Monday, April 6, 2015

#TCMParty Takes Over the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival

How does one describe the TCM Classic Film Festival?

That question has been posed to me over the years and it's surprisingly challenging to capture in words.  I usually start with the facts and a really big number: 26,000.  That's the number of classic film fans who largely take over the historic stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue and Vine.  That area, of course, includes venues that were central to the birth of Hollywood.  The Roosevelt Hotel, with its origin in 1927, is the base of everything at the festival.  Club TCM, where we all meet and many talks take place, is located within the Roosevelt's Blossom Room; the space was the site of the first Academy Awards in 1929 and looks about the same now as it did then. Across the street is the festival's most prestigious venue--the famed Chinese Theatre--that also opened in 1927. Then just to the east there's the El Capitan Theatre; it began even earlier in 1926, but the first movie wasn't shown there until 1941 (rented by Orson Welles to premiere a little film he did called Citizen Kane).  Further east is the Egyptian Theatre, the oldest venue of the festival with its first premiere in 1922 and notable for starting the shift from a downtown theater district in LA to one in Hollywood.  And then finally, at the legendary crossroads of Hollywood and Vine, is the Montalbán Theatre. It is yet another venue that opened in 1926, and its history includes once being home to the long-running Lux Radio Theatre series (here's a link to listen to It Happened One Night on the radio performed by the film's stars and hosted by Cecil B. DeMille).  

For classic cinema enthusiasts, visiting these venues is awe-inspiring enough, but then we actually get to see films there, too.  In fact, we sometimes see screenings of classics in the venues where they originally premiered, which really brings on the goosebumps.  We also get to see stars return to share their experiences with us from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  This year even had a surprise visit--poolside at the Roosevelt, no less--from Cora Sue Collins, a former child star who worked alongside greats like Greta Garbo.  The signatures on just one of her birthday cards looked like a who's who of Old Hollywood.  Many more stars were in attendance at the festival, such as Julie Andrews, Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLaine, and Ann-Margret.  All of them were as beautiful as ever.

Most years of the TCM film festival (TCMFF) are surprisingly low in drama considering the vast number of passionate attendees who fly in from all over the world who then must merge with the usual mix of Hollywood locals and tourists.  But this year was different, with plenty of drama leading up to the festival.  For one, with only weeks to go, host Robert Osborne very suddenly withdrew from participating in the festival, citing the need for a "minor" medical procedure.  Fans were both deeply concerned and terribly disappointed since seeing Robert is always one of the highlights of the festival. However, the blow to fans was nothing compared to what it must have been to those at TCM, and they really pulled together as a team to put on a great event for everyone.  Host Ben Mankiewicz, in particular, seemed to be hosting, interviewing, and MCing just about everywhere and deserves special praise.  But everyone did a magnificent job, including Charlie Tabesh (head of Programming), Genevieve McGillicuddy (TCMFF's Managing Director), Sean Cameron (VP Studio Production), and Scott McGee (Senior Producer).  They also put everyone at ease about Robert through the festival; at the last screening, Ben even read an email from him and said he was doing well.

Another source of drama before the festival was its schedule.  Over the past few months, TCM released the names of movies that would be shown, and fans seemed to argue them all.  First, it was that choices did not adhere enough to the festival theme of HISTORY ACCORDING TO HOLLYWOOD. This is actually a common complaint each year as most people don't understand that some screenings are under the theme's heading and others fall into categories like "Essentials" and "Discoveries." But then, as TCM began to mention their inclusion of more recent "contemporary classics" in the schedule--ranging from the somewhat understandable Apollo 13 (1995) to the seemingly out of place Out of Sight (1998)--many fans erupted in a rage.  Fiery debates over what makes a movie a classic, the boundaries of the classic cinema era, and TCM's responsibility to its core classic cinema audience went on and on online. Some of the arguments even got personal.  Yet when the festival rolled around, only one question regarding what is considered classic was put to Tabesh at the press conference on Wednesday.  And despite such a public outcry, only one audience member asked much the same question at the "Meet TCM" panel on Thursday (with only a smattering of applause in support of the question, too).  In each case, and as he always does, the answer to his choices was basically "Context."  With Apollo 13, context included being directed by Ron Howard (who acted in classics like The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1962)) as well as adhering to the festival theme and getting astronaut Jim Lovell to speak before the film.  With Out of Sight, the film that seemed to outrage people the most, it was simply that film editor Anne V. Coates (at the festival to introduce her master work in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)) chose this particular movie of hers to illustrate the range of her career and the evolution of editing techniques.

