If I were to summarize my experience at the 2015 TCM Film Festival in an image…
[I typed this up on my phone from the airport terminal before my red eye flight home on Sunday night. I wrote it as an email to my family, many of whom had not heard from me in days.]
I’ve arrived at the airport. Currently sipping a $15 Tanqueray martini next to my gate with some Korean barbecue that was far better in theory. The American Airlines gate is reserved apparently for second-rate flyers. There was nobody in my security line despite the heinous traffic jam getting into the airport. The TSA agents were cracking jokes about not having anything to do.
I’m coming down off the high from an amazing four day movie experience. This festival is a test of your meddle and cinematic fortitude. Even the most ardent cinephiliacs are winding down on Day Four. I spent no more than 2-3 waking hours in the hotel room. I lived like a nomad on Hollywood Blvd. for 16 hours each day, shuttling back and forth between 4 different theaters.My four day total: 16 1/2 movies (I had to leave Marriage Italian Style to get to the airport) and 1 seminar (the Art of the Title, about title credit sequences). I skipped only 1 time slot.
I saw conversations/film introductions with Shirley MacLaine (twice), Sophia Loren, Ann-Margret, the stuntman on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Zach Galligan (Billy Peltzer in Gremlins), Errol Flynn’s daughter, and Ileana Douglas who was here just because. I ate lunch with Lou Lumenick, the critic for the New York Post. He knew me as “the #Bond_age_ guy.” I saw two midnight movies of varying degrees of quality (both very rare and not available for public consumption) with my father-in-law. “Midnight movies with my father-in-law” sounds like a brilliant idea for a podcast. I saw a program of hand-cranked silent movies, including a piece of film that was just discovered in a film archive and made its first appearance at this festival. I met people to which I’ve been talking on Twitter for years.
This was an amazing experience. I’m extremely grateful that my wife gave me the opportunity to be a part of this. And Andy (my father-in-law) for joining me on this whirlwind tour. I sincerely hope he enjoyed himself because I enjoyed our time spent talking movies and sharing this experience.
In other news, the stewardesses for this flight are delayed and I’m still sitting here on the floor with my back against a recycling bin and regretting the Korean barbecue situation that I dispatched to the trash can after only a few bites.
In conclusion. I need sleep.
30/007Hz 2015 TCM Film Festival Post-Mortem
I have a B.A. in film studies and participated in my fair share of triple-features at the Cinema, but I’ve never experienced anything as cinematically intense as the gleeful 4-day grind that is the TCM Film Festival. I knew what to expect, clearly. I’d read the tweets for years now, felt my share of jealousy and monitored all the joy being had without me. I’d studied the schedule, planned my attack. All that was left was the execution… and navigating Hollywood Blvd.
I’m now reminded of this famous passage from the Robbie Burns poem “To a Mouse”
But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Since this recap is taking a free-form construction, influenced likely by the only souvenir I brought back from Hollywood (a killer head cold), I’d just like to mention that enjoying Robbie Burns day in Ireland some years ago was an absolute delight. The Irish celebrate (heavily I might add) a day dedicated to the Scottish poet (his birthday, January 25th). That would sort of be like Americans celebrating a day for Bliss Carman (Canadian-born poet, Canadian poet laureate).
Back on topic.
TCMFF 2015 Final Tally: 16 1/2 movies
*denotes never before seen
**denotes previously viewed, but no memory remains
Too Late For Tears* (1949)
The Sea Hawk** (1940)
The Smiling Lieutenant* (1931)
Reign of Terror* (1949)
The Cincinnati Kid* (1965)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
42nd Street (1933)
Air Mail* (1932)
Christmas in July* (1940)
The Apartment (1960)
Return of the Dream Machine* (1902-1913)
Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)
Don’t Bet On Women* (1931)
The Children’s Hour* (1961)
Marriage Italian Style* (1964) — had to leave halfway through to get my plane!
