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Once Upon a Time in the West: Cinema Shame

Cinema Shame: Once Upon a Time in the West

Scratching an entry off my 2018 Shame Statement that also qualifies for the April Shame Prompt.

Seeing as how the April prompt concerned movies screened at this year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Hollywood April 26th-29th, I had a distinct advantage of attending the festival. So any movie I hadn’t already seen fulfilled the requirement. This year I first-watched 10 movies at TCMFF, but it seems only logical that I grapple (finally) with Once Upon a Time in the West — a movie I’ve owned on both DVD and Blu-ray for at least 10 years, but never watched.

There’s nothing easy about committing to a 175-minute movie. I even considered missing out on the chance to see Once Upon a Time in the West at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Which is pure insanity.  I blame “festival brain” which clouds rational thought. I should love everything about this movie. I just needed to place my posterior in the seat. So I did, at 9:15 am on Sunday with a big bag of popcorn and my Ray-Bans obscuring the sleep deprivation in my eyes.

At Once Upon a Time in the West at 9:15am on 4 1/2 hours sleep and feeling hungover without any alcohol..

From the opening minutes on the IMAX screen at the TCL Chinese Theatre, the sweeping vistas and vintage Leone closeups made me feel like I was experiencing the most cinematic thing ever committed to film.

The film’s opening is a nearly wordless 15-minute sequence in which three gunmen (Jack Elam, Woody Strode and Al Mulock) do nothing more than wait for the arrival of another character on a train platform in a remote frontier station. Before you express your disinterest, would you believe me if I told you it was my favorite 15 minutes of movie I’ve seen in recent memory?

John Sayles introduced Once Upon a Time in the West as one would ride a horse.

It is of course, for you Western fans, a reference to the opening of High Noon — where three malcontents similarly await a train’s arrival. John Sayles, in his introduction to our screening of Once Upon a Time in the West, described how Sergio Leone, Dario Argento an Bernardo Bertolucci cobbled the narrative out of bits and pieces of their favorite classic Westerns. In doing so, these three Italian auteurs may have made the final stand in the classic Western era. What more needed to be said after Once Upon a Time in the West?

The most remarkable aspect? In creating this tapestry, they’ve so masterfully woven the story and influences together that the viewer stops looking for the connective tissue and just basks in atmosphere and spectacle.

Leone reportedly wanted Once Upon a Time in the West to be a metatextual conclusion to the Dollars Trilogy. He’d wanted to cast Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach as the gunmen in this opening sequence. When Eastwood declined, Leone scrapped the notion and cast the veteran Western actors Elam, Strode and Mulock instead. Losing perhaps his connection to Dollars, but extending his reach further into the history of the genre, recalling films beyond his own.

Leone increases the tension through the use of sound (and the absence of) and anticipation. A squeaky door. A windmill in need of some oil. Ambient cooing of a bird in cage. Footsteps. Spurs on a wooden floor. The gunmen idle, awaiting that train that will carry their unknown target. Elam tracks a fly buzzing over his face. Strode stands beneath a drip and collects water in his hat. Mulock cracks his knuckles. Each action contributes to Leone’s isolated soundscape, meticulously crafted through post-production foley recording.

The audience brings their own expectations into the scene. The audience assumes that the men anticipate the arrival of Charles Bronson’s character, and the longer we wait the greater the anticipated payoff.

The train arrives just under 10 minutes into the film. The door to a freight car opens, causing Elam to flinch. An attendant tosses out a single box and then the train begins to depart.

The gunmen gather on the craggy platform, facing away from the train. Finally we hear a new sound — the first hints of a Morricone score — a harmonica. The ne’er-do-wells pause. Elam’s expressive eyes rise in acknowledgment of the music.

A distant figure appears on the far side of the tracks as the train vacates the station. Perspective dwarfs the shadowy figure in the background, but the specter of Bronson — the on-screen persona and the legend built by 12 minutes of anticipation — looms large.

once upon a time in the west bronson

I won’t spoil it for you when I say that the hero survives the first scene of a 3-hour film. Bronson dispatches the gunmen — in a classic Leone showdown — and then the movie begins.

once upon a time in the west

If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I’m absolutely gushing. I could go on like this describing two or three more sequences from this film that similarly stir my cockles.

Once Upon a Time in the West depicts three conflicts that take place in and around the fictional town of Flagstone. There’s a financial tycoon Morton hires a cold-blooded blue-eyed assassin Frank (Henry Fonda) to eliminate the McBain family standing in the way of a potentially valuable piece of property — a narrative that’s become complicated by the arrival of a New Orleans prostitute (Claudia Cardinale) who claims to be McBain’s wife. Frank frames local bandit Cheyenne (Jason Robards) for the McBain family massacre.

henry fonda once upon a time in the west

Meanwhile, a mysterious outsider, the Bronson character (later dubbed Harmonica by Cheyenne) tracks Frank — with eyes on an uncertain vendetta to be paid. Harmonica and Cheyenne become unusual allies against Morton and perhaps reluctant defenders of McBain’s widow.

John Wayne in John Ford’s The Searchers, a film that’s also felt throughout Once Upon a Time in the West.

John Ford ectoplasm oozes all over this film — but we’re seeing John Ford through a disillusioned gaze. A look back at the old West filled with decay and lacking the proper delineation between hero and villain. There’s plenty of villain, but Leone dispatches the notion of a pure hero. Even the heroes in Once Upon a Time in the West are part scoundrel. They’ve taken on the role of hero because their interests align with the moral right as perceived by the audience.

Despite the 176-minute runtime, Once Upon a Time in the West never feels aimless. Leone allows the audience to dwell on the hardened faces of his characters just as he embraces the beauty and desolation of the natural landscape. Every frame feels pointed towards their inevitable fate — a fate that echoes that of the American old west and the Western genre. Assimilation or elimination by the progress brought about by industrialization and the spread of civilization.

