2017 TCM Film Festival Recap: The Year the Popcorn Went on Strike at the Egyptian
Each night in Los Angeles, I fell asleep listening to Julie Byrne’s excellent new record Not Even Happiness. The number of songs I’d hear each night decreased until, upon the third and final night, I finished nary a song. Did I even press play? If an album plays when no one lays awake to hear it…
That’s what the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival does to you – if you’re doing it right, it stretches you beyond the point of human exhaustion. Wring every ounce of blood from that gracious movie stone. It tests you. It brings you to the point of breaking. You’re tired physically – good luck getting on with a total of 8 hours of sleep over two nights. You’re drained mentally – after seven feature length films in one day, you exit that midnight screening of Zardoz beating your chest, yelling “IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?!?”
Even though this test of endurance takes place once a year, each subsequent festival conditions you for the next. Sleep deprivation. Survival techniques. Making due with irregular and insubstantial sustenance. Remembering to pack emergency nut clusters.
At the 2017 TCM Film Festival I dozed off during only one film – High Anxiety – and survived both midnight screenings with nary a cat nap. I’ve found that a late afternoon lunch supplemented with a little popcorn adequately nourishes the sedentary moviewatcher without inducing the midnight groggies. Which is precisely why I found this whole Egyptian popcorn strike so unsettling.
When asked about the case of the disappeared popcorn, Egyptian staff could only cite the prepared statement that the theater had just been renovated. Popcorn – that apparent defiler of classic cinemas – had become corna non grata. Only packaged items could be sold. You could only buy a packaged bag of popcorn. What brand of heinous trickery is this?
But back to the movie thing.
Each of the past two years, I’ve composed a letter to family and friends regarding my experience at the festival. The first time it happened organically while I waited for my departing flight to board. Last year I still had new feelings to enhance my original thoughts. This year? Meh. I’m running on instinct and repetition. I’m two days removed from the festival and rather well rested, having taken the afternoon flight home on Sunday to save myself the horrors of the red eye with a layover in San Francisco. So now, with sound mind, and a headful of clarity, let’s compose an obligatory message that lacks the bleary-eyed delirium of years past. Just imagine it on a really nice stationery to class it up a little bit.
Dearest So and Sos:
What began as an idle dream of mine has become an expected and regular reality. And though attending the TCM Film Festival encroaches on “the routine,” luster has not necessarily been lost. It used to be that I stayed at home and jealously browsed the tweets from those soaking in four days of Hollywood classic moviegoing and hobnobing. Now I’m one of those regular folks, migrating once yearly to Los Angeles for the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival.
And yet not so long ago, I thought it was an impossible arrangement.
In 2014, my wife surprised me with passes to the festival. She didn’t know such a thing existed until I’d made passing mention of something fantastic from the TCMFF that I’d seen on Twitter. Little did I know that she’d logged that information away, surprising me months later with the perfect Christmas present. Passes for me and my father-in-law. Without her initiative I likely never would have made the effort; it was her blessing I required to disappear for four days to do nothing but watch movies. She’s pretty much the best.
Each year my complaint about the festival remains the same. The movies are phenomenal. The ability to share space with some of my cinematic heroes – priceless. But what I regret is not being able to coordinate downtime with some of the amazing people I see but once a year. I keep pushing for built-in cocktail hour, but so far I’ve noticed no advancement of the concept. You go for the movies, but you’re driven to return for the people and the chatter.
To all my friends at the TCMFF, thank you for making this experience essential. I look forward to seeing you all year after year after year. To those that missed out on this year’s fest, we all missed you. To everyone else that hasn’t yet made the leap, that finds themself jealously browsing tweets from afar, find a way to make it happen. Plan now. You won’t regret it.
And just in case you were curious…
“The #Bond_age_ Guy” will return in 2018.
2017 TCM Film Festival Recap & Vital Statstics
I deviated little from my suspected festival blueprint. When I did go off script, I did so to catch a conversation with Peter Bogdanovich, a favorite director of mine who would have eluded me had I not made a last-minute course correction. I passed out many buttons, received many buttons (and consequently rattled like Billie Dove in her suit of armor during Cock of the Air), partook of a delicious Zed-shaped gingerbread cookie (Thanks, @cinebeth!), got Retweeted by Edgar Wright (it’s rather alarming when you wake up with 100+ likes and have no idea what you’ve done), finally managed to sneak in a gin gimlet with @RaquelStecher, and twice had breakfast with the film collections manager at the Eastman museum (consequently I know secrets about the upcoming Nitrate Picture Show!).
