TCMFF 2020 Wrap-Up: “Were you working hard?” “Yeah, but not at the bank.”

So Thursday night I wanted to catch the beginning of the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Special Home Edition, the 2020 virtual version of the annual TCM festival.  (The 2020 festival had been cancelled because all of this (waves hand emphatically) and prevented the usual mass trek to Hollywood.) Of course, Thursday night dinner was late, the baby was getting a bath, and my daughter jumped onto the couch next to me just in time for the last five minutes of the 1957 A Star is Born.

Trying to catch a small child up on the plot of A Star is Born without launching into lengthy discussions of alcoholism and suicide (as of yet not covered on “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and thus foreign to her), I instead stressed two items:

  • That’s Dorothy from Wizard of Oz all grown up.
  • She is very sad.

Needless to say, the response to both of those questions was “Why?”.

So I talked about loss. We’d been having discussions about it over the last week, from discussing “the sickness” to my inevitable death. (She told me she didn’t want me to die. I said for that to happen, I’d have to take more walks. She decided she’d rather we just play more Animal Crossing.) I led her back to the concepts of sadness and grief and we talked a bit about how people react and deal with them.

At that moment, with the movie having ended, the logo for the TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition popped up and I, dear reader, teared up a little bit. (Keep tabs on this sentence for future reference when you need to prove I’m out of touch or a total loon.) The last four weeks of being at home, managing my kids, dealing with the sudden changes in my job schedule, working through the cancellation of my plans (including a very ambitious summer reading program for my library I’d been designing since September), and, of course, my lack of time off really hit home.

But that moment also offered me a glimpse of insight. At this moment in time, for someone among the lucky to be stuck at home, it would be very easy not to care. A state of numbness has shot through my work the last few weeks as my enthusiasm nosedived for the job I’d dedicated my life to for the last three years. Being a full time parent was never something I thought I’d be good at, and I don’t think I am (sorry to my kids reading this in the future! blame the global pandemic!). I’ve been pretty much simply careening from day to day, forgetting the day of the week and letting my beard grow the longest it’s ever been.

(It’s gross. I hate it. Why would anyone grow a long beard? Any time I lay facedown I’m pretty much unwillingly eating my own facial hair. Anyway, I’m not trimming it until I can go to a movie theater again. I don’t make the rules, except the one I arbitrarily made four weeks ago, that rule I do make.)

Somehow, the TCM Film Festival At Home Edition made me feel… better. It was an effort, a surprising one, when none was necessary. It was a success in showing the at-home folks what a TCM Fest is like without making it too easy or stripped down. And it was a whirlwind, going by in a blink of the eye, just like the real thing.

This festival, I ended up with a truly pathetic final count of films watched. I ended up watching Safety Last with my wife and daughter, both of whom had seen it before but still thrilled as the movie neared its climax. At one point, my daughter was covering my wife’s eyes yelling, “Don’t look, mommy!” while my wife screamed, so it was a deeply enjoyable experience. We also watched Singin’ in the Rain, albeit broken up into chunks, and I sat down in the evening for Baby Face and Creature from the Black Lagoon.

(I’d briefly considered letting my daughter stay up to watch some of Creature from the Black Lagoon with me, and, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, it didn’t happen. She was too traumatized by an episode of “Paw Patrol” earlier in the day where Mayor Humdinger captures Ryder to really be able to process anything else.)

(Don’t worry, the Paw Patrol gained super powers and saved the day.)

When you are at the film festival, in person, in Hollywood, it is a lot. You can never see everything or do everything. So I suppose this weekend, astoundingly, the programmers at TCM carried this ethos through. Between movies were clips from past festivals, interviews and, if you followed their social media accounts, more clips and connections. Some new, some old — you can check out lots of videos over at their YouTube page — but always something to keep your interest.

Other longtime bloggers and friends also participated, posting pictures and video. Jessica interviewed her parents as if they were on the red carpet, while Kate and others posted what she’d planned to wear every day of the fest. (I only posted my planned first night getup — frankly, at this point, I’m not optimistic enough to assume I’m going clothes shopping again before next spring.) Also be sure to check out Miguel’s write-up of the festival, which is interesting coming from a festival programmer also dealing with uncertain times.

This combined swirl of activity revealed a few things to me. Over the festivals I’ve attended, I’ve often looked out at the crowded theaters and thought who the hell are all these other people and why aren’t we friends. Reading through Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere this weekend, I realized there are more classic film fans out there than I ever knew, and their continued enthusiasm gives me a lot of heart.

And it was an interesting reminder that one thing about TCMFF (and Cinecon, too, don’t think I don’t love it as well), are festivals primarily about both celebrating– and mourning. It’s a privilege to get to come together and revere old movies, to see the obscure and celebrate the art of people we admire. But every festival is also a way to look back at previous guests who’ve passed away, old friends who can’t make the trip, and eras slowly sliding into distant memory while the inevitable grind of time moves us all along.

The past fades away, but celebrating and sharing our passion can make life a little less painful right now.  And, somehow, that’s reassuring.

That’s it for me about TCMFF 2020. Let’s hope we all see each other again in 2021, in Hollywood this time.

And, don’t forget, wash your damn hands.

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