In cinematic terms, the audience’s interest in the genre declined with the rise of the blockbuster. Galaxies far, far away opened up with the help of increasingly elaborate special effects.

The Western genre met a kind of end as the 1960’s came to a close. Once Upon a Time in the West represented a master’s final volley, the last word on the matter. In many ways the genre represented a uniquely American romanticism about the wide open spaces, a limitless potential — but also the dark underbelly that went along with it. A blank canvas for starkly moral fables about good and evil. After Once Upon a Time in the West, westerns began to more fully embrace the “anti-Western” trend that had been growing since the early 1950’s.

After the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), the 1970’s saw a wave of Western Revisionism and uninhibited creative freedoms in films like Little Big Man, El Topo, McCabe & Mrs. Miller before the genre rode off into the sunset almost entirely at the start of the 80’s.

el topo (1970)
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s trippy revisionist Western El Topo (1970)

If this is the end of the Western genre proper, I can’t imagine a more fitting conclusion. After Once Upon a Time in the West there really wasn’t much more to say. Or at the very least it feels that way.

2018 Shame Statement Update:

(Bold/linked denotes watched)

Five Easy Pieces
Lifeboat
Stop Making Sense
The Black Pirate
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Paris, Texas
Wuthering Heights
Paper Moon
Sunrise
The Conversation
Victor/Victoria
Once Upon a Time in the West
Ikiru
Help!

Cinema Shame Monthly Prompts:

January Prompt: Shame Statement
February Prompt: An American In Paris
March Prompt: The Crimson Pirate
April Prompt: Once Upon a Time in the West

 

 

 

2018 TCM Film Festival Recap

2018 TCM Film Festival Recap: The Year I Cut Out Dozens of Kyra Zombie Heads and Drank Warm Chardonnay

Past recaps: 2015 / 2016 / 2017

Cinerama Dome 2018 TCM Film Festival
Hamlet skull gracing the enveloping screen at the Cinerama Dome before GRAND PRIX.

I tend to catalog my TCM Film Festival experiences by the music that sang me to sleep each evening as flickering images of movies danced in my head. This festival definitely had a piano jazz vibe going for it, so naturally I featured Bill Evans and Bud Powell in heavy rotation. I encourage you to play the following record while reading this recap so you can put yourself in the proper mood.

2018 felt like a whirlwind tour. Much more so than in past years, and I set the tone for the entire festival when I scheduled a recording of an episode of the Cinema Shame podcast with Raquel Stecher and Jessica Pickens on the afternoon of the first day.

I landed in Los Angeles about noon and made it over to my hotel a little after 2pm.  I checked my suitcase, tossed my computer and microphone into my backpack and rushed over for the recording.

Podcast recording managed (and mostly intelligible) but you can be the judge (hint: subscribe to Cinema Shame on iTunes or Stitcher), I headed back to the Loews, finally checked into my room and showered off the 5-hour flight. Without further adieu I joined the chaos on Hollywood Boulevard (once again forgetting to navigate the sections that had been roped off for the big red carpet event) to retrieve my festival badge from the Roosevelt Hotel.

The historic Roosevelt Hotel — the center of all TCM Film Festival happenings.

Seeing as how I had press credentials this year, I was able to snag a free cup of lukewarm carafe coffee and a bottle of Evian (oooh la la) from the press room along with my welcome back containing a big book and a bottle of TCM Chardonnay. With that extra tonnage added to my satchel, I wandered back downstairs to lazily mingle in the lobby.

Alas. ’twas not to be.

While in the lobby, I noticed the big social media board. Tweets and Instagrams tagged with #TCMFF find their way onto the board. I noticed three or four featured tweets mentioning people already lining up for Finishing School (1934) at 7:00pm. I checked the time. Only 4:15pm. Pre-code. Multiplex Theatre 4 Thunderdome in full effect. No rest for weary same-day travelers/podcasters.

I arrived at the Finishing School queue at around 4:45pm, after a quick stop in Baja Fresh for some sustenance. (My first and only burrito of the festival — a miracle in an of itself.) My festival had officially begun. By the time I found my seat, I regretted the lack of a power nap, but I at least had my burrito.

Commence conditioning.

TCM Film Festival

Each year I’ve written a “letter” about my TCMFF experience. It began as an email to friends and family while waiting for my delayed red eye in Los Angeles and it continued as a means to briefly describing my experience to anyone who cared to read it.

The Yearly TCMFF Letter

Dear So and Sos:

This year I attended my fourth Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. They’ve grown no less rewarding. Some festivals are better than others, but all of them have their own flavor and their own individual vibe. As much as the movies, it’s a time to congregate with friends. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to know so many like-minded movie fanatics during these last four years. In many ways, it feels like prime time for movie fans. Back home in our respective hamlets, we’re all “the movie people.” At TCMFF, I’m humbled by the knowledge of my fellow attendees. In certain respects it feels very much like a return to film school — just on a self-study program. 

I’m still pushing for a built-in cocktail hour so we can all hang out (and not at the expense of any particular movie). We all go for the movies, but we keep coming back for the camaraderie and conversation. 

As I’m ever grateful to my wife for purchasing that first pass for me as a Christmas present in 2015, I hope she shares some of my enthusiasm (and not just tolerance) as the reason I’m able to return to Hollywood every spring. Maybe one day I’ll convince her to come out with me. Maybe. For anyone looking to attend their first festival — be careful — that first taste is addicting.

And to my father-in-law, Andy, who could not attend this year’s festival — your company was very much missed. And I’m quite sure you would have really enjoyed TCM’s 2018 offerings. Hopefully you’ll make it back out in 2019. I’ll save you a seat. 

Until next year…. 

The “Bond_age_ Guy” will return in 2019.

