Los Angeles is home to hundreds of film-related events every year, and even though purist cinephiles often bemoan a lack of access to older films compared to New York, our repertory circuit stacks up pretty well: Cinefamily, the New Beverly, the Egyptian, the Aero, UCLA’s Billy Wilder, LACMA, the list goes on. But nothing in this city quite compares to the annual TCM Classic Film Festival, held one weekend each Spring in Hollywood, in terms of one’s ability to see crown jewels of prior generations on the big screen. Furthermore, a real air of excitement surrounds every one of them, as the audiences come in from far and wide—not just from across America, but around the world—to catch the silver-screen glory. Where else in the contemporary universe will you find 350 people rapturously applauding Ward Bond’s name during an opening credits sequence? (Yes, that happened last year, much to my viewing companion’s delight.) The tickets aren’t cheap—the “Palace Pass” buys you access to the largest venues for $299, while the “Spotlight Pass” takes you everywhere in the festival for $1,649—but the demand couldn’t be higher. I haven’t been to Toronto, Venice, or Cannes, but I can’t imagine any other festival eliciting as much excitement as this one, and the movies aren’t even new to most viewers.
A brand-new, 50th Anniversary restoration of “The Sound of Music,” with stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in person, is sure to pack every seat in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre when it opens the festival tonight at 6:15 p.m. I’ll be parked in my usual second-story seat of the Hollywood and Highland Baja Fresh to have a bird’s eye view of the red carpet at 5 (seriously, try it!). Few films have had as much of an enduring appeal across generations as “The Sound of Music.” But you don’t need me to tell you that. Here are some of the other highlights of this year’s festival, for which the organizing theme is “History According to Hollywood,” broken down by day:
Thursday, March 26
“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (John Ford, 1962, USA) – The festival usually boasts at least a couple great John Ford films, and this year is no exception. Last year, we got a 35mm print and a particularly lovely DCP restoration of “The Quiet Man” (those colors still remain etched in my mind a year later!), and this time we get a digital version of “Liberty Valence” and an archival copies of “Young Mr. Lincoln,” “My Darling Clementine,” and “They Were Expendable.” If you want a taste of the TCM audiences’ enthusiasm, you probably won’t see them more riled up than with a movie that stars Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and Lee Marvin.
“Breaker Morant” (Bruce Beresford, 1980, Australia) – You would be forgiven for thinking that the TCM Classic Film Festival is just limited to Classical Hollywood, but that’s just one component of the show. There’s actually a decent presence of international auteurs here—Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” was one of the favorites last year—and some even more offbeat choices. “Breaker Morant,” one of the “crowning glories” of the Australian New Wave as the program does it, draws parallels between the Boer Wars and the Vietnam War. You might recognize director Bruce Beresford’s name from his Hollywood hits: “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Double Jeopardy,” and “Tender Mercies” among others.
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Friday, March 27
“The Dawn of Technicolor” – Historians David Pierce and James Layton, the authors of The Dawn of Technicolor, present a 90-minute illustrated presentation that covers the development of Technicolor, with plenty of 35mm and HD clips. This isn’t your everyday look at The Wizard of Oz; their presentation mainly covers 1915 to 1934, so there is plenty of new stuff to learn.
“Lawrence of Arabia” (David Lean, 1962, UK) – Yes, the venerable epic is best seen projected on 70mm film, but I have seen the 4K DCP that TCM will be piping through the digital projector at the El Capitan, and I can assure you it’s absolutely gorgeous (as is the venue). But the real reason to reunite with Lawrence is because there will be a Q&A with editor Anne V. Coates, the 89-year-old wonder who’s still cutting movies today (“Fifty Shades of Grey” most recently, I kid you not).
“My Darling Clementine” (John Ford, 1946, USA) and “Young Mr. Lincoln” (John Ford, 1939, USA) – Henry Fonda will be on hand to talk about his father’s work with John Ford, one of the great treats of the festival. Jane had her handprint ceremony at TCM Fest a few years back, so the festival has truly become a family affair.
“Lenny” (Bob Fosse, 1974, USA) – TCM knows how to bring in some star power, and joining festival-regular Alec Baldwin for this presentation of Bob Fosse’s “Lenny” is lead actor Dustin Hoffman. This one’s been going through a real resurgence lately—the New Beverly screened it a few months back—so it’s high time to revisit the black-and-white biography or check it out for the first time.
“Chimes at Midnight” (Orson Welles, 1965, UK) – This used to be one of the most difficult Orson Welles films to see, but thanks to a new 4K restoration, the Shakespeare adaptation that’s just as critically celebrated as many of Welles’ most canonical achievements is about to find a new following. See it and join the team!
“Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (Charles Reisner, 1928, USA) – For my money, nothing beats TCM Fest’s presentations of silent films with live orchestras. Two years ago, the Alloy Orchestra accompanied Keaton’s “The General” for the final public performance inside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre before it was converted into an IMAX screen, and now Maestro Carl Davis will conduct alongside a World Premiere restoration of Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” at the Egyptian. While this festival is full of “can’t miss” opportunities, this tops the list, even if you’ve seen the film many times before.
