Since 2010 when Turner Classic Movies first had the idea to go live with their own Hollywood film festival celebrating the classics that make the basic cable channel that a true outpost of sanity for film lovers of all stripes, I have religiously attended each and every year. I was certainly looking forward to the 11th edition of the fest which always takes place at the TCL Chinese Theatres and the Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard.
The festival was to have opened tonight with the 35th anniversary screening of Back To The Future and the stars, including Michael J. Fox, were set to appear. It would have been swell.
Those opening nights — and the entire fest — bring out movie fans from around the world for the unique opportunity to see these films presented once again on the big screen, often accompanied by appearances of the stars who were in them. But like just about every other event in this strange new world we live in that draws a crowd of more than 10 people, this year’s TCM Fest had no other choice but to cancel.
The network could have left it at that and said “See you next year,” but TCM immediately began to plan what they are calling a “Special Home Edition,” and it will run beginning tonight and continue throughout the weekend exactly as the live fest itself would have played out. Well almost. It’ll be on TV.
The movies and guests highlighted come from the ten previous years of TCM Fests, a smorgasbord of memories for all who have made the annual trek.
The opening night film this evening (at 8 p.m., ET) is the same one that launched the first fest in 2010: Judy Garland and James Mason in A Star Is Born. Through Sunday, that classic will be followed by an eclectic selection of movies that include Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Deliverance, A Hard Day’s Night, Creature from The Black Lagoon, Sergeant York, Casablanca, The Hustler, Some Like It Hot, Harold Lloyd in Safety Last! (it was accompanied by a live orchestra when it showed at the first TCM gathering), and on and on including of course Singin’ in the Rain which was shown at the 2010, 2012, and 2017 editions. And that is just a sample.
Interviews will also be part of the programming. Tributes to Kim Novak, Peter O’Toole, Eva Marie Saint, Faye Dunaway, and then back-to-back Best Actress Oscar winner Luise Rainer who, at 100-years-old, still went on to live another four years (!) after her memorable 2010 session with TCM’s late great host Robert Osborne.
Osborne was like a rock star at the festival. The faithful would line up out the door and around the block of the Hollywood Roosevelt to get their picture taken with him. It was quite a sight. The fest gives out an annual Robert Osborne Award that first went to Martin Scorsese and this year was to go to critic and historian Leonard Maltin (it will be put off to next year).
Since TCM delivers classic film programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week, what is going to truly differentiate this “Special Home Edition” from what viewers normally see on TCM? After all most people don’t have the giant Imax screen and Dolby Sound System of the Chinese Theatre.
“It’s a good question,” TCM’s SVP Programming Charlie Tabesh told me when I asked this week during a phone conference that also included General Manager Pola Changnon and on air host Ben Mankiewicz. “One of the considerations was how do you make it different than what’s just on TCM. The truth is every single day, every single night is a kind of film festival in some sense because we’re thematically putting programming together, but we wanted this to be special and that meant including a lot of material that we wouldn’t normally include day to day on TCM, And so the first idea that was thrown out was: “Why don’t we play a lot of the movies that we were planning to play this year at this year’s festival?”
“The problem was viewers wouldn’t have the material, the guests, the tribute pieces, etc. It seemed natural instead to stage ‘the best of the best’ and bring back the rarely seen tributes, intros, and special material that flowed from the first ten years.”
Tabesh said that there is a lot of production that has gone into executing this remotely, using zoom, reformatting a lot of material created over the years to make the best kind of virtual fest-going experience imaginable.
Mankiewicz said he shot a lot of stuff in ways he has never worked, using social distancing and other safe techniques in delivering all new intros to this wealth of cinematic treasures. “So the programming that you’ll see this weekend, the 16th through the 19th will look different because I won’t be on my set. We shot that knowing the situation that we were in.”
“People look forward to this all year and that includes us. And the reason we look forward to it in large part is because of this incredibly rewarding connection that we offer to our fans,” Mankiewicz said, madding that he had gotten so emotional making the announcement that they couldn’t have the live festival this year that he had trouble getting through the take.
“I almost couldn’t get through without crying, and I didn’t expect that…It certainly helped me to be able then to come up and talk about these movies and provide some new context…Believe me, I’m shooting a ton of stuff right now — all the stuff that we’re doing online, on social media, on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter — to enhance the programming that we’ll have this weekend. So it’s a bit of irony in all this is that [we’ve] almost never been busier than these last couple of weeks.”
