E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial to Open the TCM Classic Film Festival

The TCM Classic Film Festival is less than 3 months away, and per the annual ritual, fans have been speculating about the opening night film. Opening night is a fancy affair, complete with a red carpet for passholders and VIP guests, followed by a film and a gala party. Reserved for the highest level passholders, opening night is an opportunity for festival guests to mingle with the Hollywood elite.

Historically, the film is an anniversary restoration. Because of the emphasis on VIP festival guests, it is also a film which has stars still living. Due to the ever-dwindling pool of representatives from classic Hollywood, it was probable that the opening night film would be from the past 50 years, and guesses ranged from The Godfather to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?.

Speculation about the opening night film was put to rest last week, when the festival announced that E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) would open the festival. In attendance will be director Steven Spielberg alongside producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.

To this day, E.T. is one of the few movies that consistently make me cry. At the end, when E.T. touches Elliot’s head and says “I’ll be right here,” my eyes fill with tears. As a story, it is interesting to note that it essentially has the same plot as The Wizard of Oz and closely follows Joseph Campbell’s mythic structure of the hero’s journey. It rarely gets the credit it deserves for its adventurous yet familiar, fairy tale-like storyline.

E.T. is a slight diversion from the normal TCMFF opening night films. In the past, the anniversary restoration has traditionally been a musical from the golden age of Hollywood. This trend was broken in 2019 with When Harry Met Sally, the last time the TCMFF was held in person. The choice of E.T. immediately following When Harry Met Sally speaks to a shifting festival atmosphere, one that is sure to ruffle some feathers. Debate rages in the classic film community over what constitutes a classic, but TCM has historically taken a flexible approach to the question, playing films on the channel up through the 2010s. Most amateur analyses show that the festival still focuses on the golden age of Hollywood, but there is a great deal of fear for its future as TCM has been engulfed in corporate acquisitions of Turner.

As far as the guests go, notably absent (at least as of this writing) is the phenomenal Drew Barrymore. At 7 years old, her gifts are far beyond her years and she gives one of the most heartfelt performances in the film. Festival passholders would, of course, be thrilled to see her not only as an actor from E.T., but also as the granddaughter of John Barrymore.

The opening night film is reserved for Spotlight and Essential passholders, which the festival website tells me are currently sold out. However, plans change, and there is a very dynamic waitlist. If you’d like to be added, you can find more information here: https://festival.tcm.com/tcm/.

Hope to see you at the Fest!

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