View of the Egyptian Theatre courtyard while waiting in line for Gunga Din.
At long last, I FINALLY attended (and survived) a TCM Film Fest. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – I live 10 minutes away from Hollywood and have never gone? The inaugural year I was 8 months pregnant and the cost of admission was too steep for a couple of expectant parents. I stayed away the next 4 years because I didn’t want to be away from my daughter for too long, and I didn’t think the cost of the festival pass could possibly be worth it. Boy, was I wrong!
It’s truly amazing when you stop and think about it. Thousands of people from all over the world converging in one location for four days with a mutual love of classic film. Growing up, most of my old movie experiences consisted of hitting the numerous video stores I had memberships to and watching the films at home alone, or dragging my Mom to sparsely attended revivals where a quick glance at the audience could have easily caused one to mistake it for a porno screening. To see so many people gathered at TCM Film Fest is a truly incredible experience.
I love being a mom, more than I thought would be possible and haven’t minded switching priorities over the last 5 years. I even scaled back my Ann Dvorak spending considerably (though I do sometimes think of the Housewife 1/2 sheet and insert that got away). However, I really do miss going to revivals with my classic film partner-in-crime Darin. The festival felt like I was able to make up for some lost time over the weekend. He’s a recap of what Darin and I crammed in over the fest.
The promo that we saw over, and over, and over.
I had to work during the day, but bolted down to Hollywood in the evening for the screening of Queen Christina. It’s my favorite Garbo film and she is simply wonderful in it, so I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see it on the big screen. The movie was preceded by lighting tests of Garbo on the set which was really cool. The only drawback was popcorn and a theater hot dog for dinner, which kicked off 4 days of eating junk (albeit tasty junk).
Originally, my husband was going to be on parenting duty for the weekend but was called away to Emerald City Comic Con at the last minute. So on Friday, Darin managed to get to my place from Downtown at 7:15am (with Starbucks in hand, what a gent!), and we got my daughter to school and us to the Egyptian Theatre in time for the Dawn of Technicolor presentation at 9:00am. The lecture by David Pierce and James Layton complimented their new book of the same title. The focus was the early Technicolor musicals which means, you guessed it, ANN DVORAK! Ann showed up multiple times during the presentation when they showed clips from It’s a Great Life and The March of Time I really had to restrain myself from screaming THERE SHE IS! Great way to kick off the day.
We took the morning off for breakfast and a visit to Larry Edmunds, before heading to Club TCM at the Roosevelt Hotel. We tried to watch Ben Mankiewicz interview Shirley MacLaine, but it was in a noisy area and could barely hear, so we opted for a lecture Rory Flynn gave about her father. Besides the Marx Brothers, Errol Flynn is my favorite actor so this was right up my alley. While Rory acknowledges that her dad wasn’t exactly a saint, she also talks about him with a great deal of love and affection and had me in tears by the end.
The evening brought back-to-back-to-back screenings of Don’t Bet on Women, The Invisible Man, and The Bank Dick. The first was the film I was most looking forward to, as it’s a pre-Code starring a non-singing Jeanette MacDonald. I can’t claim to have been particularly overwhelmed. It was fine and watchable enough, though if Una Merkle had not been there to steal the show I probably would have walked away less than satisfied. The extreme upside of this screening is that Leonard Maltin was in the audience and I was able to take a moment to thank him for the kind words he said about Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. He was just lovely.
Believe it or not, this was the first time I ever saw The Invisible Man. I am guessing I don’t need to go into it for you dear readers, except to say it was awesome. The Bank Dick was a film I had seen before, so I wasn’t too bothered that I kept falling asleep. I’m pretty sure I did not start snoring. I did manage to stay awake for the conversation between Illeana Douglas and two of W.C. Fields’ grandsons. Delightful.
Lousy photo of the awesome 1776 discussion
Despite being exhausted (who knew watching movies all day could be so tiring?), I got back to Hollywood in time for Why Be Good? starring Colleen Moore. I had never seen her in action before and now totally get why she was so popular. The film was joy and the print pristine, accompanied by the original Vitaphone soundtrack. It was definitely worth waking up for.
