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First Turner Classic Movie Film Festival Had Great Films and Great Stars

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“Build it and they will come” is a famous movie line that came true this past week for Turner Classic Movies (TCM) as the obviously popular cable show that airs classic movies held their first TCM Classic Movie Festival.

Buzz among classic movie fans began when word of the festival hit the airwaves, but once the official site was released the exorbitant prices changed the minds of many who wanted to attend. TCM and host Robert Osborne did a great job of teasing the festival on their show, which only whetted the appetite even more for those die-hard classic movie lovers.

Even more enticing was a list of nearly 60 classic films, some that have been recently restored, not seen publicly for 50 years, included footage from lost films, or a sneak peek at a new TCM series. Charlie Tabesh, TCM Senior VP of Programming, and his team certainly had their work cut out in selecting the films. Some of the films included: a new print of The Bad and The Beautiful (1952), The Big Trail (1930), Dirigible (1931), Imitation of Life (1959), a new print of Top Hat (1935), and a new restoration of Metropolis (1927).

I headed up to Hollywood with another media member early Thursday morning. We had booked a cheap hotel as the festival hotel, the lovely and historic Hollywood Roosevelt, was filled and out of my price range. But it was a great spot for the TCM Club base and events that were scheduled there. However, it was movies that more than 2,000 fans showed up to see.

TCM understands the enriched communal experience of watching a movie with a crowd, being able to discuss it afterward or simply enjoy laughing with other audience members. They certainly achieved that goal, filling nearly every screening sporadically placed over a 12-hour period at the Egyptian, Grauman’s Chinese, and Mann’s Chinese Theatres. Along with the films were several panel discussions, special presentations in the TCM Club, celebrity book signings, and the Vanity Fair party for selected ticket holders and invited guests – such as Cher.

The amazing list of classic movie stars and filmmakers invited to talk about certain films was also a big draw. Tony Curtis kept everyone laughing during his appearance before the screening of Sweet Smell of Success. Curtis arrived in a wheelchair dressed in white shorts and wearing a cowboy hat. Now 84, he showed signs of a wandering mind but was still full of vim and vigor. His interviewer, Sam Kashner, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, hopefully is a better editor than an interviewer. But it didn’t matter his loss of control of the situation because whatever Curtis said, the audience loved it, giving the classic icon several standing ovations. He entertained and once again showed how he’s maintained such a long career. “There’s something about being in the movies that… Jesus, it knocks you out,” Curtis said. “It takes a bit of doing; that’s why I love it. You dedicate your life to it. That’s why so many actors marry a lot.”

The John Huston family was honored with a three-film tribute – Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Proposition – and Anjelica and Danny Huston spoke before several screenings. Anjelica said about the honor, “It’s very moving to be here for many reasons – my grandfather, my father, my beloved brother Danny, and that my nephew Jack is here. We laugh at the superlatives used to describe us in the presentations. Danny and I think we’re just a bunch of gypsies.”

Tab Hunter was very entertaining in his talk about Damn Yankees! (1958). “Stanley Donen [one of the directors of the movie] had just finished Funny Face and Singin’ in the Rain,” Hunter said. “He had an impeccable record and was quite extraordinary to work for as was Bob Fosse.”

Ernest Borgnine, 93, thrilled everyone with his talk before the 1956 Jubal. He garnered audience applause when he gave his opinions about today’s offerings, “Sex, more sex, people killing other people, and a lot of explosions,” Borgnine said. “And they call it entertainment!”

Peter Bogdanvoich spoke about the new print of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). He was a good friend of Orson Welles who directed the film and wrote the script, and he had many funny things to say about his friend Welles. “He thought this was a better film than Citizen Kane and felt it was destroyed,” Bogdanvoich said. “He tried to get the footage back and it seemed it was dumped in the ocean in the ‘50s. This is the greatest damaged film in the history of movies.”

Other great guests included Jean-Paul Belmondo, Margaret Bodde, Frank Capra III, Tom Capra, Buck Henry, Martin Landau, Tim Roth, Eva Marie Saint, Jon Voight, Eli Wallach, and many more.

The most thrilling event of the night and one I overheard many remark that this was the highlight of the festival, was the presence of 100-year-old, two-time Oscar winner Luise Rainer. Flown in from England to talk about The Good Earth (1937), crowds waited more than an hour past movie time to enter the Egyptian but the inconvenience was forgiven when Rainer was wheeled on stage. Even the non-star struck Robert Osborne glowed with awe as he began to question her.

Rainer immediately told everyone her hearing aid had just broken. Osborne wrote the questions, and she answered each one with detail and passion. She was a true star and a pure delight. Rainer talked about making The Good Earth, her relationship with fellow actor Paul Muni, and how she turned down the advances of Louis B. Mayer. Rainer’s grace and good sense of humor showed up throughout the interview, making audience members burst into laughter many times. When Osborne asked what she thought of one of her favorite stars, Greta Garbo, she said, “I loved Greta Garbo because she was so beautiful, she had a face like … Aphrodite’s, everything was beautiful up, but she had big feet.”

The four days of the festival were filled with extraordinary films and personal encounters with many of Hollywood’s greats. The response to the festival turnout prompted Osborne to announce, “We came into this not knowing what was going to happen and because you have been so gracious, in the words of Bogart, 'I think this is going to be a tradition.'”

Shortly after, Tom Brown, VP of Original Productions, announced the TCM Festival will be back next year in Hollywood. Two things I’m certain of – Osborne is the most beloved TV host of all time; and I’m clearing my calendar now to attend this amazing festival next year.

Photo credits: John Novak  and Edward M. Pio Roda

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About Diana Saenger