The question on everybody’s mind at last year’s TCM Classic Film Festival was: Is this the end of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre as we know and love it? There was a collective feeling of uncertainty as festival-goers filed into the grand old movie palace for the closing night presentation of Buster Keaton’s “The General,” the final public show before it was remodeled into an IMAX venue. Would the impeccably ornamented Grauman’s become just another generic IMAX screen in the transition? Would the TCM festival have to move to make way for the standard IMAX bookings?
As it turns out, our fear was unwarranted. Grauman’s—I choose to ignore the naming rights deal that forces it to officially be called the “TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX”—is alive better than ever, with all its original prestige preserved, plus the added benefits of new stadium seating and updated projection and sound. And despite the IMAX licensing deal, it will once again be the premiere venue for the TCM Classic Film Festival this year, operating alongside the mall multiplex next-door, the El Capitan across the street, and the Egyptian down the block.
Last year, I opened my preview piece with my tentative schedule, but once immersed in the festival, I quickly learned that this event defies schedule-making. With great films everywhere you turn, it offers badge-holders the rare opportunity to pick what they feel like in the moment and rarely ever regret it. I called audibles more often than Payton Manning and was all the better for it, discovering great works by Leo McCarey (“Ruggles of Red Gap”) and Cy Endfield (“Try and Get Me”) on whims.
So this year I’ll simply try to give you a sense of the breadth of the festivities, for there are quite literally hundreds of schedule permutations that would result in a rewarding festival experience.
One of the main draws of the TCM Classic Film Festival is the bevy of world premiere restorations of revered favorites. This year, the festival opens with one such restoration of 1955’s “Oklahoma!”, with lead actress Shirley Jones in person to present it. This fun continues Friday with Welles’ “Touch of Evil” (from the negative), Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” (from original pre-film elements), and Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our Lives.” On Saturday, the world premiere restorations are “Godzilla” (see it before the new remake, with remake director Gareth Evans in person!), “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” “A Hard Day’s Night” (from the negative), 1943’s “Stormy Weather” (ditto), 1932’s “Hat Check Girl,” and “How Green Was My Valley” (with 93-year-old Maureen O’Hara in person!).
There are also celebrity guests accompanying nearly every show. In addition to the aforementioned Jones and O’Hara, the Hollywood legends on tap include Margaret O’Brien (with “Meet Me in St. Louis”), editor Thelma Schoonmaker (with her late husband Michael Powell’s “A Matter of Life and Death”), Paula Prentiss (with “The World of Henry Orient”), Richard Dreyfuss (with both “The Goodbye Girl” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus”), Mel Brooks (with “Blazing Saddles”), Kim Novak (with “Bell Book and Candle”), William Friedkin (with “Sorcerer”), Jerry Lewis (with “The Nutty Professor”), Candy Clark (with “American Graffiti”), Norman Jewison (with “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”), and Alan Arkin (with “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”), who will also film an hour-long interview special at the nearby Montalbán Theatre to air on TCM next year.
And that’s not even accounting for the current stars and filmmakers who will be presenting their personal favorites. Among the highlights in this category are Alec Baldwin (with “A Hard Day’s Night”), Anna Kendrick (with Cukor’s “The Women”), Bill Hader (with “The Muppet Movie”), Joe Dante (with the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), Patton Oswalt (with “Eraserhead”), Greg Proops (with “Bachelor Mother”), and Dana Gould (with “Freaks”).
We’d be here all day if I began to rattle off all the glorious 35mm archival prints you can catch at the Egyptian and in the indoor Chinese auditoriums #4 and #6. Two big highlights in this department honor the recently deceased: 1968’s “The Lion in Winter” starring Peter O’Toole and 1944’s “National Velvet” starring Mickey Rooney.
But more than all the great movies, expertly projected prints, and high-profile guests, I’m looking forward to soaking up the festival atmosphere. Here’s a festival that’s not about sales, not about rushing out of screenings to post the first review of a given title, not about getting scoops. It’s about the love of movies, pure and simple. You’re surrounded by fellow cinephiles, and the enthusiasm is infectious, both in the chatter-filled hallways and the darkened theaters. When so much of movie culture these days is dominated by intangible hype for future releases rather than celebrating the tangible treasures that already exist, the TCM Classic Film Festival is a nice reminder of what really matters about cinema.