TCMFF 2021: My Breakdown of Festival Number 3

Monday, May 17, 2021


This past weekend marked my third year in a row “attending” the TCM Film Festival. Of course, I use quotations around “attending” due to the fact that the last two events have taken place virtually. Although I missed the experience of the in-person festival, I had a blast seeing a bunch of new-to-me movies and attending virtual events with the wonderful classic film loving community. Here’s a general breakdown of what my festival days consisted of:

WEDNESDAY: Although the festival officially commenced on Thursday evening, there were plenty of special zoom events to go around. On this day, I attended Kimberly Truhler’s presentation of “Fashion in Film.” This has been an event that Kimberly has hosted for years, but it was my first time attending. I was so impressed with her knowledge of fashion and the influence of various films on the fashion industry. I learned a lot from the program that I doubt I would have discovered anywhere else. Fashion is not anywhere in my wheelhouse, so it was refreshing to learn such new information about costumes that were so familiar to me on the screen.

THURSDAY: The historical opening night. 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the much beloved film musical West Side Story (1961). It is one of those major titles that very few classic film fans have not seen ... and I was one of them. I had just never gotten around to it, so I figured opening night of the festival complete with a cast reunion would be a golden opportunity, so I jumped at it. As expected, I enjoyed it. It is easy to see why it has stood the test of time, and why fans are crazy about it to this day. The cast reunion which aired right before the film included its original stars: George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn, and Rita Moreno. It was such a delight to see them reunited virtually, and to hear their personal stories regarding the making of the film as well as anecdotes into their lives as Hollywood stars. I know we all enjoyed hearing that Olivia de Havilland hardcore fangirled over George Chakiris.

FRIDAY: This was a bit of an early morning for me, which I didn’t mind because I was able to show up for a premiere restoration of The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951) presented by Flicker Alley. This was a nice film to watch with a hot cup of coffee early in the morning. I enjoy small town based films like this, and Eaton Falls had that charming aspect to it. Later in the day, my sister came by to work on her homework so I put Mean Streets (1973) on in the background. She would look up every once in a while to see what was happening, and at one time stated: “You don’t even have to know this is a Martin Scorsese film to know this is a Martin Scorsese film.”

Soon after, I had the great pleasure of attending my second Zoom and first Club TCM event of the festival. This presentation was hosted by Eddie Muller, and included three members of the guest programming team at TCM. I learned a lot about the behind the scenes at TCM from this program, as the team offered incredible insight into as to how things are operated on the network. We were told about rights issues with certain films, how different themes and stars of the month are decided, as well as how already established themes came to be.

SATURDAY: On this day, it was another relaxing morning with hot coffee and catching up on a movie. I had chosen Doctor X (1932), a pre-code thriller starring Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill, and directed by Michael Curtiz. The newly restored two-color Technicolor print was so crisp and beautiful. The dedicated restorative efforts of the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the Film Foundation never cease to fascinate me. I played catchup again later in the day with Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Now, this campy sci-fi masterpiece may perhaps have been my favorite highlight of the festival. Complete with a hilarious yet insightful intro provided by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, this film delivered. Ben let us know that horror film icon Bela Lugosi passed away shortly into filming, and became replaced last minute by director Ed Wood’s wife’s chiropractor. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, and this guy did his best. It is very obvious which scenes include him and not Lugosi, as this man makes every effort to shield his face from the camera. We quote enjoyed viewing the constantly reused scenes of Lugosi to make up for his absence. Often called the worst film of all time, of which I can see why, I have to say it provided a lot of good laughs.

SUNDAY: The final day of the virtual TCMFF. I only watched two films again this day, but did attend the final Club TCM event. The films I watched were Grease 2 (1982) and Black Narcissus (1947). My boyfriend was excited for me to watch Grease 2 for the first time, and I had seen everyone on Twitter rave about it, so my expectations were high, especially being a fan of the first movie. While I am not ready to join the crowd insisting that Grease 2 is much better than Grease (1978), I did enjoy it. The musical numbers were fun and catchy, and and the story offered roles opposite than the first film, this time with the boy trying to impress the girl. I can see why this film is so loved decades later.

For the festival finale, we watched Black Narcissus (1947). I have to admit, I was not a huge fan of the much beloved Powell and Pressburger film The Red Shoes (1948), as it really did not live out to the expectations I had of it. I worried the same would be the case for Black Narcissus, but I was wrong. This is a film that is going to take a second viewing to fully absorb. There isn’t too much to talk about without spoiling it, but the twists and turns made a suspenseful viewing experience for me.

For my final Club TCM event, which took place on Mother’s Day, I attended “She May Be A Movie Star, But She’s Just Mom to Me.” This event featured Amy Stiller (daughter of Amy Meara), Carlo Ponti Jr. (son of Sophia Loren), and Victoria Riskin (daughter of Fay Wray). This was probably my favorite club event. Each guest provided anecdotes and heart warming stories from the lives of their famous mothers, and I especially appreciated Carlo Ponti Jr.’s discussion about his mom. Coming from an Italian family myself, I felt very much at home during that part of the discussion, and could deeply relate to a lot of the cultural aspects and values of his family’s life. On this day, I also caught up on the Top Hat (1935) extras on HBO Max that I had not yet seen. It was touching to hear Michael Feinstein discuss how much he admires Fred Astaire. “Cheek to Cheek From Head to Toe” was only a few minutes long, but the narration was like poetry against iconic dance clips of Fred and Ginger. And the final feature, “What A Character—Eric Blore,” was simply charming. One cannot watch a performance of beloved character actor Eric Blore and not be smiling.

All in all, it was another great festival in the books. I hope that in the future, whenever in person festivals return, the folks at TCM will continue to include virtual events, as I’m sure those who aren’t able to attend the fest felt more included this year and last. Cheers to another great year, and here’s hoping we can all see each other in person again soon!

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