All Together Now: TCMFF 2022 Recap

It’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be here writing about movies at all if it wasn’t for Turner Classic Movies. Watching the channel sparked my interest in film, taught me more than I ever learned in school, and allowed me to see movies I might have never watched otherwise. After spending the better part of a year doing nothing but sitting at home watching TCM (thanks covid), it became more important to me than ever to, whenever it was finally safe to do so, attend my first TCM Classic Film Festival, which is typically held in the heart of Hollywood every spring. I wrote about last year’s virtual programming, held both on the channel and on HBO Max, but I was very thankful to be present at the first in-person festival since 2019 this past weekend. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you might have already seen my recaps of what I’ve been watching, but I wanted to write a little more about some of the movies here. Across four days I got to attend special events such as the hand-and-footprint ceremony for Lily Tomlin outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which was also attended by the likes of Jane Fonda and Rita Moreno, and panels and conversations with people like child star of the 1940s, Margaret O’Brien. I also watched 17 films, five of which were rewatches but the rest of which were first time viewings for me. Some were better than others, but there truly wasn’t a movie in the line-up I didn’t like. Of course it doesn’t hurt being around such an enthusiastic crowd; I feel very confident I will never have a theater experience anywhere else where the crowd cheers after every name in the credits, applauds obscure character actors, and laughs knowingly at every passive aggressive barb that emerges from Joan Crawford’s lips. You can read more about each film I watched and the special presentations that accompanied them below.

Day 1

Poolside screening of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

“FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH” (1982)

Venue: Pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Introduced by TCM host Dave Karger and actor Topher Grace

Director Amy Heckerling so had her finger on the pulse of teen life that she helmed two now-classics that encapsulated two different generations. Her 1995 “Emma” adaptation “Clueless” is a favorite comfort movie of mine, but I was surprised at how funny and clever I found “Fast Times” on this rewatch. It subscribes to the “no plot, just vibes” method, but it works thanks to the script and a collection of characters who are always compelling to watch. And they are relatable on some level, even with the heightened absurdity, thanks to the frank manner in which characters confront relationships, careers, education, and their future. It’s great seeing so many current big-name stars at the start of their career, including Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Penn in what I believe is still one of his most famous roles. I never even noticed until now that the one and only Nicolas Cage has a quick cameo. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” remains a stellar 80s time capsule, and the 80s-themed pool party TCM threw to go along with it on opening night just made it that much more fun.

Fredric March and Janet Gaynor in “A Star is Born”

“A STAR IS BORN” (1937)

Venue: Hollywood Legion Theater

Introduced by Bernardo Rondeau, Senior Director of Film Programs at the Academy Museum of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The first version of this classic story of stars rising and falling has always been my favorite, but this world premiere of a new restoration knocked my socks off. “A Star is Born” is an early Technicolor film, and it fell into the public domain for a while, resulting in the circulation of a lot of really poor prints with washed-out colors. Seeing it here felt like watching it for the first time, and I was thrilled to tears as soon as the credits began to roll- I had no idea it was possible for this movie to look so clear and vibrant. The movie itself is just as beautiful as ever, sort of funny in the front half (particularly in its spot-on spoofing of the Hollywood studio system), tragic in the back half, and carried throughout by the wonderful performances by and relationship developed between Fredric March and Janet Gaynor. It was even more special watching this steps away from all the sights seen in the film, from the Hollywood Bowl to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where we memorably see Gaynor’s aspiring actress Esther Blodgett step off the bus and into, as the film refers to it as, the “Metropolis of Make-Believe.”

Day 2

Jane Fonda and Bruce Dern in “Coming Home”

“COMING HOME” (1973)

Venue: Hollywood Legion Theater

Introduction by TCM Host Alicia Malone and star Bruce Dern

“Coming Home” is a movie that’s been on my watchlist for a while thanks to the podcast “You Must Remember This” and a series it did on Jane Fonda a while back, so I was excited to finally check it out at the festival. It’s a moving drama a woman (Fonda) who volunteers at a hospital after her husband (Dern) heads off to fight in Vietnam, and the relationship she strikes up with bitter veteran (Jon Voight), a patient in the hospital after being paralyzed from the waist down. The film takes a very empathetic view toward all the characters, and everyone in the cast, particularly Voight, are working at the top of their game. Alicia said before the film started that she thought Dern would be an easy interview, and she was right. He possesses an obviously sharp memory and a wealth of stories, and particularly shared recollections of director Hal Ashby and how he became involved in this project.

