My Experience at TCMFF 2019

About a month has passed since the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival, but I’m still basking in the afterglow of attending for the first time. As I told Jennifer Dorian (general manager at TCM) at the closing night party, TCMFF really exceeded my expectations. Words can’t fully express how amazing my whole experience was at the festival, but I’ll try my best to recount all that I saw.

Disclaimer: This post is a little long as I also talk a bit about some other things I did outside of TCMFF while I was in Los Angeles, but I wanted to keep it all in one entry instead of breaking it up into parts.

Pre-TCMFF: Tuesday, April 9th & Wednesday, April 10th

My sister Chloé and I flew down from Sacramento to Los Angeles on Tuesday, landing at LAX around noon. When we got to our Airbnb, I immediately spotted some TCMFF signage right across the street: the new venue at the festival, Legion Theater at Post 43! After we got settled, we walked down to Hollywood Blvd. for Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which Chloé got us free tickets for a couple of weeks before our trip. We didn’t know until a couple of days before who the guests would be, and we missed the big Avengers episode by a day! So though we didn’t see Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, and Chris Hemsworth, the show we went to had some impressive guests: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones (I don’t watch the show so I wasn’t so in tune with the interview), Danai Gurira from Avengers: Endgame, and musical guest Backstreet Boys! Following the in-studio taping (where Chloé was able to catch a free T-shirt from Guillermo during one of the commercial breaks), we headed outside for a free concert with the Backstreet Boys, where they played two songs for the show, and then two additional songs for the crowd. After that, we headed to Griffith Observatory to take in the expansive sight of L.A. from above before all the TCMFF excitement began.

With my sister Chloé inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel lobby

On Wednesday, we went over to the TCM Boutique in the Hollywood & Highland mall to check out all the souvenirs. After buying a few things from the shop, we headed over to our first real, movie-related activity of the trip: the TCM Movie Locations Tour! It was great getting a look at some of the sights around Hollywood and downtown L.A. and learning more about their connections to the movies. I’d recommend trying it out once, and sitting on the left side of the bus if possible as I did (that’s the side that has the best vantage point of most of the sights on the tour). The only thing about this particular tour was that we didn’t get to get out and explore the Bradbury Building as advertised, but we at least got to walk around Union Station.

Following the tour, we finally went and checked out the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, decked out in all its TCMFF decor. I was mostly there to pick up my Classic Pass, which I had chosen to pick up at the hotel instead of having it sent in the mail (more because I had requested to be on the waitlist for the Essential Pass). Chloé and I then headed back to our Airbnb to rest for a bit and freshen up before going back down to Hollywood Blvd. for dinner at Pig ‘n Whistle. We did stop by the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel once more on our way back after dinner, mostly so I could show Chloé the pool, which she wouldn’t have much access to during the festival as she wasn’t a pass holder and was doing standby for just a few screenings. After watching the crew set up for a bit, it was time for us to call it a night, as TCMFF was soon upon us.

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TCMFF Day 1: Thursday, April 11th

My day started back at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where I attended the “First-Timers Meet-Up” at 10 AM. That’s when I ran into fellow classic film blogger Virginie! After the meet-up, we had lunch at 25 Degrees inside the hotel before a couple more events began inside Club TCM, which were the “Meet TCM” panel at 1 PM and then the “So You Think You Know Movies” trivia game at 3 PM. Between the two events, I did some exploring around Club TCM, gazing at the fabulous photos adorning the walls, and geeking out over one of the Darth Vader costumes, as well as costumes worn by Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn on display.

Before the poolside screening for Ocean’s 11

After all the activities inside the hotel, it was off to the Opening Night Red Carpet for When Harry Met Sally…! I’ll first say that this ended up being my biggest disappointment of the festival, as they had the smallest bleachers ever for the fans, only accommodating about 20-30 people. And I was 38th in line, so I was stuck standing on the side with some others for the duration of the event. I just hope next year they revert back to having more seats because it was otherwise a cool experience seeing a lot of famous faces.

