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Saturday, April 19, 2014

My experiences at the TCM classic film festival

I just got back a few days ago from TCM's annual classic film festival. It's probably quite unnecessary for me to elaborate on what that is, but just in case, the festival is three days long (well, four, if you're lucky enough to procure passes that get you into Thursday's red carpet opener - I, unfortunately, was not) and located in Hollywood. That's three fun days of getting an up close and personal look at Hollywood legends, watching 35mm print in the gorgeous movie palaces sprinkled across Hollywood Boulevard, and waiting in very long lines alongside fellow film lovers (there's no camaraderie quite like that of waiting in line for the same thing.)

This was, indeed, my first TCM classic film festival, and I flew all the way across the country to be there. I guess I should begin by saying that this festival doesn't disappoint at all. It's exhilarating for all passionate classic film lovers. If you're wondering whether it's worth it to attend this event, even if you have to make the trip for it, I'll tell you right away: yes. Do it. You won't regret it at all. As a classic film lover, it was everything I'd dreamed of.

My only extra bit of advice is this: we purchased the matinee passes, which at $350 a piece are the second cheapest passes. They gained us entry into all screenings and Club TCM events starting before 6pm. Having not attended the festival before, and needing to purchase tickets long before the festival's schedule was released, I got the impression that anyone worth seeing would be interviewed within the exclusivity of Club TCM. So at the time, I really felt it was important to have some kind of access to Club TCM - in fact, I wanted to get the more expensive classic passes, which give you full entry to screenings and Club TCM, but they sold out before we could buy them - and that's why we settled for the matinee passes. Now, I realize that that was a waste. All celebrities are seen outside of Club TCM. While Club TCM is a nice little setup in the Roosevelt Hotel, I personally felt that one certainly wasn't missing much by opting out of the extra cost of Club TCM. If I have the opportunity to attend again, I feel the palace pass, or the cheapest pass, would be the best option. Now, since our passes didn't assure us entry into the screenings after 6pm, we had to wait in standby lines for those events, but for the most part (more on that to come later) we got into everything we wanted to see. I would even suggest that if you live in the LA area and want to attend this festival at a practical cost, don't even bother buying a pass - spend the twenty dollars for the standby tickets at what you selectively want to see. More likely than not, you'll get into everything. (But yes, the passes are pretty.)

The festival schedule is hectic - usually three or four events running at the same time at different venues (the hub of the festival is the Hollywood Roosevelt and the movies were screened at Grauman's, the Chinese multiplex next door, the Egyptian and El Capitan), leaving one forced to pick between them. Most try to run from event to event trying to catch all they can, but my dad (who accompanied me and took the majority of pictures in this article, so you can blame the bad quality on him) and I decided to prioritize the events where we would see the celebrities. We have a home theater so we weren't so compelled to attend the screenings lacking special guests, since viewing these movies on the big screen wasn't our motive. So, we spent a lot of time in between sitting down to eat and walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard, looking down at the stars like total tourists. I also stumbled upon Larry Edmund's bookshop and had a ball; I'm pretty certain I've ordered used books from them online so it was great to see the shop in person (it's a classic movie haven, by the way). However, if we do get to attend again, I do hope we'll have the chance to actually watch more movies, because we've both admitted that the grandeur of the movie palaces is something our home theater lacks.  And, there's something great about watching old movies with an audience (like when we applaud for, well, you know, dead stars, but they totally deserve it.)

Visiting Grauman's - Natalie's tiny hands & feet

Larry Edmund's bookshop. Ignore Kill Bill. 

Stars on the stage at the Montalban Theater.
On our first day, we headed over to the "Ask Robert Osborne" session which was held farther down Hollywood Boulevard than the other locations (which are all really in walking distance of one another), at the Montalban Theater. Interesting piece of trivia: the Montalban is where the Lux Radio specials were recorded, so, in other words, almost every star in Hollywood has been there. I was really looking forward to Ask Robert because Robert knew Lucy quite well (he brought her up on his own several times within the session), and I wanted to personally ask him a question about her. Plus, isn't there a thrill in getting to speak to Robert Osborne, the man we all see on TV pretty much daily? It was about four questions in, and I hadn't got called on yet but still had my hopes up, when Alex Trebek wandered onto the stage and kicked off what was a surprise tribute to Robert, who has been hosting TCM for all of its 20 years. That put an end to the questioning, but it did bring unexpected appearances. Several stars showed up to talk about their affection for Robert Osborne. The first was Eva Marie Saint, who had done an extensive interview with Robert Osborne at last year's festival. She is absolutely adorable, and as we had seated ourselves off to the right, next to several seats marked "reserved for guests", I was thrilled when an usher led her into the first seat in the row ahead of us! It was incredibly exciting to feel her presence so close, and I couldn't help myself from looking at the back of her head over and over. Diane Baker, who also worked with Hitchcock in the film Marnie, came out after that and sat in the seat in front of Eva. I got a kick out of it each time Eva leaned over to say something in Diane Baker's ear.

