My Experience at TCMFF 2023

It’s been about a month now since the conclusion of this year’s edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival. It was another wonderful, unique experience that I’ve finally put aside some time to write about. As I did with the previous times I attended the in-person fest, I’m recapping everything from my point of view here, so this will be a lengthy post.

Pre-TCMFF: Tuesday, April 11th & Wednesday, April 12th

TCMFF signage on display outside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel before the start of the festival

The pre-festival fun technically started a bit on Monday (as you’ll see in the first few pics), as I stopped by the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on my way home from work for a quick peek at the TCMFF signage freshly put on display outside the building. The following day after work, I met up with several festival attendees for dinner at The Smoke House Restaurant in Burbank. It was great to sit down for a delicious, full meal, chat with fellow classic film lovers, and get more excited for the upcoming days ahead. I was also delighted to visit the Smoke House for the first time and see all the classic film posters and photos covering the walls throughout the restaurant, it definitely got me in the mood for the old movies I was soon to see on the big screen.

I had one more day of work the day before the festival, but my shift ended at the same time will call closed in the Roosevelt lobby to pick up festival passes, so I had to wait one more day to pick up mine. That didn’t stop me from stopping by the lobby after work though, as I wanted to see more of fest prep inside. The media welcome reception either just wrapped or was about to get underway, as during the few minutes that I was in the lobby, I saw both TCM hosts Ben Mankiewicz and Dave Karger, who even outside of this brief glimpse would be the two hosts I’d end up seeing the most during the festival. Soon after, I walked across the street to the TCL Chinese Multiplex, where the festival boutique was located this year. I ended up buying a few more souvenirs than expected, which were a water bottle, two t-shirts, and a set of four festival pins that I later put on the lanyard of my festival pass.

I made a quick stop back at my apartment to drop off my purchases and change for the evening’s pre-festival event at the Hollywood Heritage Museum, Kimberly Truhler’s Fashion in Film of TCMFF lecture, which she co-presented this year with two-time Oscar-winning costume designer, Mark Bridges. I was happy to finally attend this event, which I had always heard good things about but for some reason or another hadn’t gone around to attending before the festival. It was a sweet bonus to have Bridges there to share his knowledge as well, as I admire his work, especially in the film that won him his second Academy Award, Phantom Thread. Three costumes from that film were even on display for the event, along with two from News of the World. During the lecture itself, they focused on the costumes from six movies playing at the festival, which happened to be three pre-code films from the 1930s and three from the 1960s as the Hays Code was on its way out: One Way Passage, No Man of Her Own, Footlight Parade, BUtterfield 8, That Touch of Mink, and How to Steal a Million. It was a really fascinating overview of the evolving fashions and the work put into some of the most iconic looks to grace the screen. Afterward, I got to speak with Bridges for a couple of minutes, basically thanking him for coming and how much I enjoyed hearing his thoughts on old movies, as well as telling him that I love his collaboration with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson (he’s worked on all of his films so far). He was very gracious and to my mention of his work with PTA, his response was “Stay tuned.” Since the museum is across the street from one of the festival venues, the Hollywood Legion Theater, I walked by to see the TCMFF signage outside the theater before heading back home and getting a good night’s sleep before the festival kicked off.

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TCMFF Day 1: Thursday, April 13th

While Hollywood Boulevard was brimming with TCMFF excitement, the weather wasn’t as agreeable, with clouds looming over the red carpet for the official opening night film, Rio Bravo. After taking some pictures of the set-up from across the street, it was time to go to the Roosevelt to finally pick up my festival pass. Then I stepped inside the Blossom Room, transformed into Club TCM for the next few days, to get a look at the memorabilia on display before the room filled up for the first festival event, the “Meet TCM” panel discussion. Among the notable items were John Travolta’s suit from Saturday Night Fever (which would be auctioned off a few days later); costumes from The Music Man, Cool Hand Luke, and East of Eden; an ice bucket from Casablanca; a parking meter from Cool Hand Luke; a bust of Bette Davis and Errol Flynn’s sword from The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; a shrimp hand from Beetlejuice; and three neon violins from Gold Diggers of 1933. I was so enthralled seeing the last one mentioned, as I love the Shadow Waltz sequence from that film.

