In April I grabbed my copy of Eve Babitz’s Eve’s Hollywood and made my annual visit (my third in as many years) to Hollywood for TCMFF for my favourite time of year. I live for this trip: so many of my favourite people in one place, fantastic movies, a great city… I always have fun but the good times were exceptional this year — a combination of staying in Los Angeles for almost three weeks, hanging out with friends, visiting exhibitions, and having more adventures. I may have seen fewer movies this year (including none on the festival’s last day, more of that to follow ) but I had a damn good time. I also caught the closing of Noir Fest (a dream!) and was witness to the Avengers: Infinity War premiere in all its exciting madness. Closed roads, the Boulevard shut down to traffic, chaos and crowds. So grand was the scale it only slightly trailed the was equivalent of the Academy Awards…and no, I was too short to see a thing. But what a joy to witness. And, in many ways, it set the tone of things to come…(Alas, I did not have the opportunity to find James Dean at the Griffin Observatory…maybe next year…)
It’s almost time for #TCMFF, which means the return of #TCMKnittingClub! After a small hiatus, we (‘we’ being my friend Nora aka Nitrate Diva and I) are back with out yarn and calling all Classic Film Fans and/or knitters out there. This club materialised from a conversation we had a while ago: how much fun it would be to combine our love of yarn with classic movies, especially as so many film goddesses were knitters themselves.
Hope you enjoy out latest offering! And please sign up for bimonthly treats in your inbox!
My last night in Los Angeles would not have been complete without a visit to the New Beverly. For ages I have lusted over their programme from afar and now, on my final night, I had been presented with a perfect opportunity: Avanti! (1972) followed by Fedora (1978). Perfect – a double dose of Billy Wilder.
Avanti! is a family favourite and if you have ever visited Italy (especially Southern Italy) you will understand why this is such a funny film. The country’s bureaucracy, national mentality, the food, the attitudes – everything is exposed so perfectly and on the nose that you are not mocking a cultural stereotype but laughing because it is so familiar. Once, visiting relatives in Italy many years ago, we were in a restaurant when the waiter began to rapidly relay the varieties of pasta they served. I burst into laughter because it reminded me so much of a certain scene. Also, it is Jack Lemmon doing his note-perfect uptight shtick and Juliet Mills as his insecure, loving opposite. It may not be one of Wilder’s most praised or best loved films but it is a gem nonetheless.
Then, for a complete change of pace and tone, Fedora. Wow. This very obscure Wilder centres on a faded, reclusive movie star (Marthe Keller) whose ex-lover (William Holden) – now a Hollywood producer – attempts to lure out of retirement. My interpretation of the film was a combination of tragedy and body horror while Ariel (who kindly came out for my final night despite having work to do!) mentioned that it was Wilder’s version of his much long-for-but-never-made horror film. Fedora seeks youth and beauty because she wants to stay young and relevant: she’s mannequin-like, eternal, vampiric and I found it rather fittingly that the veneer of her appearance had unintentionally been enhanced by the slight pink/peach tone of the 35mm film. It was a perfect exposition of the lethal and deadly nature of the showbiz industry. A befitting film for a final night in Hollywood.
Sunday. The final day. A day to say final hellos, drawn-out goodbyes and leave our happy bubble. It took forever to get here and now it’s Sunday. How did it got so quickly? We were just gaining momentum! I know that the final day hits people hard – and that every year it does not get any easier – but I know I was not prepared for the emotional gut punch that hit everyone hard that evening.
I was up and about early for Douglas Sirk’s lush and heartrending All That Heaven Allows (1955) which was to be introduced by the director Allison Anders and TCM Film Programmer Millie De Chirico. I had already met Allison at The Formosa – she is the sweetest person – and and we had another chat after the film. Her introduction highlighted the relationships between single parents and their grown up children; how in the film Jane Wyman’s son and daughter are determined to keep their widowed mother in their childhood home, glued to a TV screen, and alone while she should be out having fun and enjoying her life with Rock Hudson. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking film and screened DCP was stunning. I have never seen the film on the big screen but the colours were extraordinary – the red dress, the greenery, the snow…everything looked so luxuriant.
It was nice to walk out of the theatre and into Laura, Aurora and Kellee – aka the festival’s designated ‘Ribbon Lady’ – who kindly showered me with many collectable ribbons. I stayed around the TCL for Horse Feathers (1932) in the early afternoon. Most of you already know that I am slightly nutty about a certain troop of brothers and equally adore their tragic co-star Thelma Todd. The Marx Bothers are always more fun in a crowd and it was great to chat to Danny and watch him sketch before the film started. Kristen gave out masks and we posed alongside Anne and Peter to mark this gathering (thanks to Emily for capturing this moment!) My only gripe was that the restored print was a little scratchy and the scenes with Thelma appeared to have either been cut or they jumped in a very distracting way. This was pity as they are amongst my highlights of the film. Nevertheless, Chico’s piano scene was perfect and I could not take my eyes off Thelma as she watched on, mesmerised as we all as by Chico’s extradorinaiy talent.