In my post outlining my picks for the festival, I had put Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on my list, but since I opted to stay at the red carpet, I instead went back to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for the “Ocean’s 11 Themed Screening Party” around 6:45 PM and stayed for about an hour for the introduction with Ben Mankiewicz and star Angie Dickinson before the poolside screening. Then I met back up with Chloé to finally see our first film of the festival: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg! It featured a lovely introduction by Alicia Malone, in which she actually spoke some French and paid tribute to Agnès Varda, who helped with the restoration work for her husband Jacques Demy’s musical masterpiece. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, and I absolutely loved seeing the beautiful colors on the big screen, as well as hearing Michel Legrand’s gorgeous music in the theater throughout. It was really a wonderful movie to kick off TCMFF, as well as a great way to end the first day of the festival.

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TCMFF Day 2: Friday, April 12th

The first full day of TCMFF started bright and early with the 9 AM screening of the pre-code Merrily We Go to Hell! It was one of the movies I was most excited to see as I hadn’t seen it before, and I’d heard of pre-codes being the most popular at the festival (and this was the only one I had on my schedule). In the theater, I spotted Julia, another fellow classic film blogger, and sat with her, Sabina, Annette, and Erin during the movie. Merrily We Go to Hell ended up being one of my favorite discoveries of the festival, and it was fun watching and reacting with a captive audience as the story progressed.

It was off to the Egyptian Theatre next for Sleeping Beauty! I made a detour in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre to get a peek at Billy Crystal’s Hand and Footprint Ceremony, then met up again with Julia, Sabina, and Erin once we got our queue numbers for the screening. There I also got to meet another familiar face to the classic film blogging community, Diana, who gave me a handful of some of my favorite pins at TCMFF! As for the screening of Sleeping Beauty itself, it’s easily among my top favorites of the festival. It began with a wonderful conversation between two of the film’s animators, Jane Baer and Floyd Norman, who talked about their work on the Disney classic. And seeing this beautifully animated movie on such a big screen nearly brought tears to my eyes multiple times, it was truly a magical experience.

With TCM host Alicia Malone!

After the movie, Erin, Sabina, and I headed back to the Chinese Multiplex for Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, which was my most-anticipated screening of the festival. It’s one of my favorite silent films, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get the opportunity to see it in a theater again, so I was very glad to see it with the TCMFF crowd. Before the screening itself, Erin and I spotted Alicia Malone chatting with fans in the theater lobby. I was initially hesitant to approach her because I really wasn’t sure what to say, plus I figured I would get another chance to speak with her at the closing night party or elsewhere, but Erin was awesome and encouraged me to talk to her. And Alicia couldn’t have been nicer! The conversation really just consisted of me complimenting her, telling her how excited I was to see her introduce The Umbrellas of Cherbourg the night before, thanking her for sending me her book through her email newsletter, and showing her my FilmStruck pin on my pass lanyard, in which she then showed me the same one she had on hers. It ended up being the best time to meet with her, as there weren’t too many people around then, and by the time the closing night party rolled around, I didn’t have time to stand in line and get another chat with her.

TCM host Eddie Muller interviews star Jacqueline Bisset before Day for Night

Heading into the evening, I finally got a chance to meet back up with my sister, who got to attend the Academy Conversations screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark with Ben Burtt and Craig Barron while I was watching Sunrise. We had initially picked to see Steel Magnolias, a movie neither of us had seen, but after it was announced that Shirley MacLaine wouldn’t be there as planned, we decided to go see Day for Night, one of our favorite films that I’m so happy we got to see on the big screen. It ended up being a greater decision than imagined because the conversation between Eddie Muller and star Jacqueline Bisset ended up being one of my favorites of the festival. Among the many things Jacqueline discussed in her interview, I especially liked hearing her talk a bit about working with the late Albert Finney on three films.

Chloé ended up leaving the screening a little early to get in the standby line for Do the Right Thing at the TCL Chinese Theatre, as we weren’t sure how popular the screening could be (plus I have the Criterion Blu-ray for Day for Night, so she was able to finish the movie on her own when we got home). I really enjoyed Ben Mankiewicz’s interview before the screening with actress Joie Lee (sister of director Spike Lee), costume designer Ruth E. Carter (who just won her first Oscar for Black Panther a couple of months ago), and casting director Robi Reed. Along with sharing their insights on the movie, Ruth also talked about what her recent Oscar experience was like, and they all discussed their thoughts on Green Book winning Best Picture. After the movie, Chloé and I explored the lobby for a bit, which mostly consisted of me staring in awe at the costumes on display (I especially loved seeing the iconic black dress from Gilda, despite it being a bit obscured by the TCMFF backdrop in front of it). By then I was much too tired to make it over to the midnight screening for Santo vs. the Evil Brain, so it was off to bed before another round of screenings.

