The 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival kicked off this afternoon, and it already feels like the big family reunion that the festival always is. For four days in April, Hollywood Blvd. turns into its own self-contained world. When I arrived this afternoon, I found it swarming with TCM fans, identifiable by their badges and TCM-themed bags and apparel. The TCM Festival has begun.
For my first event of the festival, I decided to attend the “Meet TCM” panel, to get a better handle on the changes affecting the network. I walked into the Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the panel discussion would occur, and was greeted by a room packed with good friends and familiar faces. It’s a feeling difficult to describe, but the emotional warmth of that room was palpable–almost like coming home.
The panel discussed TCM’s acquisition by Warner Bros. Discovery, which has left many fans concerned about the future of the network. There has been much ado on the channel, and at the festival itself, about Warner Bros. 100th anniversary this year, and the panel assured fans that corporate headquarters have been consulting TCM a great deal about how to approach 100th anniversary programming. Just yesterday, however, Warner Bros. Discovery announced a new streaming package, Max, to consolidate existing company streaming services under the umbrella of the current HBO Max. It remains unclear whether TCM will be included in the newly redesigned Max package. TCM’s future, the panel noted, is in streaming. This is the case with all cable-based networks, and TCM’s partnership with HBO Max seems to keep the channel afloat while the entertainment world quickly shifts away from cable. Today, the Meet TCM panel repeatedly stressed the fact that Warner Bros. Discovery president David Zaslav loves the channel, and keeps it on in his office. But how far can sentimental value really go in corporate America? I left the event feeling as lost as when I came in. No one really seems to know what the future holds.
Next up on the schedule was Bruce Goldstein’s “So You Think You Know Movies?”, which is always a can’t-miss event at the festival for me. Bruce is the programmer at Film Forum in New York, and I had an event with him at Film Forum this past October around the release of Captain of Her Soul. He is a funny, brilliant man, who crafts an astoundingly difficult trivia contest every year for the TCM Classic Film Festival. Last year, my team won, and we decided to defend our crown this year. Though we did well, we were ultimately overshadowed by another team that frequently wins the contest, a team called The Usual Suspects. Comprised of several whiz trivia players, including Jeopardy! champion Dave Sikula, The Usual Suspects players are formidable opponents who know their movies and know how to strategize. But Game Time (our team) vows to take back the title next year!
Following our trivia defeat, I had dinner at California Pizza Kitchen with a group of friends that includes Karin Mustvedt-Pluss and Sara Henriksson, who come to the festival every year from Norway and Sweden, respectively. I first met Sara in Paris, when we went to the American Library to see (and eventually meet) Olivia de Havilland. Later that spring of 2011, I traveled to Ireland to attend the Maureen O’Hara Classic Film Festival, which Karin and Sara jointly organized, and we stayed together in a large house in County Cork. 12 years and countless injokes later, we are still good friends, and spend glorious time together at the festival.
After dinner, we headed to the Chinese Multiplex to get in line for One Way Passage in Theater 6. As a pre-Code, with an established and beloved screen couple, we knew One Way Passage would be popular. Theater 6 is a bigger space than Theater 4, which is where the pre-Codes usually are (much to everyone’s chagrin), but to be safe, we arrived at the theater around 6:00 for a 7:30 showing.
Lines have been part of festival culture since the beginning, but they always seem to be among the most difficult logistics to coordinate. An hour before the movie, numbers are handed out to people waiting in line. That way, people can move around, get something to eat, and mingle with friends before getting back in line to be let in half an hour before the showing. This year, the line policy seems to be very strict. A staff member went up and down the line of people waiting for One Way Passage, checking numbers to make sure people were in exactly the right place. I’m not sure if this was a one-off event, or if line policy is indeed stricter overall this year, but I noticed the change.
One Way Passage is always a crowd-pleaser. Starring Kay Francis and William Powell, it tells the story of a convicted murderer and a dying heiress who fall in love on a ship from Hong Kong to San Francisco. It has drama, romance, intrigue, and quite a bit of comedy from character actor Frank McHugh.
Kay Francis is a wonder. She was a remarkable actress and a stunning beauty, with her dark features and lithe, statuesque frame. In contrast to Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, Kay Francis hated being a movie star. She rejected publicity, and when she retired, she didn’t want to be celebrated. “I can’t wait to be forgotten,” she wrote in her diary in 1938. Despite her protests, she is one of the most popular unsung actresses of her era, at least among TCM fans. It raises an interesting conundrum–how much do we owe Kay Francis this wish? Why did she feel the way she did? Would she be upset to know that people are still watching and loving her movies today?
Before the film began, film historian and author Mark Vieira gave a very enlightening introduction, discussing some backstories of filming and excerpts from the diaries of the stars and crewmembers. Mark Vieira and I have been acquainted for some time, through our mutual work in the silent era. He does wonderful work and always presents it so beautifully, with some of the most artistic books to come out of the classic Hollywood scene.
Tomorrow, I have a Captain of Her Soul event at Larry Edmunds Bookshop at 11 AM. You can stop in, get your book signed, and browse this astonishing bookstore, unique in the world for its dedication to Hollywood books. I’ll be there until 12:30, so please stop by if you’re around! Following that, I’ll be going to screenings of The Strawberry Blonde, Penny Serenade, and Ball of Fire. A daily rundown to come at the end of the day, as always.
See you then!