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TCM Film Festival, Day 1 – “Oh, life is so gloriously improbable. “

“Uh, so do you have pierced ears?”

I looked at Angela. We’d been waiting in the courtyard of the Chinese Theatre, kept waiting for about 20 minutes and had exhausted all forms of conversations our already sleep-deprived brains needed. I was really, obviously still jet legged. I hope that came across. Dear god, I hope that came across.

The first official day of the TCMFF kicked off with a media edition of the TCM Bus Tour that spends three hours traversing Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles. My expectations weren’t exactly skyhigh– bus tours usually involve a lot of polite napping between sites, but the TCM bus was something else.

Los Angeles City Hall from the bus.
Los Angeles City Hall from the bus.

Besides being greeted on the bus by Ben Mankiewecz himself (nursing a coffee with admirable restraint), the bus itself is, as we say in the profession, was decked out. The seating is tiered to give a good view of the high definition television in the front and a view of the tour guide who spends the trip trading barbs with the audience (ours delighted in poking fun at the highly couture Raquel and Jessica) while running clips from dozens of films as we pass by the landmarks they portray.

Trigger warning: there are several films that are modern on the tour, including scenes from the Fast and the Furious franchise and the new Transformers movies. Don’t be worried, they make up a very small minority, and, in the Fast and Furious case, do a great job illuminating how Downtown can stand in for Tokyo.

The Bradbury Building, pt 1.
The Bradbury Building, pt 1.
Pt 2.
Pt 2.

There are two stops during the tour. The first is the famous Bradbury Building from Blade Runner and The Artist, which is absolutely gorgeous. If you can figure out how to get around the sun, it’s impossible to take a bad picture of the place.

The other stop is Union Station, where you get to see the pristine place and wander around for a few minutes. Like, it’s perfectly preserved– which probably isn’t easy considering the traffic– and it’s one of the most stunningly visceral places I’ve seen, and, despite the lack of pictures or names plastered on anything, one of the most undeniably thrilling connected to the past glamor of Hollywood.

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FYI, it was a good time, and if it interests you, you can get tickets online for $55. They’re moving to daily tours at 12:30 PM, so if you’re in LA and want an interactive and fun experience, it’s well worth checking out. I’d recommend sitting on the left side of the bus next to one of the windows that open, as I was on the complete opposite side of the bus and that looked like more fun.

I spent lunch chatting with KC (who was also my seat buddy on the bus), Raquel, Angela and Jessica about a wide range of things, from Garbo versus Shearer to fellow blogger Cliff (consensus: “He’s such a sweetheart.”) to crappy/stalker-ish blog commenters (I am surprisingly lucky in this regard ;) ) to personal favorites and dislikes. (Jessica saying that her favorite musical is West Side Story was a particular shock.) Jessica’s parents were also there, and I swapped stories about with her father about the military living and Japan.

The Angel's Flight from the bus tour.
The Angel’s Flight from the bus tour.

We were so busy chowing down that we missed Meet TCM (which didn’t sound too exciting from later reports). I caught up with a bunch of people next at a #TCMParty meetup, which meant seeing a lot of people like Marya and Kristen and so, so many more. If it weren’t for the sweltering heat and the fact that none of us were in a swimsuit (I kindly refrained to preserve everyone else’s dignity) that beautiful pool at the Roosevelt may have been violated.

I got some writing halfway done during a round of obscure movie trivia hosted by Bruce Goldstein.There were a few I knew, but they also knew they were playing to a crowd that probably knew who Warren William was but probably didn’t know who played the victim in The Case of the Curious Bride.

(Don’t hurt your brain, it’s Errol Flynn.)

Club TCM.
Club TCM.

Goldstein was a good host, and had a variety of other presenters there to help answer their questions which, unsurprisingly, related to a lot of presentations. Illeana Douglas, who later introduced My Man Godfrey, helped answer a question about her grandmother’s only film role before she began a career in politics which was aided by a certain Californian politician.

“They used to call him ‘Little Ronnie Reagan’.”

“I wonder why.”

After a drink (AKB Beers are generously giving free bottles to Club TCM members, and their ‘Hell’ variety is a delightul light lager), I was finally greeted with one of my most must-sees of the festival– the dynamic duo of Karen and Kristina of “The Dark Pages”, an impressive film noir newsletter they put out. Karen also contributed to Thoughts on The Thin Man, and I was happy to get her as a signature in my copy of the book. We didn’t have much time to talk since Karen would be walking the red carpet that evening, but it was seriously a thrill to meet the woman who inspired me to become a dedicated classic film blogger. As you can imagine.

I wandered across the street to see if I could manage a spot in the bleachers for the Sound of Music. Of course, me in a sweater in the 90 degree LA sun wasn’t the best plan, and, being about 70th in line didn’t help either. I wasn’t too disappointed to make it in but Kimberly (whose Red Carpet fashion posts I looked forward to every year) also got shut out, so we went over to Club TCM to commiserate and talk.

I eventually got a picture of Julie Andrews from across the street and under an umbrella.

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She looks oddly like my mother, though don’t tell either of them that I said that.

While Kim and I were standing on the street with a mix of sadness and relief, one man, shepherding his two kids past the hulabaloo on Hollywood Boulevard, explained to them what was happening on the other side.

“It’s some sort of TCM music festival.”

We later figured he put the many Sound of Music posters together with the copious amounts of branding to create a new and vastly different sort of event, but Kim and I just chuckled. If you don’t know what TCM is, in many ways the festival probably looks like an asylum to the casual observer.