Best *new to me* movie(s):
Either Reign of Terror or The Smiling Lieutenant.
Reign is Anthony Mann’s noir-style interpretation of the French Revolution. If that doesn’t interest you, this may not be a movie for you. It’s beautifully shot, with top notch chiaroscuro, black and white cinematography. There’s lot of devilish villians (one even kicks a cat to solidify his villainy) and a solid starring turn by Robert Cummings, but it’s Arnold Moss’ Fouche that steals every scene.
The Smiling Lieutenant is an essential Ernst Lubitsch musical comedy. Innuendo is never more potent than it is in the hands of Lubitsch. Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins work wonders with a wink and a turn of phrase. Checkers will never be the same. Nor will breakfast. *nudge nudge* They both mean sex. *wink wink*
Most forgettable movie:
John Ford’s Airmail.
As Leonard Maltin said in his introduction to the movie (I’m paraphrasing), “This isn’t Ford’s best, but Ford never made a movie that wasn’t worth watching.” This is a lesser Only Angels Have Wings, but Howard Hawks clearly borrowed liberally from Ford’s 1933 film when making that 1939 masterpiece. I can’t recall ever considering Ralph Bellamy a great lead. Slim Summerville elevated the movie from a supporting role.
Most memorable moments:
James Bond in the house before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
— #Bond_age_ (@007hertzrumble) March 28, 2015
Adventures with Will McKinley.
Hand-cranked silent movies.
At one point the editor (apparently) fell asleep and after an awkward cut Liz Taylor (now off-screen and apropos very little) screeches “WHAAAAAAT?”
BOOM! survivors at the festival quoted this line for the next two days.
Meeting folks I’ve chatted with on Twitter for years now.
not pictured: Trevor and his Buster Keaton hat (@tpjost), Paula Guthat (@Paula_Guthat) and Tim Guthat (@tkguthat), @BeesKnees_pdx, @LaurasMiscMovie… and others I’m surely forgetting.
The Bogart’s Gin.
I’ve never tasted a gin (and I’ve had a lot of gin) that was both harsh and flowery. It was sandpaper and lilacs. Even free gin has a price.
I didn’t get to meet everyone on my Twitter list.
With so much going on and everyone taking full advantage of the festival’s offerings it’s often hard to pre-arrange a path crossing or a meetup at a movie. I bypassed the opening #TCMParty meet and greet because I opted for a power nap. I’d been up since 2:30am PST and something had to give.
Drinking too much coffee on Saturday night to stay up for Nothing Lasts Forever.
A midnight movie after 5 hours of sleep the night before is hard enough. Not being able to sleep at 2:30am when you’ve absolutely got to get up by 7:30 to catch the encore of Don’t Bet On Women is worse. Just let the midnight mid-movie snooze happen. See @WillMcKinley during BOOM! and J.P. (@HollywoodComet) during Nothing Lasts Forever. J.P. even found herself in an elevator with women who were talking about the girl that fell asleep at the midnighter, not knowing she was standing right next to them. Now that’s infamy.
Not being able to watch three movies at once.
The entire Friday schedule was a test of endurance and decision-making confidence. My day fell into place around On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Tough decisions were made for me so that I could get to the queue OHMSS early. I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark instead of Steamboat Bill, Jr. (with a live orchestra!) because Buster had me out of the theater only 30 minutes before Bond time. Unacceptable. Meanwhile Sunday afternoon indecision (without the benefit of a must-see) had me weighing two of my oft-watched favorites, Out of Sight and The Philadelphia Story, against The Children’s Hour, a movie that wasn’t even on my radar. I doubled down, supported Out of Sight with a flurry of tweets pre-show, got my #1 ticket (’tis a badge of honor)… and eventually went to see The Children’s Hour and some more Shirley MacLaine pre-show chatter with this crew. When in doubt, I decided, it’s best opt into the never-before-seen film. Always take the opportunity at these events to see something new or different.
