TCM Film Festival 2016 Scrapbook

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And we’re back! Another TCMFF is done and on the books… of course right when I was starting to get into the routine and rhythm of festival life.

When the dates for TCMFF 2016 were announced, I’d thought it was incredibly good timing for me—it coincided with the last week of school, so I wouldn’t have to worry about missing classes or having work due during the festival. Right? HA! HA! HA! What I’d conveniently forgotten was that a) pre-festival events exist b) classes on Wednesday and Thursday exist c) the end of the semester typically also means things like, oh… finals? I had two papers due on Wednesday, one on Friday, and a couple of unmissable class sessions during the festival and preceding events—but I made it through, relatively unscathed.

It's happening! #tcmff #tcmsocialproducers

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Since I already live in LA, I didn’t really have a distinct travel montage to mark the beginning and end of my festival experience, but I’d say that it began in earnest on Wednesday. That’s when I learned that Matt of Warner Archive was graciously offering a tour of the Warner Brothers Studios to TCMFF guests. (I think the original intention was for out-of-town guests, but I will take a studio walk-on pass wherever I can get one, without shame.)

I had class during the first part of the tour and wasn’t quite sure I’d make it, but luckily the party was still going when I got out, so I scooted up to Burbank as quick as I could to join the rest of the group, which also included the always lovely duo of Nitrate Diva and her mom, Melanie “The LA Explorer,” and Sabina, who was in town for the festival from England. (My awesome friend Jen used to work on the lot, so I at least had enough of a passing familiarity to figure out how to find them. OK, first I unconsciously walked to where we always used to get frozen yogurt, but then I actually found the tour group.) We were treated to lots of info that was probably a little more, ahem, insider-y than the official, by-the-book Warners tour, which always makes for an interesting vantage point.

Warner Brothers Backlot tour, courtesy @warnerarchive !

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I was particularly excited to see the lagoon, which had always had something filming there on my previous visits (coughTrueBloodcough), and which has been featured in many classic films, but also, importantly, the cinematic masterpiece that is Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure:
peeweelagoon

peweelagoonbike

And the real deal:

WBlagoon

(I believe in the bottom photo, we were standing on the bank that Pee-Wee is about to land on, on the right side of the top photos.)

We also visited one of the exotic Warner Brothers Starbucks, which is in the same area that the studio tours meet, so was decorated in a style much more relevant to most of our interests.

WBstarbucks

Then I went home and wept because I couldn’t go to the pre-TCMFF Formosa meet up and had to finish writing my papers instead, which was not nearly as fun. Thus kicking off the continued theme of my first two days of TCMFF—no matter where I was, I was supposed to be somewhere else…


Thursday

On Thursdays, I teach a discussion section at school, so I missed the initial Social Producers meeting (which, of course, was at the exact same time as my section!) but made it up to Hollywood for the Social Producers lunch. (Typing that out now kind of seems like a dirtbag thing to do, but I really did just want to see everyone before the festival started—the promise of fine Italian cuisine at Trastevere was a distant afterthought.) I got to catch up with always delightful Jeff, the divinely manicured Lora, fellow grad student (though crosstown rival at UCLA) Diane and her dad Jack, and TCM Social mistress, Noralil, who also caught me up on what I’d missed during the meeting and who was probably enjoying her last few moments of calm, though already in the eye of the storm. After lunch I raced back down to school for—what I later realized, but was too frantic to appreciate in the moment—was my last class of the semester/year. Time flies, I guess!

Back in Hollywood, I glided into my first film of the festival with only minutes to spare: Dark Victory. This was the first of many last-minute changes for me, but I was really happy to catch up with this one on the big screen. This was also the first of many divinely dressed, brassy ladies that I’d experience during the festival (both on- and off-screen, of course), which became somewhat of a recurring theme.

Of course, this film was part of the great TCMFF Fire Drill (which was surprisingly calmly evacuated and well-organized in terms of giving us information throughout) and I dutifully stayed until they let us re-enter the theater and finish the last 10 seconds of the movie. I went home again early to finish my last paper and weep some more because I was missing out (and for Bette Davis RIP, obviously).


Friday

I was back and ready early Friday, though, for the 9am screening of The More The Merrier at the Egyptian. The Egyptian had a really nicely efficient system this year, where each section was labeled by number, so you had a better idea of where to return when it came time to line up, and everyone wasn’t all jumbled and jammed up at the front. I didn’t arrive too early for any of my Egyptian screenings, but this would be a nice idea for the other venues to adopt as well. Anyway, The More The Merrier was another fun, new-to-me selection, and Joel McCrea was a great early morning pick-me-up to start the day. (As host Cari Beauchamp said in her intro, “It’s never too early for Joel McCrea!”)

