The fourth annual TCM Classic Film Festival kicks off tonight in Hollywood and, despite a stellar lineup of old films on brand-new DCP restorations and glistening 35mm archival prints, plus famous guests aplenty, all I can think about is the festival’s main venue: Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Or, if we must honor the recent naming rights deal, the “TCL Chinese Theatre.”
This is the last time I will ever experience the world’s most famous movie palace as I first experienced it (back in 2007, at a matinee of “Live Free or Die Hard”). The day after the festival wraps, the place will be stripped of its beautiful, 80-something foot wide ‘Scope screen and converted into your average IMAX theater. While I’m happy this change means the Chinese will be able to book popular blockbusters again (these have largely been siphoned off by the competing Cinerama Dome in recent years)—and I’m somewhat encouraged by the fact that the LA Historical Society has been consulting on the retrofit—it’s still downright sad to realize I’ll never again see that majestic curtain open on both sides of the screen, once this weekend is over.
But all things change over time, and I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to the Chinese as I knew it than this festival, which features over 75 classic films at Grauman’s, the adjoining multiplex, and the neighboring Egyptian and El Capitan Theatres.
When Roger Ebert died earlier this month, I made it a priority to see every one of his “Great Movies,” and this year’s festival is packed to the gills with opportunities to scratch entries off that list, in the best possible way — on giant screens with perfect projection. Two of the most notable of Ebert’s favorites that I shamefully haven’t seen, but hope to catch this weekend are “On the Waterfront,” in a much anticipated 4K restoration, and Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” with the legendary Max von Sydow in person. And then there are those I’ll take great pleasure in experiencing again, like Buster Keaton’s classic silent comedy “The General,” which will close the festival in a world premiere restoration accompanied by the renowned Alloy Orchestra.
The festival, which is attended by some 25,000 patrons from all over the world, opens tonight with a new digital restoration of William Wyler’s “Funny Girl.” Star Barbra Streisand will be present for a Q&A. I’ll be next door, avoiding the crowds, at a 35mm showing of Ernst Lubitch’s 1939 “Ninotchka,” which was Greta Garbo’s first full-on comedy. Lubitsch’s daughter, Nicola, is scheduled to make an appearance.
When the festival kicks into full gear on Friday, it’s such an embarrassment of cinematic riches that choosing what to attend is a blood pressure raising undertaking. Do I enjoy a final big, wide epic in Grauman’s—“Ben Hur” and a 50th anniversary restoration of “The Great Escape” will both show—or do I opt for films I’m unlikely to ever have the opportunity to see on the big screen again, like Leo McCarey’s 1935 “Ruggles of Red Gap”? The U.S. premiere restoration of the English-language version of Roberto Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy” is also tempting. Still, I’m not sure anything will be able to top the aforementioned “On the Waterfront” screening, with now 88-year-old star Eva Marie Saint scheduled to make an appearance. My only worry is I’ll be tuckered out by the 9:30 p.m. start-time, after a full day of festival-going.
Saturday’s lineup includes new restorations of George Stevens’ “Giant” and “Shane” (the latter no longer being protested by Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells now that it will be shown in its native Academy ratio), as well as King Vidor’s 1925 “The Big Parade.” Actor and newly acquired TCM personality Bill Hader will be on hand for “Shane” and also “The Ladykillers” (no, not the one with Tom Hanks), but he’s perhaps the lowest profile guest of the day. Allow me to shower you with names: Illeana Douglas, Ned Beatty, John Boorman, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Lulu, Jane Fonda, Max von Sydow, Beau Bridges, Ann Blyth, Cybill Shepherd. They’ll all be there for various movies, and they’re only the tip of the iceberg (relatives of deceased filmmakers, like Nicholas Ray’s wife Susan, will also be plentiful).
Before “The General” closes out the festival on Sunday, we get the world premiere 4K restoration of Terrence Malick’s first film “Badlands,” Tippi Hendren in person for Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” a 70mm show of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” with 92-year-old Mickey Rooney live, “Salesman” with the legendary documentarian Albert Maysles on hand, and more. As I said earlier: a true embarrassment of cinematic riches.
Members of the public who cannot afford pricey festival passes will be able to attend individual shows for $20 apiece, though availability is limited in most cases, especially in the smaller venues. But if you haven’t been to the mighty Grauman’s Chinese recently and you’re in the Southern California area, you must deal with the trouble so you can sit inside awestruck at a giant moving picture one last time, without an equally giant IMAX logo bombarding you as you exit.
For more information on the TCM Classic Film Festival, including the festival schedule, visit filmfestival.tcm.com.