After the film I found Beth and was able to procure a lovely red lipstick from the Besame Cosmetics range that she was giving away at the festival as part of her “find Beth, get a lipstick or a powder!” giveaway. She was an in demand lady and I had not seen her around since the Wednesday night. We chatted for a bit in a group then I ran to catch my friend Ben for a nice long chat at Starbucks. It seemed fitting after the film as we talked a lot about British comedy – Ben, I hope I did not bore you with show recommendations and general chat!
I was very tempted to end TCMFF with Network (1976), especially as Faye Dunaway would be in attendance and I had visited Peter Finch’s grave at Hollywood Forever. However, the general gossip that this would be the festival’s ‘hot potato’ and you needed to be there pretty early to secure a place in line. Instead I plumped for The Bandwagon (1953).
In hindsight I cannot think of a more perfect film to have ended my festival experience. Preceded by an insightful interview between the choreographer Susan Stroman and Illeana Douglas, The Bandwagon – starring an almost retired Fred Astaire and drawing on his problems of dancing with the ‘too tall’ Cyd Charisse – utilises real, behind-the-scenes experiences in a homage to Broadway shows and Hollywood’s golden age. The in-jokes fly, it is snappy, funny, and the choreography is exquisite. As for the end number…wow, Cyd Charisse is an on-screen Goddess, vixen, vamp – the woman can do no wrong. I left the cinema on a high and vowing to continuing my ballet classes when I returned home. Final film over, it was time for The Roosevelt and the TCM closing night party.
Ah, the wrap party. Or, the night when we get a little tipsy, say hello to those we had yet to run into (looking at you Noralil and Jill!) and saying goodbyes to everyone else. I entered Club TCM to be greeted with a lovely big hug by Nora which only set the president for the night ahead. Lots of laughter, photos and promises to keep in touch (which we do anyway thanks to the beautiful gift of social media) and preventing the inevitable. I also got to chat with Peter L. and see Kim M. which was the icing on a brilliant, if bittersweet, night that saw us all trundling over to In-N-Out Burger for the definitive selfie of the festival before saying our goodbyes.
Everyone asked what was my highlight of the festival and I would always say the same thing: “seeing everyone and hanging out with friends”. As much as the films draw people to this event year after year – and yes, this is now an annual event for me, too – I think that seeing people is the bigger incentive. Sure, what other festivals will you see such an array of talented people, Hollywood legends, rare pre-codes or obscure cinematic gems, but to be surrounded by people who ‘get’ your love for a particular era and share the same enthusiasm as yourself is really the icing on the cake.
My first TCMFF was about putting friends and fun before films. And you know what? I wouldn’t change a damn thing.
ps. Everyone in this photo – everyone who was not in this photo – THANK YOU. I HAD THE BEST TIME!!! Until we see each other again – whether next year in Hollywood or hopefully before – I will leave you with this quote. To paraphrase Rick from Casablanca: “We’ll always have In-N-Out Burger”.
With two days left, it was time to step up a gear. There were still friends to see – those I kept missing during the festival and others who would not be attending – so a little strategic planning was in order. As previously stated, viewing priorities change on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Intentions to The Big Sleep (1948) and The Long Goodbye (1973) fell by the wayside but my original priority remained and I excitedly joined the queue for ‘An Afternoon With Carl Reiner’/Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982).
I cannot recall the first time I saw Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid but I do know that it was at home, it was during the nineties and it was very likely on VHS. I have always been surrounded by Film Noir and was spoon fed the images of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall since I was born. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I was the only girl in school whose Dad had movie stills of Bogart, Bacall and James Dean tacked up in his wardrobe. The photos were there before I was born and, almost forty years later, they are still hanging up there on their original sticky tabs from the seventies. (Hi Dad!)
The beauty of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is how it draws out everything that we love about Noir and gently pokes at elements we overlook or take for granted. It’s a funny film but we are not laughing at the Noir genre itself: we laugh because these are elements so recognisable – the slaps around the face, copious amounts of coffee and liquor, the midnight phone calls, the shoot-outs in offices. This was reciprocated by Eddie Muller – aka “The Czar of Noir” – whose introduction specified that some of his first experiences of the genre came from this film and opened them up to a whole new, younger, audience.