I had intended to see Double Harness next, so as soon as the film ended, I hustled out of the theater and down Hollywood Blvd. back to the Chinese multiplex. However, despite my hustle I arrived to a scene of carnage—the line was already snaking around the patio so quickly that the guards were struggling to direct people into some sort of semblant order. They finally got us properly arranged, but it hadn’t really mattered anyway, as they announced they basically wouldn’t be handing out any queue cards to anyone outside. Luckily they figured this out pretty quickly, so I was only waiting a few minutes. I checked the schedule and found The Way We Were was starting soon, in a nice big theater nearby, and with my emotions already raw due to missing out on Double Harness, I was ready to be moved, damn it.

waywewere

I love Barbra and I love Robert Redford, and again, there were lots of great Looks here, so I was enraptured and readily let the wave of gorgeous ’70s melodrama wash over me. I had unintentionally followed Cari here for another intro, and she shared that one of Barbra’s few changes to the title song was lyrical: changing the first word from “Daydreams…” to “Memories…” I mean, can you even imagine??? “Daydreams”??

I decided to strategically skip the next block of films in favor of getting non-popcorn-based food and a good position for the Pleasure Cruise line, so as not to get shut out of two movies in a single day. As they had just let in the crowd for the previous movie, the staff asked people to wait to get into line until they had officially changed the sign over to say “Pleasure Cruise.” I found Danny of Pre-Code.com, Christina, and Darrin also hovering around the entrance of the line, waiting for the signal of the sign to be let in. Our patience was rewarded with some prime queue numbers, as well as being immortally captured in the official TCMFF Getty photo stream:

Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Turner
Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Turner

Danny and Christina also provided me with some #hashtag #content for my Social Producer duties, which involved having folks doodle/write on a white board:

The movie was really delightful and well worth the wait! I will admit that I had some trouble distinguishing between the men for a while, because it seemed like they all had pencil-thin moustaches, and usually facial hair is something I use to tell people apart. But after I got into the groove of things, it was a fun romp in the raunchy world of pre-Code.

I met up with my fiancee for dinner (two meals in one day at TCMFF? Surely I was getting spoiled!) and posted this photo of my fajitas from Cabo Wabo Cantina that got almost as much #hashtag #engagement as anything else I posted the entire festival:

Chimichurri on steak fajitas? Sammy Hagar, you are truly a mad genius.

Then it was time for My Sister Eileen, which I hadn’t originally planned on seeing but at this point in the day I didn’t feel like walking all the way down to the Egyptian, nor did I feel like waiting in a long long line for one of the smaller theaters. (Sometimes this is how you end up making decisions during the festival, just to be honest!) But I had also just watched Cabaret in class a few days prior, and was interested to see this early Bob Fosse-choreographed movie. I remembered being excited to spot Fosse in Kiss Me Kate at last year’s TCMFF, and figured I’d continue that tradition.

Jack Lemmon’s son, Chris, was on hand to introduce the film, and said it was one of the only films featuring his dad he hadn’t seen. The movie was lovely, I always love seeing Betty Garrett and Dick York was hilarious as the meathead neighbor of the two sisters. The alley dance featuring Fosse and Tommy Rall was an all-time great number, and probably the Fosse-ist in the film.

Fosse is always fun to watch for me because he is just SO distinctive, even though I don’t know a ton about the specifics of choreography and dance. Even working in vastly different types of films—from a 1950s musical in CinemaScope to a bleak 1970s view of Nazi Germany—you can always tell it’s him. Yet at the same time, the dances also work within each respective film without feeling out of place.

Anyway! birdcage-fosse

I didn’t make it to the midnight of Roar, though it sounds like it involves many of my favorite things (Hollywood home movies, big cats, animal attacks), so I definitely plan to track it down when and if it’s available for home viewing.


