Preview: 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

"All the President's Men" kicks off the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood tonight, with subject and Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein in conversation with "Spotlight" scribes Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer before the feature presentation.
“All the President’s Men” kicks off the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood tonight, with subject and Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein in conversation with “Spotlight” scribes Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer before the feature presentation.

In his compulsively readable new book “Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies,” film critic Owen Gleiberman recommends limiting one’s intake at film festivals to three movies per day. Four movies or more, Gleiberman contends, is just too many, and keeping one’s slate to three “guarantees you won’t fail to respond to the nuances in that final movie of the day—and therefore wind up punishing it—all because your system is literally fed up with images.” But what about at the TCM Classic Film Festival, which runs tonight through Sunday, where there are more than three movies a day that one will likely never, ever be able to see on a big screen again, especially if one doesn’t live in Los Angeles or New York?

It’s a delicate balance, I find, because Gleiberman’s conception of a saturation point of cinematic images for the human nervous system undoubtedly still applies to a festival of older films, but at the same time, I also find that some contact with the movies may be better than no contact at all. At Sundance or Toronto or Telluride, you know you’ll have some opportunity for future big screen viewings of most, if not all, of the movies in the coming year. But at TCMFF, you’ve often only got one shot, one opportunity, as Eminem crooned in “8 Mile.”

I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot headed into the festival, because this is the first time in three years that I won’t have other life responsibilities impeding my festival-going experience. My weekend is open. If I want, I can fit in over twenty movies over the course of TCMFF’s three and a half days. Many of my friends and colleagues take on such a load every year at TCMFF and have a blast, but then again, maybe they’re heartier than I am. Sitting up (reasonably) straight and paying attention to images can be a lot of work — that is, if you’re truly open to all that the experience has to offer. I once saw 34 movies over the course of eight days at the South by Southwest Film Festival and felt mostly engaged, but as I get a little older, I find myself becoming increasingly desensitized to the film image after even a double feature.

So I suppose my approach will be to play it by ear. I’ve composed a tentative schedule of 19 screenings, but if I begin to feel fatigue coming on, I won’t try to fight it. Especially now that I no longer consider myself a part of film academia, having decided against entering a Ph.D. program last year, I’m mainly at the festival to enjoy the movies, not to consume as many as possible for the sake of furthering a dialogue on the art-form. Even still, despite Gleiberman’s sage festival-going advice, I’m sure I will find myself with “tally envy” when the person sitting next to me at a Sunday screening tells me they’ve seen over 20 films since the festival started.

In past years, I’ve written my festival preview in strict chronological order – a time-arranged laundry list of films and special guests that piqued my interest. However, with the winnowing availability of 35mm prints, even for a festival like TCM’s (this year, one less auditorium than usual will screen celluloid), I feel a stronger need to spotlight the films that you can see on, well, film. This endeavor is well worth pursuing, even if it often means frequently sitting in the cramped and uncomfortable Auditorium #4 of the Chinese 6 cinemas. So I’m splitting my preview into three categories: 1) See It On Celluloid!, 2) Go For the Guest(s), and 3) Special Presentations.

* * *

See It On Celluloid!

“One Potato, Two Potato” (1964) (Thurs., 7 p.m., Chinese #4) – Screening the same night as the considerably more popular “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Larry Peerce’s directorial debut formatively tackled interracial marriage in America three years earlier, with less of the enduring fanfare.

“Los Tallos Amargos” (1956) (Thurs., 9:30 p.m., Chinese #4) – Argentine film noir recently restored by the invaluable UCLA Film & Television Archive.

“The More the Merrier” (1943) (Fri., 9:00 a.m., Egyptian) – George Stevens directs Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn in his last film before heading off to World War II, a comedy centered around Washington, D.C.’s wartime housing shortage.

“Never Fear” (1949) (Fri., 9:30 a.m., Chinese #4) – Ida Lupino has received increased attention in the film blogosphere thanks to the growing interest in examining early women directors’ careers; here’s your chance to catch the restored version of her official directorial debut, long virtually impossible to see.