Joan Crawford in “Queen Bee”

“QUEEN BEE” (1955)

Venue: Chinese Multiplex House 6

Introduction by author and filmmaker William Joyce

I was actually not familiar with this Joan Crawford melodrama, which Joyce described in his intro as “Joan Crawford at her most Joan Crawford-y.” I can’t think of a better description of her in this film, which I don’t think would have been anywhere near as entertaining or even watchable had she not starred in it. This movie has it all: dramatic entrances, sudden bursts of violence, and thinly-veiled insults that Crawford delivers in a voice dripping with disdain and phony sweetness. Her drive to manipulate the lives and happiness of everyone around her—her husband, her lover, her sister-in-law, and her unsuspecting cousin, newly moved in with the family—to craft her own personal happiness doesn’t make her the most empathetic character, and yet, it’s hard not to feel for her on some level when she’s oblivious to the tables being turned on her at the end. That’s the power of Joan: she can deliver high camp one second (and don’t miss me when I say that watching this with an audience was incredibly fun) and break your heart the next.

Bebe Daniels (center) in “Cocktail Hour”

“COCKTAIL HOUR” (1933)

Venue: Chinese Multiplex House 6

Introduction by film historian Cari Beauchamp and Suzanne Lloyd, granddaughter of Harold and Mildred Lloyd

As a huge fan of Hollywood’s pre-code era, this was my most anticipated new watch of the festival, and boy did it deliver. “Cocktail Hour” is actually quite a rare film, and as was pointed out in the intro, a lot went into this restoration (which leaves me crossing my fingers for a Blu-ray release soon). This is a beautiful, crisp print, and for a scene that was cut by censors but for which the original audio survives, production photos were placed in the film with the dialogue played over them (for those curious, it was a gigolo joke that apparently was the last straw for the censors). Bebe Daniels stars in this movie as an independent artist with a turbulent love life, and she is so fabulous and funny. Randolph Scott appears in only his second movie as the man Daniels is ultimately meant to with, but my favorite relationship in the film is actually the friendship she strikes up with Muriel Kirkland’s phony Russian singer. Lots of amusing innuendo, a gasp-inducing climax, and a cruise ship setting: there’s a lot to love in this movie, and I’m so excited for it to become available for more people to watch in the future.

Biff Elliot (right) as detective Mike Hammer in “I, the Jury 3D”

“I, THE JURY 3D” (1953)

Venue: Chinese Multiplex House 6

Introduction by TCM/Noir Alley host Eddie Mueller

“I, the Jury,” an adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer story, isn’t a particularly remarkable noir in terms of plot or characters. What did make this movie memorable, however, was this sharp new restoration (I overheard some audience members who had seen it before say that previous prints of it were virtually unwatchable) presented as it was originally intended in 3D. John Alton, a legend in noir cinematography, worked on this film, and watching his photography in three dimensions was a real (albeit disorienting) treat. The occasional 3D gimmick, such as a gun barrel sticking out of the screen, just made it more fun. It was also just announced that this 3D restoration is getting a Blu-ray release, so be sure to look for it!

Anthony Edwards in “Miracle Mile”

“MIRACLE MILE” (1988)

Venue: Chinese Multiplex House 6

Introduction by TCM host Eddie Mueller and director Steve De Jarnatt.

I didn’t realize what a wild ride I was in for with “Miracle Mile,” but I enjoyed every second of it. Described as “part rom-com, part post-apocalyptic thriller,” this ended up being perfect midnight movie programming. Just as the hosts and other audience members at this screening didn’t want to give too much of the plot away for those who had never seen it, I will do the same, but the sincere sweetness of the underlying romance that kicks off and propels the story forward even as it becomes increasingly absurd is what made this so great for me. The LA location shooting is also such a treat, with pivotal scenes occurring in and around recognizable spots like the La Brea Tar Pits, the May-Co building (currently home to the Academy Museum), and Johnie’s Coffee Shop. Not to mention a fantastic score by Tangerine Dream!

