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2019 TCM Film Festival Recap

2019 TCM Film Festival Recap: The Year I Stayed at the Roosevelt

Past recaps: 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018

First up, the music that soothed the savage beast (me) that returned to his room at 2am wired but exhausted and considering how little sleep one needs to function. This year I kept Weyes Blood’s gorgeous new album, Titanic Rising, at the ready for the 2019 TCM Film Festival. If you feel like branching into all of my areas of writing, I penned a review for the record on Spill Magazine.

This is also fitting because my favorite track on the album is titled, appropriately, “Movies.”

Once again a scheduled Cinema Shame podcast recording with Jessica Pickens (@hollywoodcomet) afforded me the opportunity to get out of my Lyft at the Roosevelt, fail to check in at The Roosevelt, and then haul my recording equipment all over Hollywood Boulevard with a Baja Fresh stop sandwiched (burrittoed?) in the middle. Sustenance!

The brief podcast recording in the bag (hint: subscribe to Cinema Shame on iTunes, Stitcher, or Spotify), I returned to the hotel to officially occupy my room. Alas, ’twas not to be. The room was still not yet ready and I spent much of the next hour hanging out in the Roosevelt lobby with @p2wy and @Priscilla_MR21 and staring at the Social Media monitor wondering if we could make meta performance art. Maybe next year, everybody.

I was loathe to leave the lobby because I still held out hope for a shower and wardrobe change after my 5-hour flight. Time wore on and the social media board told me with regularity that more and more people were lining up for my first film selection Night World. (Here’s a reminder of all my pre-TCMFF picks.)

Finally, I abandoned the Roosevelt lobby and made my way over to the Multiplex where I stood in line for a few minutes before I grew restless and headed over to The Egyptian with @middparent. At the very least I could do some walking to stretch the legs and hopefully see some familiar faces in line for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Of course I did — and I ended up talking to @AlanHait for a solid fifteen minutes. A solid fifteen that wasn’t really in line with the whole get back to Night World scenario. The enthusiasm for the Marilyn Monroe / Jane Russell musical overwhelmed me and how could I deny the bombshells my first slot of my 2019 TCM Film Festival. And what a way to christen 2019.

No post-flight shower. No power nap. Just a coupon for a free Roosevelt breakfast and a cocktail for the inconvenience. Commence conditioning.

(To read my thoughts about every single film I viewed at the 2019 TCM Film Festival, follow me on Letterboxd.com. I won’t bore you with thoughts about all 16 films unless you want the whole enchilada.)

TCM Film Festival

The Yearly TCM Film Festival Letter

Dear So and Sos:

So my fifth Turner Classic Movies Film Festival has come and gone. Every year they seem shorter. A far too brief immersion in classic film, a four-day window when my affection for old movies becomes commonplace and not a landmine topic with everyday Joes and Janes. (Have you tried discussing how George O’Brien would have made a great 1929 Don Draper outside TCMFF?) Too much longer, however, and would this Spring oasis lose its luster?

Pre-shaven Tom O’Brien in Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans could totally pre-boot a new Mad Men series.

Another year, another festival without a cocktail break or Sh! The Octopus (1937) as a midnight screening. Seriously, Turner Classic Movies folk, there’s no more perfect midnight screening than Sh! The Octopus. Many dozens of people would attest.

I must once again thank my wife who purchased my first ticket to the TCM Film Festival back in 2015, thus opening Pandora’s Box. She still sends me off to L.A. with a mostly genuine smile. While I’ll never convince her to join me for the festival, one of these years she might make the trip. My father-in-law once again chose not to attend, but I still missed his intermittent companionship. 

Knowing I’ll be shipping off to Rochester, NY in a couple weeks for the Nitrate Picture Show makes the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival goodbye slightly less bittersweet. Even so, NPS feels like a methadone clinic after the TCMFF addiction. 

Until next year…

The #Bond_age_ Guy will return in 2020.  XOXO

The view of the Opening Night When Harry Met Sally gala from across the street with the plebes.

2019 TCM Film Festival Final Tally: 16

*denotes never before seen

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)
Merrily We Go To Hell (1932)*
Out of Africa (1985)*
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)*
Vanity Street (1932)*
Open Secret (1948)*
Road House (1948)*
Santo vs. the Evil Brain (1961)*
When Worlds Collide (1951)*
Tarzan and His Mate (1934)*
The Great K & A Train Robbery (1926)*
Blood Money (1933)*
Escape from New York (1981)
The Student Nurses (1970)*
Mad Love (1935)

And had I not left early to catch the non-stop mid-afternoon flight back to Pittsburgh, I also would have seen…

Night World (1932)* in the TBA slot
Cold Turkey (1971)*
A Woman of Affairs (1928)*
The Dolly Sisters (1945)*