“He Ran All the Way” (1951) (Fri., Noon, Egyptian) – If you thought last year’s “Trumbo” was a reductively simple look at the Hollywood Blacklist (you would be right), here’s your chance to go back to a primary source. This clever piece of noir was co-written by Dalton Trumbo and Hugo Butler and directed by John Berry, all of whom were blacklisted in the ’50s.

“Double Harness” (1933) (Fri., Noon, Chinese #4) – John Cromwell directs Ann Harding and William Powell in this pre-Code comedy. Cromwell’s son James, equally accomplished in his own regard as an actor, will be on hand to introduce.

“Tea and Sympathy” (1956) (Fri., 2:00 p.m., Chinese #4) – Here’s your shot at Minnelli on 35mm, and how could you resist that? It’s also one of the only color films playing on 35mm the entire festival, along with…

“Trapeze” (1956) (Fri, 2:30 p.m., Egyptian) – Carol Reed’s first film in the United States, starring Burt Lancaster. A crowdpleaser.

“Pleasure Cruise” (1933) (Fri., 5:15 p.m., Chinese #4) – More pre-Code comedy fun. The festival program bills it as quite the wacky farce.

“The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928) (Fri., 7:15 p.m., Egyptian) – See “Special Presentations.”

“6 Hours to Live” (1932) (Fri, 7:15 p.m., Chinese #4) – I’ll defer to the festival program: “The early Hollywood films of William Dieterle are ripe for reappraisal, as they provide a fascinating bridge between the German matinee idol who worked for such masters of Expressionism as F.W. Murnau and Paul Leni, and the director of such glossy Hollywood features as ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (1939) and ‘Portrait of Jennie’ (1948). This 1932 release is doubly fascinating as it was one of Fox Pictures’ rare forays into science fiction and horror.”

“The Pride of the Yankees” (1942) (Fri., 9:30 p.m., Chinese #4) – The inspirational sports movie is one of the genres being honored at this year’s festival, and with baseball season having just started up, you can’t do better than this biography of Lou Gehrig. Sure, the showing of “Field of Dreams” in the grand Grauman’s Chinese the next morning is bound to be fun, but Kevin Costner didn’t win his third Oscar for that film like Gary Cooper did for this one, did he?

“Repeat Performance” (1947) (Fri., 10:00 p.m., Egyptian) – Recently restored and thereby hoist out of obscurity by the Film Noir Foundation, it’s billed as “film noir meets ‘The Twilight Zone.’”

“One Man’s Journey” (1933) (Sat., 9:00 a.m., Chinese #4) – More pre-Code fun and more Joel McCrea.

“A House Divided” (1931) (Sat, 11:30 a.m., Chinese #4) – William Wyler’s second talkie, starring Walter Huston, Helen Chandler, and Kent Douglass.

“A Face in the Crowd” (1957) (Sat., 11:45 a.m., Egyptian) – Elia Kazan’s time-honored classic – need I say more?

“Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back” (1934) (Sat., 1:30 p.m., Chinese #4) – According to the festival program, some fans consider this the best of all the Bulldog Drummond movies.

“The Big Sleep” (1946) (Sat., 3:15 p.m., Egyptian) – Bogie, Bacall, film canon, etc., etc. It screens a lot around town in 35mm—I saw it at LACMA last year—so if you’re local, you probably want to spread your time resources elsewhere. But if you’re in from out of town and you love (or haven’t seen) the film, why not? Very appropriately, it’s being screened back-to-back with Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye,” which also featured a certain Philip Marlowe.

“The Yearling” (1946) (Sat., 3:45 p.m., Chinese #4) – Animal movies are being honored at this year’s TCMFF (if you always felt the need to see “Lassie Come Home” on a big screen, now’s your chance, albeit in DCP), and this picture finds a boy played by a young Claude Jarman Jr. parenting a deer. His own parents are Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman, naturally.

“The Long Goodbye” (1973) (Sat., 6:15 p.m., Egyptian) – You’ve probably seen Robert Altman’s great, hazy LA detective movie, but have you seen it with star Elliott Gould in person?

