I always look forward to this time of year because I know the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival is coming. It’s surely among my very favorite festivals to attend and if I ever have to give it up I’ll be made very sad. TCM always does a great job of organizing and choosing great films – as well as getting some incredible guests. It’s truly the kind of experience you can only have in a place like Los Angeles, and the TCM Film Festival reminds me of why I love living here.
This year is no different than the other years I have attended the festival in the sense that each day, the schedule of films and events are all so great that it’s nearly impossible to choose what to do. There are always at least four or five films and maybe an interview or book signing happening simultaneously, so you could just close your eyes and stick a pin in the schedule and land on something you’d love to see or do. Sadly, you can’t do everything.
There are often films I’ve never seen that I’d love to see, screening at the same time as a film I’ve seen before, but have a great guest being interviewed. Some of the guests this year included: Illeanna Douglas, Carl Reiner, Elliot Gould, Anna Karina, Rita Moreno, Gina Lollabrigida, James Cromwell, Francis Ford Coppola, Faye Dunaway, Keith Carradine, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Bonnie Hunt, Angela Landsbury, Stacy Keach, Talia Shire, Lee Meriwether, and dozens more. Seriously, even Robbie the Robot showed up at a screening for Fantastic Planet. The opportunities at this festival are fantastic.
Thursday night, the opening film is invite only, so I couldn’t see All The Presidents Men. I’ve seen it before, luckily, so not the worst of losses, but seeing it on the big screen – with journalist Carl Bernstein – would have been a treat. And because of my pesky day job, I couldn’t catch the Thursday programs. Maybe I’ll be able to get the day off next year.
So, Friday I WAS able to be free. Lots to do! Now, for those of you that listen to the CFN podcast, you may remember a couple weeks ago one of our contributors here, C. J. Johnson, was on and he happen to mention reading Illeanna Douglas’s book, I Blame Dennis Hopper... He recommended the book and it turns out, Illeanna Douglas was going to be at the Roosevelt Hotel – signing her book! So needless to say, this was my first stop at the festival. I got in line, bought her book, and she was super nice and I even got to mention Comedy Film Nerds to her as I referenced how CJ plugged her book on our podcast. She even did one of those “Aaw” things when someone does something nice for you. Then I made her stand up and take a photo with me even though I usually don’t bother people for that stuff. But hey, everyone else was doing it so, why not? She must have stood up and sat back down fifty times or more in an hour.
Friday was a tricky day; all the things I wanted to do were spaced with about 2 hours or a little more between each thing. That’s not the usual, but if I saw a film between each of those things, it would have been to late to get into the next screening. So, I went to get lunch after the book signing and still had time to get in line early for…a screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s film, The Conversation – with Coppola himself interviewed beforehand. I’d seen The Conversation before, but obviously never with the director on hand. He talked about lots of stuff, The Godfather I & II and how he didn’t have much interest in doing mafia movies, but he eventually decided to do it, then the studio REALLY wanted him to do Godfather II, but he said he would only do it if he could make The Conversation without any interference. So he did. Both. And of course we got a bit of Apocalypse Now talk, too, because what interview with Coppola would be complete with out that? Really cool to get to experience that.
Then I had yet another couple of hours to kill before my next film, the 1966 Batman: The Movie! And we had the delight of seeing Lee Meriwether and Adam West interviewed before the film! Meriwether looked amazing and was full of great things to say about her experience on this film and replacing Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. Turns out Kitt had a previous obligation for another film so couldn’t do this. Adam West was his hilarious self and had some interesting things to say about his being offered to be James Bond. And yes, the humour and camp of the Batman show and movie were intentional, if you were wondering. 😉
For Friday’s midnight screening, a film I had been wanting to see for a long time now. I do so enjoy my cult films, and this is a beauty. Most people know actress Tippi Hedren from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, but she became quite the animal rights activist as well. Hedren and then husband Noel Marshall released a spectacle of a film called Roar, in which a scientist (Noel) lives in Africa with a boatload of lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, cougars, etc. in order to protect them from poachers and the like. Then his wife and kids fly in to visit him there and they all spend the rest of the film being chased around the house desperately trying not to be eaten.
It took them about 11 years all told to get Roar made, and about $17 million too. It only made about $2 million and pretty much every human on the cast and drew got injured at some point to some degree. The Director of Photography was Jan De bont (director of Speed) and got bit on the head so badly that he needed surgery to have his scalp reattached. Yeah, this movie is crazy, and SO worth seeing! Really glad I stuck around for that.
This brings us to Saturday! I didn’t want anything to interfere with my getting in to see Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, with a conversation with Director and legend, Carl Reiner after. So no morning film – I went directly in line for this. When TCM originally posted this on the schedule, it was an easy choice for me. Screening at the same time was One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and I’ve seen that a few times, no doubt. BUT, then they announced that they got both Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito to come do interviews before the film, well that made my choice excruciating. BUT, I had to stick to my guns, because Carl Reiner is 94 years old, and if you get the chance to see a legend like that speak, you do it. Thank you, Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!