With the Festival in full swing by the late afternoon, I suppose those of you at home in Canada or Tokyo or possibly even Illinois (hi mom!) want to know more about the actual atmosphere of the festival. The Roosevelt is the center of it, the hubub of activity where you can relax in the AC or sneak out next to the pool if you want more quiet or tattoo gazing. (I think I mentioned this yesterday, but it’s a bit of a tonal whiplash between the two, with the pool surrounded by carefree, smoking hipsters and the lobby being populated more or less their grandparents.)

Ben Mankiewicz officially kicks off the opening of Club TCM before rushing off to the Red Carpet.
Ben Mankiewicz officially kicks off the opening of Club TCM before rushing off to the Red Carpet.

Most of the attendees are white and older. Having hop, skipped, and jumped to my 3rd decade recently, I’ve luckily stopped with the ‘I’m the youngest person at this repertory screening by three decades’ heebie jeebies that I had for much of my twenties. Still, while many of the bloggers I know are young (and sometimes even much younger than me) our numbers are dwarfed by the baby boomers and older who mill around the hotel.

Which isn’t terrible by any stretch. The attendees have all obviously shelled out some serious change to be there, and they’re there because they want the opportunity to not just connect to the network that occupies many people’s every waking moment but also with other fans. Most are talkative, and conversations can be drifted in and out of with considerable ease.

As a proto-hermit in Japan, this ‘talking to other people’ thing is remarkably tantalizing, especially when I say the word “pre-Code” and am not met with the usual blank stares. In fact, this is a weird sort of godsend, something I never knew I wanted but now utterly love.

But if I keep talking about talking, I’ll never get to the movies I actually saw.

Don't worry, I took this picture during the costume test that was shown, not during the film itself. I'm not one of those dicks.
Don’t worry, I took this picture during the costume test that was shown, not during the film itself. I’m not one of those dicks.

6:30 – Queen Christina (1933)

Queen Christina is a movie I had not seen in probably about a decade, and I’d watched it still colored by the utter hatred of Camille I’d immediately developed after watching Camille.

The film was introduced by Cari Beauchamp who passed along a few bits of trivia. Besides the fact that Lubitsch called Garbo, “The most uninhibited person I know”, she also revealed that the film is remarkably true to the actual events of history.

“Except that it seems that the real Queen Christina resembled less Greta Garbo and more Danny DeVito.”

The screening also included a rare silent costume test featuring Garbo trying on the outfits for the film. I’m not used to seeing Garbo not acting as I’m sure many classic film fans aren’t, and the tests that focus on her face and how the clothes and lighting match it were utterly breathtaking, with the entire packed theater held momentarily in complete rapture.

The movie itself was a lot of fun, and a lot more spry that I was expecting, even for a pre-Code. Rouben Mamoullian is one of my favorite directors, and his attention to detail and the skill with which he builds the film’s climax is amazing. I love that you can see Garbo’s breath as she wanders in the snow, a detail I certainly would have missed on my TV at home.

And, of course, Garbo herself is grand. I thought John Gilbert was a bit hammy, but you can beat me up over that opinion whenever I put together the review for it later this summer.

Before the movie I ran into Christina and had a blast just talking to her. We even got a picture together:

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But more about her tomorrow. Also in there I got to spend some time chatting with Paula about the trials and tribulations of running an independent movie theaters, one of things my wife and I always joke about doing though the logistics utterly terrify us.

Annmarie and Paula.
Annmarie and Paula.

9:45 – Breaker Morant (1980)

They let us in early for Breaker Morant, which is a movie I couldn’t shake as being a passion pick by the festival programmer. The audience was good, but not large, and while the film’s director, Academy Award winner Bruce Beresford, introduced the film, he also admitted he hadn’t seen it since the movie’s release. I also kept careful track, and despite knowing or recognizing a surprising number of people already, absolutely no other bloggers attended the movie. (My Man Godfrey was definitely the more stylish and popular choice of the evening.)

But the man I sat next to was who convinced me to sit and stay for the duration (for, at this point at 10 PM, sleep was indeed tempting me away). A former vet, he told me stories about the infamy of the film’s climatic speech and how it’s still refereed to in modern military tribunals.

The space at the Chinese Multiplex for people to relax before diving in for more goddamned popcorn.
The space at the Chinese Multiplex for people to relax before diving in for more goddamned popcorn.

Watching the film, that comes as no surprise. Breaker Morant is a movie I can only describe as ‘fucking brilliant’, a superb mix that analyzes the arrogance that permeated the British empire at the turn of the century and the thin line between ‘military combat’ and ‘murder’.

It’s undeniably still relevant as the U.S. continues to engage in wars of occupation in far away lands against agitated rebel groups, with the damning aimed at a government who sees men as not soldiers but pawns in a larger, bloodless game of wealth and power. It’s so damn haunting, and may be the only film of the festival that left me in tears at the end.

I then headed straight back to the subway, content that my choices and day had been well spent with a minimum number of stupid things coming out of my mouth, though, as always, there are now many more pictures of myself looking like an idiot floating out there.

(One, tweeted by Will at the #TCMParty meetup, got an unholy number of retreats though I look like some sort of Tim Burtonie FX parrot perched on Daniel’s shoulder.)

So here’s a not terrible one of me from the Bradbury and one of the many, many statues of Charlie Chaplin that every Angelino trips over a few times a day:

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TOMORROW: I don’t stick to my schedule at all, Genevieve Tobin fanboying, being lucky #10 for an obscure pre-Code, brownface (yay), and killing a few big men and a few small men.

Also, brief note: all of the pictures above (and on almost all of my feature film reviews for this year) are clickable and will take you to much larger, possibly more horrifying versions. Cheers!

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