Changnon, who recently took over the post of General Manager, addressed the issue of the financial costs, not just in shutting down the planned live festival this year, but in remounting it for television. It’s TCM’s own version of the kind of virtual programming other shuttered fests like SXSW and Tribeca are engaging in.
“I think you can imagine how hard that was for South By and other festivals that you know live for this opportunity as a once-a-year effort…It’s so complicated and there’s so many moving pieces and, as you say, financially it can become onerous for certain entities.”
“We are incredibly fortunate in that we have a network that generates sufficient revenue and that what we do around the festival is not a live-or-die revenue proposition for us,” said Changnon. “It is all about creating something that brings these classic film fans together annually.”
“We’re already planning next year’s festival,” she said. “We’re already working on details around venues and dates just as we would ordinarily do.”
If this effort works, could it affect future programming on TCM, a new kind of virtual -style universe for them in the way they do things?
“I think this isn’t anything we planned at the beginning of the year or even two months ago. We’re going to learn a lot from it. We’re going to learn what works for the people who enjoy this experience, the people who are watching,” said Changnon.
“We’re going to take a lot of notes honestly to see if this is something that we could try in some way, shape or form. It’s an experiment.”
Here is the complete schedule for the TCM Classic Film Festival: Special Edition (all times ET):
THURSDAY, APRIL 16
|8:00 PM||A Star is Born (1954)
Opening Night Film at the inaugural 2010 TCM Classic Film Festival, presented by Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin.
|11:00 PM||Metropolis (1927)
Closing Night Film at the 2010 TCM CFF, this was the North American premiere of a restored version of the film with footage found in 2008 in Argentina, with live score by the Alloy Orchestra.
|1:45 AM||Luise Rainer: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2011)
Recorded at the 1st TCM CFF in 2010 when Ms. Rainer, the first back-to-back Oscar winner for Best Actress, was 100 years old.
|2:30 AM||The Good Earth (1937)
Presented at the 2010 TCM CFF with Luise Rainer in attendance.
|5:00 AM||Neptune’s Daughter (1949)
Presented at the 2010 TCM CFF at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel pool on Opening Night, with Esther Williams and Betty Garrett in attendance and featuring a performance by the Aqualilies.
FRIDAY, APRIL 17
|6:45 AM||The Seventh Seal (1957)
Shown as part of a tribute to Max Von Sydow at the 2013 TCM CFF, with the actor in attendance.
|8:30 AM||She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
Introduced by Keith Carradine at the 2016 TCMCFF.
|10:30 AM||Sounder (1972)
Presented at the 2018 TCM CFF with Cicely Tyson in attendance, who was honored prior to the screening with a hand and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX.
|12:30 PM||A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
This world premiere restoration was introduced by Alec Baldwin and Don Was at the 2014 TCM CFF.
|2:00 PM||Eva Marie Saint: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2014)
Recorded in front of a live audience at the 2013 TCM CFF as part of a tribute to Eva Marie Saint.
|3:00 PM||North by Northwest (1959)
Presented at the 2010 TCM CFF with Eva Marie Saint and Martin Landau in attendance.
|5:45 PM||Some Like It Hot (1959)
Presented at the 2010 TCM CFF with Tony Curtis in attendance.
|8:00 PM||Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (2015)
West Coast premiere at the 2016 TCM CFF, with Lillian Michelson and director Daniel Raim in attendance.
|10:00 PM||Deliverance (1972)
A cast reunion was presented at the 2013 TCM CFF, with Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Jon Voight and director John Boorman in attendance.
|12:00 AM||Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Presented in 3D at the 2018 TCM CFF and introduced by Dennis Miller.
|1:30 AM||Grey Gardens (1975)
Presented at 2014 TCM CFF as part of a tribute to Albert Maysles, who was in attendance.
|3:15 AM||Night Flight (1933)
Out of circulation for over 50 years, this was introduced by Drew Barrymore, granddaughter of the film’s star, John Barrymore, at the 2011 TCM CFF.
|5:00 AM||Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2013)
Taped in front of a live audience at the 2012 TCM CFF as part of a tribute to Kim Novak.