Saturday

I once again headed down to the Egyptian first thing in the morning for the Vitaphone presentation—I learned last year that these shorts collections are usually a highlight of the festival for me. While in line, I spotted Kellee and husband “Kris Kringle,” who had been doing a great series of TCMFF sketches throughout the festival, so I wanted to see if he’d do one for my little whiteboard project. Luckily, he was feeling inspired, so he graced my board with the following charming cartoon:

The Vitaphone presentation was lots of fun, and fittingly transformed the theater into a raucous vaudeville theater. My favorites of the morning included Baby Rose Marie, The Child Wonder, whose growling vocals and scatting at such an early hour very nearly killed me:

(If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at least go straight to 6:07)

Al Shaw and Sam Lee also killed in The Beau Brummels, a wicked sharp stand-up routine with musical numbers that included a meta-song with lyrics like “This is the chorus of the song, this is the chorus you’re hearing now.”

After Vitaphone, I headed to the TCL Chinese Imax for the first time this festival, to get in line for Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, another rather late-breaking decision. This would be my first rewatched film of the festival, and I made the choice in part because it felt like it was time for a little break in my mental stimulation. I saw Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid for the first time a few years ago, after I’d randomly bought the Czech version of the poster at a shop in Prague without ever having seen the movie.

deadmenczech

(I liked the skull and the flowers.) Rewatching it, a few of the modern segments seemed even more dated than the ’40s era stuff, but overall it’s a fun and clever cinematic conceit. Carl Reiner was there for a discussion after the film, and he was as lively as he was informative, even at 94 years old.

TCMFF16-Chinese

Next I headed off to Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, a new-ish documentary about the marriage between storyboard artist/production designer Harold Michelson, and film researcher Lillian Michelson, two of classic Hollywood’s secret weapons who enriched films like The Birds, The Graduate, Rosemary’s Baby, Fiddler on the Roof, and many many more. Their love story was touching, but the film also signaled greater issues about the industry at that time, as Harold and Lillian often worked uncredited for their ideas. Lillian appeared for an interview after the film, and seemed spry and sweet as ever. Danny DeVito, who executive produced the movie, also came to introduce it.

Next up was The Endless Summer, which was yet another film at the festival that I had never seen. I’m a SoCal native and when I used to work near the beach, I’d go down on my lunch breaks and just watch the surfers out in the water. I’ve never come close to actually trying to surf myself, but it’s visually very calming to watch. That is to say, I probably would’ve been delighted to watch this movie if it had been eight hours long—I was kind of surprised when the end credits came on, because I was sure it hadn’t been 90 minutes yet. Director Bruce Brown was also there to introduce the movie. There was so much Hawaiian print in the crowd that I hadn’t noticed people wearing earlier in the day, which caused me to wonder whether people had been stashing Hawaiian print shirts in their bags for precisely this moment.

The final film for me on Saturday was Midnight (that is, not the midnight screening, but the film actually called Midnight). In line, I ran into fellow Social Producer Kristen, who was tweeting out emoji-based film titles and summaries/riddles during the festival. To combine our assignments, she drew me one of her emojis for Midnight:

Bonnie Hunt introduced the film and talked about how she used to use it to cheer people up when working as an oncology nurse. This is definitely a “take your mind off your troubles” type of movie—the madcap, screwball adventure keeps everyone on their toes, and the film culminates in a hilarious battle of wits, punctuated by John Barrymore’s impression of a little girl.

Also, as a fan of Giorgio di Chirico, I loved the reference to his early surrealist paintings in the ultra-modern hat store!

midnight-dechirico

Giorgio di Chirico

And of course, Claudette Colbert’s outfits in the movie—and even the outfits of many of the minor characters—were to-die-for. I especially loved the gold, hooded dress we see her in in the beginning of the film. If you’re going to arrive in Paris with only the clothes on your back… that’s one heck of a way to do it.

Perfect screencaps of the dress from all angles from The Blonde at the Film!
Perfect screencaps of the gold dress from all angles from The Blonde at the Film
The shoulders!
The smugness that comes from knowing you have the pointiest shoulders at the party

Sunday

Double Harness, which, if you’ll remember I had missed out on earlier in the festival, had been programmed for a second screening early on Sunday. I thought I was getting there pretty early (especially as I wasn’t exactly sure when the theater itself would actually unlock its doors), but when I walked up the line was already fairly full and I was moved to the outside patio area. Although I knew the outside people hadn’t gotten into the earlier screening, I was hoping that most of the Spotlight pass people had seen it the first time, and that I’d make it in. They didn’t give queue cards out to us poor saps outside at the designated time at first, because they were waiting to see what our chances were—I think they had given out too many for the first screening, and didn’t want to imply we had a shot if we didn’t. But eventually I got my lucky number #66 (which I initially had upside down and thought was #99) with just enough time to grab a to-go coffee from Johnny Rocket’s (which apparently they do actually sell). When it was time to go in, we moved forward in halting lurches, then we got closer and closer… and then I was inside! Victory!!!