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz makes a surprise appearance sitting in the red carpet bleachers to speak with festival attendees

After “Meet TCM” I grabbed some lunch, after which I planned to go back to Club TCM for the “So You Think You Know Movies” trivia game, but on my way over I ran into some friends and ended up hanging out with them at Mel’s (though I didn’t eat anything since I just ate). Then it was already time to line up for the first block of screenings, but since I saw the bleachers to the red carpet were brought back this year, I decided to go for that as they were bigger than the last time they had them in 2019 at my first festival when I ended up standing to watch. The bleachers themselves ended up not being filled up, as the weather probably deterred prospective viewers from sitting it out. Fortunately, it wasn’t pouring, but it did start drizzling soon after the red carpet opened. While obviously not ideal, it was tolerable enough so I toughed it out and stayed for the whole event. Among my top priorities for my festival picks are the special guests in attendance, so this gave me the opportunity to at least get a glimpse of some of those guests I’d miss out on seeing for other screenings, which in my case included Danny Huston, Amy Irving, and Alexander Payne. I also got to see a couple of the special guests for Rio Bravo whom I had actually seen at previous festivals, Angie Dickinson and Paul Thomas Anderson (who I’ve actually seen quite a few times now thanks to other screenings around L.A.). I was hoping to also see that screening’s other special guest, Steven Spielberg, who did make a red carpet appearance but I guess didn’t go through the main entrance to the theater as most of the other people did, but I’m lucky to have already seen him twice before, including at last year’s TCMFF so it wasn’t a big bummer.

Unfortunately, the inclement weather put a damper on the first poolside screening, Hairspray, which was moved inside Club TCM. Before the screening, I picked up a Tom Collins and seasoned popcorn compliments of Food Network, and in the middle of that, I happened to pass by the daughter of Paul Henreid, Monika, seated in the lobby who I briefly heard chatting with someone about knowing Bette Davis, a good friend of her father and the family. Following a later start than scheduled because of the screening change, it was finally time for the discussion between Ricki Lake and Mario Cantone before Hairspray, which included amusing anecdotes about making the movie with John Waters and Divine (which you can watch here). I stayed for about the first half hour of the film before exiting to get in line for my first full movie of the festival, Genevieve, which I hadn’t seen before. The film was picked as a tribute to TCM’s vice president and the director of the festival, Genevieve McGillicuddy, who was there to receive warm remarks from Scott McGee, the senior director of programming at TCM, and Diane Baker, who also introduced the film. Also there as Baker’s special guest was her friend Randal Kleiser, the director of Grease! While the film Genevieve was overall pretty enjoyable, we were warned before the screening that much of the audio on this 35mm print was not in the best shape, and it was actually worse than I think anyone in the audience was anticipating. But in its own way, it was kind of amusing how quiet the theater got throughout the movie so we could hear the dialogue, it made for an unexpectedly intimate experience in the multiplex’s House 4, the notoriously smallest venue at the festival.

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TCMFF Day 2: Friday, April 14th

An adorable sight upon leaving the screening of Harvey

I kicked off my first full day of the festival bright and early with Harvey, one of my favorite James Stewart films. It was a delightful start to the day, as the screening began with a surprise “appearance” by Harvey himself followed by an introduction by filmmaker Joe Dante. I also loved seeing a stuffed rabbit version of Harvey upon exiting the theater. After taking a quick picture, I dashed across the multiplex to get in line for my most anticipated movie of the fest, Footlight Parade, which was sure to be a hot ticket as the pre-code screenings are always popular, and this one included knowledgeable remarks from Bruce Goldstein. Fortunately, I did get in, and as expected, the theater was fully packed, which made for such a fun experience. I’ll admit to also tearing up upon seeing Busby Berkeley’s mesmerizing choreography in the famous “By a Waterfall” number on the big screen. Following two favorite classic films, it was time for me to watch a pop culture blind spot from the ’80s: Risky Business, which I ended up enjoying more than I expected. The movie was preceded by a nice conversation between star Rebecca De Mornay and TCM host Dave Karger, which would be the first of many times I’d see him at screenings throughout the festival.

After three movies back-to-back in the multiplex, I finally got some fresh air and headed downstairs to the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre, where I’d finally be heading inside for the first time at this fest (though I wouldn’t stay through the whole screening). Dave Karger was back, this time interviewing two of the stars of American Graffiti, Candy Clark and Richard Dreyfuss. No one else from the film as I hoped, but it was still worthwhile hearing from the two actors about one of my all-time favorites. As I said, I ended up not staying for the whole movie, as I had seen it in a theater on two separate occasions last year (at the Academy Museum and at the New Beverly), and both times were on 35mm so I had been spoiled by seeing it on film and didn’t think the digital screening at the festival looked as good in comparison. But I was also anxious about the movie showing in the same venue after… but more on that in a bit.

Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney chat with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz before Ocean’s Eleven

So after staying for about the first half hour of American Graffiti, I went across the street to the Roosevelt for the festival’s first legitimate poolside screening now that the weather was cooperating. There I saw quite a few friendly, familiar faces buzzing with excitement before Frankie Avalon joined Karger to talk about Beach Party. I’ll mention though that before they came out, we did get alerts from the TCMFF app to shelter in place. No other information was given, so there was a lot of confusion around the pool. Since I work for a local news station, I ended up checking my work email to see what was going on and it turned out there was a shooting by the mall. No one at TCMFF was hurt or anything, fortunately, and I was across the street anyway at the time that it happened. Because of the investigation at the mall though, the sound of helicopters above the area got a little loud at times throughout Avalon’s interview. Because of that and also because I haven’t seen Beach Party yet (and wasn’t actually planning to watch the movie at the festival anyway), I did leave before the interview ended to guarantee a good spot in line for another hotly anticipated screening.