2017 TCM Film Festival Final Tally: 15
*denotes never before seen
Love Crazy (1941) – presented in 35mm
The Man Who Knew Too Much* (1934) – presented on Nitrate stock
Rafter Romance* (1933) – presented in 35mm
Beat the Devil* (1953)
So This Is Paris* (1926) – presented in 35mm
(skipped Monkey Business (1933) in favor of Peter Bogdanovich at Club TCM)
Red-Headed Woman (1932) – presented in 35mm
High Anxiety* (1977)
The China Syndrome* (1979)
David and Lisa* (1962) – presented in 35mm
The Jerk (1979)
Theodora Goes Wild* (1936) – presented in 35mm
Black Narcissus* (1947) – presented on Nitrate stock
Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
Cock of the Air* (1931)
Had I not taken an early flight, I also hypothetically would have seen:
The Landlord (1970)
What’s Up Doc (1972)
Lady in the Dark* (1944)
1,369 minutes of movie
10 first time watches
9 B&W, 6 color
By decade – 1920’s: 1 / 1930’s: 5 / 1940’s: 2 / 1950’s: 1 / 1960’s: 1 / 1970’s: 5
8 movies on film, 7 movies on DCP or digital
1 conversation between Ben Mankiewicz and Peter Bogdanovich
Most Memorable Festival Experience:
Black Narcissus projected on the Nitrate stock
I attended Black Narcissus out of obligation. I hadn’t seen it. There was quite the hullaballoo about it being shown on Nitrate stock. I love a gimmick even if I couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm about this Powell and Pressburger classic – a classic film that I’d intended to watch for years. And by intended, I mean I really was never going to get around to it because I just found another Eurospy film starring Ken Clark.
I was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.
My least anticipated event of the festival this side of another viewing of the mediocre William Powell and Myrna Loy comedy Love Crazy turned out to be a revelation.
I sat in the fifth row, looking almost straight up at the massive screen at the Egyptian Theater. I can’t vouch for the Nitrate stock improving the experience since I have no baseline, but the image and the colors leapt from the screen. I never knew the application of lipstick could be so dramatic. On the other hand, the screen was three-stories tall and filled with a pair of lips. That’s pretty dramatic in and of itself.
Black Narcissus’ unsettling build of latent sexual desire thrilled me in a way I thought impossible based on my prior experience with Powell and Pressburger. It’s hard to discuss the film’s cathartic twist without spoiling it for the unfortunates. I’ll merely suggest that Black Narcissus turns in a moment, transitioning from scenic melodrama to a stalker film. And it is glorious.
A testament to my engagement came in the form of the following tweet:
I didn’t fall asleep during BLACK NARCISSUS, which played during the 10pm slot on the 3rd day of #TCMFF. It must have been amazing.
— James #Bond_age_ (@007hertzrumble) April 9, 2017
Favorite New to Me Movies:
#1. Black Narcissus (1947)
#2. Beat the Devil (1953)
This John Huston-directed “action-adventure comedy” lived up to its curious billing as an actual, honest-to-goodness, comedy. In fact, the comedy should come before the “action-adventure” part. It’s a straight up comedy.
Jennifer Jones, about which I’d never really had a strong opinion, delivers an offbeat performance alongside Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre and Gina Lollobrigida that leads me to believe she’d always just been misused in her more dramatic roles.
Script supervisor Angela Allen helped introduce the film and spun a number of behind-the-scenes yarns about Truman Capote, John Huston and Bogart that had the crowd wanting more stories and less movie. Luckily the movie turned out to be pretty damn entertaining as well.
#3. David and Lisa (1962)
Independent-produced film from 1962 delivered Keir Dullea to the masses and garnered a few surprise Academy Award nominations. Mentally troubled teens lived and schooled at a mental facility confront their fears with some honest moments of emotional turbulence. Dullea was fantastic, as well as lead actress Janet Margolin. Many folks at the fest commented on how good she was in the film, but none of us could recall seeing her in anything else. Well, a quick IMDB search fixes that problem. She was the prosecutor at the beginning of Ghostbusters 2. Mystery solved. That was also her final role. I was saddened to learn that she died at the age of 50 from ovarian cancer.
Keir Dullea and producer Paul Heller spoke before the film. Both called it a true labor of love and the end result shows that – a simple story told brilliantly and with depth of emotion.
#4. The China Syndrome (1979)
Maybe the most surprising film of the fest. I attended to see Michael Douglas (in all his suaveness) beforehand, but found the film to be a tense, well-made thriller with terrific performances from Jane Fonda, Wilford Brimley and especially Jack Lemmon.
— James #Bond_age_ (@007hertzrumble) April 10, 2017
#5a. So This is Paris (1926)
The deft Lubitsch touch orchestrates this silent screwball about a married and domesticated doctor (Monte Blue) who bumps into an old flame (Lilyan Tashman) and gets back in touch with his swinging roots. The premise allows for both the husband and the wife to have flights of fancy, which places each spouse on at least relatively equal footing, rather than foisting one up as the pinnacle of sanctimony. Compare this directly to Love Crazy, which boasts a similar “guy gone wild” premise. The difference here is that So This Is Paris doesn’t perpetuate the narrative by conveniently (and implausibly) withholding simple truths.
Unfortunately, So This Is Paris doesn’t seem to be available. I could find only the 4-minute clip of Monte Blue’s big night out – which is notable itself because the clip features the first ever choreographed dance scene in a silent movie. It also offers a sequence of advanced editing techniques and transitions.