After the film we had the pleasure of seeing Illeana Douglas interview the film’s writer and director Carl Reiner. Such a treat – I could have listened to them talk all day. Aged ninety-four, Reiner is still as sharp as a tack, and his “oyster in a slot machine story” anecdote (use your imagination) had the audience in stitches. He gave plenty of context to the film – describing the writing/selecting the relevant scenes process as akin to a puzzle, and how its star Steve Martin (who co-wrote the film) stayed away from Noirs beforehand lest it influenced his portrayal. I learnt (and loved) the part about his crew being assembled of many individuals who had worked on some of the original films, for example composer Miklós Rózsa (Double Indemnity, 1944; The Lost Weekend, 1945) and the renowned costume designer Edith Head (winner of eight Academy Awards, including All About Eve, 1951; Roman Holiday, 1954; To Catch a Thief, 1956). It was to be Heads’s final film, an appropriate finale to a career spent dressing some of Noirs most infamous characters.
I did not stay for Reiner’s book signing but took a brief pause to catch up with friends Larry and Emily, who had texted to say that they were just around the corner. Although I had only talked with Larry prior to meeting we had a great chat and they were super nice and gracious of their time. Again, felt privileged to finally meet and talk face-to-face with people who I admire and respect after many years.
Then it was back over to Club TCM at The Roosevelt for A Conversation with Elliot Gould and to grab some Warner Archive DVD’s off Matt. Alec Baldwin was hosting and the camaraderie was lively, fun and funny. The only problem was the room itself. You know the Rior Grrl mantra “Girls to the Front”? Well, the same should have applied in Club TCM – especially “Small Girls to the Front” – as I, and many of my friends, stand at 5’0 and struggle to see a thing apart from people’s backs. Matt was struggling too. Here’s the proof. (And yes, we found humour in this and were probably the ones being shushed).
Then it was back to the TCL to see Craig and ‘Becca from This Cinematic Life. One of my favourite couples, we seem to have known each other for years and it was baffling that this would be another first. That’s the trouble with the Internet: we often forget that we are living in separate countries are not minutes away from each other. As I was going to The Endless Summer (1966) and they were seeing The King and I (1956) we basically spent the hour looking and trying the footprints outside the theatre. Very little time but a pleasure nonetheless.
On my way into the cinema I ran into Raquel. FINALLY! We kept missing each other at the Reiner afternoon and there, with no plan in action, had run into each other for the same film! We obviously marked this momentous occasion through Instagram.
Marya’s affection for The Endless Summer was a large part my choosing this film. She had talked so enthusiastically over drinks the previously evening that I would have kicked myself had I missed it. Having thoughtfully saved us places, I sat with Marya, Kristen and Raquel for the Bruce Brown interview and two hours of total relaxation.
The film is pretty self-explanatory – a documentary about surfers in search of “the perfect wave”. The film had no distribution deal in place on its release yet managed to bewitch audiences and critics with its simplicity and enthusiasm. Even though I would venture back across to Club TCM that evening for some of Forbidden Planet (1956) I thought about how appropriate The Endless Summer is in the context of TCMFF: the best moments are nothing particularly flashy or fancy – sitting with friends, talking, watching films – yet in these moments find what you are really wanting and searching for: the most sought after perfect wave.
As Raquel, Jessica and Kendahl covered Francis Ford Coppola’s handprint ceremony on Friday morning, I was still debating which films to see that day. I had already changed my mind dozens of times and TCM did not make things easier by pitting Double Harness (1933), a pre-code starring William Powell and Ann Harding, against He Ran All the Way (1951), a Noir where John Garfield holds a family to ransom over a Turkey dinner. This was to be a continuing dilemma as the pre-codes – always the festival’s biggest attraction – are consistently shown in the tiniest theatre (TCL House #4, capacity 177).
Two very enticing titles meant that this really was a win-win situation that called for one tactic: try for Double Harness and if unsuccessful run across to the Egyptian for John Garfield. This was to be a universal plan and the very long line meant that soon I joined Ariel, Peter, Nora, Coleen, Will – and the rest of us who had tried our luck that morning – to head over the road.
He Ran All The Way was hardly a second choice and did not disappoint. A gritty, menacing Noir, we were soon being terrorised by a crooked Garfield brandishing a gun, then a large piece of poultry, into the faces of Shelley Winter’s terrified family. Furthermore, I was in awe of Galdys George’s wardrobe and her superb, very minor, role as Garfield’s mother who smoked, drank and bitched her way through barely two scenes.
The sense of bleakness within He Ran All the Way is also palpable off screen. The Blacklist haunts the film – its screenplay was co-written by Dalton Trumbo and Garfield was blacklisted two months before the film’s release. It was also to be Garfield final film – he died one year later. Denis Berry, whose father John Berry (who was blacklisted after Edward Dmytruk named him as one of the Hollywood ten) directed the film, gave an affecting, personal introduction of life during this era. We can read about the time and see movies written, during and about this historical Hollywood period, but it is only when you hear it directly from someone who experienced and lived through it all that the reality truly hits home.