For all that work, the resulting movie had a much darker and more somber edge than I was expecting, which I liked. Serious Ann Harding kiiiiiiind of tricks playboy William Powell into marrying her, and though it seems like they work well together as a married couple, the reveal of that betrayal might be too much to overcome. They both play their roles with a certain gravitas, and I thought Harding in particular was great. Actor James Cromwell, son of the film’s director, John Cromwell introduced the film, and told us where to find his dad’s cameo—which he said we could recognize by the distinctive nasal profile they both share. (When the characters are leaving the theater, a passerby pauses at the door and looks in, then continues walking—that’s Cromwell.)

I decided to continue to rely on the endorsement of TCM’s selection of TBAs, and after Double Harness, I got right back in line for Shanghai Express. I was cutting this one much closer than Double Harness, so I was surprised to find I got about the same number—for a slightly larger theater—and got inside with no issues. This was another new-to-me film, and although I didn’t quite buy the Marlene Dietrich/Clive Brook romance, Marlene herself was divine, as was Anna May Wong. The restoration was truly beautiful—pretty much every frame looked like it could’ve been printed and framed in a gallery.

I almost took a break for this next block, but seeing the imminent end of the festival rapidly approaching, I decided to power through, and jumped in line for Horse Feathers. This would be my FIRST EVER Marx Brothers movie, a fact that I tweeted shortly before the film and Kristen repeated aloud—causing the lady next to me to (jokingly) boo me. Hey, I’m out here trying to better myself, OK?!

**Here is an embarrassing story**: As the opening credits for the film played, I made a mental note of all the Brothers so that later I would know the significance of people’s favorite one, which is a big area of pop culture knowledge I am missing. (Including the festival crossover moment I had already experienced, which was the Marx Brothers costume party in The Way We Were.) The movie started and I started matching them to the credits and getting a feel for their personalities—Groucho was easy to identify, Harpo seemed like the most popular, and I was pretty sure the… Italian?… one was Chico. Then the movie started getting close to the end. But where was Zeppo?? I had definitely seen a “Zeppo” in the credits but I hadn’t seen him in the movie yet. I kept waiting, starting to get a little anxious now. Had I missed him? There were definitely supposed to be four Marx Brothers in the movie, and I had only seen three. I racked my brain trying to think of all the wacky characters in the movie that he could have been, but they all seemed too minor. Finally, the end credits appeared and revealed the characters. Zeppo was… Frank? The straight man? The fourth Marx Brother is the ^#@^$$% straight man???? Why has nobody ever told me this? Anyway, this revelation fundamentally shifted my understanding of the Marx Brothers, so for that I am grateful, thank you all for your patience.

Danny also did another doodle for the film while waiting for the film to start:

After Horse Feathers, once again, I turned TCM’s TBA selection and went to the second screening of One Potato, Two Potato, with director Larry Peerce again in attendance. This film was a beautiful but poignant rendition of interracial relationships in the 1960s, still tragically relevant and frustrating today. Great performances by Barbara Barrie, Bernie Hamilton, Robert Earl Jones (James’ father), and the daughter at the center of the custody battle, Marti Mericka—who has a devastating and surprising scene at the end of the film.

After One Potato Two Potato, it was somehow time for my final film, and for once, I went for the movie I’d been planning to see since my very first glimpse of the schedule… The Band Wagon!

I closed out my festival last year with Kiss Me Kate, so I was looking forward to repeating that experience with another big musical (especially one that I like much better). I had also just finished a paper on MGM musicals a few days before, so it seemed like a fitting celebration for the end of my semester as well! I loved seeing this one on the big screen, especially with a crowd that applauded after all of the great musical numbers and seemed to really respect and enjoy the artistry. I’m still not quite sure how much I’d like the final show the end up putting on for the crowd, were I to see it in a theater—but hey, it works on screen…

And then that was it! Again, I didn’t exactly have a distinct ending to my festival, because it just meant driving back home, as I had done every night before that. Only this time I knew there would be no movies the next day, just… work. So, I looked up my favorite outfits from the festival instead.

Phew. Thanks for reading, and hope to see everyone again next year!

Oh, and if you’re missing the festival now that you’re home (or if you didn’t get to go and want to experience a small part of it yourself), be sure to check out my secondary Social Producer project: a Spotify playlist with a few of the best songs from and inspired by the events and films of the festival. ‘Til next time!

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