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#5b. Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
As I learned from the encyclopedic Alan Hait, Theodora Goes Wild provided the first comedic vehicle for Irene Dunne, which is hard to fathom considering how thoroughly she embraces the zany in Theodora. Relegated strictly to romance and weepies early in her career, Theodora Goes Wild showcases her immense comedic talents and led to her being cast opposite Cray Grant in The Awful Truth the following year. Both films resulted in Academy Award nominations for Best Actress.
Most Forgettable Movie:
Red-Headed Woman (1932)
I’m sorry, Red-Headed Woman fans. This Jean Harlow film has never been a favorite. I chose this film in this time slot because I knew The Man Who Knew Too Much with a Marin Scorsese intro would be a hot ticket and I wanted to get queued up as soon as possible. Red-Headed Woman played at the Egyptian directly beforehand and ended earlier than the other options. Convenience aside, I hoped a crowd of Harlow-obsessed classic movie hooligans would improve my perception of the film.
Alas. I guess I’ve just always been partial to brunettes.
Red-Headed Woman is available on the TCM Archives Forbidden Hollywood Collection – Vol. 1. (Which I would definitely recommend for Baby Face and Waterloo Bridge.)
The Kentucky Friend Movie at midnight (introduced by Edgar Wright, John Landis, Jim Abraham and the Zuckers).
Beth’s Zed cookies at midnight Zardoz.
Finally making time for the yearly #TCMParty photo. My father-in-law snuck in, too!
Peter Bogdanovich Club TCM talk, impressions + Hitch’s elevator “story”
When Peter Bogdanovich was interviewing Alfred Hitchcock for his book on the famous director, they got onto an elevator at Hitch’s hotel. When other guests stepped onto the elevator at a different floor, Hitchock started telling a story in medias res. “There was blood absolutely everwhere,” he began, “…on the walls, on her face, on the carpet, and you’ll never guess what that guy said to me…” He trailed off as the guests stepped off the elevator in the lobby. Peter Bogdanovich then eagerly questioned Alfred — “Well, what did he say?”
“Oh,” Hitch said, “nothing. That’s just my elevator story.”
Finally managing a cocktail hour 15 minutes.
Michael Douglas’ story about Jack Lemmon on-set of The China Syndrome
On set, Jack Lemmon would chug coffee between takes. When asked to take his place, he’d slam the empty cup down and say, “Magic time!” One of many memorable anecdotes about the production of The China Syndrome.
Cock of the Air suit of censored suit of armor gag
I couldn’t find footage from this recently restored section of footage from the Howard Hughes film. Just trust me on this. Here’s a picture from Cock of the Air instead.
Seeing films featuring three actors from the James Bond series and being — with one exception — the only one cheering their arrivals.
Bernard Lee — played M in every Bond movie from Dr. No (1962) through Moonraker (1979) — in Beat the Devil (1953)
Clifton James — played Sheriff J.W. Pepper in both Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun — in David and Lisa (1962).
George Lazenby — you know, James Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — in Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). Miguel Rodriguez, Beth Accomando and I gave him a rousing welcome.
Advice for Future Attendees from a 3rd Timer:
- 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.
- Prioritize events you’ll never see or experience anywhere else. This includes movies shown on film, rarely seen gems, presentations, talks from famous people who knew other famous people.
- 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.
- Bring a portable charger for your phone. You will need your phone. You will need extra juice. 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.
- Eat breakfast every day. I don’t care when you went to sleep the night before.
Final Thought Dump:
The 2017 TCM Film Festival felt very relaxed compared to my past two years. It also felt shorter. I don’t know if one had anything to do with the other. I encountered no mad rushes for queue tickets and consequently there was no “Double Harness Situation.” Many of the films that would have caused a ruckus were moved over to the Egyptian and that alleviated much of the strain on the infamous Multiplex Theater 4 — in which I only saw one film this year.
I still miss having The Capitan Theater in the TCMFF theater rotation.
Patrick Goff brought me a Don Johnson record. He’s good people.
The material used for the festival t-shirts could be improved. For almost $40, you best be offering that smooth tri-blend cotton and not the stiff material that wears like a refrigerator box. I *loved* the graphic design work used this year, but I couldn’t even bring myself to purchase a shirt featuring this design for The Jerk.
Though I left early and missed three or four films on Sunday, I had a 4 1/2 hour flight home instead of 9 hours of travel time and I slept in my own bed. It’s a fair trade off. I’m arranging to watch the films I missed for a little TCMFF extra credit. Last night I watched Monkey Business (1933) because I skipped it for Club TCM and Peter Bogdanovich. Next up I’m going to run through my Sunday absentee/flight convenience films:
The Landlord (1970)
What’s Up Doc (1972)
Lady in the Dark (1944)
Only Lady in the Dark is proving elusive, but I’m sure I’ll find it somewhere. Eventually. If you’d like to join me in watching any of these films – I’ll be sending tweets out about my planned schedule. We can pretend we’re huddled in the Chinese Multiplex, just like we were only a few short days ago.
Hopefully, I’ll see you in L.A. next year.