2018 TCM Film Festival Recap and Vital Statistics

I stuck largely to my original TCMFF 2018 plan. I deviated on a couple of occasions due to unforeseen circumstances and timing issues. I also chose a more leisurely festival experience compared to prior years. I didn’t stalk any celebrities this year (see 2016 and Gould, Elliott). I partook of some bloody undead cookies, got a Mark Hamill “like” on my Tweet about tracking down his brand new star on the Walk of Fame, and received a tour of the projection room at The Egyptian. (Thanks for the introductions, Deborah!)

2018 TCM Film Festival Final Tally: 14.2

*denotes never before seen

Finishing School (1934)* – 35mm
Throne of Blood (1957) – 35mm
Grand Prix (1966)* – Cinerama
The Set-Up (1949)* – 35mm
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)* – 35mm
The Exorcist (1973)
The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962)*
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)*
Bullitt (1968)
Girls About Town (1931)* – 35mm
Show People (1928)* – 35mm
Scarface (1932)*
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)*
(part of) The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – 35mm

Had I not chosen the earlier non-stop flight home, I would have theoretically also seen:

This Thing Called Love (1940)* or Hamlet (1948)
A Star is Born (1937)* or The Phantom of the Opera (1925)*

Unnecessary Vitals:

1,438 minutes of movie
10 first time watches
9 B&W, 5.2 color
By decade – 1920’s: 1 / 1930’s: 3 / 1940’s: 2 / 1950’s: 1 / 1960’s: 5 / 1970’s: 2.2
6.2 movies on film, 8 movies on DCP or digital
3 bags of popcorn

Most Memorable Festival Experience:

grand prix tcm film festival 2018

Grand Prix (1966) at the Cinerama Dome

Like 2016, the Cinerama Dome again boasts my favorite TCMFF event. There’s something about the venue. Maybe it’s the spectacle. Maybe it’s the Intermissions. Maybe it’s just the fact that you’re watching a movie with hundreds of people who blocked off an entire morning for a certain kind of experience, forsaking multiple movies for a little jaunt over to the Cinerama Dome.

That said, I’ve become so fond of the Cinerama Dome, I made it my iPhone lock screen.

cinerama dome iphone wallpaper

Frankenheimer’s Formula One racing scenes enveloped the audience with boneshaking rumble and sickness-inducing car-mounted camerawork. This was an experience that just could not be duplicated elsewhere. I’m glad I made the last minute schedule adjustment, bypassing Intruder in the Dust (1949) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957), two films I can watch at home without much lost in translation.

Grand Prix is available on Blu-ray from Warner Brothers.

Favorite New to Me Movies:

#1. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

once upon a time in the west tcm film festival 2018

If we’re talking scope and scale, I don’t know of a bigger Western than Sergio Leone’s 1968 masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West. Project that onto the IMAX screen at the TCL Chinese Theatre and you’ve got an experience you won’t see anywhere else. I’ve had Once Upon a Time in the West on my Cinema Shame list for years now. I’ve never been so happy I waited (unintentionally) to see a movie for the first time.

Imagine Bronson close-up coming at you in IMAX, four stories large.

charles bronson once upon a time in the west tcm film festival 2018

Once Upon a Time in the West is available on Blu-ray from Paramount.

#2. Scarface (1932)

scarface 2018 tcm film festival

The winner of The Big Lebowski and Jeff Bridges vs. Scarface and John Carpenter battle. But not necessarily by choice. Due to a fire alarm incident in my prior film (Show People at the Egyptian), I exited the theater 15 minutes late — which made it impossible to make it over to the TCL Chinese Theatre in five minutes for the start of The Big Lebowski. Howard Hawks’ gangster classic began 15 minutes later and thus my decision was made. John Carpenter strode into the venue like a rock star, spoke about the film’s “X” motif, made a feisty comment about Ann Dvorak, and then the Master of Horror exited stage right. 3 minutes and 20 seconds of John Carpenter.

John Carpenter 2018 TCM Film Festival
John Carpenter introduces Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932) at the 2018 TCM Film Festival.

Scarface is available on DVD from Universal. It is also available as a bonus feature on the De Palma Scarface (1983) Blu-ray.

#3. Show People (1928)

show people 2018 tcm film festival

And speaking of the movie that made me late for seeing the Dude… Show People proved to be a delight that made the delay worthwhile. I’m not particularly well versed in Marion Davies. I’ve seen more movies featuring characters based on Marion Davies than I’ve seen Marion Davies movies. King Vidor’s Show People showcased Davies’ uncanny comedic abilities — one would have thought that the “ponce-y” face that became an overworked gag through the latter half of this film would have grown stale. It should have grown stale, but Marion Davies does so much with such a little tic that it always landed. More Marion Davies silent comedies, please.

Show People comes to us on DVD from the fine people at Warner Archive.

4. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

The Ox-Bow Incident 2018 TCM Film Festival

The best part of waking up is a lynching in your cup. And all this time you thought it might have been Folgers. (For the record, Folgers is a reason not to get out of bed in the morning.) Gripping dissection of the mob-mentality justice system and how the rule of law, innocence until proven guilty, provides the foundation for a civilized society. Wellman’s stoic drama hammers its point home with a gut-punch ending. Peter Fonda has rarely been better than he is here. The way he straddles moral conscience with minor scoundrel distills the best of his on-screen persona. A beautifully shot film with an equally astute sense of tone.

Kino Lorber has released The Ox-Bow Incident on Blu-ray.

#5. The Set-Up (1949)

the set-up 2018 tcm film festival

Tarantino must have assimilated this film into the DNA of Pulp Fiction’s boxing segment — the difference is that Bruce Willis takes the money and refuses to go down. The look, the chiaroscuro, the narrative. Robert Ryan gives a desperate performance as the boxer who doesn’t know he was supposed to throw a fight. Wise keeps the film clipping along in real time, and Audrey Totter makes something of a character that could have been a throwaway bit of feminine angst. Other than an unintentionally funny line from Totter at the end (not her fault) The Set-Up maintains consistent tension from start to finish, and Wise does a tremendous job of showcasing the men who box rather than just a boxing match.

