as I like to dish with my Facebook buddies, I was not going to miss a chance to talk to the TCM people in an informal environment.

Left to Right, Me, Theresa Brown, Jeff Lundenberger, and Ariel Schudson
at the Going to the TCM Classic Film Festival Facebook page mixer

FYI, if you are coming in for the Festival, try to come in as early as time and budget allow. A lot of people come in early. Noir City Hollywood usually ends the weekend before TCMFF, so a lot of people come in early for that and then stick around for sight-seeing etc. before the Festival starts. If you are debating between coming in on Wednesday and Thursday, definitely come in on Wednesday, and figure on a good three hours between landing at LAX, picking up your luggage, getting to Hollywood, checking into your hotel, and getting out again. If you want to take advantage of the TCM Classic Film Festival Facebook page mixer, try to get in by about 12 or 1 pm, LA time on Wednesday. It's a great way to touch base with people you know online before all of the craziness starts. 

I did get a chance to hang out at the pool with Jeff Davis and Tracey Fama before the start of the Going to the TCM Classic Film Festival gathering. It was the one chance I got the whole weekend to play my ukulele.

Jennifer Dorian speaking at the TCMFF Media Reception
Next up was the TCM Media reception. TCM replaced Wednesday afternoon press conference with this reception last year, and I think it's a good way to go. Many of the people attending are bloggers like me, and the informal nature of the event allows different people to cover different aspects of TCMFF, based on the needs of their audience. I spoke to Alicia Malone briefly. I had seen her moderate a panel on the new Missing Link animated feature at WonderCon at the end of March. We spoke about WonderCon and Comic-Con mostly. 

I also spoke to Eddie Muller. I love Noir Alley and the research he puts into the films featured. I asked what his favorite neo noir was. He didn't hesitate and said. Mulholland Drive. I'd seen it in the last year or so, but mostly remember it being weird in that David Lynch sort of way. I think I need to give it another shot. 

Eddie Muller and Me, gotta learn to look at the phone,
not the person holding the phone

I also spent some time chatting with Jennifer Dorian. I was surprised last year that she knew who I was. I asked what she thought about the AT&T deal to buy Time Warner, the parent company for TCM. She said, she felt good about it. The business model of TCM makes it kind of unique among cable networks, so she's not worried about their ability to continue to do what they do, great news for TCM fans everywhere.

Bitter sweet moment at the Social Media Mixer.
Jeff Davis (background in blue) makes a toast to
Andrea Rosen.
In the early evening, TCM hosted a social media mixer at Teddy's in the Hollywood Roosevelt. It as a mix of media people plus a lot of the folks who are very very active on the various social media. All told, it's probably my favorite event of the Festival each year as you have a chance to mingle, while you still have the energy to do so. The event did take on something of a somber tone as we had a toast to Andrea Rosen (@AndWhatRosen on Twitter), who had passed away in February. She and her husband Richard had been kind of an institution at TCMFF. Jeff Davis made a very touching toast to her. It was nice to hoist one (or three or four) to her memory. It helped take the sting out of not seeing her and Richard's smiling faces in the bar after that last screening.

Afterwards a group of us adjourned to Boardner's, where unlike the Hollywood Roosevelt, the drinks do not cost an arm and a leg. I was already well on the way to being too drunk, so I vowed to limit myself to one beer. There were about ten of us and we end up in two non-adjacent booths. Boardner's is a decent place that has drinks that run about half of what they cost at the Roosevelt. They had some movie from the 80s playing on the video screens. It was set in a gym, which allowed them to have boob-heavy shower scenes about every two minutes. We got some drinks. Near our booth on a shelf were a number of card and board games. Guy Priley, Jessica Pickens and her boyfriend Brandon, Jackie Brady, Kristen Sales, and I ended up playing Cards Against Humanity, I think Kristen and I were the only ones, who had ever played before. Jackie won. I would never have imagined I would be in a bar playing Cards Against Humanity the night before the start of TCMFF, but it was a nice way to end the evening.

Now, I know what you're thinking. There seems to be a lot of drinking before the Festival. What is this, some sort of Lost Weekend? Of course not. Did I pawn my typewriter for booze? Of course not. I don't even own a typewriter. 

Day 1 – Thursday

Though the first official day of TCMFF, it is something of a slow day. mostly I spent the day, trying to find classic film related things to tweet about:

Now, there is a reason I'm showing the above tweet. Every year, at TCMFF, I try to do some sort of swag. I'm not the only one. Lots of people do this sort of thing, but the vast majority of people doing swag at TCMFF do buttons. I wanted to do something different, so this year I did temporary tattoos. The temporary tattoos led to one of my favorite stories of the Festival.

There is an older woman, Virginia Houghton, I talked to on the Going to TCM Film Festival Facebook group in the weeks leading into TCMFF. Last year had been her first time, and she seemed to still be confused about how things worked at the Festival, especially the weird kind of unofficial things that go on, like people giving out buttons and that sort of thing. Looking at her picture on Facebook, she looked like the perfect Grandma. She asked a lot of questions, and I tried to be patient and answer her questions as best I could. Though she had been to TCMFF last year, both the Festival and Facebook seemed very new to her. 

I only told a handful of people about the temporary tattoos beforehand. I wanted it to be a surprise, when I got there. Thursday morning in the lobby of the Roosevelt, I saw Virginia. We recognized each other from our Facebook photos. I reminded her that I didn't have any buttons but I had these. I handed her one of my temporary tattoos, showed her the one on my arm, and explained how they worked and that there were instructions on the back. That's when I got a surprise myself.

This woman who looked like the perfect grandma said, "I have a tattoo." She then showed me this very fine black line in the crook of her hand between her thumb and forefinger. She said that she did it herself with a needle and india ink. "When I was a kid, all of the good-looking bad boys in the neighborhood had these crucifix tattoos on their hands there," she explained. She and a girlfriend tried to give themselves tattoos to impress them, but it hurt too much so she only got the one line done.  When I sent her a message on Facebook to ask if I could share this story, she said I could and that the the bad boys were called Pachucos, a name for Mexican-American gang members in the 1950s. 

That's one of the most hardcore things I've heard in my life. This woman who looks like the perfect grandmother was giving herself a home-made tattoo to impress the bad boys in the neighborhood. I wonder if her kids/grandkids know.


Human chandelier from Gentlemen Prefer Blonds
The other big highlight Thursday was something I was never expecting, a screening I was looking forward to but turned out way way better that I ever would have imagined. Gentlemen Prefer Blonds is a film I've seen about a dozen times. I always found it a fun, entertaining musical, but that said. I never thought it was anywhere near as good as some of the other musicals of the era, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Singing in the Rain, or a personal favorite of mine, Guys and Dolls.

In comparison, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds seemed kind of average. But seeing it at TCMFF on that huge beautiful screen with an audience that was so into it, it was just incredible. The comic bits were funny. Marilyn Monroe was so sexy. The costumes and production design were brilliant. The musical numbers were great and the colors gorgeous. Finally, the "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love" number with Jane Russell singing to the men's Olympic team doing calisthenics gives the Top Gun volleyball scene a run for its money for being the gayest thing ever put on film. It's just weird that this film that was barely on my radar for TCMFF turned out to be my favorite screening of the Festival. 

Heterosexuality running rampant in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds

Day 2 – Friday

Interior of the Legion Theater, beautiful venue
The first highlight of Friday was more about the venue than what was on the screen. While the What's Not to Love About Republic Serials special presentation was great, as the special presentations always are at TCMFF, it was more about trying to make it to the newly added Legion Theater. Unlike the opulent glitz and glamour of the Chinese Theater and the Egyptian, the Legion Theater has more of a cathedral feel. The wood arches are just gorgeous, and downstairs is a super cool Art Deco bar. It's a bit more of a hike to get to than the Egyptian, but well worth the trip. 

Good job, TCM, for securing such an awesome venue. I hope you can bring it back next year.

The Sturhann Tribe in the Legion Post 43 Art Deco bar

My next highlight of Friday, was an added surprise that I was totally unaware of. Though it was listed in the schedule in the write-up for Road House, I hadn't read it:

This film will be preceded by the Bill Morrison short film, Light Is Calling ( 8 min, 35 mm, 2004).

I had no idea. In his introduction to the film, Bill Morrison said he was given access to the severely degraded nitrate print of the 1926 silent film The Bells from the Library of Congress film archive. They considered the print too far gone to even attempt restoration. But he said, when he examined the print, it came off the reel cleanly, not all stuck together, as is usually the case with a film this severely damaged, like the film wanted to be shown.

The patterns of the degradation of the nitrate are mesmerizing and emerging from the chemical chaos are haunting bits of the original film, at times distorted at other times crystal clear. According to my daughter Jasmine, it was like a Goth music video. As usual, she hit the nail on the head. Since the film is available online, I won't say anymore, other than I'm so grateful I got to see it on the big screen. Enjoy. 

After Light is Calling, Road House was good, but after four other films that day, I was struggling to stay away through it. That makes it all the more surprising that I was more or less wide awake for the midnight movie, Santo vs. the Evil Brain. Santo was a perfect choice for a midnight movie, camp, funny, but also good in its own way, though it did seem to have a strange obsession with driving scenes. I think if they got rid of all of the driving scenes, about a third of the film would have gone away. Maybe, they spent a lot of money renting the car and felt obligated to use all of it.