Let the record show that I had already planned on seeing Ocean’s Eleven in the IMAX theater well before it was announced that THE George Clooney would be on hand with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh to talk about their movie. I managed to get a queue number below 100, so I did get a pretty good seat to get a good look at the two Oscar winners and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz (you can watch their whole conversation here). I’ll just say that seeing Clooney in person and witnessing his charisma in action, it’s really easy to see how he’s the big movie star that he is. I’ve been very lucky with the famous people I’ve seen at various screenings around L.A. and elsewhere, but I can’t imagine I’ll see anyone with as much star power as Clooney, especially up close as I did at TCMFF. It was truly a thrilling way to conclude the first full day of the fest.

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TCMFF Day 3: Saturday, April 15th

Russ Tamblyn talks with TCM host Dave Karger about making Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

It was another early start to the day, this time for a screening I’d literally been waiting for for years, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers with Russ Tamblyn! It was originally announced for the 2020 TCMFF before it was canceled in the early days of the pandemic, so I was happy to see this finally become a reality. Tamblyn was one of the festival’s honorees, so the audience was treated to a wonderful tribute video showcasing his life and career before his hilarious interview with Dave Karger. The screening did not disappoint, and it was beyond exciting to see the barn raising dance sequence on the big IMAX screen inside the Chinese Theatre.

I made as quick an exit as I could after the movie ended and went around the corner to hop on the shuttle bus taking festival attendees up to the Hollywood Legion Theater. I made it just in the knick of time as I was the last passenger to get on, and just a short couple of minutes later I was in line for When Worlds Collide to see the presentation by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt. I would’ve liked to have stayed for the movie itself as Burtt had rigged the theater for the audience to really feel the sound, but I was really interested in seeing the “The Evolution of Henson Puppetry” presentation at Club TCM, so since I had seen the film before at the 2019 TCMFF with star Barbara Rush, I made another swift departure after the introduction. Since the shuttle to take festivalgoers down to Hollywood Blvd. hadn’t arrived yet, I did have a little bit of time to admire the TCMFF mural inside the theater and take a quick look around, as it ended up being my only time at the Legion during the fest. We were let into the When Worlds Collide screening a little later than scheduled (likely due to the tech setup), so I really didn’t have a moment to spare once I finally got to the Roosevelt for the Henson panel, as it was just starting when I got inside. While there was no surprise appearance from Kermit as I would’ve loved to see, it was cool to watch how the muppets have evolved and how the Jim Henson Company incorporates new technology and digital animation into their work today.

Chilling by the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel pool before the introductory remarks for A Mighty Wind

It was back to the Chinese for another big headliner of the fest: Bye Bye Birdie with Ann-Margret! Since Dave Karger hosts the new weekly TCM franchise Musical Matinee, it was no surprise to see him yet again (and not that I’m complaining, Dave is one of my favorites!). It was a relatively brief interview with Ann-Margret not offering up too much in response, but she’s still just as energetic as she was in the movie and was all smiles throughout, especially at the end when she was surprised with a birthday cake and the whole audience wishing her an early happy birthday. After the film, I skipped the next block of movies to finally take some time to sit down for a full meal at 25 Degrees before heading out to the festival’s final poolside screening, A Mighty Wind. Again, I only stayed for the introduction, which was a short but very sweet one by Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole which you can watch here.

The mysterious Saturday TBA at the IMAX ended up being There’s Something About Mary… a very surprising choice, as I for one assumed it’d be a popular Warner Bros. movie to go along with their big centennial celebration. While I have yet to see that movie, I didn’t have any interest in checking it out at the festival (nothing to do with how relatively recent it is since I’d just seen Ocean’s Eleven the night before as well as other more recent films at the festivals) so I was able to stick to my original plan and spent the rest of the night up at the multiplex. First is what ended up being my final new-to-me movie at this year’s fest, Unfinished Business starring Irene Dunne, screening in 35mm in the tiny House 4 with an introduction by Sloan De Forest, who did poke fun at the aforementioned movie screening in IMAX at the same time. While I was already tired during that movie, I could not pass up the chance to see Xanadu with the TCMFF crowd at midnight. Following an amusing introduction by Tara McNamara, I managed to power through the movie thanks to the catchy tunes and the ridiculous plot, all of which I love wholeheartedly. There was no better way to end a jam-packed day.