Unnecessary Vitals

1290 minutes of movie
12 first-time watches
6 color / 10 B&W
By decade: 1920’s – 2 / 1930’s – 5 / 1940’s – 3 / 1950’s – 2 / 1960’s – 1 / 1970’s – 1 / 1980’s – 2
9 movies on 35mm film (2 on Nitrate) / 7 on DCP
1 bag of popcorn
4 ramen bowls

Most Memorable 2019 TCM Film Festival Festival Experience:

Underwater swimming in Tarzan and His Mate

Tarzan and His Mate Nude Swimming / “Tarzan Yell” Sound Effects Presentation

Even though I knew the film contained a scene featuring nudity, I wasn’t quite prepared for how *much* nudity occurs during the infamous swimming scene in Tarzan and His Mate (1934).

Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) takes a nude dip with Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), and I expected a flash of flesh before submersion. That’s not the scene at all. In what must surely be one of the most ribaldrous scenes in all of pre-code Hollywood (during which there was great amounts of ribaldry), the nudity takes place beneath the water — and suffice to say it’s not a quick flash before a cut away. The scene features every inch of Maureen O’Sullivan’s swim-double (Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim) in a nude underwater ballet with fellow olympian Johnny Weissmuller. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, sure. The water’s rather dark and cloaks the important bits in unfortunate shadow. Shadows not included. The skin (and the face-value absurdities of the Tarzan production itself) received a warm welcome from the TCM Film Festival crowd thoroughly enhancing the shared viewing experience.

Before the presentation sound designer Ben Burtt and visual effects supervisor Craig Barron discussed Tarzan’s technical achievements — including the inhuman composition of the famous yell. Check out my video of the presentation below:

Tarzan and His Mate is available on a Warner Brothers DVD set featuring the first four Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan adventures.

Favorite New to Me TCM Film Festival Movies:

2019 TCM Film Festival sunrise

#1. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

F.W. Murnau’s “one wild night” movie. Lovely and sinister at the same time. And then it’s just lovely. And then it’s sinister. I won’t spoil where it finally lands, but Sunrise boasts remarkable production values for a story about two peasants falling in love again in the shadow of a half-hearted murder attempt.

Nora (@NitrateDiva) recorded one of her fantastic TCMFF recaps, which includes mention of our shared Sunrise experience.

Sunrise 2019 TCM Film Festival
@joelrwilliams1, @middparent and I are wearing sunglasses or shading our eyes because Sunrise is about to happen. Get it? Nora may have missed the memo.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is available on a 20th Century Fox Blu-ray. It’s also available on a wonderful BD/DVD package from Masters of Cinema (Region B).

out of africa 2019 TCM Film Festival

#2. Out of Africa (1985)

Shocked by how much I enjoyed Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa. A beautifully simple movie about intricate, complicated humans. It’s also a meditation on our own impermanence and the connectivity between people and places. I had no interest in watching this, but I walked away enraptured. A true #CinemaShame. I would like to understand why people now hate this film. That Best Picture win can and often becomes a curse. If you wait long enough, the backlash will fuel expectations leading to a surprisingly excellent viewing experience.

Out of Africa is available on a Blu-ray/UV edition from Universal.

tom mix 2019 TCM Film Festival

#3. The Great K & A Train Robbery (1926)

Last minute change of plans found me scurrying off to visit the newest TCM Film Festival venue, Post 43, to view at least one of the two Tom Mix silent westerns. Timing dictated that I return to the Multiplex before the end of the second half of the double feature to get in line for Blood Money, which would undoubtedly be a hot ticket. I’d seen some Tom Mix shorts, but never a feature. The Great K & A Train Robbery proved to be a wonderful blend of practical stunts and humor. I can see why some have likened Tom Mix to a proto-Jackie Chan. Plus, you can’t beat a live score by the great and powerful Ben Model.

The Great K & A Train Robbert is available to view on Dailymotion. None of the YouTube versions seemed to have musical accompaniment.

Here’s some pictures of the venue:

Post 43 2019 TCM Film Festival
Exterior of the American Legion Post 43.
post 43 2019 TCM Film Festival
The queue leading into the theater. The TCM Film Festival mural lining the wall.
Post 43 2019 TCM Film Festival
The beautiful, arched ceiling of the Post 43 theater.

Most Forgettable TCM Film Festival Movie:

I’ve never seen a bad movie at the TCM Film Festival, but there always seems to be one that slips to the back of my mind before the flight home.