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Saturday, March 28
“The Man Who Would Be King” (John Huston, 1975, UK/USA) – If you don’t have the dough to spring for a festival pass that will get you into “The Sound of Music,” you still have your chance to get your fill of Christopher Plummer (present for another Q&A) with this John Huston classic that’s equally epic and half as long. I try to make a point of seeing at least one “giant film” at TCM Fest each year to take advantage of the huge Hollywood single-screens, and this was a good candidate, especially if you didn’t catch the 2008 AFI presentation with Sean Connery in person at the Cinerama Dome.
“1776” (Peter H. Hunt, 1972, USA) – This musical is etched into my mind given how many of my middle school and high school history teachers showed it when they needed a day off. I couldn’t tell you if it’s any good today, but if you’re around my age, I needn’t say any more than that Mr. Feeny himself, William Daniels, will be in attendance. That’s some star power that not even Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer can match! And it’s a new 4K “Director’s Cut,” in case you’re not as much of a “Boy Meets World” obsessor as I am and therefore still need a reason to go.
“Malcom X” (Spike Lee, 1992, USA) – Spike Lee in attendance for a 35mm presentation of the contemporary classic at the Egyptian – Ya dig? Sho ‘nuff.
“Christmas in July” (Preston Sturges, 1940, USA) – I love me some Preston Sturges, from “The Lady Eve” to “Sullivan’s Travels” to “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” to “The Palm Beach Story.” Sometimes, after ten movies in a row, the festival experience can get a little exhausting, but with the trademark “Sturges’ touch” and a running time of just 67 minutes, the filmmaker’s lesser-seen sophomore feature sounds like a perfect addition to any festival-goer’s schedule. Presented in 35mm.
“The Apartment” (Billy Wilder, 1960, USA) – Oh, they scored another heavy-hitter for this one. I’m sure you’ve seen Billy Wilder’s classic 1960 comedy—and if you haven’t, there’s no excuse for not attending this presentation—but I’m betting you haven’t seen it in a grand hall like Grauman’s Chinese with Shirley MacLaine speaking beforehand. That’s an experience you don’t want to miss.
“The French Connection” (William Friedkin, 1971, USA) – While this is not my favorite of the films screening in the Saturday late show timeslot—which is truly saying something given that it’s a wholly deserving Best Picture winner—I must include it because William Friedkin will speak with Alec Baldwin ahead of the presentation. Needless to say, filmmakers don’t get much better than Mr. Friedkin, who showed his recently-restored “Sorcerer” last year. And if his Twitter account is any indication, Friedkin’s take on current cinema is just as vital now as it was in the New Hollywood of the 1970s.
“Imitation of Life” (Douglas Sirk, 1959, USA) – My favorite film of all time, presented in a shiny new digital restoration. A perfect choice for TCM, given that they screened the 1934 version last year. But as much as I love this motion picture and its director, deep in my bones, I know that the choice program for the night must be…
“Return of the Dream Machine: Hand Cranked Projector Show” (1902-1913) – This is why I love the TCM Classic Film Festival. Where else will you get to see a hand-cranked presentation of 35mm prints of some of early cinema’s most seminal works, from George Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) to the Edison Company’s “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) to D.W. Griffith’s “A Corner in Wheat” (1909) to Lois Weber’s lesser-seen thriller “Suspense” (1913)? I have been teaching a course on early cinema this semester, and I can’t imagine a more fitting instructional complement. Don’t miss this.
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Sunday, March 29
“Patton” (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970, USA) – Getting up for the 9 a.m. show on Sunday becomes a challenge after you’ve watched at least a dozen films at the festival by that point, but a 70mm print of “Patton” makes early rising essential. 70mm presentations are not exactly rare in this town—“Lawrence of Arabia” screens in the format at the Egyptian and the Aero practically once a month—but you almost never see “Patton” shown this way. So seize the opportunity while you’re at it, because that waxy Blu-Ray just won’t compare!
“Out of Sight” (Steven Soderbergh, 1998, USA) – If you’ve had your fill of “Lawrence of Arabia” but need more Anne V. Coates in your life, this is the ticket! The editor will be on hand to discuss some of her more recent editing work for Steven Soderbergh, and after staring at black-and-white all day, the vibrant ’90s Florida colors of this first-rate heist romance will hit the spot.
“Marriage Italian Style” (Vittorio De Sica, 1964, Italy) – Sophia Loren making an appearance in Grauman’s Chinese. The applause will last for days, I can only imagine.
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The 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival runs Thursday, March 26 through Sunday, March 29 in the heart of Hollywood. Festival passes can be purchases at http://filmfestival.tcm.com and individual tickets, when available, can be purchased onsite at the theater for $20. The full festival schedule can be accessed at http://filmfestival.tcm.com/programs/festival-schedule/.