…and this provides a segue way into one final segment…
Advice for future attendees from a 1st timer:
1. See your favorites, of course, but prioritize special or one-of-a-kind screenings, like the restoration of a film thought lost or a special exhibition, such as the hand-cranked silent films.
Taking the above example: I love Out of Sight but I saw it during it’s theatrical release. I own it on DVD and Blu-ray. The 35mm-showing of The Children’s Hour featured in introduction with Shirley MacLaine in the grand Egyptian Theatre. Of course, editor Anne V. Coates introduced Out of Sight, and Madeline Stowe introduced The Philadelphia Story in Grauman’s. It’s hard to go wrong at the TCM Film Festival.
2. Visit all the venues. One of the greatest things about the festival is the chance to see films (on film!) at some of the greatest and most storied moviehouses in the world.
3. Find someone in the know, pick their brain early on at the festival. Chat with the six-timers who know all the tricks. These tricks, like how to manage the queues and still find time for food and the fastest paths between theaters are the keys to seeing everything you want. Befriend these people, hell… befriend all the people. You never know who will show up at one of your screenings with a higher queue number and seat-saving abilities. I was lucky enough to have the very recognizable fellows @joelrwilliams1 and @WillMcKinley line up right behind me at my very first movie, Too Late For Tears.
4. Take advantage of social media. Connect with those Twatterquaintances and keep in touch regularly during the festival so that you know who’s going where and doing what. Clearly, you’re there to see the movies, but the people on your Twitter list that you finally meet in person and the offhand conversations with complete strangers make the TCM Film Festival more than just a succession of great movies, more than just the sum of it’s parts. More than once I ended up in random conversations with people who I already followed on Twitter.
5. People love the Festival swag because they love to bedazzle their passes with buttons and flags and stickers. If you have a website bring something to promote it. I tacked on stickers to a business card order to promote my James Bond Social Media Project before the Festival. The business cards were nice, but the stickers were more memorable. If you can afford it, do buttons. It’s Pokemon syndrome up in there for buttons. (The great Paula Guthat even turned one of my stickers into a button!)
It’s awkward introducing yourself to people as “the #Bond_age_ guy,” especially so near Hollywood Blvd. I eventually got used to using my @007hertzrumble Twitter handle as a lead-in, but the damage had already been done by the “#Bond_age_ guy.” #Bond_age_ looks great on paper, but verbally, it’s all a bit clumsy.
The TCM staff put on a great show. I know there’s drama about calling movies released after 1980 “classics,” but it’s probably not worth the fuss. Many wouldn’t consider Apollo 13 or Out of Sight worthy of a slot at the festival. Is it worth some debate? Sure. But there’s always other options and it’s unlikely that these more modern movies are jeopardizing slots that would otherwise be occupied by anything rare or special. If it were rare or special it’d already have a slot in the lineup.
The merchandise for purchase at the festival’s TCM Shop was woefully uncreative and overpriced. Where are the movie posters with original artwork for some of the festival headliners? Or even just a music festival-style piece of artwork with all the names of the represented movies? Original, unique artwork that can only be found at the TCMFF would sell $30 t-shirts, posters, post-card sets, etc. Just slapping the name of the festival on a black t-shirt is lazy. I wanted to buy something at the shop, but there was just nothing worthwhile. (Psst, my design services are available for such an endeavor, TCM. Call me. You might have a card or two of mine sitting around Hollywood Blvd. somewhere.)
I don’t know if I can make this an every-year trip, but I’m sure going to try. Now that I have a taste of the goodness and know what I’d be missing, it’ll be damn near impossible to sit idly by and watch the barrage of pictures and stories featuring familiar faces and #TCMFF shenanigans.
…so next year (hopefully), I’ll get to come back and be known as something other than just “the #Bond_age_ guy.” “Jay,” for example, would do just fine. Hell, if I’m honest it’s still fun being called the “#Bond_age_ guy.” Carry on, either way.