The Set-Up is available on DVD from Turner Home Entertainment.

Most Forgettable Movie:

 

finishing school 2018 tcm film festival

Finishing School (1934)

Not that it was a poor film, just that a year from now this is probably the movie that’ll disappear from my memory. A pretty rote pre-code affair with a nice central performance from Francis Dee. Beulah Bondi’s headmistress villain (as scripted) might be a little over the top. Ginger Rogers slides into the background too early. I definitely liked this more than the midnight show of The World’s Greatest Sinner, but being perfectly “fine” becomes this film’s major bugaboo.

2018 TCM Film Festival Memorable Moments

Night of the Living Dead @ midnight

Sunday morning Once Upon a Time in the West @ TCL Chinese Theatre

Tour of the Egyptian projection room

Show People @ the Egyptian (with Leonard Maltin)

Kellee Pratt perspective points out Leonard Maltin and his wife sitting behind us before Show People.

The Exorcist with William Friedkin at the TCL Chinese Theatre

Friedkin prowled the stage for an hour before the film and his theatrics did not disappoint.

William Friedkin left Ben Mankiewicz verklempt on more than one occasion during his introduction of The Exorcist.

Melvin and Mario Van Peebles introducing Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

Read my entire piece on Melvin Van Peebles and Sweet Sweetback at ActionAGoGo.

Mark Hamill liked my Tweet (only semi-#TCMFF related)

People! (Unfortunately I was super lax in the selfie department this year.)

Advice for Future Attendees from a 4thTimer – revised and edited from last year’s recap:

  1. If any of this sounds #amazing to you – make every effort to attend the TCMFF. It requires you to plan ahead and commit to the trip long before you actually get anywhere near L.A. But you won’t regret any of it. You will only regret never giving it a shot. Warning: it’s addicting. You’ll want to go back because FOMO is real and it is painful.
  2. Prioritize events you’ll never see or experience anywhere else. This includes movies shown on film, rarely screened gems, presentations, talks from famous people who knew other famous people.
  3. Participate in social media. Get to know the people who attend so that you’ll already have a cast list of friends to save you a seat when you’re running late for a screening. As I’ve said before, you’ll go for the movies, but you’ll come back for the people. You also never know when that person you’ve been talking to on social media will pop up in the seat next to you or in the pre-film theater queue.
  4. Bring a portable charger for your phone. You will need your phone for connecting with other moviegoers who are in lines ahead of you. The TCM Schedule App helps immensely and updates you with announcements and cancellations. You will need all the extra juice you can get. Don’t rely on being near a charging station. Bring the charger. Charge during the movie. Never run out of juice. You’ll also be popular among those who don’t bring portable chargers.
  5. Eat breakfast every day. I don’t care when you went to sleep the night before. Get up. Shower. Eat breakfast.
  6. Experience the festival at your frequency. If you want to maximize your movie return on value, by all means hit up every slot and every available talk. You won’t regret it. You also won’t regret earmarking some movies to watch later on when you get home and having a leisurely morning or getting a real sit-down meal. If you know you can’t survive the midnights, don’t force yourself. TCMFF is both a sprint and a marathon.
Hydrate, caffeinate and just enjoy your surroundings — even the shaggy pair of Wookies wandering around Hollywood Blvd.

Oh, and one more thing… the Theater 4 Thunderome lives! While I didn’t get shut out of Theater 4 this year, I know many people who suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

tcm film festival theater 4

Meet Me at the Quad: 2018 TCM Film Festival Preview

 

The feeding frenzy began Wednesday morning, sometime around 11am EDT. TCM released the schedule for the 2018 TCM Film Festival, and the drooling, movie-starved masses fled to their electronic devices to sneak a peak at the ecstasy and the agony.

For those that aren’t familiar with the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival, each spring TCM hosts a four-day film festival on Hollywood Blvd. Movies from 9:00am until 2:00am. Equal parts euphoria and self-flagellation. Maybe you’ll eat. Maybe you’ll sleep. You’ll definitely see movies. In fact, if you set your plans for max consumption you could see 21 movies during your stay.

#ProTip: Don’t plan for max consumption. You’ll enjoy yourself more by focusing on the experience — even if it’ll cost you an extra time slot in travel to and from a more distant venue. My favorite TCM Film Festival event remains The Scent of Mystery at the Cinerama Dome in 2016, an event which spent an entire morning.

Due to the current lack of a proper schedule grid, I took to my trusty notepad and scribbled a schedule for an early attempt at planning my 2018 TCM Film Festival. Because people want to know. People want to share this experience with their Fest Friends. It may feel duly and truly like solipsism, but I’ve come to realize that these TCM Film Festival previews help fellow attendees (especially first-timers) plan their trip. And the recaps help people mourn the Fest’s end and re-assimilate into daily life.

Fun Fact: TCMFF attendees are actually totally, legitimately serious when they ask for your schedule. The path we travel at these events keeps everyone on the edge of their seats. If you blog, blog it up.

Three Quick Observations of the 2018 TCM Film Festival Schedule:

Friday Night is a unholy abomination of quintuple booking. We love to complain about our conflicts. We paid many $$$ for these tickets because there’s always something to see — so when we’re faced with a single time slot that includes The Exorcist (with director William Friedkin in attendance), Leave Her to Heaven on Nitrate (maybe a special surprise celebrity introduction?), Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet (with Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting and Michael York in attendance), Point Blank, and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (with Michael Schlesinger in attendance) we have every right to weep into our hands. In 2018, there are a couple of these impossible time slots and a couple of lessers where I’m merely adequately pleased with the offerings. 2018, more so than my prior festivals, appears to be a feast or famine festival.

