TCM Film Festival Illuminates the Classics
Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 16:05
As Harold Lloyd, silent film star, races through the colorless streets of 1920s Los Angeles to stop his true love’s wedding, the orchestra below provides the roar of his motorcycle. Amongst the beige sheet music, one musician’s iPad glows in the darkened theater. If there was ever one moment to define Turner Classic Movies’ Classic Film Festival, this would be it.
Technology pervaded the weekend of classic film indulgence, announcing itself in the sea of raised phone cameras as Debbie Reynolds shared anecdotes from the production of “Singing in the Rain,” in the lively #tcmff stream on Twitter, and most importantly in the restoration of numerous film prints that brought festival-goers seamlessly back to the golden era of Hollywood.
The Turner Classic Movies Channel celebrated its eighteenth birthday with its third annual Classic Film Festival in Hollywood this April 12-15. For four days, film buffs, nostalgic audiences, and curious newcomers converged on Hollywood Boulevard from all over the country to watch classic movies from early morning til midnight. Cinema staples like “Casablanca”, “Singin’ in the Rain”, and “Annie Hall” were screened in Grauman’s landmark Chinese and Egyptian theaters alongside rare gems such as Clara Bow’s “Call Me Savage” and Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon”.
Club TCM at the Roosevelt Hotel provided insight into the glamorous cultural institution of Hollywood with panels such as History of the Oscars’ Red Carpet and The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful, and exhibited peeks behind its curtains with Hollywood Home Movies: The Academy Film Archive Collection and Imagemakers: The Truth Behind Hollywood’s PR Machine. Opening with the world premiere of the restoration of Cabaret, the festival drew celebrities of all generations, including Debbie Reynolds, Liza Minelli, Joel Grey, Mel Brooks, and Ginnifer Goodwin.
If any burgeoning classic cinema enthusiast ever felt lost, they need only have looked to their smart phones. Throughout the weekend, the TCM Twitter feed updated with screening updates and celebrity spottings. Festival attendees joined in on the #tcmff stream, shouting out to their favorite films and stars. Whether in the Cinerama Dome, Chinese Theater, or in line on the sidewalk shared by tourists and struggling actors in Transformers costumes, the glow of LCD screens illuminated face after face. Attendees captured and shared each exciting moment. How did we record history before smart phones?
Perhaps, on film. For decades, however, most of early cinema was thought to be lost forever. Cinema began in a century of turmoil that was no kinder to it than towards anything else, and preservation was not a priority. Movies were never expected to be seen again after their initial run in theaters. Audiences at Clara Bow’s “Call Me Savage” on Saturday night, recently restored thanks to modern technology, were surprised with a short clip of “the Holy Grail” of Clara Bow’s work: Red Hair, previously thought to be lost forever until a single reel was discovered in February by a man in his attic on the East coast. Those at the Egyptian Theater that night were the first people to see this clip of Clara Bow in color since 1928.
While each of the festival’s films were meticulously selected to cater to every interest - noir, musical, comedy, drama - its strength really lay in older films, mostly silents. The restoration work on “Call Me Savage” impressively erased the spasms and scratches that now characterize old prints, and the screening of Harold Lloyd’s silent romantic comedy Girl Shy with a live orchestra was a thrill ride. The TCM Film Festival succeeded in presenting a typically unapproachable genre, classic cinema, and making it more relatable and exciting than anything in theaters today.
The Festival should go on to have a long and successful life, sharing excellent cinema with future generations. Greater merit, however, should be placed on the films themselves. There’s only so much you can do to dress up an old black and white, but the original filmmakers - Lloyd, Allen, Hawks, Renoir, Kelly - did most of the work when they made timeless movies. As restoration technology develops, it will be exciting to see what new treasures we uncover.
TCM has announced its festival is permanent, so do plan on finding some new favorite movies next year. In the meantime, you can follow @tcm on Twitter for updates.