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TCMFF Day 3: Saturday, April 13th

It was another early start for TCMFF for the screening at 9:15 AM for When Worlds Collide, a 1950s Sci-Fi film I was eager to see for the first time, especially because star Barbara Rush would be there for a conversation beforehand. The way my schedule panned out, I wasn’t able to get to the screening of Magnificent Obsession on Sunday, which she ended up being at, so I’m happy I was able to get to this, as she gave one of the most delightful interviews I saw at TCMFF, which included remarks about working with the likes of Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. The movie itself was so much fun to see with an audience. Considering the genre and the time it was made, it’s filled with a lot of ridiculousness, but seeing it at TCMFF made it all the more enjoyable, making it one of my favorite viewing experiences at the festival.

Outside Legion Theater at Post 43

Though the Legion Theater at Post 43 was in a convenient location for me being across the street from where I was staying, I didn’t get to take advantage of it by starting or ending any of my days there, and only managed to see one screening at the new venue. But it was one I was most interested to see, “The History of Fox: An Appreciation”. It was one of the most fascinating screenings I went to, as Schawn Belston, who works extensively in the film preservation program at 20th Century Fox, talked about some of the many great movies made at the studio. Clips of memorable movie scenes were played throughout the presentation, which included scenes from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, both of which I was glad to see in some capacity on the big screen since I didn’t get to see the movies themselves during the festival.

After that, it was back to the Chinese Multiplex for Father Goose, my first, true Cary Grant movie of TCMFF (not counting Merrily We Go to Hell, as he only makes a brief appearance). It’s also one I hadn’t seen before, so I was looking forward to seeing it for the first time, which I ended up liking a lot. The movie was followed by a conversation between three of the child stars in the film along with film critic Leonard Maltin. Following the screening, I dashed back in line for Nashville, where I was a bit surprised to get a queue number lower than 200, as I expected it to be packed by the time I got there. I was only going to stay for the opening discussion with stars Jeff Goldblum, Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury, though I had considered staying for the movie as well once I got in line (and by that point, I knew I’d miss seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which I had initially picked to see). But the screening, which was scheduled for 6 PM, ended up not starting until about 15 minutes after. Since the movie is about two-and-a-half hours long, it was just too tight of a turnaround between it and the next movie I wanted to go to, but leaving after the interview ended up working out perfectly…

As TCMFF staffers were letting people into the theater, they stopped the line just as I approached the front. It was then that I first spotted Jeff Goldblum and Keith Carradine, who were walking downstairs into the theater! When I went inside, I was able to grab a good seat toward the front but off on the right side, so I got a good view of the interview, and was then able to head out quickly before the movie started. I then hung around where the line started for a bit, hoping to see Jeff Goldblum walk out of the theater. After about ten minutes or so, I decided to finally head out. That’s when I saw Julia, Diana, Erin, and Nikki outside, so I went up to them, asking if they had just been at the Nashville screening. Then Julia took me by the shoulders and simply said “turn around”, and lo and behold, Jeff freakin’ Goldblum was right behind me!

TCM host Dave Karger interviews stars Ronee Blakley, Jeff Goldblum, Keith Carradine, and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury before Nashville

I don’t know how I didn’t notice his presence, but I was basically in shock for about a minute, before I swiftly took out my phone and recorded a video of him waving to us as he went down the escalator. It was truly the most surreal moment of the whole festival! All of us continued fangirling over our brief encounter for about 20 minutes when we spotted none other than living legend Norman Lloyd! And after that quick meeting, Victoria Mature, daughter of actor Victor Mature, walked by and stopped for a small chat. After all of that, we memorialized the bench in which we saw a couple of stars within the span of 30 minutes before heading out to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

My initial plan was to actually get in line for Star Wars at the TCL Chinese Theatre, but I figured with the theater being so big and all the other great screenings happening at the same time at TCMFF, I didn’t need to stand in line too early. We were going to try to grab a bite to eat at 25 Degrees, but most of us ended up just going to the pool, where they were getting ready for the poolside screening of The Bad Seed. Upon entry, I got a quick glance at star Patty McCormack and Eddie Muller as they walked by. I ended up leaving the introduction between the two of them early, as I was starting to get anxious about getting over to the TCL Chinese Theatre for Star Wars. I got there just as they were about to hand out queue numbers, and found I really had nothing to worry about, and got a number below 100! It seemed like the actual standby line was longer than the one for pass holders, but regardless everyone was able to get into the screening, including my sister. This turned out to be the last TCMFF screening for Chloé, who ended up seeing five movies at the festival, four with me (when she wasn’t watching movies, she was out and about exploring L.A.). I was kind of worried she wouldn’t get into Star Wars, but I was very happy it all turned out perfectly and we got to see another one of our all-time favorites together on one of the biggest screens, especially considering it was in the same theater where it premiered back in 1977!