Pro tip: Eliminate potential conflicts by watching widely available movies at home before the festival — especially if those movies aren’t being shown on 35mm.

JOHN. CARPENTER.

That’s right. The master of horror will make an appearance at the 2018 TCM Film Festival to introduce Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932). He could have introduced a paper bag named Phil and I’d have shown up.

For the first time in four festivals, I could navigate the entire four days, see a movie in every time slot, and not watch a movie I’ve already seen (The Night of the Living Dead midnight screening excepted). Not that I’m going to follow that path, but that’s damn impressive. I’m not saying I’m the oracle or anything, just that I’ve seen my share.

#ProTip: Don’t ever ever ever ever worry about having a down time slot. TCM does a wonderful job of curating their schedule. You may not know or care about a particular part of the schedule, but this will encourage you to watch something you wouldn’t normally watch. Dabbling outside your comfort zone rewards amply.

Enough jibber jabber. Let’s get to the festival.

My 2018 TCM Film Festival Preview

This will be my first year attending the festival with shiny press credentials. I’ll be covering select screenings for the fine folks at Action-a-Go-Go. What does that mean for you? You can look forward to in-depth coverage of Bullitt, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Also, if you want to grab a #Bond_age_ or Cinema Shame button, I will *definitely* be present at those three screenings. Follow my @007hertzrumble Twitter feed for regular updates. Even if you don’t want a button, feel free to stop by and say “hello.”

TCM chose “Powerful Words: The Page Onscreen” as the loose theme of this year’s festival, which means they’ve attempted to corral films adapted from famous writers and films about writers under the 2018 TCM Film Festival umbrella.

I’ll arrive in Los Angeles about noon. If my calculations are correct, I’ll have enough time to make it to my hotel, stash my stuff and record a quick on-location at TCMFF Cinema Shame podcast special before programming  begins at 6:00pm.

Before you jump headfirst into TCM Film Festivaling, let’s go over a few choice pieces of advice I try to give to every new attendee:

Drink lots of water. Buy bottles of the stuff at CVS or Trader Joe’s and keep them handy. You’re going to be eating more than your share of salty food. Plus hydration keeps disease at bay…

…speaking of disease, bring some of those Vitamin C tablets, Airborne’s or the like. I’d suggest one per day. Travel, lots of people, lack of sleep, irregular sustenance do not build a functioning immune system.

Eat food when you have the opportunity. Especially breakfast. You can bring food into the theater. Go directly to your movie queue and wait for your numbered voucher. Once you have that, you’re free to leave. If you’re in a hurry, toss a burrito or a sandwich into your bag and return to your queue. They load the theaters 30 minutes prior to showtime. Once you’re seated, break out that sandwich and have at it.

Bring a portable phone charger. Even if you’re not on social media and burning through your battery, you’ll still want to make sure you can communicate with other people at the festival. Things like “Save me a seat!” or “Where are you in line?” or “What are you seeing at 7?” will be oft-repeated. I use this one — it’s a brick, but it charges multiple devices at once… and fast. Plug it in at the beginning of the movie and you’ll have a fully charged phone by the time you leave.

Thursday

thursday tcm film festival 2018 schedule

As you can see by my old school workflow chart, I scribbled out my schedule before someone threw together the proper grid to share with the community. It’s charming. Feel free to borrow these.

I kid. Just wait until I get to tomorrow and my shorthand becomes completely unintelligible.

 

tcm film festival 2018 finishing school

7:00pm – Finishing School (1934) – Chinese Multiplex 4

TCM baptizes by fire in this first slot. I would have been happy to see any one of the other films shown. To Have and Have Not, Detour, Murder on the Orient Express, and Them! poolside. Finishing School is the only one I haven’t seen and it’s in 35mm and the only one I don’t already own on DVD.

4/23 edit: It seems that Finishing School might become a bloodbath in Multiplex 4. It’s entirely possible I’ll finish up the on-location Cinema Shame recording and opt for Detour to avoid chaos. 

#ProTip: So many variables come into play when choosing a film to see at any given time slot. Have you seen it? Is it rare or unavailable on home video? Is it being shown on film or digital? Who’s speaking before the film? You’ll notice on my scribbled schedule that I’ve marked up four stars next to Finishing School. Unseen. Shown on film. Guest speakers. Pre-code.

tcm film festival 2018 throne of blood

9:15pm – Throne of Blood (1957) – Chinese Multiplex 4

This is my first crisis. Stage Door is being shown on Nitrate film stock at the Egyptian. Throne of Blood on 35mm in Multiplex 4. Stage Door is great, but Throne of Blood is my all-time favorite Kurosawa and I’ve never seen it big and on film. The irony is that I care so much about the aforementioned duo that I haven’t considered Fail Safe or The Sea Wolf — two films I haven’t seen… though I do love me some Sidney Lumet and Fail Safe is something I should watch… urgh.

4/23 edit: This one will be a game time decision. Fail Sale keeps tugging at my unseen Lumet guilt strings.

Fun fact: Plans are meant to be broken.

Friday

tcm film festival 2018 friday

The first full day kicks off with three consecutive toss-up decisions.

Fun fact: By my calculations there are roughly 5000 different schedule combinations for each Friday and Saturday.

9:00am – Intruder in the Dust (1949) – Chinese Multiplex 4

My first instinct had me watching the Lubitsch musical The Merry Widow at the Egyptian, but I had to change course after some more consideration. This could be a teaching moment for all you first-timers. I’ve seen The Merry Widow and while it’s tremendous fun and shown on 35mm, I would likely never make the time to see the lesser known Intruder in the Dust. Many consider Intruder the finest adaptation of a Faulkner novel. Clarence Brown, a friend of Faulkner’s, pushed this into production at MGM, and as a result the legendary writer had a unofficial hand in the production. (He was contracted over at Warner Bros.) Years later, when you look back on your festival experiences, you’ll probably remember these movies far more vividly than rewatches of movies that you already know you enjoy.