Day 3

James Cagney and Pat O’Brien in “Angels with Dirty Faces”

“ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES” (1938)

Venue: Chinese Multiplex House 6

Introduction by actor Keith Carradine

“Angels with Dirty Faces” is one of my favorite movies, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see it in theaters, and the theatrical premiere of a new restoration (the movie was just released on Blu-ray for the first time). To me, this is the peak of the classic Warner Brother’s gangster movie. James Cagney! Humphrey Bogart! Pat O’Brien! Ann Sheridan! The Dead End Kids! It’s the perfect package of thrilling, funny, and moving. And the story of childhood friends whose paths diverge (Cagney becomes a mobster, O’Brien a priest) has had a lasting impact on other pieces of media in the decades since its release.

Burt Lancaster and Virginia Mayo in “The Flame and the Arrow”

“THE FLAME AND THE ARROW” (1950)

Venue: Hollywood Legion Theater

Introduction by Craig Barron, Ben Burtt, and Gordon Gebert

“The Flame and the Arrow” is sort of like a discount “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” Similar sets, similar costumes, even sort of a similar story, but the amazing stunts that allowed star Burt Lancaster to draw from his acrobatic background and the lush Technicolor photography shine here (apparently we were watching a rare print struck in 1968). The real star of this show was the pre-show presentation by Academy Award-winning visual effects and sound design legends Barron and Burtt, who arrived armed with a wealth of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage and broke down the way the matte paintings were used to enhance the scope of the film in an engaging manner. It was an even more delightful treat when they brought out Gordon Gebert, a former child actor who appeared in “The Flame and the Arrow” but is most remembered for playing Timmy Ennis in 1949’s “Holiday Affair” (which I’ve written about before). He shared some fun memories about working on this movie specifically, such as taking archery and ballet lessons, and his career as a whole.

Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve in “Somewhere in Time”

“SOMEWHERE IN TIME” (1980)

Venue: Chinese Multiplex House 1

Introduction by TCM host Alicia Malone and star Jane Seymour

I’m a little shocked that I was not familiar with this movie at all before this festival, partly because it was quite a big hit on its release, partly because some of my favorite films (like 1948’s “Portrait of Jennie,” which also screened at the festival) explore similar themes. This is a great showcase for Christopher Reeve, who plays a playwright in the present day who is approached by an elderly woman who gives him a pocket watch and tells him, “come back to me.” That encounter leads to him finding and becoming immediately enraptured by a portrait of an actress from 1912 (played by Seymour) and traveling back in time to meet her. Everything about “Somewhere in Time” is stunning, from the beautiful, softly lit sets to the lush score by John Barry to the ethereal beauty of Seymour. Seymour’s remarks before the film were especially moving, as she recalled not only the specifics of making it, but how she and Reeve “fell madly in love,” stayed good friends until he died, and that she believes she’ll see him again “somewhere in time.”

Warren Beatty in “Heaven Can Wait”

“HEAVEN CAN WAIT” (1978)

Venue: TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX

Conversation with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and Warren Beatty

I thought I had maybe seen this movie before, but quickly realized that not only had I not seen it, I also didn’t really know much about it– such as the fact that Warren Beatty not only starred in it, but also produced it, co-directed it with Buck Henry (his first outing behind the camera), and co-wrote the screenplay with the one and only Elaine May. Sure, it’s a silly movie, but the sincerity conveyed through the performers sold me on all the relationships even when the script didn’t. It’s really hysterical, especially the scene-stealing Dyan Cannon, and was tons of fun to watch with a crowd. Equally hysterically was Ben Mankiewicz’s conversation with Beatty after the movie, which fast devolved into chaos and somehow ended with a discussion about potato skins and Applebee’s.

