At a screening of the cult classic Eraserhead, comedian Patton Oswalt described the TCM Film Festival as “Coachella for Shut-ins.” He wasn’t far off. While every year, young twenty-somethings descend on Indio, California for the Coachella Music Festival, I (and many others) take Hollywood by storm, attending the annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival.
For those who are not familiar, The TCM Film Festival is a four day classic film festival which includes little time for sleep or food. By the end, you feel wasted (probably similar to how Coachella attendees feel-but for different reasons). When I first attended the festival I was 17, just a senior in high school. I had no idea what I wanted to do, only that I probably would land somewhere in entertainment.
My connection to Turner Classic Movies started in the early 2000’s. My dad, a self-made ultra film buff, started watching the channel. He was hooked, having himself grown up watching these films on television. However, it had been years since he had seen them and he was eager to share them with myself, and my two brothers (I have one older, one younger. Yes, I’m the glorious middle child).
At the time, my two siblings and I were young, at ages where we could easily be melded into little film buffs ourselves. My dad showed us popular films, things he thought we’d appreciate (The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Capra). However, he also showed us the small ones, the ones that maybe he and only a select group of people remembered and/or cared about. My dad and I bonded over genres my brothers weren’t interested in: romantic comedies and musicals. Movies were never just for entertainment. They were an inextricable part of our lives.
In 2009, Turner Classic Movies announced that they would be holding a film festival in Hollywood. The tickets were expensive, around the same price of Coachella. It was an experiment really. It could have been a complete failure for the company.
Nevertheless, my dad took a chance and took my brothers and I out to Hollywood for a week in April of 2010. It was a whirlwind four days. We watched about five movies (yes, really!) a day. At each one, there was a special guest; an actor or producer, a film historian.
I’ll be honest. At that first festival, we were kind of an anomaly. My brother even made a joke (maybe a little in bad taste) that the average age of the festival-goers was deceased. We were really the only family and because of that, we stood out. We got to speak to actors and producers one-on-one because it was a small group and let’s be honest, my little brother was cute. People always are willing to talk to you if you have a cute kid around.
That year we saw screenings of some major classics, but strangely the ones that stick in my memory are the small ones. We saw a film called Sunnyside Up, one of the first sound musicals. Made in 1929, we were told before we saw the film, that we were seeing it in better quality than audiences did when it was originally shown. I remember watching a scene where a girl (Janet Gaynor) writes in her diary, smitten and hopeful. It was kind of shocking actually. I think, for some reason, it struck a cord with me in establishing that whether or not this girl was living in the 1920s, she was still accessible and relatable.
I also saw a film that year called Leave Her to Heaven. Made in 1945, the film is a fantastic film noir (fancy film speak for a film which had a, “…style marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace”….Yes I did copy that from Google) The only living cast member, Darryl Hickman, was there to give insight into what Gene Tierney was like and how they shot a crucial scene in the film.
One of the most interesting things I experienced during the festival was the constant shock from fellow attendees that my brothers and I were interested in classic films, let alone an awe that we had attended the festival. I’m surprised they aren’t more young people (there’s obviously many out there that love classic films). I’ve had the joy over the past five years of seeing the festival expand and grow.
A lot of people underestimate the importance of classic films. To me, they are our visual history, or as my dad likes to say, “a living museum.” Many of the guests who have come to the festival throughout the years have since passed away. I got to hear Eli Wallach talk about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and had the opportunity to listen to Mickey Rooney talk about It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World. These experiences were truly once-in-a-lifetime. Moreover though, they established for me that though these stars, directors, writers, editors, etc. may pass away, their films will live forever if audiences continue to appreciate them.
I have gone back to the festival every year, despite the fact that I’m now footing the bill. It awakened my love not just for classic films, but for seeing films the way they were meant to be seen: in a theater where there aren’t distractions (Cell phones, Facebook, C’mon people!). It’s just you and the movie and it’s true magic. In 2014, I graduated from school and began working in the industry. There have been moments during my working life where I’ve felt disheartened and had my ideals torn down, but The TCM Festival has become something of a marker for me. It’s not just something I share with my dad. It’s a gathering of like-minded souls. I’ve met people there who have become great friends. It’s impossible not to feel inspired in that environment.
I just bought my 2016 pass this morning. It’s expensive, but in my opinion, well worth it. I look forward to those four days all year long.
Extra Bonus: My brother and dad are in this old promo. Can you find them?