…all that said, I wouldn’t discount a trip to the Cinerama Dome to see James Garner in Grand Prix. At some point everyone needs to make a trip over to the Cinerama Dome. And if I do that, these first two time slots are spoken for…

11:45am – Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – Egyptian

Unseen and on 35mm. Witness narrowly edges out Errol Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade. War movies generally don’t powder my canons, but I could make an except for Errol — who plays like gangbusters to a classic film crowd. Plus, Light Brigade might win in the end because it gets out earlier and that might benefit my next selection…

2:30pm – Blessed Event (1932) – Chinese Multiplex 4

TCM Film Festival 2018 Blessed Event

The Set-Up‘s a great noir over at the Egyptian, but Blessed Event is a pre-code comedy playing in the Chinese Multiplex 4 and I’m all about braving a bloodbath. (See 2016’s Double Harness debacle.)  TCM made a habit of stuffing hugely popular pre-code comedies into this, the smallest theater in the festival, grabbing a box of popcorn and watching the carnage. Last year, attendees were given a reprieve from the harrowing experiences of prior years (these films mostly played at the Egyptian in 2017). It seems, however, that TCM grew bored with widespread harmony. There’s a reason the Multiplex #4 is known as the Thunderdome. If you really want to see this movie, you may need to arrive early.

none shall escape tcm film festival 2018

4:45pm – None Shall Escape (1944) – Chinese Multiplex 6

This is where the schedule on Friday gets a little wonky. Two 85-minute movies play in the Multiplex 4 and 6. Depending upon when Blessed Event gets out, I might be able to sneak in the one with the earlier start before Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song at 6:15pm — but a bunch of variables will come into play here and I’ll just have to see how it goes. I’ve got this one earmarked, but I can’t make any commitments because I’m contractually obligated to be at…

tcm film festival 2018

6:15 pm – Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) – Egyptian

Melvin Van Peebles in the house to introduce his masterpiece of independent filmmaking. Even if I weren’t covering this film for Action-a-Go-Go, nothing keeps me away from this truly special opportunity.

the exorcist TCM Film Festival 2018

9:30pm – The Exorcist (1973) – TCL Chinese Theatre

Prepare to raise your first to the heavens and shake it angrily. During this time slot you, dear 2018 TCM Film Festival goer, must choose between five amazing films. This is the cluster#&$% about which I spoke above. The Exorcist, Leave Her to Heaven, Romeo & Juliet, Point Blank or Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Godspeed.

Luckily the midnight choice is easy… since there’s only one film playing.

world's greatest sinner tcm film festival 2018

12:00am – The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) – Multiplex 6

I don’t know anything about this, but that doesn’t matter. Catch that third wind and settle in for the midnight screenings. You may regret all of your decisions in the morning, but when you’ll look back fondly on those bleary-eyed evenings spent with other like-minded hooligans.

 

Saturday

TCM Film Festival 2018 Saturday

In my opinion, this is the weakest day of the 2018 TCM Film Festival.

Fun Fact: Plenty of people will disagree with me because everyone approaches this thing from a different angle.

2018 TCM Film Festival ox-bow incident

9:00am – Ox-Bow Incident (1943) – Egyptian

I love both His Girl Friday and Kiss Me Deadly; I own them both on Criterion Blu-ray. I haven’t seen the other three offerings, and TCM calls them all “Essentials.” I am Cinema Shamed. Now of the three, I’m least jazzed about Love Finds Andy Hardy and that’s the one shown on 35mm. I’m not remotely familiar with A Letter to Three Wives. A stiff breeze could make this decision for me.

2018 TCM Film Festival bullitt

11:45am – Bullitt (1968) – TCL Chinese Theatre

I’m all in for Bullitt (with Jacqueline Bisset) on the biggest screen of them all. I might be more unhappy about the options I’m not watching if I stopped for a minute to consider them — Ida Lupina’s Outrage (1950) on 35mm, This Thing Called Love (1940) introduced by Ileana Douglas, and the goddamn kicker, Jean-Pierre Melville’s When You Read this Letter (1953). Melville’s one of my all-time favorite directors (he could make a case for my favorite) and this is a film of his I haven’t seen — in fact, it’s not even available on DVD in North America. ENOUGH. I HAVE TO SEE BULLITT. THAT’S IT. JAY IS GETTING UPSET.

2018 TCM Film Festival tom sawyer

2:00pm – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) – Multiplex 4

This is going to be tight. Bullitt will let out right about 2pm. Between Wife vs. Secretary and this one, Sawyer‘s the closest in proximity to the Chinese Theatre. I could take a leisurely break and wait for Sunset Boulevard at 3:00pm —  but I’ve seen it a few times. And it’s DCP. And I’d rather opt for the unseen pre-code…

2018 TCM Film Festival girls about town

4:30pm – Girls About Town (1931) – Egyptian

Directed by George Cukor, starring Kay Francis and based on the Hollywood exploits of Tallulah Bankhead? I’ve never heard of this film, but it’s got the making of the sleeper hit of my festival.

2018 TCM Film Festival show people

7:00pm – Show People (1928) – Egyptian

The gap between Girls About Town and Show People gives me the opportunity for a real meal. If I tackle Heaven Can Wait, it’s another rush and grab job — though Heaven‘s a movie I’ve always intended to watch and it would make a really solid Cinema Shame entry post-festival… and this all assumes I’m going to overlook The World of Suzie Wong with Nancy Kwan and Sam Fuller’s Park Row with John Sayles introducing. This is a sneaky block of difficult decisions.

#ProTip: Sometimes there are no wrong decisions.

