It was good to be back. I’ve never been more grateful to be able to cover this festival. While it wasn’t lacking in any way, TCMFF felt appropriately more subdued this time around. There was a feeling of TCM getting its feet wet again as it moved back into the complicated task of producing a film festival. All the essentials were in place though. I saw ten films, the lowest number I’d seen for a TCMFF, and I liked the easier pace. It was good to sleep in a couple of mornings and take time for meals and relaxing at Club TCM, the gathering space in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
It’s been interesting, and a bit bittersweet, to see the roster of guests change over the years. When I first started going to the festival, I would see stars like Maureen O’Hara and Christopher Plummer. But time moves on and now there are many newer films on the program because they feature the stars that are still with us. For that reason, the only pre-1970s films I saw were Queen Bee (1955), Cocktail Hour (1933), and After the Thin Man (1936). I loved the first because I forgot how campy it is and the film was new to a lot of the audience so it was fun to hear the astonished reactions. I found the pre-Code Cocktail Hour a little dull, though star Bebe Daniels is always wonderful to see; it was my one mild disappointment of the festival. I’d never seen a Thin Man flick in a theater before and now I’d love to see all of them. All films play differently in a movie theater compared to home viewing, but this one was especially rich because there’s always so much going on in this series and you can easily miss little details.
As for the rest of my schedule, I focused on Midnight screenings and guests I wanted to see. Otherwise I could have easily filled my time with studio-age films; that kind of film still made up the bulk of what was on offer. I always make a point of seeing the Midnights. There’s a fun party atmosphere in the theater and these kinds of flicks are always my go-to in daily life. Miracle Mile (1988) is an odd movie: it’s so bleak and yet it has the sweetest emerging romance at its core. I’ll admit it was a rough watch after having been awake for almost 24 hours, but given the anxiety in our current world, it was a perfect choice. Polyester (1981) was a more light-hearted and raunchy affair. Mink Stole and Mario Cantone struck the perfect tone before the screening. I love how Stole has been in all these wild films for John Waters and yet her vibe is solidly fun aunt.
The crowd was a lot rowdier than in past Midnights. People shouted out and talked often; it felt a bit like everyone was letting off steam after being away for so long. I was sleepy, but this is one of my favorite Waters films because he’s so good at puncturing the domestic American Dream and the cast is hilarious, especially Divine and Tab Hunter.
Cooley High (1975)
My festival highlight came early with the cast and director reunion of this funny and heartbreaking independent classic. I started tearing up almost as soon as the panel began because I was so overcome by the charisma and chemistry up on the stage.
It was wonderful to finally see the Hollywood Legion Theater. I’d missed seeing anything there when it was first a part of the festival in 2019. It’s a gorgeous old theater with beautiful classic details and seeing a film there felt almost intimate despite it being spacious and open in the auditorium. I was sad to not have time to see the basement speakeasy. Next time! This incredible reunion included director Michael Schultz and cast members Cynthia Davis, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Garrett Morris, Glynn Turman, and Steven Williams. Jacqueline Stewart did an excellent job giving everyone a chance to speak, while letting them run a little wild at the same time. Williams in particular was a character! Such a funny man, trash talking and cutting up like a born performer.
Overall there was such a warm feeling to this gathering. All of the cast members have remained friends and their mutual respect was truly touching to see.
I hadn’t seen the movie for a while and had forgotten how fun and funny it is. It has some gut-wrenching moments, but for the most part it’s about kids growing up, having fun together, dancing, and enjoying their youth despite the challenges around them.
While I’d recently reviewed the Blu-ray of this twisty, amusing film, I couldn’t miss the chance to see Dave Karger interview Richard Benjamin. I’ve admired him for a long time and having recently heard a great episode of Gilbert Gottfried’s (RIP) podcast in which he and longtime wife Paula Prentiss were guests, I knew he would be sharp and entertaining.
It was amusing to see this gentle, kind man after he’d played a dramatically different role in the movie. Dyan Cannon’s role in the film was based on the agent Sue Mengers, who was also Benjamin’s agent. Apparently she accepted the role for him before he had a chance to read the script (she also did that for Westworld, so the woman had good instincts). Fortunately he wanted the part!
It was touching to hear Benjamin talk about his five-decade marriage with Prentiss. What a rarity in any case let alone Hollywood. How lucky that they found each other.
I’ve got a soft spot for this swoony romance and seeing Alicia Malone interview Jane Seymour was on the top of my list for the festival that was cancelled, so I was glad she was able to reschedule her appearance for this year. She was every bit as elegant and charming as I expected.
Seymour had a wonderful time during the production of the film. She and costar Christopher Reeve even fell in love, though he broke her heart when a girlfriend announced her pregnancy with him and he had to break up with Seymour. The two remained friends throughout the years though and he was never far from her thoughts. I was moved that real life had mirrored the film in some ways.
I thought that I was going to be an emotional wreck watching this movie on the big screen, but I left completely dry-eyed. Not sure why, but I am guessing it just hits different when viewed with a crowd. Still, I loved seeing it in a theater and it was as great a moment as I’d hoped.
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
I hadn’t seen this remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) for years and couldn’t remember if I liked it (the soundtrack was distractingly dated, but it was charming overall), but I wanted to make sure I saw at least one film in the grand and gorgeous Chinese Theater and I thought it would be great to see Warren Beatty.
One of the things I love about Beatty is that at a certain point he put aside his career to enjoy his personal life. With a thriving marriage and grown sons, he expressed his happiness at taking the time to be with them. Despite not making many films for an actor, director, and producer of his stature, he certainly hasn’t missed out as far as making great work and finding artistic satisfaction.
I’ve always had an image of the young Beatty in mind; the mischievous guy who constantly chased women. It was interesting to see the mature man, full of wit, wisdom, and a knack for living life.
Drunken Master II (1994)
The second-to-last film on Saturday night is generally when I start to lose my mojo at TCMFF (it's always the day I see the most films), so it was fantastic to see a flick so full of energy.
I used to watch Kung-Fu movies in theaters all the time in the 90s when Jackie Chan became a US sensation with Rumble in the Bronx (1995) and Super Cop (1992). It was great to see Hong Kong action on the big screen again and I hope TCM will program more genre classics like these at future festivals.
I took it easy on Sunday, but made sure to go to Alicia Malone’s book signing since I hadn’t been in town to say hello to her at the media mixer. It was great to chat. She’s been one of my favorite podcast interviewees so far. Such a wise and kind person!
We posed in this goofy way in memory of how much the Zoom froze when we did the interview. Of course she looked fabulous every time she froze!
Afterwards I caught a bit of the panel Reframed: Exploring the Complex Topic of Art vs. Artist in Club TCM. The discussion with Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Nancy Wang Yuen, and Roxane Gay was fascinating, but predictably the chat offered more questions than answers. Still, this was a productive conversation and I especially appreciated Gay’s balanced perspective. She is a great thinker.
WOW. What a fantastic way to end the festival. Just when I’m ready for a long winter’s nap, Pam Grier comes in literally dancing (to James Brown no less) and blows everyone away with an everything-but-the-kitchen sink interview. Jacqueline Stewart wisely let Grier go for it as she was all over the place, but was also often profound and had some fascinating life stories to share.
After Coffy I had another chance to spend time with friends and soak up that last bit of festival atmosphere at the closing night party. I’ve always found this event to be crowded and stressful, but moving it to poolside completely changed the experience me. I lingered much longer, was able to see people I wanted to catch up more easily. It was all more purely enjoyable.
I’m glad I went back to TCMFF in these strange times. I came home healthy, happy, and ready for next year!