Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Back Just in Time to Leave

So, where was I?

In our last exciting chapter, I was whining about not having any time to write any posts. I still don’t, but given that on Mondays and Tuesdays in general (for the next couple of weeks, anyway), I don’t have “The Speakeasy” – and what a rodeo that’s been lately – and this week especially, what with my taking off for Los Angeles for the 5th TCM Classic Film Festival, I actually have some time. My dear wife asked me tonight “Why ain’t you wrote one o’ them there blogs lately?” (Forgive her; she’s from Carbondale, which we once identified as being the model for “Green Acres’s” Hooterville.)

 Typical Carbondaleans.

I calmly explained that, what with getting up at 7:30 in the morning, working from 9:30ish to 5:30ish, then driving up to San Francisco to do the show, getting home at 11:00, then watching David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, I had but little time to do anything, let alone carefully craft one of these. She mocked me, but I maintain my strength in knowing I’m right – even if I do miss penning these entries. (Can you actually pen something when there’s neither pen nor paper involved?)

 Me with friends behind David Letterman's desk. 
Do you feel a draft?

But I digress.

Preparing to leave for the Festival – along with other things – has put me in the mind of thinking about theatre-going. The Festival itself is simultaneously a marathon, an endurance contest, a feast, a dream come true for film buffs, and an exercise in frustration.
You wouldn’t think it would be so exhausting so do nothing but watch movies all day, but it is. As I said, this will be the fifth Festival, and I’ve been to all of the previous four. Each has had its own character. The first was thrilling, but a little confused, in that no one really knew what to expect or how to run the thing. There was some confusion, but it was an exhilarating confusion. The whole thing ended with a bang; with the American premiere of the restoration of Fritz Lang’s 1926 silent masterpiece, “Metropolis.”

"Lissen, the show's sold out. Can you get me in?"

In the second year, they’d learned a lot from the first festival, but it felt a little too regimented to me – and it suffered from the lack of a big closing night event. That lack of an event is something they’ve had a problem with in every year after 2010. This year, the big closing movie is a screening of the new 3D version of “The Wizard of Oz,” which I won’t be seeing; it’s not one of my favorites, and they’ve actually already shown it at the Chinese Theatre, so it’s not even a premiere or anything.

If it looked like this, I'd see it.

The third year hit a nice balance, and year four felt a little relaxed – but that was the first year I met up with the people I’d friended in a Facebook group. It remains to be seen what TCMFF-V will bring us.

Anyway, the day starts at around 9:00 am, with multiple screenings across the many theatres they use, and go until about 1:00 or 2:00 am, after the midnight screening. (Almost always a horror or science fiction picture.)

One of the things about the Festival is that they really can’t hold it anywhere else. Things take place mainly on Hollywood Blvd., which used to feature a huge number of movie palaces. (Probably the only comparable districts were Times Square, Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, and Westwood on the west side of LA.) While most of the Hollywood theatres have been converted to office space, nightclubs, or something else, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (I refuse to call it by its current corporate name) still screens first-run pictures in its six auditoria (four of which are used during the Festival). The headquarters for the Festival is the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel (which strikes me as a little seedy, but in mostly good shape – if wildly overpriced), which is more or less across the street from the Chinese. Last year (or maybe the year before), they started using Disney’s El Capitan Theatre (which the Mouse spent a fortune restoring; credit where credit is due …), which is sort of across the street from the Chinese, just farther east on Hollywood. 

The old Times Square

Further east is the Egyptian – which combines a recreation of the faux-Egyptian exterior commissioned by Sid Grauman in 1922 with a nightmarish post-modern interior that was added when the place was refurbished in the late 90s. (I do like it in spite of that interior, though, as it’s the only venue with a balcony.) And the last two years, they’d included the Cinerama Dome on Sunset (showing the Cinerama “How the West Was Won” – which I actually found kind of boring – and “It’sa Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” – which suffered from having a lousy print, but will always be one of my favorites – and the Dome was the place where I saw it the first time). They’re not using the Dome this year, though, so everything will be more compact.

The beauty part of the Festival is that is gives audiences the chance to see movies the way they were meant to be seen – not just on the big screen, but with a full house of hundreds who are there to watch the film on its own terms. No one’s there to text or to talk or to act up, but simply to watch the movie. In the past, I’ve seen movies that I’d never heard of and ended up loving, or movies that I hadn’t heard of, and hated (I didn’t walk out, though …) or old friends that I hadn’t seen in a theatre in decades. I’ve learned that, except in extreme cases, to opt for things I haven’t seen before.

Just start the picture already!

My favorite programs have inevitably been the oddball ones: the “Censored 11” Warner Bros. cartoons; short subjects; 3D movies – including an inadvertent one by Georges Méliès. Unfortunately, there aren’t any of those programs this year. But I’ll have more than enough to fill my movie-going plate. (In each of the four festivals, I’ve seen 18 movies in three and a 1/2 days.)

And there’s the rub. This year, more than in the past, there’s a real logjam, with all the movies I want to see scheduled against each other and the ones I’m not as hot about in the other spots.  

As usual, I’ve run out of space before talking about why the process of watching a movie today is so fundamentally different from the way it was in the distant – or even recent – past, but since I’ll probably have time to write tomorrow night before the celluloid hits the fans, I’ll deal with it then.

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