When you think of Turner Classic Movies, the cinephile haven, you probably wouldn’t imagine that Rob Reiner’s delightful 1989 comedy, When Harry Met Sally… would be the opening night attraction and key art representative for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival, now taking place through Sunday night at the TCL Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian theatres. But indeed the times they are a-changin’ and 30 years after its release (which I was around to cover) Reiner’s film with its Oscar-nominated screenplay by the late great Nora Ephron is furthering TCM’s definition of a “Classic.”
When I recently spoke to Festival Director Genevieve McGillicuddy she acknowledged it is a more contemporary choice than the previous openers for the TCM fest, but thinks it is entirely appropriate. “Really, you know that film even when it came out in 1989 was certainly clearly a nod to romantic comedies of the past. You know very witty, really strongly drawn characters who are interesting and funny. It really sets a wonderful tone for the festival for opening night,” she told me while noting the main theme of this year’s fest is ‘Follow your heart: love at the movies.” From romance to bromance there will be a lot of that on display.
I realized at last night’s premiere I actually hadn’t seen When Harry Met Sally… since it came out, and as he told me later at the after party Reiner himself hadn’t seen it in 25 years. To say it holds up is an understatement. This film, with sly and witty commentary on the state of male and female relationships, is as good as it gets, a movie that, like the fine wine that was pouring after the screening, only gets better with time. In fact it was fascinating to see it anew now in the #MeToo era. It doesn’t miss a beat. Reiner and stars Billy Crystal (who got the hand and footprint ceremony this morning at the Chinese) and Meg Ryan joined TCM Primetime host Ben Mankiewicz on stage for a conversation before the film, and the reunited trio had also just done a People Magazine interview the day before celebrating the film’s 30th. Reiner said it was like they picked up exactly where they left off when making the film. A highlight was hearing them recount just how that famous delicatessen “orgasm” scene came about. Crystal came up with it, Ryan decided to make it as real as possible, and Reiner brought his mother Estelle in to utter the famous line after Ryan’s orgasmic demonstration : “I’ll have what she’s having.” The crowd ate it up, and that scene is still as knock down/ fall on the floor funny as it was 30 years ago. Crystal said the film probably wouldn’t even be made by a studio today (Columbia released it), which is a shame and proof positive how much we need TCM, and this very cool annual festival, to remind us what is really classic, no matter the era in which these movies were made.
Now despite other movies on display this weekend that some might be surprised are showing in a “classic film festival” like The Shawshank Redemption, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Broadway Danny Rose, Escape From Alcatraz, Escape From New York, Working Girl and more, TCM is showing how it has evolved, not only this live festival that I have never missed, but also its on air philosophy as to what defines a classic. Even a Roger Corman quickie, the 1970 sexy nurse flick The Student Nurses (!) has a midnight screening tomorrow. The channel has good reason to include all sorts of movies across the spectrum. But purists never fear, there is plenty of black and white and early Hollywood offerings as well, including an 80th anniversary screening of Gone with the Wind and Goodbye Mr. Chips among others from 1939, the year many consider the greatest in Hollywood history. The list of movies, and timing conflicts in seeing everything you want to see, is daunting. Of course the great thing is you can always see them again, or for the first time, on TCM, celebrating its 25th anniversary on the air and now in the recent AT&T reorganization, under the purview of Warner Bros. Studios. That is probably a very good thing, as TCM General Manager Jennifer Dorian told the sold out crowd at the TCL Chinese IMAX theatre, because who better than Warner Bros would understand the value of these movies that once were just thought to be old movies, but now in the age of content saturation and streaming services cropping up everywhere are more valuable than ever?
On a day when plans were finally announced for the Disney+ streaming service that will be filled with Disney and Fox movies there was no loss of irony. That was apparent in the other celebration last night, the appearance of TCM and CNN founder Ted Turner who was feted with a short film, snippets from a taped interview in his old CNN office by Mankiewicz, and a roaring standing ovation when he was introduced in the audience by Dorian. Turner famously bought MGM, and though no one other than him it seems realized the increasing value at the time, also got all those great classic movies in its library, some 2200 titles he kept after selling the studio three months after buying it in 1985. He was rightly described as a visionary, but as he charmingly said from his seat he really just bought MGM so he could get his hands on his favorite film, Gone with the Wind. He even named his son after the Clark Gable character Rhett Butler.
With Disney now having officially acquired Fox and all its cinematic treasures, it seems appropriate that this year’s 10th TCM Classic Film Festival will be feting the legacy of 20th Century Fox with screenings of many classics from that studio including The Sound Of Music, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Special Edition, etc. AMPAS President John Bailey will be presenting the studio’s first-ever CinemaScope presentation The Robe on Sunday morning. “We’ve done a few studio tributes in the past sporadically and it really made sense for this year to recognize the incredible history of 20th Century Fox and Fox Studios after of course a few different incarnations in terms of its naming over the years,” said McGillicuddy. “But this is really an interesting opportunity for our attendees to really look at the depth and breadth of the output of a particular studio, in this case Fox. So, we actually start in the silent era. We’re going to be showing Sunrise, which is an incredibly important silent film unto itself, but you know that is a Fox Studios production. We’re also showing a Tom Mix double feature. We haven’t shown any Tom Mix films at the festival. He was a huge draw in his day and we’re very excited to be presenting two of his features as well. We’ll be doing Shirley Temple who famously saved Fox during The Depression.” And many, many more.
McGillicuddy points proudly to the fact that the TCM Fest, as well as the network itself, has stayed pure in intention all these years. “Bringing it back to our anniversary for a minute, I think that certainly we’re very proud of the fact that we’ve stayed true since day one to our mission to show films the way they’re meant to be seen, uncut and commercial free, as the director intended,” she said. “That mission has not changed in the 25 years that we’ve been airing films on the network. And when we started doing this festival 10 years ago we knew that we had this passionate fan community and it really made sense that this would be the context in which we started to bring people together and then put these films back on these incredible screens in Hollywood.”