Although the loose theme of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival revolves around the word “History” in every possible meaning of the word, organizers could easily have wrapped it around the word “anniversary” since so much of it seems to be tied to celebrating landmark years in the life of the movies, actors and filmmakers being honored this year. In fact the fest, which runs all weekend, opened Thursday night with a stunning restoration of the beloved 1965 musical, The Sound Of Music, celebrating perhaps the most publicized 50th anniversary in the history of movie anniversaries. Star Julie Andrews has been everywhere lately and there was even an hourlong ABC News special in its honor hosted by Diane Sawyer. It was a natural to open this fest to a sold-out crowd at the TCL Chinese IMAX theatre and both Andrews and co-star Christopher Plummer (in a discussion moderated by former Academy President Sid Ganis) were in rare form reminiscing, like the old friends they are, about the making of the film which really seems to define “classic.” Of course 20th Century Fox is cashing in with a new DVD/Blu Ray for the 50th (they tend to put out a new version every five years it seems in order to keep milking this cash cow). The opening night film and party was sponsored largely by the Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures, the new film museum scheduled to open sometime in 2017. As to why an organization that is in the process of actively trying to raise money for the building of their museum would instead be shelling it out to sponsor a film fest, the Academy’s Ellen Harrington called it “symbiosis.” Plus the Academy says they did not have to actually exchange any cash for the opportunity. In other words with this tony crowd of movie lovers and their relationship with TCM, it’s a natural tie-in to get the word out to the right people. The Academy Museum had a dry run over the last few months with the imported, and fantastic, Hollywood Costume exhibit that finally just closed on March 2nd. Harrington told me it was a massive job just to pack everything up and ship it out so that now the construction process is finally scheduled to begin this summer, pending approvals. And what better way to celebrate this milestone than the half-century anniversary of this Oscar winning Best Picture directed by former Academy President Robert Wise. A symbiotic relationship indeed.
As for Plummer, yesterday he became the latest to receive the hand and footprint treatment in the Chinese Forecourt where he said, in reference to all the legends that already are enshrined there, “I promise not to spoil the neighborhood.” There was a nice lunch honoring Plummer right afterwards at Hollywood landmark Musso And Frank Restaurant (which is only four years away from celebrating its 100th anniversary) and among those attending the intimate gathering was recent Plummer co-star Shirley MacLaine who believe it or not is also being celebrated by the TCM Fest for her 60th anniversary in film. That’s right. It’s been 60 years since she made her film debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s quirky 1955 classic, The Trouble With Harry. But in honor of that milestone the fest is not showing that film but rather the 55th anniversary of 1960’s The Apartment and the 54th anniversary of 1961’s The Children’s Hour. MacLaine will be on hand this weekend to introduce both, and for a chat with Leonard Maltin on Sunday. When she walked into Musso And Frank Friday she told me, “I don’t think I have been in this place since 1950!” Director Norman Jewison was also at the lunch, and though he didn’t seem to know about it when I asked, the festival yesterday celebrated the 50th anniversary of his 1965 Steve McQueen poker drama, The Cincinnati Kid with an appearance by co-star Ann-Margret who looked like she had stopped time. She actually seemed to be more interested in talking about her motorcycle obsession than the movie. She said she and fellow biker McQueen were forbidden from riding during the production, but McQueen basically encouraged her to ignore the suits. “That’s their job to worry about those sort of things,” he told her. Every seat was taken for the Friday afternoon Egyptian Theatre screening, proving that this rabid crowd of movie lovers who come to this fest each year from all parts of the world do not believe in age discrimination. Unlike most fests which traffic in brand new films, this one says “the older the better.” In fact, perhaps the most anticipated event of the weekend will be Sunday night’s unveiling of the restoration of long lost Harry Houdini 1919 movie, The Grim Game that reportedly features a mid-air plane collision Houdini swore was not faked.
The TCM Fest is known for showcasing restorations and there are plenty in store this year including the 1972 musical, 1776, the 1953 musical Calamity Jane, the 1959 version of Imitation Of Life, a 1931 comedy Don’t Bet On Women and many others. At any given moment five or six must-see films are competing with each other. Very frustrating.
But back to the anniversaries. This year marks Henry Fonda’s and Orson Welles’ 100 birthdays, so the fest is honoring them by showing numerous films (Peter Fonda is on hand to introduce his dad’s works). And 100-year-old Norman Lloyd is actually still around himself for a conversation about his first 100 years. Sophia Loren just turned 80 so the fest is featuring a conversation between her and son Edoardo Ponti and a screening of 1964’s Marriage Italian Style (which saw its restoration premiere at Cannes, and later AFI). Robert Morse is on hand for the 50th anniversary of his subversive The Loved One, while 87-year-old astronaut James Lovell attended Apollo 13’s 20th anni screening last night. The list goes on and on. I am bummed though that I couldn’t stay awake for last night’s midnight revival of the almost-never screened 1968 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton bomb of bombs, Boom! It was a disaster when it came out which makes it, to use a Turner Classic Movie channel phrase, an “essential” now. Oh well, next time.
Oh and did I mention this year marks the 6th anniversary of the TCM Classic Film Festival. Here’s to many more. Happy Anniversary to all.