“King of Kings” (1961) (Sun., 9:00 a.m., Egyptian) – Buckle up for a long religious epic. It’s directed by Nicolas Ray and Rip Torn plays Judas – need I say more? 

“Law and Order” (1932) (Sun., 12:15 p.m., Chinese #4) – From the festival program: “This little-seen film from Universal has been called one of the essential early 1930s Westerns because of its script by John Huston, acting from his father, Walter, and the surprisingly fluid direction of Edward L. Cahn.” It was remade into the 1953 Ronald Reagan vehicle of the same name.

“Children of a Lesser God” (1986) (Sun, 1:00 p.m., Egyptian) – At least one ’80s or ’90s crowdpleaser always finds its way into the festival program.

“The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming” (1966) (Sun., 4:15 p.m., Egyptian) – Eva Marie-Saint returns to TCMFF in person to present her beloved political comedy, directed by the great Norman Jewison.

“Network” (1976) (Sun., 8:00 p.m., Egyptian) – Many contend that Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky’s satire has only become more relevant in the era of 24/7 cable news channels, but I’ve always found it to be a one-note slog that isn’t nearly as smart as billed. Star Faye Dunaway in person.

* * *

Go for the Guest(s)

“All the President’s Men” (1976) (Thurs., 6:30 p.m., Grauman’s Chinese) – The Bernstein half of Woodward and Bernstein will appear before the Opening Night Film, in conversation with “Spotlight” screenwriters Tom McCarthy and “Josh Singer,” who definitely took a few cues from the Alan J. Pakula classic.

“Lassie Come Home” (1943) (Fri., Noon, Chinese #1) – Lassie in person, guys! I trust it won’t be the embalmed corpse of the Lassie in this film, but that could be fun, too.

“The Conversation” (1974) (Fri., 2:15 p.m., Grauman’s Chinese) – Francis Ford Coppola will cement his handprints in the Chinese courtyard on Friday morning—amazing he hadn’t been bestowed that honor until now!—and the ceremony will be followed by a screening of the film that should be remembered in higher esteem than the “Godfather” trilogy. I’ve seen this digital restoration before, too, and I can attest that it’s lovely.

“Batman: The Movie” (1966) (Fri., 7:30 p.m., Poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel) – Adam West and Lee Meriwether poolside at the Roosevelt? That’s pretty once-in-a-lifetime, as far as these kinds of experiences go.

“The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) (Fri., 9:30 p.m., Grauman’s Chinese) – Alec Baldwin interviews Angela Lansbury. Yep.

“Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982) (Sat., Noon, Grauman’s Chinese) – Carl Reiner is honored with a Lifetime Tribute before a screening of his legendary spoof film.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) (Sat., Noon, Chinese #1) – Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd in conversation. Sure to be one of the most popular screenings of the fest. I may regret missing it in favor of celluloid rarities, or I may go to take a break with an old favorite and lighten the load of my first-viewing-heavy schedule.

“The King and I” (1956) (Sat., 6:30 p.m., Grauman’s Chinese) – Expect a giant crowd for Rita Moreno.

“The Endless Summer” (1966) (Sat., 6:30 p.m., Chinese #1) – The Godfather of the American surf film, Bruce Brown, in the flesh.

“Forbidden Planet” (1956) (Sat., 7:30 p.m., Poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel) – “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”-staple Greg Proops puts together an amazing monthly series of films at local haunt Cinefamily, with very funny introductions that are recorded for his podcast, “Greg Proops Film Club.” If you’re from out of town and don’t normally get to enjoy Proops in person, you’ve got to give this a try.

“Band of Outsiders” (1964) (Sat., 9:15 p.m., Chinese #1) – Jean-Luc Godard’s muse and a legend in her own right, Anna Karina flies in from Europe and makes an appearance before the U.S. premiere of the new restoration of “Band of Outsiders,” an inspiration to so many filmmakers working today.

