For lovers of classic Hollywood, next week is among the most anticipated of the year. The TCM Classic Film Festival, held every April since 2010, has become an annual pilgrimage for TCM devotees all over the globe. For three packed days, attendees enter a veritable wonderland of screenings, panels, and talks, geared toward the most passionate classic film fan.
For longtime festivalgoers, the “TCMFF” is a culture all its own, complete with yearly traditions, injokes, and institutional memory. As an example of this unique festival culture, one need only mention “the fire alarm in the Multiplex” to be met with a flood of stories about that night. Mention the time Illeana Douglas asked the audience “if anyone knew how many movies Myrna Loy and William Powell made together,” and the entire audience shouted in unison “FOURTEEN!” These are the stories we tell time and again, with lifelong friends we’ve made at this unique event.
Facebook groups such as “Going to the TCM Classic Film Festival” serve as communication points for attendees throughout the year. Expectations among regular attendees are so set in stone that any variation to the line policy, the opening night movie traditions, or even the date when the schedule comes out, is noticed and commented upon. The group, thousands of members strong, is comprised of yearly attendees, first time festivalgoers, and those who attended once, years ago. It has become a true community–so much, that first timers in the group often come to the festival having already made friends.
This year comes with many changes. In 2022, Turner Classic Movies was part of an acquisition by media giant Warner Bros. Discovery. While reports say that TCM is safe, many people continue to wring their hands over the future of the festival and the network alike. The TCM Classic Film Festival is not a profit-making endeavor–it began as a way for viewers to connect with each other, and this is what it remains. Following the Warner Bros. Discovery acquisition, many have noticed changes in programming and festival culture. This year, the traditional booksigning events at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel have disappeared. Some programming is oddly out of line with the TCM audience. A special unannounced Saturday night screening had fans abuzz. Could it be Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins? Barbra Streisand for The Way We Were?
The announcement was finally made a few days ago. It will be There’s Something About Mary (1998) with special guest Lin Shaye (Magda in the film).
Also concerning some passholders is a new promotion by festival sponsor Citi, in which individuals with a Citicard are able to purchase tickets, in limited quantity, to The Big Chill. Tickets cost $20, they come with preferred seating, and ticketholders will be in line with passholders. Passholders do not have access to preferred seating. A festival pass can cost upward of $2500. The least expensive pass is $400. It seems unfair, passholders tell me, that they may be cut in line by a Citi ticketholder, who may end up with a better seat.
The fear expressed by many longtime attendees is that with each passing year, the festival will become more corporate in order to raise the money desired by Warner Bros. Discovery, or it will disappear altogether. The tone of this coming week may give us a better idea of what the future holds.
Still, this promises to be an interesting festival. While booksignings at the Roosevelt have been suspended this year, I will be signing copies of my book, Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies, at the Hollywood Heritage Museum on April 12. Joining me will be Kristen Lopez, author of the newly published But Have You Read the Book? Officially, this event is part of the Facebook group “Going to the TCM Classic Film Festival” pre-party, but anyone can come. If you haven’t gotten a book yet, this is the perfect time to do so, as proceeds benefit the museum.
I’ll be posting every festival evening, as usual, and I will make another post with my schedule as the time gets closer, with comments on individual screenings.
Until then, see you at the festival!