Alec Baldwin, who used to host the Essentials with Robert (now it's Drew Barrymore, and I guess I would have preferred to see her but, you know, it's okay) also made an appearance but didn't join us in the audience as he had to dash off to "lunch with his wife." After Alec Baldwin, who of all people would be introduced by Alex Trebek but Robert Wagner and his wife, Jill St. John.

I've mentioned it on this blog before, actually, but in case you're a new follower and don't really know, I am not a fan of Robert Wagner's. I am, however, a big fan of Natalie Wood's, and maybe I would like him better if that horrible night on the boat hadn't occurred. I have always held him somewhat responsible for her death - perhaps his negligence, but one thing's for sure, I feel quite passionately about it, so much so I wrote a persuasive essay on the topic in eighth grade. Of course, I still had to stand up and applaud with everyone else when they appeared on the stage. After they did their bit with Robert Osborne up there, the ushers led them down to the audience as they had done with Eva Marie Saint and Diane Baker. Now, in my row, there were four chairs marked "reserved", starting from the left, and I sat on the fifth chair. The usher led Robert Wagner and Jill St. John right into my row - first, Jill St. John sat on the second seat, but then the two stood up and switched seats. So there was Robert Wagner, who had first made a surprise appearance and was now sitting two empty seats away from me!

I had to turn my face away because I genuinely started laughing very hard at the ridiculousness and irony of it all - imagine, out of all the people who might end up two seats away from me!

My dad's stalkerish photos of Eva Marie Saint and Robert Wagner (note his unfortunate close proximity). 

Despite the Robert Wagner incident, the tribute to Robert Osborne was enjoyable. I only wish I had been able to ask him a question about Lucy. Oh, well.

What I really wanted to see was later that day, the screening of Blazing Saddles with an interview with no other than Mel Brooks himself. Since Christmas, I've been having a total Anne Bancroft obsession and I was really excited at the prospect of getting to see her longtime husband in person. (I wanted to see her husband, but I got stuck with the husband of another one of my favorites!) However, this screening was at 9, long past the 6 o'clock deadline of our passes, so we would have to get into the standby line for this. One of the festival employees assured us that more likely than not, we would get in: he said there were five hundred passholders in line, and about nine hundred seats in the theater. We got standby tickets #101 and #102. It seemed, mathematically, it was all going to work out in our favor. The standby line for Blazing Saddles continued to stretch across the side of the building opposite from the Hollywood Roosevelt, as we waited for over an hour. The passholders line was out of our view so we could only take the employee's word that we would probably get in. It was several minutes past 9 o'clock when the employees shot down our hopes by informing us there was no room left in Grauman's. She attempted to console us with the information that the screening of the Warren William precode Employees Entrance would be starting soon. "Have a good night!" she said. "Not anymore!" someone shouted back. I was really disappointed, as I had very much wanted to see Mel Brooks. But I had known that Blazing Saddles was probably going to be the most popular event at the festival and that our chances were slim - it wasn't until the employee outlined it for us in the numbers that I had really begun to think we were going to get in.