Next up was a restored print of 42nd Street which is always a hoot to see with an audience. We tried to get into Air Mail which was immediately following 42nd Street (I wish they would space the 1930s films out more), but could not get in. Instead, we went the original Chinese Theatre, which looks great after a recent renovation, to catch the discussion for 1776 with William Daniels, Ken Howard, and director Peter Hunt being interviewed by Ben M. I adore William Daniels and was excited to see him in person. It was heartening to see him get a standing ovation when he came out.
I had never seen 1776, but have heard about it from a variety of people over the years, most who have nothing good to say about it. Darin was only willing to watch the first 1/2 hour or so, but I have to admit that I loved every minute of what I saw. Maybe it was being in the Chinese Theatre, or the thrill of seeing Dr. Mark Craig in person. Perhaps it’s my love of early American history that made it so delightful. I had to be dragged away and have already pre-ordered the restored blu ray!
We rounded out the day with Christmas in July, which was another first. I don’t think it’s possible to go wrong with Preston Sturges and I am partial to a non-crooning Dick Powell so it was a wise choice. Finally, we went to the Hollywood Home Movies presentation which included Jane Withers, Bob Koster (son of director Henry Koster), and Neile Adams McQueen (first wife of Steve). It was a light and fun way to round out the evening. Best of all, while speaking with Lynne Kirste who is one of the preservationists for AMPAS, she confirmed that they have some footage of Ann Dvorak in a collection of Fred MacMurray’s home movies! AND, it sounds like it was shot at Ann and Leslie Fenton’s Encino ranch home! More news on that hopefully coming in the near future.
We were still going strong and made it to a 9:45am screening of Nightmare Alley, yet another film I had never seen. I could have done without the quasi happy ending, but overall was dazzled.
The grande finale of the festival was the Gunga Din which is a film I thought I had seen years ago but had not. Wow, what a film!! How the hell had I not seen this before? Not only was the film fantastic, but the opening presentation was utterly delightful. Special effects man Craig Barron and sound effects editor Ben Burtt (both Oscar winners) put together an incredible presentation combining modern-day footage of the location the film was shot, with film clips and color home movies shot on the set by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and director George Stevens. The pair had great chemistry and by the end of the presentation I was crying because I was laughing so hard. This was definitely my favorite screening of the entire series and Gunga Din may be up there as one of my favorite films. It almost makes me want to watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – almost.
Darin & me with Danny from Pre-Code.com who lugged the Dvorak bio all the way from Tokyo for me to sign! A charming and unassuming chap who was our favorite festival buddy.
The festival also gave me the opportunity to connect with folks who I have become friends with online, mainly via Twitter. There is a strong community of classic film fans online who are heavily engaged in blogging and social media, and they are an awesome group. Over the years, the film fans I encountered tended to be “old movie weirdos” (credit to Will McKinley for that term) who were always more concerned with having pissing contests over who knows the most about film rather than establishing meaningful relationships over a shared passion. I have always found the “What? You’ve never seen that? attitude very off putting, so it was a delight to spend a weekend being around people who are excited to share their passion and knowledge, rather than lording it over others.
With the lovely Raquel from Out of the Past. She gave the Dvorak book one of my favorite reviews and I was glad to give her a big “thank you” hug!
As if all these screenings and presentations weren’t enough, I also had numerous people come up to me to say how much they enjoyed Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel. I cannot adequately express just how much this meant to me. I’ve probably said it before, but I had a deep dark fear that no one was going to give a damn about an Ann Dvorak biography and that all the years I spent working on it were wasted. It was a thrill to be singled out by a few at an event like this.
Overall, this was a truly memorable weekend and worth every penny. I ended up seeing SIX films for the first time. At the end of it, I asked my daughter if she missed me while I was at the fest or if she was having too much fun with her grandparents to notice. Her response? Well, I’ll put it this way – you’ll be seeing me at TCM Film Fest 2016!
However, mom-guilt is hard to shake so the kid got a trip to Knotts Berry Farm on Monday!