It started out like every other morning.
At the time, I was working in the communications department of a film and television guild and part of my daily duties was to pick up the morning trade papers (yes, back when they were still published daily), conduct a brief scan of the headlines, and alert PR to any pertinent articles. On this particular morning, however, I had no idea that my life was about to change forever. There, in Variety, was an announcement that took my breath away:
Turner Classic Movies is getting into the festival business. The Turner cabler will host the TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles April 22-25 in partnership with Vanity Fair. The fest will include more than 50 screenings of vintage and classic pics, complete with celeb guests and Q&As. TCM has hired Telluride film fest founders Bill and Stella Pence to serve as consultants.
A classic film festival. There would finally, finally be a place for those of us who adored classic cinema to meet, greet, and watch classic films as part of a community. Writer Rebecca Keegan likened it to Elvis fans finally getting their Graceland and I find this analogy spot on. It’s what made the TCM Classic Film Festival, even before the first curtain went up, so very thrilling because it became quite apparent very early on this was going to be so much more than a mere film festival. Up until that moment our fandom — oh yes, we are a fandom and a damn passionate one too — had no real way of experiencing its passions as part of a “tribe.” Comic book lovers have Comic-Con. Sci-fi fans have WorldCon. In 2010, the classic film fandom was given TCMFF.
For the next five months, my entire existence revolved around that date: April 22, 2010. Like any fangirl worth her weight, I was a woman obsessed. Over at my sister site, The Kitty Packard Pictorial, I ravenously covered festival updates and, for the first time, really joined in the classic film conversation on Twitter where I was thrilled to discover a likewise fawning fandom counting down the days to the festival. As April crept ever closer, the world felt like, well, an old Hollywood movie. In Technicolor. With a whole lotta of Judy Garland.
It came as no surprise, once the festival kicked off, that here was was a film festival with heart and soul. There were no pretentious industry mixers, no swag tents, no panel discussions about marketing and finance: just great classic films presented by, and enjoyed by, people who loved them. Here, the art of film was of serious discussion, its preservation was of paramount importance, its history respected and celebrated, and the men and women who created it were honored. Classic film fans had finally found our Graceland, our Abbey Road—our Stratford Upon Avon.
Since then, the classic film community has grown into something more than a fandom: it is a family. A close, warm, inclusive family that seems to live by George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote “family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” Because here, everyone’s experience means something, and is therefore relevant and valued. We’ve laughed together, cried together, celebrated together…even grieved…together. Like all families, our dynamics aren’t always perfect. And believe you me, I’m the first one to wholeheartedly admit that I’ve been guilty of behavior not worthy of this wonderful group of open, trusting, kind-hearted human beings. But at the end of the day, imperfections notwithstanding, we’re still a family united by the common bond of classic cinema.
This year, as I look forward to this year’s 10th annual festival which kicks off on April 11th (where I’ll be working as an official TCMFF Ambassador) I’ve decided to take a look back at my top ten favorite festival screenings.
For the record? This. List. Was. HARD.
The memories over the years are all so warm and wonderful: Seeing a Sherman Brother talk about Mary Poppins at the El Capitan, Dustin Hoffman’s in-depth discussion of Lenny, Robert Osborne interviewing Ann Blythe at Mildred Pierce, me getting interviewed by Robert Osborne in 2012…aw heck, just Robert Osborne. So in order to keep from spiraling out of control I decided keep it focused on screenings only. No panel discussions (sorry, James Layton’s “Dawn of Technicolor”) special events (yes, even A Tribute to Robert Osborne in 2014) and shenanigans (Comet Over Hollywood’s Jessica Pickens singing songs from Oklahoma! poolside at the Roosevelt).
The following are the ten screenings that, for me, were transformative experiences forever burned into my memory.
Thanks for reading and please share your #10Years10Memories in the comments below or on social!
The Narrow Margin (1952)
Director: Richard Fleischer
TCMFF Year: 2013
Guests: Eddie Muller, Jaqueline White
Eddie Muller, the “Czar of Noir”? Check. 35mm at The Egyptian Theater? Check. Film noir actress Jacqueline White? Check. Meeting my future husband? CHECK.
This new-to-me film noir was one of my must-sees at the 2013 fest. I took up my seat in a random row at the Egyptian and was scrolling through my twitter feed when someone leaned forward from the row behind. “Excuse me, are you Kitty Packard?” I looked up, stunned and startled (and more than a wee bit flattered) at someone recognizing me from my blog. I said yes, and he extended his hand for a shake. “Hi, I’m Martin Hildebrand, and I love reading your blog!” We chatted, casually, for the few minutes until the screening started. Three years later, we became husband and wife.
A Star is Born (1954)
Director: George Cukor
TCMFF Year: 2010
Guests: Robert Osborne, Alec Baldwin
Ahh, here it is: the opening film of the first ever TCMFF.
What can I say? It was a huge honor to be at the first ever TCMFF screening and seeing this decadent print on the legendary Grauman’s screen was a fantastic treat. So was getting to see Judy, in all her glory, thirty feet high, absolutely tear her soul to shreds in every number– “The Man Who Got Away” and “Born in a Trunk”, both perennial favorites, were key powerhouse moments that blew the audience away.
As humble and warm as ever, Robert Osborne took to the stage for the first ever “welcome to TCMFF” speech, aided by then TCM Essentials co-host Alec Baldwin. “I whispered to Peter Bogdanovich on the way up,” Baldwin yukked, “and said ‘Just what am I supposed to say about A Star is Born?’ He told me, ‘Say it’s a great use of the widescreen process.'”
Director: Fritz Lang
TCMFF Year: 2010
Guests: Robert Osborne, The Alloy Orchestra
The closing night screening at the first TCMFF was the North American premiere restoration of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis (1927). It screened at the Chinese theater to a packed audience and—to this day—it’s one of the most intense screening I’ve ever experienced. The Alloy Orchestra has long been one of my absolute favorite silent film accompanists (their score to Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. is pure delight) and under their creative, energetic lead the audience positively melted into the film.
For a full two and a half hours we were kept in breathless wonder and I can steel feel the applause reverberating under my feet at the end. Afterward, when the late, great Robert Osborne took to the stage to announce that the festival would be back next year we erupted into cheers. It was officially the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
North By Northwest (1959)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
TCMFF Year: 2012
Guests: Robert Osborne, Eva Marie Saint, Martin Landau
Eva Marie Saint, Martin Landau and Robert Osborne on the same stage pretty much automatically guarantees a heck of a good time. But this screening of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) at the 3rd annual TCMFF was on fire. As you can imagine, the energy in the audience was through the roof and the Chinese theater erupted when co-stars Eva Marie Saint and the late Martin Landau took the stage. The Q&A that followed was pure joy. Ms. Saint dubbed Osborne a “rock star,” to which we all heartily agreed, and Mr. Landau revealed that he had intentionally played his character as gay man.
The screening itself was, quite simply, a ton of fun. Laughter, gasps, oohs, ahhs, and more than a few cat calls created an environment of mutual delight: hard proof of why watching a movie with an audience will always be irreplaceable.
The Cameraman (1928)
Director: Edward Sedgwick/Buster Keaton
TCMFF Year: 2011
Guests: Leonard Maltin, Kevin Brownlow, Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks
This screening was my favorite moment of 2011 festival hands down. It was a crowd of crisscrossed demographics (from film students to Hollywood hipsters) some of us clapping madly at the The Cameraman’s iconic moments (Keaton riding proudly on a fire-engine) while others’ in quiet awe at witnessing Keaton’s physical fearlessness for the first time. We were packed in like sardines, different in the extreme, yet all with the same knee-jerk reactions of Buster’s comedic magic.
Vince Giordiano and his Nighthawks provided the live score which only added to the magic. Since they are highly fluent in the language of early 20th century jazz and understand the sociology of the culture that created it, they played with striking authenticity. That authenticity that provided a truly perfect background for Keaton’s film (their set list wove in period hits like Runnin’ Wild and The Mooche), creating an extra layer of energy that ramped up the audience’s already considerable excitement.
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Director: Albert and David Maysles
TCMFF Year: 2013
Guests: Albert Maysles, Haskell Wexler, Joan Churchill, Ron Schneider
A textbook example of why it’s never a good idea to open up questions to the audience, this screening is fondly remembered by all who attended for a certain, shall we say, passionate audience member who seemed intent on schooling the late, legendary Albert Maysles about…the 1960s. At a screening very much all about…the 1960s. #Facepalm
Aside from that, this screening was extremely important to me because Albert Maysles is one of my very favorite filmmakers of all time. Getting to listen to him discuss making this landmark documentary with the late (also great) Haskell Wexler was a major honor. Camera operator Joan Churchill, too, was a riot recounting a very bad acid trip she had while filming: “there were rainbows coming out of my light meter.”
Gunga Din (1939)
Director: George Stevens
TCMFF Year: 2015
Guests: Ben Burtt, Craig Barron
No list would be complete without a Ben Burtt & Craig Barron screening! This was Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt and IML’s legendary VFX expert Craig Barron’s third TCMFF appearance and already they’d gained a well-earned reputation for hosting highly entertaining screenings with their painstakingly researched presentations. As TCM’s Charlie Tabesh put it to Indiewire, “People come out of the shows raving about them. They are having so much fun up there and yet people are learning at the same time and they see a great movie. ”
That’s because Burtt and Barron are fanboys and it shows. For Din, the first (and one of the best) action/comedy buddy films, they pulled out all the stops. Clad in period-appropriate pith helmets they recreated a number of the sound effects used in the film and deconstructed some of the film’s more impressive special effects. (Oh yeah, the movie was fabulous, too!)
Funny Face (1958)
Director: Stanley Donen
TCMFF Year: 2012
Guests: Robert Osborne, Stanley Donen
Ohh, this magical screening! The late Stanley Donen was on hand at the 3rd annual TCMFF to discuss the delightful Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn musical Funny Face. Robert Osborne interviewed Donen who spoke very warmly of Hepburn, recalling the one disagreement the two had on the film: it was over her now iconic black slacks/white socks ensemble. Hepburn insisted the white socks didn’t make sense. “When the rushes came in she wrote me a little note: ‘Dear Stanley, you were right about the socks.’”
Toward the end of their chat, Osborne announced that it also happened to be Donen’s 88th birthday. And to the surprise Donen, and delight of the audience, a birthday cake was wheeled out and a glass of “champagne” (sparkling cider) passed to each of us in the audience. And there, together, we sang Happy Birthday to the Stanley Donen! What a memory.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Director: Richard Lester
TCMFF Year: 2014
Guests: Alec Baldwin, Don Was
This screening makes the top 10 list for two reasons. First: it was the world premiere of the 50th anniversary restoration of Richard Lester’s seminal rock musical and the print was stunning. As a lifelong Beatlemaniac who’s seen A Hard Day’s Night countless times, this was just like seeing it for the first time: fresh, fun, frenetic and downright gorgeous black and white photography. (Judging by the euphoric reaction of the audience, which laughed and sang and bounced in their seats for the all of the film’s razor sharp 87 minutes, the feeling was mutual.)
Reason two? Alec Baldwin conducted one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen at TCMFF. Speaking with veteran record producer Don Was, Baldwin dug deep with probing questions, certainly knowing that most of the audience already knew a thing or two about The Beatles. Eloquent and erudite, Baldwin really tapped into Was’ brain and impressed even those most seasoned of Beatles fans…like me.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
Director: Charles Walters
TCMFF Year: 2013
Guests: Leonard Maltin, Debbie Reynolds
I close this list with none other than the magnificent, late Debbie Reynolds. We knew we were in for a helluva ride when, after taking the stage amid rapturous applause, Reynolds lifter her skirt to show a little cheesecake. Debbie held court for a full half hour, well over the allotted interview time and I know I’m not alone in wishing it could have kept going as a one woman show. At times, I was crying with laughter. From recounting her fight to be cast in Molly having been told she was “too short for the part” and clapping back with: “how short is the part?” to describing how one of the most difficult dance sequences of her career was performed while pregnant…with Carrie Fisher.
It’s almost too bittersweet to write about without getting emotional here in 2019, but there, in that moment in 2013, when she was so vital and full of life? It is a memory I will always cherish.