Looking back on it now it’s surprising I was able to manage the film festival with a slight fever, massive congestion and a nose that sounded like a foghorn, but I did it. (Note, I do not advise going to the festival sick but you can pull it off with a heap of Theraflu and hot tea.) The first full day of the festival was interesting as I struggled to get through the general rigors of the fest without spreading germs.
I had planned to race to the Egyptian for an early morning screening of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Merry Widow (1934) but when you’re offered free breakfast (and hot water) courtesy of TCM Backlot you can’t really turn it down. TCM Backlot let in the presidents of various chapters – if you’re in the Sacramento region hit me up if you’d like to join the TCM Backlot of Sacramento, by the way! – to the Spotlight breakfast and it was great to chat with Alicia Malone and others. TCM Backlot’s loveable overlord Yacov Freedman is just one of the best guys, and it was wonderful to discuss ways TCM Backlot could be improved upon. By the time I left breakfast there was no time to meet up with Lubitsch. Sorry! But this meant I could stake out a spot in the place I’d be in all day: Club TCM.
TCM fest goers often divide themselves into two camps: those there for strictly movies and those who try to squeeze in a bit of everything. You’d be surprised how many attendees say they’ve never gone to a Club TCM panel. Every year there’s one that I plan my entire festival around. I’ve been known to sit in the front row four hours ahead of schedule and watch all the panels before just so I can have the best seat for the thing I want. Call it obsession or dedication, I don’t care. This year was all about seeing James Ivory, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Call Me By Your Name, aka Kristen’s second favorite movie of last year. Before that though I wanted to see Disney historian J.B. Kaufman talk about Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday.
Kaufman, the author of several Disney books including works on 1937’s Snow White and the 1940 masterpiece Pinocchio, shared how Walt Disney’s mouse became ubiquitous with Hollywood. At one point actress Mary Pickford hoped to collaborate with Walt Disney on a feature film – rumors are it was a take on Alice in Wonderland – but it never came to fruition. Much of the panel revolved around Disney’s integration of Hollywood into his short films. Cartoons including Mickey’s Polo Team (1936) were screened to show the audience how the Disney animators created caricatures of popular Hollywood stars. It was a concept Disney wished he could do more often but wasn’t provided enough funding to keep it up.
After that I stuck around for Film Biographers: A Life with guests Donald Bogle, Scott Eyman, and William J. Mann. I’m a huge fan of Eyman’s books, and Mann’s Tinsletown was a unique experiment in historical fiction. (I hadn’t read any of Bogle’s books previously though I now have two at home!) Hosted by Alicia Malone, the TCM personality asked each of the men about their writing process and their own internal thoughts about the subjects they were writing on. Bogle mentioned how his latest book – a look at the intersections in the lives between Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson – didn’t necessitate interviewing their respective families, giving him an increased freedom. Bogle’s perspective was the most fascinating considering he took prominent black figures in Hollywood, particularly Dorothy Dandridge, and opened people up to understanding them in a way that hadn’t been felt before. By this point I had my prime seat for A Conversation With James Ivory. Moderated by Dave Karger, this hour-long tribute saw Ivory discuss every facet of his career starting with his short films in college. From there he transitioned to working with Ismail Merchant to create beautiful romances like A Room With a View (1985), Howard’s End (1992) and the aforementioned Call Me By Your Name (2017). I’m bummed I didn’t take notes or record this, but I truly wanted to experience being in the same room as Ivory. He’s perfunctory in his storytelling, but there’s an obvious passion behind his words. Karger demonstrated he’s a great fit for these types of discussions, keeping the conversation moving yet still finding time for lightheartedness.
With the day almost over I finally got to take in some features. I try to lean towards things I’ve never seen, but this time I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see two old favorites in special formats. First, I dropped in a 4K 3-D restoration of 1954’s Creature From the Black Lagoon. I’ve watched Creature countless times at home and it remains one of my favorite creature features, but I’ve never experienced in 3-D the way some audiences might have in ’54. Universal’s print was utterly flawless, but add on the 4K and the 3-D and you have one of the most exquisite presentations of a movie I’ve ever consumed. I don’t often get surprised with 3-D effects outside of Disneyland, but when the giant monster claw reaches out of the screen the entire audience (myself included) gasped. For years I’ve wanted 3-D in movies to feel as if we’re inhabiting the same space and for once we were. After that it was all about getting over to the Egyptian to see Leave Her to Heaven (1945) in nitrate. I saw two nitrate films last year and while they were beautiful I still don’t “get” those who believe nitrate is the only way to watch movies from this era. Seeing Gene Tierney on the big screen in the Egyptian was an otherworldly experience. The audience was deeply involved in the schemes of Tierney’s Ellen Berent and though there were scattered laughs it was always at Ellen’s gumption.
Day 2 comes to a close. On to day 3!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.