2018 TCM Film Festival scarface

9:45pm – Scarface (1932) – Multiplex 6

After a day of rigorous indecision, TCM rewards me with an evening of no-brainers. John Carpenter will introduce Howard Hawks’ classic Scarface. It’s widely known that The Master of Horror is a huge Howard Hawks fan so this should be a treat.

In case you’re not a Carpenter fanboy, the other options are also quite exceptional. Hitchock’s Spellbound on Nitrate. Gigi introduced by Oscar-nominated costume designer Mark Bridges. The Raven with Sara Karloff (Boris’ daughter) introducing. And, finally, here’s the biggest curiosity of the festival — at least for me. My beloved The Big Lebowski at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Now. Here’s the question. If TCM has decided to play a film from 1998 in the Chinese Theatre (and not in the Multiplex), there’s a goddamn good reason beyond it just being the film’s 20th anniversary. I have a suspicion that someone special will be in attendance and that someone won’t be announced until the start of the festival. Take from that what you will. (Last year Martin Scorcese introduced The Man Who Knew Too Much and that wasn’t announced until the day of.)

4/23 edit: As predicted, Jeff Bridges will be in attendance for The Big Lebowski. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO. 

2018 TCM Film Festival night of the living dead

12:00am – The Night of the Living Dead (1968) – Multiplex 6

Introduced by Edgar Wright. Sleep isn’t that important. Sunday’s pretty much a half-day anyway. It’s perfectly fitting that we’re getting a zombie movie on the second night of the festival.

Fun fact: The above photo was snapped as 2017 TCM Film Festival attendees left Zardoz.

 

Sunday

2018 TCM Film Festival Sunday

 

Rise and shine, beauties. You’ll feel as hung over and any real hang over you’ve ever endured. Roll out of bed, get that last breakfast and get back to the grindstone.

2018 TCM Film Festival midsummer night's dream

9am – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) – Multiplex 4

I’ve avoided this movie because A Midsummer Night’s Dream was one of my least favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. Having taken multiple semesters dedicated to The Bard in college, I’ve read my share; I’m not just comparing it to Macbeth and Hamlet. I could choose the 164-minute Once Upon a Time in the West because the movie’s currently on my Shame Statement for 2018 (as it was in 2017 and 2016 because I JUST NEVER WATCH IT) but I do actually believe I’ll at some point choose to watch OUATITW. I don’t feel the same about the former. If you’re looking for a recommendation here, I’ll sing the praises of Ronald Neame’s Tunes of Glory. 

4/23 edit: I’m starting to think that OUATITW will eek out of a victory in this slot. The Cinema Shameness of this one deserves the big screen treatment. 

2018 TCM Film Festival taking of pelham

12:30pm – The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – Egyptian

My last film of the 2018 TCM Film Festival will be a good one — and my final assignment from Action-a-Go-Go. Due to the flight schedule and my need to be a functional human on Monday, I have taken to departing Los Angeles in the afternoon in order to sleep in my own bed that night.

The reward of taking that one non-stop is a 5+ hour flight rather than 9 hours of total travel time including the layover. I did that twice. It was terrible.

I sacrifice my final two films. I’ll regret missing out on Ron Shelton introducing Bull Durham (what are they going to get Millie and Jimmy for their wedding gift?!?) and don’t even get me started about that final time slot. At least I won’t have to make that decision, I suppose. (For what it’s worth, I would have gone with Animal House because pretty much the entire cast plus John Landis is going to be there!)

After The Taking of Pelham, I’ll say my final goodbyes, so-longs, farewells, see-you-next-years and rush off to LAX. The conclusion is always so bittersweet, filled to the brim with cinema and sanity stretched wafer thin. At least we’ll always have the people we meet at the TCM Film Festival to help ease us back into the real world, because they’re all out there on Twitter or Facebook, perhaps just an email away.

Read my previews of past TCM Film Festivals for more info — I tried not to be too redundant!

2015 / 2016 / 2017

Also be sure to check out these 2018 TCM Film Festival previews and hot tips from other fellow festival attendees!

Chris Sturhann: TCMFF Survival Guide: The Revenge

Angela Petteys: My Choices for TCMFF 2018

Aurora at Aurora’s Gin Joint: Picks for #TCMFF 2018: To Be or Not To Be…

Kristen Lopez at Journeys In Classic Film: My TCM Classic Film Festival Must-Sees

Julie Ricci: TCMFF 2018 – My Picks

Turner Classic Movies Film Festival Wishlist 2018: Thematics

Last week I brought up some “anniversary movies” that would make interesting offerings at the 2018 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival. I took the theme “Powerful Words: The Page Onscreen” into consideration. Some (Some Came Running) proved relevant, others (Danger: Diabolik) did not. Not everything can be a 100% thematic match.

Since this is merely a fun exercise in thinking about what might be, I decided to extend the thought process to come up with another short list that emphasized movies about writers and the writer’s life. This is the ultimate form of procrastination. With the TCMFF right around the corner, I’ve started to daydream about that schedule, which is surely coming… any… day… now…

(By the way, passes still remain for the 2018 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival. If you feel like a trip to Los Angeles in late April, hurry over to the TCM page and pick up a pass today. It’ll be your best purchase of the year.)

Mask of Dimitrios (Jean Negulesco, 1944)

Excellent and underseen noir directed by the prolific and talented Jean Negulesco. Peter Lorre stars as a Dutch mystery writer who becomes fascinated by the sordid story of a dead man that has washed up on a nearby beach.  Available via Warner Archive DVD, this movie might cause Double Harness-brand riots at the small Multiplex auditorium.

 

House by the River (Fritz Lang, 1950)

Falls under the category of movies I’ve had on my watchlist for a long time. Fritz Lang’s films always offer something of interest and this one has had a kind of rediscovery of late after a nice DVD presentation by Kino Lorber. A rich novelist kills his maid after she becomes inebriated and attempts to seduce him. The writer dumps the body in the river, shenanigans ensue. There’s a gloomy mansion, Victorian-era set decoration, murders, chiaroscuro and an avant-garde score by George Antheil. Sounds like something I’d prioritize at the TCMFF.

