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SHORT ENDS FROM TCM FEST 2015


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Another year, my sixth at the TCM Classic Film Festival, is in the books, and I’m exhausted! Fourteen movies over four days sounds like a lot, and it is– though compared to past years, when I saw as many as 17 and 18, it was a relatively laid-back schedule. But you don’t just sit in movie theaters for four days when you attend a festival like TCMFF. Being in Hollywood, always a tourist attraction and increasingly comparable as a West Coast version of Times Square, it’s also a crowd scene.

You are on the move a lot, jostling with people everywhere you go, in movie queues, waiting for food, bumping past superheroes and rappers hustling CDs on your way down and across Hollywood Boulevard and, of course, always racing for the best seats—or any seat at all. And even the mostly passive act of taking in that much cinema and processing so much imagery and sound can be overwhelming, its own sort of exhaustion. I’ve been writing and catching up on work all week, which just adds to the post-festival tiredness, but one thing I haven’t felt like doing all week is sitting down and relaxing with a movie. That’s pretty typical for me though—by the weekend I’ll be hungry again.

So what I’ve done here is fashion for you a brief collection of notes and thoughts that I took during the festival, about the movies, of course, but also about the stuff in-between the movies, the various oddities of Hollywood and festival fun that makes TCMFF worth attending each year. These are my easily digestible short ends, some of the things I was thinking about while my best friend Bruce and I floated through the Hollywood firmament of the 2015 Turner Classic Film Festival.

Thursday, March 26

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Just arrived and got my press credential. Bruce and I are standing in the entryway to the allegedly haunted Roosevelt Hotel when suddenly we hear a loud crash. We look down and see giant shards of broken glass all over the floor, around our feet. What the hell? Did a hanging spotlight come loose and fall to the ground? Has an angry poltergeist from the era of silent cinema finally manifested itself in front of witnesses? Disappointingly, no. Turns out a guy who was trying to smuggle a gallon bottle of vodka into the hotel got to watch as it slipped out of his knapsack and shattered, right in front of God and the ghost of Clark Gable and everybody else in the lobby. This guy probably has no idea that TCMFF has partnered with Bogart’s Gin to provide free drinks for everybody all weekend long. No squirreling of personal hooch necessary.

The most important bit of trivia I picked up from taking Bruce Goldstein’s “So You Think You Know Movies” trivia test at Club TCM is that I don’t know nearly as much about classic movies as I thought I did.

Reacquainting myself with the delights of a cheap gin and tonic courtesy of that Bogart’s Gin promotion. For the sake of my ability to keep on my feet and remember that I even attended any movies, I just pray that next year TCMFF doesn’t go into business with a tequila provider.

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The lobby of the Roosevelt in years past has never been as entertaining as it has been in the first four hours being here this year. Right in the eye of the movie buff hurricane, smack in the middle of the lush Roosevelt lounge adjacent to the TCM Boutique, a foxy Beyonce-looking hooker in a curve-hugging powder blue mini-skirt is engaging the interest of a TCM pass-holder, all while the guy’s wife sits in the chair right next to Foxy Brown, passed out. Do we really have to go to the movies?

Lizabeth Scott is multi-level frightening in Too Late for Tears. Her sociopathic resolve really got under my skin and made me do something I am loathe to ever do– she drove me to Starbucks!

Girded by overpriced caffeine drinks, Bruce and I just finished up with Errol Flynn and The Sea Hawk, which was magnificent, even in the truncated form we saw. Yes, in a rare programming snafu, the fest ended up showcasing not the original 127 minute version, but a rerelease version that was cut by some 20 minutes. (Bye-bye, Donald Crisp!) TCM guru Scott McGee spun it as best he could, though– “This print was struck for a 1945 re-release, and since it is almost never screened, you’re actually seeing a real rarity tonight!”

The movie played just fine anyway, the perfect shot of excitement and adventure to keep our weary heads at full mast as the hour neared midnight. Plus, in attendance, Rory Flynn, Errol Flynn’s daughter, and her son Sean Flynn, who looks so much like Grandpa it’s faintly eerie. He could make a ton of money running around the darkened hallways of the Roosevelt, scaring the shit out of movie-mad tourists.

Friday, March 27he movie played just fine, the perfect shot of excitement and adventure to keep our weary heads at full mast as the hour neared midnight. Plus, in attendance, Errol Flynn’s daughter, Rory, and her son, Sean Flynn, who looks so much like Grandpa it’s faintly eerie.

Cannot possibly get out of bed early enough to make the Dawn of Technicolor presentation. If only it were the Midmorning of Technicolor, or perhaps a three-strip late lunch…

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Reign of Terror surpassed even my most unreasonably high expectations! It’s like a French Revolution costume drama crossed with a hardboiled crime noir. John Alton’s cinematography is startlingly good. And I swear I even saw the shadow of venetian blinds splashed across the wall in one scene! Too early to call for a festival high point? Maybe not. Plus a great talk afterward with Eddie Muller and Norman Lloyd, who was in the movie, a great raconteur at 100 years young!

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The phrase “force of nature” should be permanently associated with Orson Welles’ Falstaff. What a treat to see the grand, imperfect Chimes at Midnight on the big screen. I had post-lunch sleepies and still had a great time. Not too many folks here. This feels like a more exclusive screening for the folks who knew what the right choice was between Welles and An Affair to Remember.

Orson Welles, I skipped seeing Ann-Margret to watch your film. How many points in Cineaste Heaven is that worth?

