TCMFF 2019 Recap: A First-Timer's Experience

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

I recently wrote a post specifically dedicated to Ginger-related highlights at the TCM Classic Film Festival, which you can find here. I figured that piece might be all I would write about on the event, but I decided why not elaborate a little more on my first festival experience?

My festival story doesn't begin until the middle of the day on Thursday. We were supposed to leave at 6:00 in the morning (my mom and I drove from San Diego which is only about a 2 hour drive) so that I could be there early enough to visit Ginger's resting place in Chatsworth, like we often do on research trips, and then head down to West Hollywood and get the fun started. But that all went out the door when I spent Wednesday night lying awake in terror from anxiety. I am a very private person, so this is an element of my story that I was never going to mention at all in any capacity. The only reason I am going back and including this is because of Nikki's recent blog post, which inspired me to be more open because now I know that I am not alone. I have dealt with some anxiety ever since high school, but even then I didn't really understand it. I would just go to the school nurse whenever I felt the usual "stomach ache" coming on, be picked up, go home to rest, and that was it. But over the last few months to a year it has gotten pretty severe. Late last year I went through a period of extreme agoraphobia, and more recently had been suffering through relentless insomnia. I've cancelled lunch plans, Disney trips, and other fun activities because of this. What triggers my bouts of anxiety is for me to know and keep to myself, but I will say that the prospect of staying in a city that stresses me out, being surrounded by people I only know on Twitter and was hoping to make a good impression on, and being away from the comfort of my home and my pets even for a few days did not help. To be totally honest, several weeks before the festival it had gotten so severe that I finally and reluctantly resorted to medication to help knock me out at night, which did not prove to be of much help that night of all nights. It is amazing the effects stress can have on your mind. And so, I slept from 6:00 in the morning on Thursday until 8:00. Then it was time to get ready, have coffee, and be out the door before I missed too much.

Day 1: Thursday 

I left San Diego at around 10:30 and arrived in Los Angeles at around 1:00. Our room was not yet ready, so we loaded up our bags on the luggage cart, checked in, grabbed a bite to eat and then headed straight to the Roosevelt. By about 2:30 I was swept into a completely different world. Other than the sleep deprivation problem, I had the best time. My boyfriend, a three-time festival goer, was eager to show me around and provided me with much needed comfort, as did my mom who I was so thankful to have made this trip with me because I could not have done it alone. Parts of Thursday are kind of a blur, but I know I hugged a bunch of people, shook a bunch of hands, and handed out a bunch of pins. I was really surprised at how many people greeted me when I first entered. They were actually complimenting my writing in person. That was a total shock to me. Listen, I am very self critical. Any confidence I had before this was pretty much blown when a little while back, a couple other researchers I admired who I was hoping to befriend (and who were twice my age) recently decided to play Mean Girls. I was so hurt by this that I was worried that just because a couple people didn't like me, many others wouldn't either. My insecurities overcame me and I expected the worst. But boy was I wrong! I was introduced to new people, and greeted so warmly by friends from Twitter. If you came up to me then or at any point at all during the festival, called me over to chat, or raved about the pins, thank you. You have given me the confidence I have been praying for for a long time now.

Movies did not start until later that evening, so much of Thursday was spent walking around and seeing the sights. I am not a fan of Hollywood Boulevard, I've seen some pretty horrific and tragic things on my trips there. And I'm not talking about your standard poorly made Spiderman costume or banged up Angry Bird (not today, Scientology ... not today). But somehow all the anxiety of the area seemed to melt away when I was surrounded by so many people who all share one common passion: classic movies! 

That night, we saw Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947). Neither were first time watches for me, and Blondes is one of my favorite films of all time. However, it was a first time venue for me. I had never before seen a film at the Egyptian, and what better way to christen my first visit than with both one of my favorite musicals as well as Shirley Temple's personal nitrate print of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer? The audiences were amazing. It's one thing to watch the Fathom Events big screen classics with a few other classic film fans, but another to watch them with a completely packed house of passionate Old Hollywood enthusiasts.

Alicia Malone introduces Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Day 2: Friday

On Friday I felt refreshed after catching up on some sleep. And thanks to Rise N Grind, a coffee place down the street from where I was staying where you have the option to add CBD to your coffee, I was golden. We headed back to the Egyptian for the 60th anniversary screening of Sleeping Beauty (1959). Okay, admittedly this is not my favorite Disney animation as far as the story line goes, but I now have a new appreciation for it after watching it on the big screen, and especially after hearing the beginning discussion featuring original animators Jane Baer and Floyd Norman. After that, I headed up to Chatsworth to visit Ginger, which I explain a little more in-depth in the post linked at the top. I made it back to the city just in time to head to our first pre-code of the festival which was the rare Vanity Street (1932), and my first film at one of the multiplexes. This quickly became a favorite. Helen Chandler was captivating in her role as a starving girl who launches a rock into a store window with the intention of getting arrested so that she may be sent to jail where she will be fed. She falls for the police officer (Charles Bickford) who helps her out by getting her a job as a chorus girl. That night, we were back at the Egyptian for a stunning nitrate print of the noir Road House (1948) starring Ida Lupino, Richard Widmark, and Cornel Wilde. I always admired Lupino, but had not seen many of her films and never made much of an effort to seek them out. I have definitely learned my lesson after that night and will correct my errors immediately. 