“Rocky” (1976) (Sat., 9:45 p.m., Grauman’s Chinese) – Talia Shire may have left the franchise in its most recent incarnations, but she’s still synonymous with “Rocky,” and appearing at TCMFF to support everybody’s favorite heavyweight.

“M*A*S*H” (1970) (Sun., 9:15 a.m., Grauman’s Chinese) – If you miss your chance to see Elliott Gould at “The Long Goodbye” the night before, he’s back for Altman’s film version of “M*A*S*H.”

“All That Heaven Allows” (1955) (Sun., 9:45 a.m., Chinese #1) – Allison Anders, seminal indie filmmaker of the 1990s with a great perspective on the industry, introduces Douglas Sirk’s sumptuous classic melodrama, one of my favorite films of all time.

“Fat City” (1972) (Sun., 4:30 p.m., Grauman’s Chinese) – The phenomenal, enduring actor Stacy Keach introduces one of his first leading roles, in John Huston’s dynamo boxing flick “Fat City.”

“The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming” (1966) (Sun., 4:15 p.m., Egyptian) and “Network” (1976) (Sun., 8:00 p.m., Egyptian) – Already mentioned above, but, you know, Eva Marie Saint and Faye Dunaway deserve repeating.

* * *

Special Presentations

“Amazing Film Discoveries” (2016) (Fri., 3:00 p.m., Chinese #1) – From the festival program: “French archivist Serge Bromberg presents one of the greatest finds in film preservation history at this special screening featuring a collection of slapstick shorts including ‘The Battle of the Century.’” Put your discovery cap on.

“The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928) (Fri., 7:15 p.m., Egyptian) – The consistent highlight of each annual TCM Film Festival has been the year’s live music-accompanied performances of silent films. Last year, the Alloy Orchestra gave a performance of their World Premiere score for Buster Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” This year, Dr. Mark Sumer conducts a live orchestra and vocalists for a 35mm presentation of “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” in what is being dubbed as an “entirely new” type of experience. I can’t wait!

“90th Anniversary of the Vitaphone” (Sat., 9:00 a.m., Egyptian) – From the festival program: “Since 1991, The Vitaphone Project, a collection of professional and amateur archivists and record collectors, have worked to restore original Vitaphone elements and transfer them to 35mm. Their work makes it possible for TCM to screen 7 vintage Vitaphone shorts, including the work of such future stars as George Burns and Gracie Allen, Baby Rose Marie and Molly Picon.” Can’t miss it!

“A Short History of Widescreen Cinema” (2014) – Experts Leonard Maltin and Christopher Reyna lead a lecture/presentation on the long, enduring history of ultra-wide film images. Since graduating from USC last year, I haven’t gotten to see a Maltin lecture, so this should satiate my cravings for what used to be a regular fixture in my life.

“GOG in 3D” (1954) (Sat., Midnight, Chinese #1) – TCM usually has a lot of fun with one 3D genre film selection each year at the festival, and this is no exception. This is a World Premiere restoration of the 1954 sci-fi mystery, “filled with male chauvinism and anti-Communist paranoia,” presented by leading restoration experts Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz. Get your caffeine ready, because it runs late into the evening (morning).

“Holiday in Spain” (1960) (Sun., 10:00 a.m., Cinerama Dome) – The Cinerama Dome on Sunset Blvd., about a mile Southeast of TCMFF’s Hollywood and Highland hub, screens this Cinerama film once a year. But they’ve never shown it as originally intended: in Smell-O-Vision! TCM has been working on this presentation for a while, and we should reward their efforts. At 27 years old, I’ve never had the opportunity to see a film in true Smell-O-Vision (I’ve only experienced the scratch-‘n-sniff card simulation), so this should be a gas, pun intended.

* * *

There you have it: another embarrassment of riches from TCM. And, hard as it may be to believe, I’ve barely scratched the surface on this year’s offerings. Be sure to check out the full festival schedule at: Festival passes are still available for purchase and individual tickets are available on the day-of-show for $20 a piece. I’ll be tweeting all weekend and I’ll be back with my coverage of the festival early next week, but until then, go see an old movie!