On my picks for TCMFF post, I had listed The Student Nurses, but as with the night before, I was too tired by then for the midnight screening. Plus, Saturday ended up being quite an exciting day, so I definitely needed to get some sleep before the final day of the festival.

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TCMFF Day 4: Sunday, April 14th

The ongoing trend of my TCMFF mornings was starting early with somewhat eccentric movies, though none was more so than the zany horror movie Mad Love at the Egyptian Theatre. I had initially picked to see Holiday to try to get at least one more Cary Grant movie in, but decided to revisit this weird little movie, mostly because of the introduction by Bill Hader, who I know is a big film geek like the rest of us festivalgoers. And his intro did not disappoint, it was definitely worth waking up extra early for! I can’t stress enough how fun it is seeing these movies with the TCMFF crowd, especially when it’s something strange like Mad Love. It was also a treat seeing child star Cora Sue Collins in the audience, who shared a couple of scenes with Peter Lorre.

Bill Hader introduces Mad Love

Sunday was the most easy-going day of the festival as far as what I had on my schedule, so after the screening ended around 11 AM, I made my way over to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for the Club TCM presentation called “Hollywood Love Stories and Celebrity Culture”, which didn’t start until 12:30 PM. I got a good seat in the second row, and ended up sitting almost directly behind Diane Baker! The presentation started with David Pierce from the Library of Congress discussing the nature of fan magazines, with Diane providing the voice for various fan magazine excerpts throughout. She then came on stage to talk about her own experience with fan magazines and some of the dates arranged by the studios. The most amusing story she told was when she went out with François Truffaut, only to tell him that she had to leave early to go back to her boyfriend (her high school sweetheart), who was waiting for her at home! It was also sweet to hear that she’s actually still with him (though they had broken up at some point), but she did say if she wasn’t with him she would’ve probably ended up with her dear friend, the beloved Robert Osborne. This ended up being the only Club TCM event I was able to make it to, but I’m so happy it was this one, especially because Diane Baker was one of the stars I was most looking forward to seeing.

Following the event, I met up with Chloé in the hotel lobby for the private TCM Backlot Member Meetup inside Teddy’s. While we drank some of the complimentary wine, I won one of the TCMFF posters hanging in Club TCM through a raffle! Since the meetup went on a little longer than planned, I, unfortunately, had to skip the Club TCM panel, “The Complicated Legacy of Gone with the Wind”. So instead, Chloé and I walked down Hollywood Blvd. to look around Larry Edmunds Bookshop before getting lunch at Miceli’s (where I briefly saw Victoria Mature again).

After lunch, we headed over to the Egyptian Theatre, where I grabbed a queue number for A Woman of Affairs. Before the screening started, we took a few pictures in the courtyard, which was packed with festivalgoers, including (unbeknownst to Chloé at the time) TCM host Dave Karger! We then parted ways as I went back in line for what seemed like the most popular screening I went to at the whole festival, at least judging by the queue number I got. I decided to sit on the balcony for the screening to really take in the theater and get a look at the orchestra from above. The screening for A Woman of Affairs was probably the most special one I attended at TCMFF; watching a silent film starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert for the first time with live accompaniment and an audience full of classic movie lovers was unlike anything else I’ve experienced. It was also made all the more special with a wonderful tribute video about film historian Kevin Brownlow, who received this year’s Robert Osborne Award for his extensive film preservation work, followed by an introduction with him and Leonard Maltin.

With TCM host Ben Mankiewicz!