I hadn’t seen Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid in ages, and it was so much funnier than I remember. And indeed an homage to the classic noir films. And Reiner had such great stories to tell about his early days, Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks – so much stuff. He has a new book out about creating the Dick Van Dyke show and he did a signing afterwards.
But I didn’t have time to stay for that, because Saturday wasn’t as relaxed a day as Friday. And Carl Reiner was gracious enough to stay and talk a bit longer than they planned. I only had about an hour to go over to the Roosevelt Hotel to see Alec Baldwin interview the great Elliot Gould! These Club TCM interviews are so fun and interesting. Elliot Gould talked about working with amazing directors and various actors, how he used to love to gamble and why he doesn’t anymore (those reasons are probably kind of obvious). Ha.
Immediately after that, I went over to the Egyptian Theater to see Mr. Gould yet again, right before screening his film The Long Goodbye. I’ve had this film on my Netflix queue for a while and this was clearly a MUCH better way to see it. Directed by Robert Altman, this was a cool 70’s version of the Raymond Chandler character Philip Marlowe. There are people that don’t like this film, I think because it took a contemporary approach to the material instead of making it a period piece set in the 1950’s. I happen to like the updated take on the character.
After that, I decided to see a classic I’d never seen before, Band of Outsiders, directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Before the film, star Anna Karina was interviewed. This is one of those films that I just had to admit to not seeing. there are still a bunch of classic must see films that I haven’t gotten to yet. Band of Outsiders is a somewhat dream-like film about a bored student played by Anna Karina that takes up with two small time crooks with whom she plots to steal money from her Aunt’s house. It’s notable for a scene where the trio tries to break the record of seeing how quickly they can run through the Lourve, and that Quentin Tarantino named his production company after it’s title: A Band Apart (Bande a’ part). Not to mention a scene in this was the inspiration for Uma Thurman dancing in Pulp Fiction. I really need to see more of these films that are considered “essential”.
Midnight Saturday is yet another opportunity to see a kooky cult film. This time it was GOG, in fully restored 3D! This is one of those mid 1950’s sci-fi movies that you enjoy for it’s, well, 1950-ness. For decades the film’s 3D prints were lost, until 2001 when one was found and they were able to restore it. Frankly, it was freakin’ beautiful. The clarity and color were just amazing. I mean, it looked better than some films do today. It was worth seeing for that reason alone. Though I don’t know that I would ever need to see it a second time, it IS kind of goofy fun, full of mysterious deaths, klunky 1950’s style robots (or , “robutts” as they kept calling them), a supercomputer, male chauvinism, and anti-Communist propaganda. Everything you need for a silly midnight movie!
Ok, now I have a confession to make. After GOG, I didn’t get home until about 2 am. The Sunday screenings – of which there were at least two that I wanted to see – were at 9:15 am, and I was pretty sure I was not going to be able to get there in time. I would have had to be there by at least 8 am to get in line, and the meant getting about only four hours of sleep. I need more than that if I’m going to sit in a dark theater that early in day. I’m sure you’ll scoff at me for this, but I missed the original 1970 film, M*A*S*H with another interview with Elliot Gould in one theater, and in another at the same time was a pre-code comedy with William Powell, Double Harness, including a talk with James Cromwell (his father directed it). Another excellent choice would have been The King and I, with Rita Moreno interviewed. But I just couldn’t wake up. I know, I know, but hey, I’m only human.
So my festival day started later, and I planned on seeing a John Huston film barely known to me, Fat City, from 1972, starring Stacy Keach and a young Jeff Bridges. It’s a drama about a down and out boxer (Keach) trying to make a comeback, and a young new fighter (Bridges) on his way up. But this is really Keach’s film, and he’s fantastic. Stacy Keach is a guy I don’t think about enough, and this was an excellent film to see him work. The screening also opened with him in attendance and giving an interview. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a full theater, but then in another theater they were screening The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!, with Eva Marie Saint in attendance, so I guess people made their difficult choice as well. Could’ve gone either way for me, but I hadn’t seen Fat City before.
And as my last film of the weekend, I saw Network, with a Faye Dunaway interview beforehand. She looked great and was very articulate and intelligent. I have to admit I had heard she was a bit, uh, well, let’s just say “eccentric”, but she didn’t seem that way at all. And her philosophy is that she intends to work for as long as she can – none of this retirement nonsense. Network is one of those films that’s very prophetic. At the time it’s very satirical, a TV network that basically gives a mentally ill man his own show. Then adds more insane reality-type programming. But short of killing someone, TV has actually entered the realm of this films’ fictional representations. It’s a great film that’s funny – and a bit scary.
All i all, a really great weekend. Hell, I could just go one day and it would be worth it, but it’s a joy to experience as much of it as possible. Always a great thanks to Turner Classic Movies for this amazing festival. I already look forward to next year!
~ Neil T Weakley, your average movie-goer, reminding you to make sure you watch the classics, because that’s where great film all begins.