Though I can appreciate all of this, I do happen to be in the camp that hopes TCM keeps its focus on pre-1980s classics, particularly at the festival where it is truly special to see films from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s in historic venues with this particular audience.  That said, there were more than enough choices in this year's schedule to satisfy.  My approach and advice for anyone attending the festival is to simply appreciate what is, not lament what you think it should be.  As a result, I had a very entertaining and rewarding festival.  

One strategy this year was to choose movies and events across the venues so I could experience them all.  As an example, I saw Gunga Din (1939) at the Egyptian Theatre, which I thought was the perfect place to see Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Victor McLaglen in their iconic adventure film. Since it is set in distant lands, with pith helmets and all, it really seemed to fit with the motif of the theater. I also loved the fact that the father of one of its stars--Douglas Fairbanks--was in Robin Hood (1922), the very first film to premiere at the Egyptian.  Another film I also saw at the Egyptian was The Cincinnati Kid (1965).  That was introduced by the still sensual Ann-Margret sharing stories about her time in Hollywood, including with co-star Steve McQueen (whose movies I have seen at every TCM festival) and her first job for the studios where she acted opposite the meticulous Bette Davis.  

Going to the Chinese Theatre was very special.  I had recently spent a lot of time there and did a big article on its history (linked here), so all of that was still fresh in my mind.  The film I was most looking forward to seeing at the festival because of its place among The Style Essentials on GlamAmor--The Philadelphia Story (1940)--was shown on the big screen of the Chinese.  It did not disappoint. I actually cried a little when Katharine Hepburn first emerged in Adrian's "warrior" gown because it was so beautiful and I saw so many new details.  I also watched The Apartment (1960) at the Chinese with star Shirley MacLaine talking beforehand about director Billy Wilder, co-star Jack Lemmon, and many other aspects of her long career.  What was perhaps most special about the Chinese Theatre, though, was that I was surrounded by great friends from the #TCMParty at both screenings who are some of the best writers on classic cinema around. You'll see photos of many of them below.

In addition to my experiences at the Egyptian and Chinese Theatres, I indulged in a little nostalgia by seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) at El Capitan.  It was the first time seeing the film on the big screen since I was 9-years-old and my first time ever inside that spectacular theater.  The El Capitan really makes it a great experience by playing an old gold Wurlitzer organ while the audience takes their seats, and then stuntman Terry Leonard came out and charmed the crowd while sharing stories of his dangerous and well-known work.  Then there was even more to see at the Chinese Multi-plex, including the costumes of my beloved Jean Louis for Lana Turner in Imitation of Life (1959), Busby Berkeley's iconic choreography in rich black-and-white for 42nd Street (1933), and George Lazenby--James Bond himself--introducing On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969).  I also watched the luminous Sophia Loren being interviewed by her son at the Montalbán Theatre, which was the first time I had ever been there as well.  That interview will be aired this summer on TCM, but I include other interviews I attended with Shirley MacLaine, Ann-Margret, and George Lazenby.  The one with Lazenby is particularly wild and really wonderful because of it. Even Ben had to laugh as he struggled to steer the conversation back to Bond.

All of that might help to describe the TCM film festival, but there is one important thing that separates this event from any other--LOVE.  These are people who genuinely love these movies. These are people who genuinely love this network.  And these are people who genuinely love one another.  As many of us wrote last year, the festival is more like a family reunion where we travel to spend one week together each year.  This seems to be more true with every passing year.  People go to great lengths to attend; I know one fan who flies in from Sweden and another who flies in from Tokyo.  It means that much.  We do everything together--from eating at historic restaurants (I hit both Miceli's and Musso & Frank this year) to even rooming together, as many do.  I counted at least 50 friends that I spent time with that week--many who I mostly know from our active online community--and it was quality time.  I love learning of everyone's progress and successes over the past year.  Of course I lament those who I wanted to see more often during the frenzied festival, those I somehow missed entirely, or those who were not able to make it this year.  But I deeply appreciate all who I was able to see.  This has got to be the only event in the world where people actually look forward to standing in lines.  Not only do you catch up with old friends, but you end up meeting new ones as well.

I usually break up my coverage of the TCMFF into day-by-day coverage, but this year I decided to do something different.  For those of us at the festival--who barely eat or sleep in order to max out the experience--the days blend together as you run from one event to the next.  And so, to give you a better sense of how that feels, I share my time with you in one long post.

Welcome to TCMFF 2015.