Me at Ginger's star
Day 3: Saturday

Another night of good sleep, thank God! Saturday only saw me at two films: Tarzan and his Mate (1934) and Star Wars (1977) ... both first watches. Tarzan was nothing short of wild. It was unnecessarily long, and had some unnecessary scenes, but it was still an adventure for its time. Waiting in line for this was the only point in the festival when I started feeling a little anxious in public. It felt like we were waiting in that compact line for hours, and I was starting to get a little woozy. But once we were seated and I got a cold bottle of water everything was fine again, and the movie provided the ultimate distraction.

I figured my lightheaded-ness was most likely due to not getting enough to eat, so we settled down for a lunch break at Mel's (actual substantial lunch!). After that, I went back to the hotel in the middle of the day to pack up most of my things so that it was less I had to do that night to prepare for check-out the next day, when I wouldn't be there. This was both a good and bad decision. Good because it was much less to worry about after getting home pretty late that night, but bad because we ended up missing Blood Money (1933). However, there was one more blessing in disguise. Because we missed Blood Money, we decided to hang around Club TCM instead, where a showing of Hollywood Home Movies was about to take place. Candid color footage of stars like Hedy Lamarr, Ann Sothern, Olivia de Havilland, Ray Milland, Frank Sinatra, and many other beloved entertainers graced the projection screen as their natural selves, not the actors they are paid to be on film. That was a treasure to watch and I'm so glad we were there.

Hollywood Home Movies

That night, we filed in for Star Wars at the Chinese Theater. I come from a family of Star Wars enthusiasts, and my boyfriend is a big fan, so I knew the time had finally come for me to watch it when it was announced as one of the films at this year's festival. It was just never really in my frame of interests, but what better first way to see it than in an IMAX theater? There was a lot going on, and a lot had to be explained to me afterwards, but it was a really fun film and I enjoyed it!

At Ginger's hand prints shortly before Star Wars
Day 4: Sunday

Sunday was again happening on a few hours of sleep. We didn't get back until 1:00 in the morning, and I had set my alarm for a little after 6:00. Getting back to the hotel really late coupled with some more anxiety decided to keep me up. I was more than happy to be around so many friends and watching old movies, but part of me was eager to get back home and in my own bed and my own city. Despite all the fun, I was happy that this was the final day. I may have gotten little sleep, but I was happy and I wanted to make the most of this last day. 

After a quick breakfast at Coffee Bean, we headed out early for our first morning movie, Holiday (1938), at one of the multiplexes. This was a world premiere restoration introduced by Diane Baker and Ron Perlman. I was really anticipating this one, because I knew it would be great fun with an audience, and it certainly was. No sooner had the credits started rolling were we out the door booking it a few blocks away to the American Legion Post 43. I was delighted that our schedule had finally put us there, as this would be our only film at the venue. We were in attendance for Yours, Mine and Ours (1968). I am a Lucille Ball enthusiast so I wouldn't have missed it for the world. The venue itself was stunning. As a Ghost Adventures fan, to be here was a new level of excitement for reasons other than than its wartime history. Zak Bagans walked here.

A discussion lead by Leonard Maltin followed the film. Actors Mitch Vogel, Tracy Nelson, and Kevin Burchett, three of the children from the movie, were present. They shared stories and memories of Lucy and Henry Fonda, and they were all heart warming to hear.

Our final screening of the festival was appropriately a silent film starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. This was A Woman of Affairs (1928), complete with a live orchestra conducted by Carl Davis. Gilbert's great-great-grandson was even playing the French horn! This film was also introduced by Leonard Maltin, who in turn introduced legendary filmmaker and preservationist Kevin Brownlow. Greta Garbo on the big screen with a live accompaniment at the Egyptian was the perfect way to end the festival.

The final order of business was the closing night party. I was only able to stay for about an hour and a half because we didn't want to be getting back on the road home too late. As a result, I didn't get to say goodbye to everyone that I was hoping to (damn you, Dolly Sisters!), but I did say goodbye to a couple friends. I wish I had taken more pictures with people throughout the festival and that would have been my opportunity had I been able to stay later, but other than that, the party was a success for me. We handed out the rest of my pins, and I didn't even trip and fall in my heels. 

So there you have it, my first festival. I may not have gotten the sleep I was hoping for some nights, but I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. I encourage anyone dealing with anxiety to, as cheesy as this might sound, believe in yourself. I learned a lot about not only the films and actors I saw on the screen, but about myself as well. I feel like I have a new voice, and I'm not so afraid of interacting with people or speaking up for myself. At the end of the day, I survived. And I had a blast. I met so many kind people who welcomed me with open arms. My only regrets are, as I mentioned, not thinking to take more photos with people in the madness, but also being too shy to seek more people out. Nevertheless, I definitely had a blast.  As for my sleep and anxiety, don't worry, you should know that I am doing significantly better.

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  1. I really enjoyed your post! I'm so glad to know you had a great time. Though we saw several of the same films, I don't think we got to meet (? it's a blur, as I know you know!) -- but my husband Doug met you while I was in a movie and brought me one of your Ginger buttons. I was thrilled! Hope to see you at TCMFF in 2020!

    Best wishes,

  2. Great post! Will you please share some of the stories told from the children in YMAO? I'm the hugest YMAO fan in the world, but I can't seem to ever find any footage of anything related to it.

  3. Were there any stories about the children actors on set? Big fan of the movie, but all I ever hear about are Henry and especially Lucy. Though I love them both and I understand that they are two of the greats, I'd love to hear about the children actors and what it was like working with each of them!

  4. Can we hear of the stories that were shared? I can't seem to find footage anywhere, and as the obvious number fan of this movie, I'm desperate! 😭


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