In retrospect, I maybe should have just headed to the closing night party after the screening, but I hadn’t gone to any of the nitrate screenings and wanted to go to at least one of them, and the one for The Dolly Sisters was my only chance to do so at the festival this year. It’s a Betty Grable musical I hadn’t seen before, and I really didn’t know too much about it. So when Alicia Malone introduced the movie and mentioned that one of the numbers was done in blackface… I realized I probably should’ve looked a little more into this movie beforehand. While I did love seeing how the nitrate made the film look like it was literally sparkling, the movie itself left much to be desired. It did have its moments (I do enjoy John Payne’s face), but when that number came that Alicia mentioned… it was just so awkward to watch in a theater. And it was made even worse when ONE person clapped after the number was over! I’m really not sure if they just thought we’d all clap after each number as we’d mostly been doing up to that point or worse, but it was the only time at the festival that I couldn’t wait for the movie to end (also so I could get to the party already).

There was about an hour left at the closing night party by the time we all got back to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. I wasn’t able to grab one of the special champagne glasses celebrating 25 years of TCM, but there were plenty of cupcakes still out so I did get one of those. At this point, I was lucky enough to have seen a number of famous people, but I was still the most starstruck by Ben Mankiewicz. As you’d expect, the line to meet him was pretty long, but I was finally able to get a picture with him. I also tried to tell him about my old pinned tweet about one of his intros (since it was pretty loud and crowded I don’t think he quite understood what I was showing him, but that’s okay!).

Selfie with TCM host Dave Karger!

After that, I quickly went inside Club TCM to find Dave Karger, who I absolutely had to meet before the night was over. Fortunately, there weren’t too many people clamoring to meet him, so I was actually able to have a great conversation with him. Upon meeting, he noticed the George Sanders button Julia had given me and gushed about how much he loved him, noting his Oscar-winning performance in All About Eve. That was the perfect segue for me to tell him about how he played a significant role in my growing love for film in high school. As anyone who follows along on my blog knows, I’m quite an Oscar obsessive, and it was Dave’s Oscar column in Entertainment Weekly that helped kickstart it all. So it was truly exciting for me when it was announced last year that he’d be joining TCM as a host. And being able to tell Dave all of that and to see how much he appreciated what I said was one of my biggest highlights of the whole festival. He then excitedly took a selfie with my phone, and I gave him my George Sanders pin before leaving. I then proceeded to find Julia to tell her how much Dave loved her pin, and we went back over to him, and I then got a second picture with him, this time with the pin!

By then, the party was about over, which meant TCMFF was officially coming to an end. At least upon leaving the hotel, the festival posters weren’t taken down yet, so I got to take one more look before heading back up to my Airbnb.

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Post-TCMFF: Monday, April 15th

The festival may be over, but I still had one more thing to do at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which was picking up the poster I won from the TCM Backlot Member Meetup raffle. It was pretty sad walking into the lobby though, seeing all the TCMFF decor being taken down, but I was glad to take a piece of Club TCM home with me.

Outside the ASC Clubhouse

At noon, Chloé and I went to the ASC Clubhouse for a private TCM Backlot tour. It’s a beautiful building that’s somewhat hidden in the block between the Magic Castle and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. During the tour, we got to look at several different types of cameras used throughout film history, from a Technicolor camera to a Cinerama camera, to the very same one used to film Citizen Kane. The walls also feature numerous behind-the-scenes photos of cinematographers working on set. I’m glad I was able to go on this intimate tour through TCM Backlot because I likely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to check out the ASC Clubhouse otherwise.

Following the tour, we grabbed a bite to eat at 25 Degrees before heading off to LACMA, where Chloé wanted to take pictures with all the lamps. What we didn’t realize was that the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures was right by it! So it was cool to see some progress on construction there before it opens later this year. After all of that, we headed back to our Airbnb to get ready to go back home to Sacramento, after an amazing week in Hollywood.

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That about sums up my time at the TCM Classic Film Festival! In total, I saw 12 movies, with five of them being ones I saw for the first time at the festival. Along with the movies, I also saw three other film introductions (two at the poolside screenings) and a clip show, attended one Club TCM event, and of course, watched the red carpet!

I have even more pictures (and videos!) on my Facebook page here. After attending for the first time this year, I can’t imagine not going in some capacity, whether it be as a pass holder or going the standby route. So even if I’m unable to take a few days off from work, I’ll at least make the effort to come down for a quick weekend trip now that I’m back living in California. Now the countdown continues to TCMFF 2020!

Jeff Goldblum thanks you for reading!

4 thoughts on “My Experience at TCMFF 2019

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