The Roosevelt Hotel in the late 1920s

Every TCM Classic Film Festival starts with a stop at its headquarters
at the historic Roosevelt Hotel

This year, the lobby was quiet when I went to pick up my Media credentials on Wednesday
though the festival signage was already set up

The Media meet-and-greet with TCM leadership took place at the Chinese Theatre Multi-plex,
and it's there that I first bumped into many of my pals from #TCMParty--
our annual selfie includes (left to right) Kellee Pratt, Trevor Jost, Aurora Bugallo, Will McKinley

Thanks to Dan Nishimura for photo above
and Edward T. Pio Roda for photo below

Some of the heads of TCM speak to the press

(Left to right) SVP of Programming Charlie Tabesh, new GM Jennifer Dorian (also below), 
host Ben Mankiewicz,
and the festival's managing director Genevieve McGillicuddy

The entire festival was sunny and hot, which made poolside particularly enjoyable...
Danny Reid captures many of our #TCMParty gathered there below 
(including pal Joel Williams and his wife Beth in center)

I then headed to dinner at Miceli's with friend Christian Esquevin
who wrote the book Adrian and has spoken with me many times 
about his iconic costume design, including for The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Thanks to Rob at Dear Old Hollywood for his photo of the entrance--

Inside the historic Hollywood restaurant where just about everyone has eaten,
such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio,
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, John F. Kennedy, and The Beatles 



Wednesday ended in one historic Hollywood haunt and Thursday began in another--
the legendary Musso & Frank Grill

You can read my article on Musso & Frank to learn more about its long history

Each year, some of the #TCMParty tribe try to get together for lunch at Musso's--
we arrived right when it opened so I could captured the restaurant virtually empty

Two of my best buddies surround me below--Aurora Bugallo and Will McKinley--
and we all had lunch with #TCMParty peeps
Tim and Paula Guthat, Joel and Beth Williams, Alan Hait, and "Nebraska Nellie"

Thanks to Paula Guthat for the photo

I also captured Club TCM before the crowds descended upon it for the first event of the festival--
the ever-popular "Meet TCM" panel

Classic film posters adorned the walls as they always do,
and costumes from Ben Hur (1959) highlight this festival's history theme 

The "Meet TCM" event with the network's leadership
(left to right) Ben Mankiewicz, Jennifer Dorian, Charlie Tabesh, Sean Cameron,
Genevieve McGillicuddy, Pola Changnon, Richard Steiner, and Darcy Hettrich

Thanks to Edward M. Pio Roda for photo below

Unfortunately, misunderstanding and miscommunication from the festival's PR team 
kept me from the red carpet this year,
so I arrived early at the Roosevelt Hotel pool for the first screening of the festival

Grease (1978) screened poolside
with T-Birds Barry Pearl, Michael Tucci, and Kelly Ward
as well as Pink Lady Jamie Donnelly talking with Illeana Douglas beforehand

Thanks to Adam Rose for photos above and below



Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 1927
right before its opening premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings (above)
and Norma Talmadge with the first handprint ceremony (below)

Friday began with a handprint ceremony for Christopher Plummer
introduced by Ben Mankiewicz, Shirley MacLaine, and William Shatner

Setting the scene--
I was lucky to get an actual seat just to the left of the stage behind the heads of TCM
and not stuck in the crowd of paparazzi

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz introduces those who will introduce Christopher Plummer--
first, Christopher's friend and co-star Shirley MacLaine...

...and then fellow Canadian and friend William Shatner

Christopher Plummer, as dashing as ever,
is the 281st star to receive the honor of the handprint ceremony at the Chinese Theatre

You can just barely see me in the second row on the left--blonde hair, 1940s coral shirtdress...

Thanks to Edward M. Pio Roda for photo above

All smiles--
Shirley, Christopher, TCM's GM Jennifer Dorian, and Turner's Coleman Breland all look my way
while posing with Genevieve McGillicuddy and Ben Mankiewicz after the ceremony

Friday's screenings started for me at the Egyptian Theatre

The opening of the Egyptian Theatre in 1922
with the first red carpet ever for Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood

Amazing attention to detail at the Egyptian is found in both its exterior
and interior, such as its spectacular ceiling (below)

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
with Ann-Margret as a guest before the film talking with Ben Mankiewicz 

Click below to listen to even more of the interview with Ann-Margret, 
which includes the story of her start at the studios co-starring with the great Bette Davis

Thanks to Wendy Mahaffey for photo below

My next screening took place at El Capitan Theatre, which is shown here c. 1926 when it opened

Thanks to Edward M. Pio Roda for photo below

The gold Wurlitzer organ is played before films are shown at El Capitan

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
with stuntman Terry Leonard recalling his extraordinary work on the film and others