The cast of “Diner”

“DINER” (1982)

Venue: Hollywood Legion Theater

Introduction by TCM host Dave Karger and stars Paul Reiser, Steve Guttenberg, Tim Daly, and Kevin Bacon

This was a movie I enjoyed a lot more on rewatch, and I was struck by how the magnificent rapport between the actors we see on screen carried over into the real world, even all these years later. Steve Guttenberg in particular spoke very movingly about how meaningful the relationships he’d established with everyone were. A very funny, nostalgia-filled trip of a movie.

Odorama cards (and cookie!) distributed for the midnight screening of “Polyester”

“POLYESTER” (1981)

Introduction by Mario Cantone and actor Mink Stole, plus a video intro from director John Waters

Saturday’s midnight movie proved to be even stranger and funnier than I ever expected. “Polyester” was presented in “Odorama” with the original scratch and sniff cards timed to the film, which made it a unique experience. But the movie itself is unique on its own, a completely unhinged portrait of attempted domestic bliss turned sour anchored by the fabulous Divine and a perfectly cast Tab Hunter. It was pretty much everything I could ever hope to have in a movie and I can wait to see it again.

Day 4

Tatum and Ryan O’Neal in “Paper Moon”

“PAPER MOON” (1973)

Venue: TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX

Introduction by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and Louise Stratten, ex-wife and collaborator of director Peter Bogdanovich

I just rewatched the magnificent “Paper Moon” after Peter Bogdanovich passed away earlier this year, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to watch it on the big screen at Grauman’s. It’s so funny, and so lovely, with Ryan and Tatum O’Neal’s real life father/daughter relationship translating perfectly to the story, with Tatum delivering one of the all time great child performances. TCM’s podcast The Plot Thickens did a great season about Bogdanovich a couple years back that included interviews Ben conducted with him, and I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.

Herbert Marshall and Mary Boland in “Evenings for Sale”

“EVENINGS FOR SALE” (1932)

Introduction by Leonard Maltin

“Evenings for Sale” is another forgotten pre-code, which Maltin stated he had discovered on YouTube and suggested it to the TCM programming team. Short (clocking in at only 61 minutes) and sweet, “Evenings for Sale” is slow to start, but it’s a movie I like more the more I think about it. Herbert Marshall is at his debonair finest as a gigolo courting a wealthy widow, played empathetically by Mary Boland, who is lonely and genuinely believes he’s interested in her. This movie is very funny, and while I ultimately didn’t care much about the romance between Marshall and his actual love interest (played by Sari Maritza), Boland’s performance brought it all together. This was a great discovery.

Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie in “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?”

“HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL?” (1952)

Venue: Chinese Multiplex House 1

Introduction by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and star Piper Laurie

It was exciting to me to get to watch a 50s-era Douglas Sirk movie I’d never seen before, and while “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” is markedly different in tone from his melodramas and I didn’t like it quite as much as those, I still found lots to enjoy. The beautiful, warm colors Sirk’s Technicolor features would come to be known for are still present and lovely as ever, and the cast is a lot of fun. Piper Laurie delivers, even if, as she stated in the introductory conversation, she didn’t enjoy working with Sirk. It’s nice to see Rock Hudson– who would collaborate more memorably with Sirk in the future– in support, and the audience exploded at a quick cameo from James Dean. Charles Coburn is the real star, however, as a millionaire who goes undercover to search for a potential heir. Overall not particularly memorable, but I’m glad I got to see it.

Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell in “7th Heaven”

“7TH HEAVEN” (1927)

Venue: Chinese Multiplex House 1

Introduction by TCM Host Eddie Mueller

I closed out the festival with perhaps the most cinematic of cinematic experiences: a silent movie accompanied by a live orchestra (and live Foley sound effects!). The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra provided the score to Frank Borzage’s beautiful love story starring Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. For the second time this festival I was struck by Gaynor’s natural and heart-breaking performance. I’m also enamored of so many of this film’s shot compositions, such as the part where the camera follows Gaynor and Farrell up multiple flights of stairs ascending to his apartment– to their heaven.

3 thoughts on “All Together Now: TCMFF 2022 Recap

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