The beautiful interiors of the El Capitan.
The second day of the festival, we saw Maureen O'Hara at the El Capitan screening of the 1941 Best Picture winner, How Green Was my Valley. I was bowled over by the gorgeous interior of the El Capitan, the first real movie palace I'd ever been in. Then, Maureen O'Hara was wheeled out on to the stage and we all stood up and loudly applauded her. She waved her hands at us, gesturing for us to sit down, but we continued to clap for her. Seeing her made me a little teary eyed. I think she still looks lovely, and she is a sweetheart of a human being. Robert Osborne started off the interview by asking, "Now, tell us about John Ford" or something like that, and Maureen shot back, with a hint of her Irish brogue, "I thought we were going to talk about me." How could you not love her? Maureen's interview is online here, and I really recommend you watch it if you haven't already. We're so lucky to still have her. At the end of the interview, Robert Osborne told us Maureen would be at Club TCM the next day for a second chance to see her, and I thought that finally our matinee passes would come to some use, but it turned out he misspoke - she appeared in the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt (which was open to all festival attendees) while we were inside Club TCM anticipating her arrival. So, we missed her, but we did get to see a closeup look at her that day when her limo pulled up in front of the Hollywood Roosevelt. My dad and I just happened to be at the entrance as they assisted her into her wheelchair and led her inside. They wheeled her right past me as I heard someone tell her, "These are all your fans, wanting to see you." It was wonderful seeing her, but it still made me kind of sad.

Left: Maureen O'Hara with Robert O at El Capitan for Green Valley screening. 
Right: How close we got to her when watching her arrival at the Hollywood Roosevelt the next day.

Later that day, Kim Novak was to make an appearance at the Egyptian for the showing of Bell, Book, and Candle. Because it was to be at 6:15, we, once again, had to get into the standby line. Not wanting a repeat of the Blazing Saddles incident, we snuck out of El Capitan half an hour early to make our way to the Kim Novak standby line. We got tickets #11 and #12. The standby line for this was much shorter than Blazing Saddles, probably only fifty or so people. Jerry Lewis was going to be at The Nutty Professor at the same time, so I guess that drew away some of her crowd. We did get into this one. I wouldn't know for sure, but I figure that pretty much everyone in the standby line did. Anyways, not only did we get in, we managed to get front row seats! It was off to the left of center, but that was okay. Watching a movie from the front row can kind of give you a headache, no doubt, but we wanted those seats to get the best possible look at Kim. And we did - as she was led through the aisle on to the stage, she passed incredibly close to us. What she talked about has gotten some extra attention in the press recently (I saw a write-up about it on the Washington Post's website yesterday morning). She discussed the "elephant in the room", or her appearance at the Academy Awards. It appears that she got some "fat injections" done, and it did not exactly turn out that great. So, of course, when she appeared at the Oscars, people ripped her apart for the way she looked. At the festival, she talked quite bravely about how what happened to her was bullying, and how it must be stopped. She talked about how she had been nervous to appear at the Oscars, considering she had never won one or even been nominated for one. How she suffers from bipolar disorder and is always anxious about public appearances. In return, our audience sent her an outpouring of love, as someone shouted, "We love you Kim!" from the back of the theater. "I've got to confess, I feel at home with you," she told our audience. You can also watch her interview here, and I suggest you do. It's really important. Not only is it ridiculous for a society to expect an eighty-one year old to look the way she did in her twenties, it's even sadder to hear her talk about how much the criticism hurt her.

Kim Novak and Robert O at the Egyptian's Bell, Book, and Candle screening.

The last day of the festival was Sunday, with a far less crowded schedule than the days preceding it. We decided to make it for what we thought was going to be Maureen O'Hara's four o'clock appearance at Club TCM, and spent a little bit of the earlier part of the day in Beverly Hills. We drove down Roxbury Drive, so I could see where Lucy lived. Though her address has widely been reported as being 1000 North Roxbury Drive, the home at 1001 Roxbury looked more like the New England style, colonial home Lucy chose, so vastly different from the Spanish inspired architecture southern California is famous for. Tour buses that drove by pointed towards 1001 Roxbury. However, I read online that the new owners did massive reconstruction (hmph), so who knows for sure which side of the street she lived on. It was exciting to just kind of be in that vicinity, I guess.