 

In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)

Because I just watched this Nicholas Ray film and because it was one of the best things I watched in all of 2017, I think we should all have a chance to see this one the big screen. Humphrey Bogart plays a struggling screenwriter who may or may not have committed murder. Gloria Grahame supplies his alibi, but does she believe in his innocence? Beautifully shot and featuring two actors at the peak of their powers.

 

Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

This should become an entry on my personal Cinema Shame list. I’ve owned this Criterion DVD for as long as I can remember, and it still remains unopened. This just happens to fit our theme ever so perfectly. A genius playwright is lured to Hollywood to work on an adaption of The Odyssey by a “vulgur” producer played by Jack Palance. Plus Bridgitte Bardot. I tend to appreciate Godard when I get the opportunity to experience him in the cinema. Make it so.

 

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

As I was considering films about writers that I’ve never had the opportunity to see as the Cinema Gods intended, my mind went straight to Kubrick’s masterpiece. An opportunity to see this at the Egyptian or the Chinese Theater would be a dream come true.

 

Castle of Blood (Antonio Margheriti, Sergio Corbucci, 1964)

And finally my writer-themed midnight movie. Castle of Blood features a writer spending the night in a haunted, gothic cathedral on “All Souls Eve” in order to challenge the legitimacy of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe (which in this film are presented as non-fiction). An example of the European gothic-style of filmmaking, Margheriti’s film may not be very scary, but his innovative camerawork and use of score makes for a highly entertaining slice of horror cinema. A Barbara Steele classic that should play well among TCMFF attendees — if they give it a chance. It’s style over substance and pure cinema over scares.

 

Turner Classic Movies Film Festival Wishlist 2018: Anniversaries

I had some idle time in traffic this afternoon and my mind started to wander to the upcoming Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. TCMFF attendees get quite edgy the weeks before the final schedule release. To date we only know a handful of films — these can be found here. It’s a rock solid set of films, but nothing that sets my hair on fire. Not yet.

(By the way, passes still remain for the 2018 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival. If you feel like a trip to Los Angeles in late April, hurry over to the TCM page and pick up a pass today. It’ll be your best purchase of the year.)

tcmff 2018

Of those films I’m most excited to see my favorite Kurosawa, The Throne of Blood (1957), on a big screen and what I assume will be a 35mm print of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). The Set-Up (1949) also has some timely relevance because Raquel Stecher and I just discussed on a recent episode of Cinema Shame.

Still, I can’t help but consider the possibilities for what is yet to come. The theme for this year’s festival is Powerful Words: The Page Onscreen. We’re talking adaptations of famous works and writers. We’re talking movies about writers and landmark original screenplays. With that in mind, I let my brain ponder some potentials. What would I want to see with these parameters in mind?

Keep in mind I know absolutely nothing. Anything I guess here will likely not come true and anything I guess correctly will obviously be the product of true genius.

I’ll begin my frivolous exercise by considering big anniversaries. Which films do we have a monumental reason to celebrate? What are some films I’d like to see for the first time at TCMFF this year? Maybe some that just deserve a big screen?  Here’s my picks for an Anniversary-oriented Turner Classic Movies Film Festival Wishlist for 2018. 

 

some came running

Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli, 1958)

Frank Sinatra plays a drunk novelist in this drama also starring Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine. Not only was this Sinatra’s first film with Dino, Shirley MacLaine earned her first Academy Award nomination. Shirley has attended prior Turner Classic Movie Film Festivals, why not another? I’ve been on a Vincente Minnelli kick lately, so I figure I should scratch this off the list, too.

 

the long hot summer tcmff

The Long, Hot Summer (Martin Ritt, 1958)

Steamy Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward melodrama based on the short stories of William Faulkner. All that plus Orson Welles, not a bad scribe in his own right. Prior festival attendee Angela Lansbury. Lee Remick. The film re-established Ritt’s career after the Blacklist and fast-tracked Newman’s career. The title came from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and some of the characters were inspired by Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Authorial pedigree, you guys.

 

swimmer tcmff

The Swimmer (Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack, 1968)

Frank Perry’s excellent David & Lisa (1962) screened at last year’s festival. The Academy gave Perry a director nomination and his wife Eleanor Perry a screenplay nod for this film based on a short story by John Cheever. The Swimmer has received a bit of notoriety after a deserved rediscovery upon the release of the Grindhouse Blu-ray. I’m sure festival patrons would be thrilled to “discover” this Burt Lancaster great for themselves. If we’re talking unique and original voices, this film surely fits the theme.

danger diabolik tcmff

Danger: Diabolik (Mario Bava, 1968)

If I could make one festival request, I would wish this upon everyone as a midnight screening. Not that it wouldn’t play well at any other time, but a midnight screening of Danger: Diabolik would tear the roof off of the Multiplex. I can’t make a connection to “Powerful Words,” except for the fact that it came from a series of Italian comics called Diabolik from  Angela and Luciana Giussani.

 

hooper tcmff

Hooper (Hal Needham, 1978)

Notable for it’s gonzo stunts. Plus Burt Reynolds, Adam West and Sally Field, and I must always hope for a Burt Reynolds film. This would go over really well with a jazzed-up classic film crowd. Fits into the writing category ironically. No writers were needed for the making of this film — yet four are listed in the credits. Maybe Peter Bogdanovich could attend to discuss the Roger Deal character — who was apparently intended as a Bogdanovich spoof.

All that said, what do I know? And per usual, the best and most exciting films at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival are the ones I didn’t know I wanted to see in the first place. I look forward to what TCM has in store for us… but I really wish they’d take the Danger: Diabolik request into consideration.

Please.

Cue Morricone’s opening theme: