2018 TCM Film Festival Recap: The Year I Cut Out Dozens of Kyra Zombie Heads and Drank Warm Chardonnay
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.
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.
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)*
Girls About Town (1931)* – 35mm
Show People (1928)* – 35mm
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)*
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 (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.
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.
Favorite New to Me Movies:
#1. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
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.
#2. Scarface (1932)
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.
#3. Show People (1928)
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.
4. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
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.
#5. The Set-Up (1949)
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.
Most Forgettable Movie:
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)
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.
Melvin and Mario Van Peebles introducing Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Eat breakfast every day. I don’t care when you went to sleep the night before. Get up. Shower. Eat breakfast.
- 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.
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.