The feather-light Don’t Bet on Women went down easy. And it’s always great to see Roland Young, one of those favorite actors, like Googie Withers, who I always seem to see at least once every year at TCMFF. But no Googie this year! I demand an explanation!

There were a couple of women seated behind us during The Invisible Man who were in full Tom Servo/Crow T. Robot mode at first. Usually you don’t get this sort of nonsense with crowds here, but they annoyed enough people to get shushed pretty early. And the movie is so great, so absorbing that it finally defeated their instinct to laugh at absolutely everything. Yet another highlight. It’s thrilling to see it like this again. And it marks the second TCMFF 2015 appearance of Una O’Connor and Claude Rains, who both tore it up in The Sea Hawk last night. (Does Claude Rains’ involvement here count as an appearance though?)

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George Lazenby was un-PC right out of the box—a microphone snafu held up the start of his sit-down with Ben Mankiewicz, and when some female staffers came out and took care of the problem Lazenby quipped, “What? A girl can fix this?!” Oooohhh… But he got right back up and unleashed more of his id in recounting being cast in Sean Connery’s shadow for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and shooting a movie with absolutely no knowledge of the actor’s craft. He went so long, in fact, that the movie (terrific fun, of course) ended up running well past midnight, which screwed up our plans to stumble delirious and exhausted into the midnight screening of Boom! Oh, well. Bedtime!

Saturday, March 28

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42nd Street was magnificent—a second Una Merkel sighting, after Don’t Bet on Women! But the interviewer who talked to Christine Ebersole beforehand, Entertainment Tonight reporter Tara McNamara, um, left a lot to be desired. After Ebersole offered an eloquent description of the significance of 42nd Street, as a place and a concept, to actors in the theater, McNamara, eyes ever on her note cards, asked, “So what does 42nd Street mean to you?” Momentary crickets. Then a couple of questions later: “I’m from L.A. I don’t know anything about Broadway. But the movie has all kinds of scenes of musicians driving themselves to exhaustion and stage hands talking to each other. Does this kind of thing happen in real life?” The level of interviewer is usually so high at TCMFF. What happened here?

42nd Street got me thinking about what audiences were used to seeing, from musicals and from movies in general, which were still mostly pretty static affairs visually by this point (1932), and also how they must have reacted to seeing Busby Berkeley’s eye-popping choreography for the first time.

Keep seeing Edgar Wright motoring through the Hollywood & Highland complex. Did I ever pay him back that $20 I borrowed?

Barely made it in to see John Ford’s Air Mail. Stuck in the front row, and I don’t care. Leonard Maltin was perched five feet from me in a chair (he sprained his ankle) for his introduction. And the movie was great fun, even up that close. No airsickness!

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Christmas in July turns out to be the perfect movie for me to have seen right now, for lots of reasons. At 67 minutes, it is lean and sharp but none too mean. Can you imagine how a modern remake could graft another hour-plus of indulging in excess before the fall, resulting in exactly the kind of bloat Sturges so skillfully avoided? And it has probably one of the most perfect endings in movie history. Plus, second Dick Powell sighting today, after 42nd Street! We’re chilling in the hotel right now, awaiting admittance to the poolside screening of Earthquake, featuring an appearance by Richard Roundtree!

Hanging out by the pool, Bruce and I spotted a couple of ladies who were dressed to the nines (maybe even 9.5) in classic Hollywood style gowns and headdresses. They reminded us both (just a teensy bit, you understand) of Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep at the end of Death Becomes Her. (I’m sorry, I’m sorry…) I even passed one of them near the pool, and as I did the thought flashed through my head: “What kind of melee would ensue if I pushed this woman into the water?” But of course I did no such thing! Later I was standing at the bar, awaiting delivery of one of my complimentary gin and tonics, when I felt a hand come to rest on my shoulder. It was the woman who I did not push into the pool.

Her eyes met mine and she said, softly, “I just want to thank you…” I was, of course, a bit nonplussed, but still managed to offer in return, “Well, you’re welcome. I’m not sure what for, but–” I confess, the thought ran through my head that she was psychic, had scanned my brain in the few seconds it took for us to pass each other earlier, and was about to offer her gratitude for my restraint in not sending her to a soaking-wet humiliation. Instead, she just looked at me for a couple of seconds, retracted her hand, said (again, softly) “Oh, you’re not him,” and walked away. Hooray for Hollywood!

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Illeana Douglas, opening her interview with Richard Roundtree before Earthquake: “What was with Victoria Principal’s wig? Was she supposed to be African-American?”

Sunday, March 29

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Three and a half hours ago we went to bed, after having witnessed a deliriously enjoyable midnight movie in Tom Schiller’s Nothing Last Forever, introduced by the movie’s star Zach Galligan, who in turn introduced Schiller, a surprise guest in the audience. Now we’re rousing ourselves for two more before we put TCMFF 2015 itself to bed: William Dieterle’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Then Bruce is off to the airport and I may head home for a nap.

Our bells having been rung by Charles Laughton, we just finished a chicken bowl and are now headed toward our final destination, a little out-of-the-way motel with an owner who has a thing for taxidermy…

Unimaginable fun seeing Psycho, with an uber-film-geeky intro by Edgar Wright (there he is again!) and in the presence of my pals Bruce and film historian and writer extraordinaire Richard Harland Smith. Arrr-bo-gaaaast!

It’s all over. When are the passes for 2016 available?