After refuelling it was back over to the TCL for some lighter Pre-Code sauce. Pleasure Cruise (1933) was just a ticket, a fluffy film where a married couple decide to take independent holidays: Genevieve Tobin’s high flying career woman books a cruise while her stay at home/house-husband Roland Young opts for golfing holiday. However, he has secretly taken a job as the ship’s barber, watching-on jealously as Tobin tries not to succumb to Ralph Forbes’ propositions. Meanwhile, Young has to stave off the attention of a flirty passenger – eyelash-batting, giggly Ana O’ Connor – who cannot resist waving and throwing her underwear at him. Oh, the hilarity! It’s a light riot.
The Roosevelt’s evening poolside screening of Batman (1966) was the place to be. I love this film – it remains consistently funny despite repeated viewings – and there are times when you think, “yeah, it knocks the socks off the new versions”. The icing on the cake was the pre-film interview with Adam West and Lee Meriwether hosted by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. It was funny, lively and (I’m guessing) the only time in my life where I would get to see Batman and Catwoman together in the flesh. The crowd was putty in their hands as West delivered his famous line of dialogue, “some days you just can’t get rid of a Bomb!”. He also gained extra points for his comments on the newer masked vigilantes: “what’s an Affleck?” – Pow!.
I did not stay for all of the film but managed to spot some familiar faces. I had a nice chat with Angela while Jessica talked to an older Gentleman who had met Lillian Gish in New York, 1977. There are so many interesting people at the festival…after the interview I ventured into the warmth of Club TCM. I was able to prise Marya away from her social media duties for a well-deserved chat and drink at 25 Degrees, The Roosevelt’s bar. As much as the festival is about the films, it is the moments with friends that make the time so special and such great fun. Around 10.30pm she went back to work and I called it a night, taking this great photo in the cab on the way.
Friends, films and The Formosa aside, I had a few things to check off my (imaginary) Hollywood list. My plans were not grand (or even very ambitious) and I left the hotel on Thursday morning – the day the festival would officially kick-off – intending to do two things: visit Hollywood Forever Cemetery and take the obligatory photograph of the HOLLYWOOD sign.
I like visiting cemeteries. I find them peaceful, fascinating and are often filled with incredibly intricate architecture. You walk and ponder over names, dates and lives, very often finding the more unassuming the tombstones the more fascinating the epitaph.
Hollywood Forever’s resident tour guide Karie Bible (who I had met for the first time the previously evening) walked us through a history filled morning. We learned about the cemetery, how it continues to function as a final resting place, and also experienced first-hand its popularity as a filming venue for television shows and movies. Unfortunately, and without any prior warning, we were informed that certain areas would be out of bounds (including the area where the Jane Mansfield Memorial is situated). Karie skilfully worked around this inconvenience without cutting any of the tour’s length and was able to manoeuvre us out of the camera’s way. (Not easy. Our elbows/heads/feet/hats were frequently reprimanded by the production crew). We were also warned to be on our guard against the randy peacocks who have the run of the ground. Currently in mating season, they have been known to turn on visitors. Fortunately, they were in their cages. Unfortunately, the geese were not. I cannot talk for everyone but I am sure there were zero casualties.
Thanks to Karie’s rich knowledge the morning was both tour and history lesson and, due to this being a TCMFF specific tour, we visited monuments and graves that may have been slightly too obscure for other visitors. Being a bid fan of Ed Wood, I took pleasure in seeing the resting places of his wife Kathleen O’Hara Wood, and the frequent star of his films, the B Movie legend and television host Maila Nurmi, aka Vampire.
I took many, many pictures so have tried to be selective and provide a little montage below. (I will be creating a Facebook album of this trip so please feel free to check my page over the next few days).
In the afternoon I stopped by The Roosevelt to collect the festival programme and soak up the opening night’s atmosphere. Although I originally planned to watch the red carpet arrivals and stay for the opening films, I felt the delayed tiredness creep up on me. Rather than burn out pre-festival, I decided to wander along Hollywood Boulevard. It proved very fruitful: I took photographs on the walk of fame and was complimented by ‘Marilyn Monroe’ who said that she loved my (red) lipstick. Day. Made.
Another reason I left? My hotel was having the VIP party on the roof and I had planned to sweet talk the security into letting me in. Nope, it did not work. So I had a large glass of red wine and rested up for Friday. (Also, it was probably for the best: some silly person decided to ruin the ending of Dark Victory by setting off the fire alarm in the Chinese Theatre. Everyone had to evacuate TWO MINUTES before the finale! Who does that?)
ps. Thursday marked another milestone: I took the best selfie of my life.