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TCMFF Day 4: Sunday, April 16th

I had to sleep in for the final day of TCMFF after the midnight screening, I knew I wouldn’t survive otherwise (and honestly I barely did by the end of the fest!). So to get a little extra rest, I skipped the day’s first block of movies. The next block of movies started around noon, so since I had a little extra time before needing to get in line, I walked over to the Roosevelt to pick up one last ribbon for my pass badge at the information desk. Shortly after I walked into the lobby though, one of the TCM staffers asked me to sit for a quick on-camera interview for the channel. Though I normally don’t like being in front of the camera, I agreed to do it, so I’m looking forward to (and admittedly also partially dreading) seeing how my soundbites will be used in the future.

TCM hosts Eddie Muller and Ben Mankiewicz introduce Casablanca at the TCL Chinese Theatre

Following that unexpected detour, it was now time to line up for my first film on the last day. In my post outlining my tentative TCMFF picks, I had intended to start the day with a couple more movies I haven’t seen before. I already skipped the first intended film for sleep, and the second film I had picked out was up at the Legion, and with the timing being tight with my choice for the late afternoon movie, I decided to stay on Hollywood Blvd. I noted in that post that the one movie I had already seen in theaters before in the first half of the day was Casablanca… but that’s just the film I ended up going with. Despite some extra sleep, I was already feeling the weight of the festival on me, so I wanted to go with something I was well familiar with. Plus, it was being shown in glorious IMAX at the historic Chinese Theatre. It was quite a full theater too, which included Monika Henreid in attendance. Ben Mankiewicz was set to introduce the movie, but he invited fellow TCM host Eddie Muller to join him on stage, so it was great to see the two talk about one of the most beloved movies of all time.

I didn’t stray from the rest of my picks for the remainder of the festival, so I ended up spending my last day inside the TCL Chinese Theatre. Next up was The Music Man with star Shirley Jones in attendance. Instead of the usual Q&A before the film though, Dave Karger informed us that she and her family would be watching along with us. With that in mind, the screening was full of applause, from when the actress first appeared on screen to when her name popped up in the film’s finale, as well as at the end of every musical number. After the movie ended, Karger was joined by Shaun Cassidy, who spoke about how much The Music Man means to his family and even had one of his children come up wearing one of the film’s original costumes. Then the woman of the hour walked on stage with her son Ryan Cassidy and her grandchildren to a roaring standing ovation. It was a very heartwarming moment to see Jones take in the audience’s adoration for her surrounded by her family, perhaps the most special moment I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing at TCMFF.

The time seemed to fly by on Sunday, as it was already time to get in the queue for the final film of the fest. I was back in line for the Chinese to see The Big Chill, where Ben Mankiewicz interviewed two of the film’s cast members, Tom Berenger and JoBeth Williams (which you can watch here). The rest of the night after the movie was basically a blur, and I honestly probably shouldn’t have stayed to the end of the closing night party inside Club TCM, as I was practically dead tired and it was very crowded inside. All five TCM hosts were seated in one corner of the room instead of spread throughout as in past years, and I didn’t necessarily need to meet all of them and only really wanted to say hi to Dave Karger, but he left before I could get to him. However, I did see Berenger at the party and even brushed by him a few times. Still, it was worth sticking around to chat with a few friends before TCMFF officially came to a close at midnight.

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Post-TCMFF: Monday, April 17th

I took this day off from work knowing that I’d be out late for the end of TCMFF, but instead of sitting at home, I went out to Burbank for the classic version of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour as TCM offered a special discount for the festival week. I went on the regular tour back in 2016, so I was already familiar with most of what was offered. Though there were more mentions of films from the Old Hollywood era on the guided portion of the tour, it wasn’t quite as much as I hoped, but it still wasn’t a bad way to spend the day. Understandably, much of what’s featured leaned more toward the popularity of Friends, Harry Potter, and DC Comics, all of which I don’t have a particularly strong attachment to. Regardless, it was interesting to see some of the changes made at the tour since I last took it, and of course to see all the movie history on display.

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All in all, it was a sublime week in Hollywood celebrating classic movies and more with friends and fellow fans for the TCM Classic Film Festival! Just as I did the past two times I attended, I watched 12 movies total, and just like last year, three of those films were ones I watched for the first time. In addition to that, I saw five other introductions, three of which were at the poolside screenings (though technically one of them was not by the pool as planned). I only went to one Club TCM event this time, but I did get to watch the red carpet despite the wet weather. Ben Mankiewicz announced at the closing night party that next year will be the 15th edition of TCMFF, which also coincides with TCM’s 30th anniversary, and I cannot wait to see what’s in store for the milestone celebration.

One thought on “My Experience at TCMFF 2023

  1. Man oh man, you were really rushing around, but you sure did catch a lot of films and discussions! Cool that Eddie Muller was there…you didn’t mention any noir films playing, so I wonder if he was there at the festival to host a few. And how cool that TCM asked your for a quick interview! Is it posted online anywhere for people to check out?

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