Vanity Street (1932)

vanity street 2019 TCM Film Festival

This dirty little pre-code depression-era noir depicts a gruff police detective rescuing a down-on-her-luck lady who chucked a brick through a pharmacy window so she’d go to prison and finally get regular meals. She winds up with a job as a dancer at the follies and falls in with the wrong crowd (after Mr. Police Dick spurns her advances). Suddenly she’s taking the blame for a murder she didn’t commit and Mr. Police Dick can’t figure where his allegiances lie. Helen Chandler’s a strong screen presence and Charles Bickford plays an amalgam of every hard-boiled undercover cop that ever walked the silver screen. Moderately competent B-Picture with base pleasures to spare. Nifty but overall rather routine.

Sony released Vanity Street on their Sony Choice Collection series of burn-on-demand DVDs. 

2019 TCM Film Festival Memorable Moments:

 

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell 

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell joined TCM host Dave Karger for a chat before the 2019 TCM Film Festival screening of Escape from New York (1981) — my can’t miss event of the festival.

escape from new york 2019 TCM Film Festival
John Carpenter and Kurt Russell introduce Escape from New York.

During the conversation, Kurt Russell discussed the origin of Snake’s eyepatch. It was his idea, although he didn’t consider the depth perception problems that would present on set. Kurt wanted to play Snake Plissken one more time and made Escape from L.A. happen because “he wasn’t getting any younger.”

The artwork in my room at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Someone tell me what this is about.

2019 TCM Film Festival

This picture in my room at the Roosevelt Hotel perplexed me. I looked at it every morning before I left. If this is a particularly important car, it’s lost on me. And the more I thought about it the more obsessed I became, rifling through all of the TV series and movies in my brain. I’m still stumped.

Bill Hader introducing the wonderfully weird Mad Love (1935).

Not to be confused with the also excellent 1946 Peter Lorre hand-horror film The Beast with Five Fingers. If I’m being honest, I’m wishing we had a double feature.

bill hader 2019 TCM Film Festival

“Wow, you guys are the hardcore nerds.” —Bill Hader addressing the 9am crowd, eager for Peter Lorre’s classic hand-horror flick, Mad Love (1935).

On Conan, Bill Hader describes an incident in the Egyptian bathroom, which feels rather on brand for TCMFF.

Midnight Madness with Beth and Miguel @ Santo vs. the Evil Brain!

Once again, @cinebeth and @HIFilmFest brought out the big guns for the midnight screenings. Last year I helped cut out hundreds of Kyra zombie heads for Night of the Living Dead (1968), but this year they pre-cut Santo heads to save me from the claw hand that almost certainly would have tried to kill.

santo 2019 TCM Film Festival
Beth Accomando (@cinebeth) passing out Santo masks before the midnight screening of Santo vs. the Evil Brain.
santo 2019 TCM Film Festival
Santo cookies. Mmmm. Santo.
santo 2019 TCM Film Festival
Me, Joel (@joelrwilliams1), Pam (@fallonthornley) and a whole bunch of Mexican wrestlers behind us (including @paula_guthat and @citizenscreen).

Advice for Future Attendees from a 5th Timer – 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 Hollywood. 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.

This past year the dates for the festival were announced in September of 2018. Passes went on sale during November and many tiers sold out. You’ll want to arrange for lodging as soon as the dates are hit the streets. If you want a room as the Roosevelt, book within minutes (seriously). Now that I’ve stayed at the Roosevelt, I must say I prefer the Loews Hollywood, which is attached to the Multiplex, making those 2am walks back incredibly convenient. Many attendees pick up Airbnb accommodations as there are plenty of nearby options!

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. This year I happened to line up behind @SinatrasRatPack at the Egyptian, a fellow with which I’ve been chatting on Twitter for years.

mad love queue 2019 TCM Film Festival
Documenting the queue before Mad Love on Sunday morning — just before @SinatrasRatPack turned around and said, “You’re the #Bond_age_ Guy.”

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 Film Festival Schedule App helps immensely and updates you with announcements and cancellations. (The app knows everything.) 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. “Mid-afternoon you” will appreciate the small sleep sacrifice.

Experience the festival at your frequency and speed. 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.

As far as food goes, the ultimate option is the Ramen bar outside the Multiplex. It’s quick and convenient when you’re running in and out of the Multiplex all day. In four days I had four Ramen bowls so I feel qualified to say these things. It’s also not heavy. Those burrito meals put you straight to slumberland.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got to say about the 2019 TCM Film Festival. Oh, one final thing before I put a cap on this year’s festivities. Nikki — aka @NikkiLM4 — puts on a good show (and her basement studio is impressively adorned) but I’m still not convinced she and I attended the same festival. This is where I’d place my annual cocktail picture with #FlatRaquelTCMFF — had Nikki or Flat Raquel actually been at the TCMFF. Instead I’ll just wave goodbye.

Ta ta for now.

See you at the 2020 TCM Film Festival.