Stuntman extraordinaire Terry Leonard interviewed by a very impressed Ben Mankiewicz

Thanks to Adam Rose for photo below

Back at the Chinese Multi-plex was On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
with James Bond himself George Lazenby in person with fan Ben Mankiewicz

Click below to listen to Ben's wild interview with George...
it starts with George talking about bluffing his way into the producer's office to play Bond
and includes his interesting escapades with women



Starting my Saturday at the Chinese Multi-plex, I was only third in line for 42nd Street (1933)
where guest Christine Ebersole spoke about starring in the hit on Broadway

I then dashed from 42nd Street to see Sophia Loren at the Montalbán Theatre,
once home to the Lux Radio Theatre series (above), at Hollywood and Vine

Thanks to Edward M. Pio Roda for photo below

My friend Sean Cameron, TCM's VP of Studio Production, instructs and entertains the audience
before filming the interview between Sophia and her son Edoardo Ponti

We were told not to take any photos, so I share
ones by Edward M. Pio Roda for TCM

The next screening was my first time inside the Chinese Theatre during the festival...
thrilled to be with pals 
(left to right) Annmarie, Aurora, Elise, Kellee, and Paula (with Danny Reid in back)

Thanks to Gary Pratt for taking the pic above on my phone
and for the video below

Thanks to Kellee for the photo below 
with my other #TCMParty friends Nora and Colleen

We all grabbed a group of seats down front to see The Apartment (1960)
with star Shirley MacLaine sharing with Leonard Maltin before the screening

Click below to listen to Shirley talk about director Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon, and more

Thanks to Tyler Golden for photo below

Last screening of the night was Imitation of Life (1959) at the Multi-plex,
introduced by Leonard Maltin and Sherry Lansing,
featuring costume design by the great Jean Louis



Since I was only second in line at the morning screening at the Egyptian,
I finally took a moment to get a decent photo of myself at the festival

Thanks to Larry Gleeson for taking over my camera for photo above

 Gunga Din (1939)
introduced with a great "Academy Conversations" presentation by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt

Oscar-winners Barron and Burtt appropriately donned pith helmets to 
give their great presentation on the making of the movie

Thanks to Edward M. Pio Roda for photo below

As one of The Style Essentials on GlamAmor, 
The Philadelphia Story (1940) was perhaps the most important screening to me at TCMFF...
I managed to snag the #1 spot in line at the Chinese Theatre

Thanks to Joel Williams for the photo below

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
introduced by Illeana Douglas and Madeleine Stowe

Guest Madeleine Stowe spoke of her love of classic films, especially her favorites
The More the Merrier, It Happened One Night, and Roman Holiday

And finally, my last film of the festival was the fun Too Late for Tears (1949) at the Multi-plex
that included closing words by friend Eddie Muller whose 
Film Noir Foundation was largely responsible for the movie's restoration

Thanks to Edward M. Pio Roda for photo above

The festival ended with even more hellos and some tearful good-byes 
at the closing night party at Club TCM...
see you all next year!

Thanks to Adam Rose for photo above

Historic Photos Thanks

Bison Archive
Doctor Macro
El Capitan Theatre
Mary Mallory


Marline said...

Oh, this makes me sadder than ever to have missed all the friends and fun. I cannot WAIT until next year! What a terrific report, Kimberly, and I'm especially thrilled that you were able to see Philadelphia Story on the big screen and Imitation of Life and get a good eyeful of those glorious costumes! See you next year!!! XO Kay

Kimberly Truhler said...

You were definitely missed, Kay--you came up several times, especially at events where so many of us were together. Just keep looking forward to next year!

Chris Sturhann said...

Great piece. I love the old photos interspersed with the ones from this year's TCMFF. I couldn't get the Lazenby interview to work. Even though I was there, I wouldn't mind seeing it again.

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely stunning post on the Festival. I am 5000 miles away in Scotland but I felt I was there with you all.
You really have done a super job covering all the events. So many thanks.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thanks Chris--so glad you enjoyed it! I appreciate the feedback on the issue you had accessing the Lazenby interview. I've gone back and added audio players for each interview, so you can listen to them without even leaving the site. Enjoy!

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you, Vienna! I'm so glad you were able to virtually enjoy the experience so many miles away. Hopefully you'll be able to join us one of these years!

Jeff Flugel said...

Loved all the photos and in-depth coverage - thank you! Like Vienna, I'm thousands of miles away but hope to make it to the Fest one of these years.

Silver Screenings said...

This was wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

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