A treat to go along with the film, both figuratively and literally, Film Geeks San Diego (Beth Accomando and Miguel Rodrigues) came through again with fun and tasty treats for the midnight movies. This time they had Santo masks and cookies, as well as home-made candy. That package on the candy was perfect. It looked like it came straight out of a Tijuana mom and pop grocery store.

Santo! Courtesy of Film Geeks San Diego

Day 3 – Saturday

One of the rarities showing at TCMFF this year was a little War-time comedy called, All Through the Night. Humphrey Bogart plays a gangster/gambler who stumbles on a Nazi plot after the baker of his favorite cheesecake is murdered. Yes, that's the real plot. I know I had seen it on TCM once before, but coming into the Festival, I could only remember that it was funny. And boy was I right. It was great.

Though not really a flop (made a decent amount of money when released), it wasn't exactly a hit either. Filmed in 1941 before Pearl Harbor, when poking fun at Nazis seemed like a great idea, but released after Pearl Harbor, the jokes didn't seem quite as funny to a country going to war. Still, it is funny, hilarious, in fact. Bogart is at his best when he's giving the Germans the business, and it's every bit as true in All Through the Night as it is in Casablanca. It also has a great supporting cast, Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre as the Nazi leaders. and Frank McHugh, William Demerest, Wallace Ford, and Edward Brophy, as well as early appearances, by Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers as Bogart's hoodlum cohorts.


The other big highlight Saturday was the John Carpenter/Kurt Russell interview before the Escape from New York screening. The pair have a great rapport, so it was cool to hear them reminisce about the film. When asked if there would ever be another sequel, Kurt Russell joked that it would be more like Escape from the Geriatric Ward. John Carpenter on the other hand refused to say there wouldn't be another sequel. Me, I love the idea of Escape from the Geriatric Ward. Could you imagine Snake Plissken in an old folks home, cataracts in his one good eye, maybe recovering from a stroke, coming out to kick ass on some young whippersnappers. How great a movie would that be?

They also spoke about the big fight with Ox Baker.  Carpenter remembers having a tough time getting through to the ex-professional wrestler that the fight was just pretend. Kurt Russell remembers more like he was fighting for his life when they were filming. Going into the screening, I thought, oh I have to look for that.  I do remember them getting ready to fight and then fell asleep and woke up after the fight was over, damn.

Day 4 – Sunday

The big highlight on Sunday was the Frank Darabont interview before The Shawshank Redemption. I know a lot of people consider The Shawskank Redemption not old enough to be a classic. I am not one of them, by the way. Also, even if it's not. it's still a great movie. In fact, I would put it as my second favorite movie of all time, right behind Casablanca. My daughter Jasmine and I sat with Michelle Conte, who had never seen the film. She loved it.

I have seen Shawshank in the theater before, and normally that would be enough to skip it over other options at TCMFF, but hearing the director, Frank Darabont speak before the film, that sold me. I won't spend a lot time talking about what was discussed, since I got all but about 10 seconds of it in the two videos below. The one thing I did want to mention is that they considered both Robert Duvall and Gene Hackman for the part of Red. In the Stephen King novella, Red was Irish. Coming to The Shawshank Redemption from the standpoint of the film and not the novella, I can't imagine anyone but Morgan Freeman in the role. Sure I think either Robert Duvall or Gene Hackman could have been fine. Both are great actors, but for me, the humility and humanity that Morgan Freeman brings to the film is absolutely perfect. 

Conventional logic in Hollywood is that you can't have a person of color playing a part written for a person of European descent. Sadly, it tends to not work the other way around. I think film-makers need to reexamine this logic and decide whether the ethnicity of the characters is important to the story. Obviously, with The Shawshank Redemption, they did just that, and it works brilliantly. 

The Frank Darabont interview is captured in the following videos:


As always, the other big highlight for me on Sunday was the closing party. I always have a great time interacting with the people I have so much in common with. My only complaint is that and the party is too short, and there are too few opportunities to just socialize at the Festival. I love hanging out with #MyTribe. It's absolutely one of the best things about TCMFF, the coming together of people who love classic film. 

There were a couple of things that were special this year. They had people going around with Polaroid cameras taking pictures of people at party, not the best quality images very cool and a fun idea all the same.

They also did a champagne toast with commemorative glasses They even gave a glass to Jasmine. Shhh, don't tell anybody. She's only 19. She took one sip for the sake of the toast and then poured the rest in our glasses. I don't know what we did right as parents but neither of our kids have any interest in drinking or drugs. Just seems strange to me.

I did take quite a few pictures that night, but these two are the ones that stand out. I mean how cool is Gone with the Wind cosplay.
Scarlett O'Hara curtain dress cosplay, what a fun idea.

She said because she was Miss Scarlett, she had to do something
naughty. What  happens at TCMFF stays at TCMFF.

Another great TCMFF. Well Played, TCM, Well Played.