When we went back to the Roosevelt Hotel, I went to the bathroom. I was washing my hands when I looked over to the left of me, where a passholder was talking to an elder lady wearing a loud outfit and a lot of jewelry. I mused silently to myself that the woman kind of looked like Margaret O'Brien. She was making appearances at the festival and I had wanted to see her at the screening of Meet Me in St. Louis, one of my favorite films, but we'd opted to see Ask Robert instead. So we had missed her. I figured that there was no way Margaret O'Brien was using the same bathroom as the rest of us, but as I dried my hands behind the two women, I heard the passholder compliment her on how she "spoke with such charisma." It hit me then: this was Margaret O'Brien! She had, after all, been at the festival for the Mickey Rooney tribute that day. I stood behind them for about a minute, a little smile on my face, completely starstruck by having "run into" Margaret O'Brien in the restroom of the Hollywood Roosevelt! My dad was waiting outside for me and I told him of the incident. We stood there, waiting, until she came out and passed by us, and I pointed her out to my dad. I saw pictures of her at the event and later confirmed that that had, indeed, been her. I really wish I had said something, but I couldn't even think of what to say. What an incredibly unique experience, though! And I love that she's sporting a nose piercing these days (I did a double take on that).

At  the Hollywood Museum.
After missing Maureen O'Hara that day, we went to the Hollywood Museum, where there was about half an hour left before closing. The two best things about this museum were seeing Lucy's Emmys and the Max Factor "For Redheads Only" room, which is basically a shrine to Lucy with a little bit of Rita Hayworth here and there. As we were visiting family for dinner, we didn't have time to stick around for the festival's evening events. We stayed one more day in Hollywood, in which we took the Paramount Tour. It was great to see Lucy's dressing room and the park in Paramount named after her, but I was really upset that the tour guide told us exaggerations or misinformation (I totally picked out the ones about Lucy, and it made me question everything else she said). We also visited Universal, which my dad wanted to see. I don't really care for rides and the famous studio tram tour puts a lot of focus on more recent movies and tv shows, though, of course, it was great to see the Psycho House.

This was my second visit to California - I had been there once, about a decade ago, before I was a classic film fan. I love it out there, and am really missing it a lot now that I'm back home. There were also some things we didn't get to see that I wish we had time for, like the UCLA and Margaret Herrick archives. I guess it's always good to leave something for next time, though. The only thing that could keep me from visiting the film festival again next year is the timing. See, I was very lucky this year because the dates coincided with my spring break, so I only had to miss one day of school. Because the major audience for this film festival are adults who don't have spring break, TCM doesn't necessarily try to arrange the festival to align with spring break. I've got my fingers crossed that next year I'll be lucky again, because I had an absolutely wonderful time and I would love to go again.



I didn't know you were going! I read voraciouly all my fellow blogger's adventures in the festival, which made me more and more willing to go in a near future. I added several of the films screened to my watchlist.
Your adventures were quite interesting. Oh, the Robert Wagner incident! Unforgettable, in a crazy way.

Vintage Cameo said...

Great recap, Rianna! I happened to get a fancy pass, BUT I totally agree with you about the Palace/Matinee—I think the majority of the movies I ended up going to were at the Egyptian/Chinese and mostly before 6pm. My boyfriend was also there but didn't have a pass, but got in on standby to almost everything he wanted (and paid much less than the cost of a pass for the privilege to do so!). Glad you had a good time, and hopefully it will coincide with your school schedule next year as well!

Katy said...

Congrats on the trip! I'm sorry that the pass didn't work out on some occassions but it seems like you had a very nice experience. So cool that you got to sit so close to Robert, Eva, and Diane. When Novak appeared at the Oscars, it was ridiculous to see the criticism she got on Twitter. I don't go anywhere near social media on award nights because of the insulting live tweeting. Great tips about the passes/cost; if I wind up going to the festival one of these years, I'll definitely remember your advice. :D

Rianna said...

Lê: Though I didn't actually get to meet anyone, I kept thinking it was pretty cool that a lot of bloggers I 'know' from online were probably there, in 'real life'! I hope you get the chance to go someday, it's a lot of fun. I still can't get over the Robert Wagner incident, I mean, what irony lol.

Vintage Cameo: Thanks! Ahh, lucky you on getting a fancy pass! I don't think the matinee pass was worth it but I was really envious of those with some of the fancier passes, because that would've gotten me into Blazzing Saddles. ;) Exactly, though, I think you can get into mostly everything with the standby lines, and for a much cheaper cost. I hope so too - I'm already looking forward to going back to Hollywood again!

Katy: It was over all such a great experience! I don't understand how people could expect Kim Novak (or anyone for that matter) to look the same way she did fifty years ago. I get that some people age exceptionally well, but most people don't because aging is just that - aging. Anyways, it was really upsetting to hear about how much anxiety and hurt that it caused her. Ah, thank you, I'm glad it was helpful :)

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