SATURDAY, APRIL 18
|6:00 AM||The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
Presented at the 2011 TCM CFF with Nancy and Tina Sinatra and Vicki Preminger in attendance.
|8:00 AM||Mad Love (1935)
Introduced at the 2019 TCM CFF by Bill Hader with actress Cora Sue Collins in attendance.
|9:15 AM||Double Harness (1933)
Introduced at the 2016 TCM CFF by James Cromwell, the son of director John Cromwell.
|10:30 AM||Vitaphone Shorts:
Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder (1929)
Don’t Get Nervous (1929)
Presented at the 2016 TCM CFF as part of a program celebrating “90th Anniversary of Vitaphone” by the founder of the Vitaphone Project, Ron Hutchinson.
|11:00 AM||Sergeant York (1941)
The first Festival program to screen at the newest venue of the TCM CFF, the Legion Theater at Post 43, this was introduced in 2019 by Andrew Jackson York, the son of Sergeant Alvin C. York and his grandson, Gerald York.
|1:15 PM||Safety Last! (1923)
The first of four Harold Lloyd films presented at the TCM CFF, this was accompanied by live orchestra and music composed and conducted by Robert Israel in 2010 and introduced by Suzanne Lloyd.
|2:45 PM||They Live by Night (1949)
Presented at the 2013 TCM CFF and introduced by Susan Ray, widow of director Nicholas Ray.
|4:30 PM||Faye Dunaway: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2017)
Taped in front of a live audience at the 2016 TCM CFF, as part of a tribute to Faye Dunaway.
|5:45 PM||Network (1976)
Presented as part of a tribute to Faye Dunaway at the 2016 TCM CFF with the actress in attendance.
|8:00 PM||Casablanca (1942)
A perennial favorite, this film has been presented three times at the TCM CFF, including a screening introduced by Peter Bogdanovich and Monika Henreid in 2010. Peter Bogdanovich will return to co-host this on-air screening.
|10:00 PM||The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Presented at the 2010 TCM CFF, this film was introduced by Peter Bogdanovich and David Kamp. Peter Bogdanovich will co-host this on-air screening.
|11:45 PM||Night and the City (1950)
Presented at the 2012 TCMCFF by Eddie Muller.
|1:30 AM||Norman Lloyd: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2016)
Recorded in front of a live audience as part of a tribute to Norman Lloyd at the 2015 TCM CFF; Mr. Lloyd was 100 at the time of the taping.
|2:30 AM||The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Presented at the TCM CFF in 2013 with Norman Lloyd in attendance to talk about his friend, Alfred Hitchcock.
|4:15 AM||The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The largest orchestral presentation to date at the TCM CFF was this 2016 screening, with a live orchestra and the UC of Berkeley Alumni Chorus (under the direction of Dr. Mark Sumner) performing an original score by Richard Einhorn.
SUNDAY, APRIL 19
|6:00 AM||Jezebel (1938)
Presented at the 2017 TCM CFF.
|7:45 AM||The Set-Up (1949) )
Introduced at the 2018 TCM CFF introduced by Noir Alley host Eddie Muller and actor/filmmaker Malcom Mays, who did a live reading of the poem the film is based on.
|9:00 AM||Peter O’Toole, Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2012)
Recorded in front of a live audience and part of a tribute to Peter O’Toole at the 2011 TCM CFF.
|10:00 AM||Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Screened as part of a tribute to Anne V. Coates, ACE, at the 2015 TCM CFF with the Oscar-winning editor in attendance.
|2:00 PM||Red-Headed Woman (1932)
Introduced by film historian and author Cari Beauchamp at the 2017 TCM CFF.
|3:30 PM||Auntie Mame (1958)
Presented at the 2012 TCM CFF and introduced by Todd Oldham.
|6:00 PM||Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Presented three times to date at the TCM CFF — the 2010, 2012 and 2017 editions — with guests over the years including Debbie Reynolds, Stanley Donen, and Todd Fisher and Ruta Lee.
|8:00 PM||Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (2016)
Floyd Norman was slated to be honored with a tribute at the 2020 TCM CFF.
|9:45 PM||The Hustler (1961)
The 2020 TCM CFF included a tribute to the actress Piper Laurie.
|12:15 AM||Baby Face (1933)
Longtime festival guest Bruce Goldstein intended to deliver a special presentation at the 2020 TCM CFF about the censorship of this popular pre-Code film and the footage added back in decades later.
|1:45 AM||Bardelys the Magnificent (1926)
Serge Bromberg was scheduled to present this recently restored silent with musical accompaniment at the 2020 TCM CFF.
|3:30 AM||Victor/Victoria (1982)
Julie Andrews was slated to attend the screening of this film at the 2020 TCM CFF.