From Vanity Fair calling it “Comic-Con for the Martini Set” to being dubbed “the Disney World for classic movies,” TCM Classic Film Festival is all of that and so much more. Although both descriptions are fitting, there are so many aspects of cinema and Hollywood at work, more than you’d see at any other film festival this year, that it would be unfair to pigeonhole the event for a certain set or level of cinephile nerd-dom. If you aren’t familiar with TCM, it's a cable station devoted to classic films and, unlike its competitors, has no commercials (maybe a few vintage trailers and programming promos, but nothing too corporate). If you’re one of those people who refuses to watch anything in black-and-white (excuse our death glares), this year’s festival programming proved that TCM is devoted to great cinema and that the term classic can be (and should be) applied to films before, during and after the “more stars than there are in heaven” era of classic Hollywood.
In its fourth year and taking place over the course of only four days (April 25-28), the festival was packed to the brim with fantastic films, legendary stars and filmmakers, hordes of film fans, and a marvelous pack of hosts (including Leonard Maltin, new TCM “Second Looks” host Illeana Douglas, and Cher) spearheaded by mainstay TCM host Robert Osborne and weekend TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. Unlike other festivals, all of these films have been watched and written on so many times by a numberless amount of academics, critics and theorists, along with spoken about in intimidating quality by Osborne and Mankiewicz. Therefore, we aren’t including film reviews, but rather impressions, trivia, factoids and quotes. A few weeks on, here are a few highlights for your perusal and we hope to see you there next year (actually, considering this year’s long lines and packed theaters, no we don’t).
Hollywood Legends On And Off The Red Carpet
Indicative of the rest of the festival, the opening night red carpet was chock full of icons from a spry Tippi Hedren to the intimidating, albeit gracious, Max von Sydow to “Airplane”’s joking and smiling Robert Hays. Although she had probably been asked a million times, Eva Marie Saint answered that her favorite leading man was “my husband of 61 years” and then went on to add that “Cary Grant was everything you’d think he would be,” with a charming smile. When asked how it was being a child star, the now-87 year-old Jane Withers, a former box office rival of Shirley Temple’s, responded “Awesome!” Withers was soon joined by Ann Blyth for a brief moment, the two are dear friends and had been each other’s bridesmaids. Later during the festival, Blyth described working in Hollywood as like being part of a family -- “these same people there for me and looking out for me. I felt very cared for.” -- and even mentioned how she, Jane Withers, Jane Powell and Joan Leslie meet at least four times a year. Each star was bubbling to be there, so appreciative of the fans who came out, and wasn’t trying to hock anything (unlike a few festivals we could mention).
These legendary actors spoke fondly of their films, but gushingly of their families, adding a distinctive warmth and sense of community you can only find at the TCM Classic Film Festival. On the red carpet, Von Sydow credited his wife for his longevity, Blyth’s grandchildren (her granddaughter bearing a particularly striking resemblance) were in attendance for the festival’s screening of “Kismet,” Hedren mentioned how her move to Hollywood was for the sake of her daughter Melanie Griffith “because in living in New York City, there isn’t such a sentence as, ‘Mommy, I’m going out to play,’” during her introduction for “The Birds.” Meanwhile, Withers mentioned that the rave reviews Barbra Streisand gave about her daughter (who works for Streisand) meant more to her than any for her films. In the midst of so many great events, we missed the Jane Fonda handprint ceremony, but we gather it was a very moving moment as Fonda placed her hands in cement to be forever immortalized in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (TCL, my foot!) and placed next to her father’s own cement prints, especially with her brother, children and grandchildren in attendance. Overall, the red carpet and other festival encounters with these legends created a magical and near-intimate atmosphere, making the festival a true once-in-a-lifetime experience for stars and civilians alike.
Funny Girl (1968)
Introduction by Robert Osborne with Catherine Wyler and Cher
For this year’s gala red carpet screening, TCM chose the 45th anniversary restored print of “Funny Girl,” starting this year’s festival with a characteristic colorful and musical bang (past festival openers -- “A Star is Born,” “An American in Paris” and “Cabaret”). Special guests and fans alike packed Grauman’s and watched the stunning copy of “Funny Girl” in all of its Technicolor glory. The introduction was hosted by stalwart Robert Osborne and included director William Wyler’s daughter Catherine (who read out a letter from Babs herself) and surprise guest Cher (host of TCM’s “A Woman’s World” showcase). Whether you’ve seen it a million times or not, seeing “Funny Girl” on the big screen at Grauman’s is truly breath-taking, you’ll find yourself feeling the same emotions you would in your living room or at your local theater, but so much more amplified – being swept away with Fanny from train station to tugboat on her trek to Nick during “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and with your heart slightly broken and eyes slightly watering by Fanny’s own heartbreak in “My Man.” Other than Streisand popping up in front of the screen during those key moments, nothing could have pulled the heartstrings more than this beautiful restoration of such an iconic film at such a historic theater.
The Twelve Chairs (1970)
Introduction by Robert Osborne with Mel Brooks
One of the quirkier picks at this year’s festival, “The Twelve Chairs” was an unexpected delight about an impoverished aristocrat (Ron Moody) after the Soviet Revolution (a White Russian making his way in a Red world) and his attempts to recover the family jewels, with Dom DeLuise as a money-grubbing priest, Mel Brooks as the not-so-bright former servant Tikon and Frank Langella as a charming young stud (no really, check him out, this was his screen debut). To be honest, we went mostly with the hopes of being in the same physical vicinity as comic legend Mel Brooks.
Brooks sat down with Robert Osborne, gushing that he was with “the Robert Osborne,” and with usual irreverent flair, Brooks poked fun at one of the festival sponsors, asking, “Who the hell can afford a Porsche?” and saying he may accept one as a gift “if Porsche apologizes for World War Two, maybe.” Moving on from the niceties, Brooks shared how he got the story for “The Twelve Chairs.” He was a part of “a club, gourmet society… in Chinatown” with “Steve Vogel, a wrecked metal sculptor and great guy, Julie Green, Mario Puzo and Joe Howard.” It was Green who referred him to the book “The Twelve Chairs,” after having read its sequel “The Golden Little Calf” by Soviet authors Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov and deeming it “the craziest book I’ve ever read.” So Brooks read “The Twelve Chairs” and “was in love with it, every page.”
Going through the plot, Brooks referred to Dom DeLuise as “the piece de resistance, the funniest man that ever lived” and revealed that this film “has a lot to say about my basic thing in the movies – money or love. Usually, in real life I go for money, but on the screen I go for love.” On an ending note, Brooks said that he didn’t think “anybody’s seen this picture in twenty or thirty years” and spoke about the importance of seeing films with an audience – “When you make comedies and you can imagine one bald guy eating spaghetti all alone in a room watching your program, it’s sad. Once there’s a whole bunch of people… Comedy is a cumulative experience.” Sensing the cue as Brooks was scheduled to only be there five minutes, ten tops, Osborne concluded with this apt assessment of Brooks – “He’s the person we’d all like to take with us on a desert island trip, he’s so much fun.” – and we couldn’t agree more.
Gimme Shelter (1969)
Part of a Tribute to Albert Maysles
Introduction by Haskell Wexler with Albert Maysles and Joan Churchill