Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Festival begins - even if it takes me a while to talk about it

As I start to get into the meat-and-potatoes of my festival experience, I realize that there’s a risk I’m going to say something about films that people love that I wouldn’t see on a bet. All I can say to ward off any potential hurt feelings is that, first, it’s all a matter of taste, and second, as I’ve often said on these pages, for every movie I can’t stand, there are a million folks who utterly love it, and for every movie I couldn’t live without, there are millions who would step in front of a bus rather than see it.

“Ya pays yer money, and ya takes yer cherce.”

I got into LA Wednesday afternoon, and after doing a quick check-in and reconnoiter of my room (short version: decent-sized studio, but virtually no wifi [this really wasn’t an issue, since I had it on my phone, and was basically there to sleep]), I bought a ticket for that night’s Dodger-Padre game, took the subway to Union Station, and then the shuttle to the game. The Dodgers won, 3-1, in a pretty good game. After the game, there were no shuttle buses for the longest time (almost as though they hadn’t expected they’d need them), and when they did come, I was stuck with a group of drunken bros, who spent most of the trip trying to pick up a woman, despite the presence of her boyfriend. When I got off the bus, I congratulated her for her patience and fortitude. (And no, she was not a lion at the New York Public Library.)

 Yes; those are their names

Thursday was a beautiful day, and while, under normal circumstances, I might have spent the afternoon down south, visiting my old haunts and my parents’ cremains, I chose to stick around Hollywood. In years past, I’ve had my pass mailed to me, but I realized that, this year, it would have been sent when both Pidge and I were in New York, and no one would pick it up for a week. I called TCM and they were able to pull the envelope off the pile at the last minute, so I had to pick it up at the Roosevelt, along with my gift bag and other swag. (Two posters, a coffee mug, a Blu-Ray of Sullivan’s Travels, two pairs of socks, and some other odds and ends.

I took the bag back to my hotel, dropped it off, then went to my first program of the day, a panel commemorating the life of Robert Osborne. Osborne was the face (and heart and soul) of TCM until his death one month before, and the festival was dedicated to him. I got to the program late, but still heard some great stories about him and his effect on people. (I’d met him once or twice at early festivals, and found him nothing if not kind, polite, and genuinely interested in other people.)

Following that, I went back to the Roosevelt for the first round of the festival’s trivia tournament. Through a Facebook group, I’d joined a team, and we met for the first time there. Because the rest of the team was female and huge fans of William Holden, we were “The Holden Girls ( … and Dave). The questions ranged from “Embarrassingly Easy” to “Who the Hell Knows That?,” but we won and were ready to move on to the second round on Saturday. 

Me and "the Girls"

Stuck for something to do, I moved on to another trivia quiz, the annual “So You Think You Know Movies?” contest hosted by Bruce Goldstein of New York’s Film Forum. This is a tough, tough quiz, really focusing on the obscure, and it was made harder this year by the addition of questions that might have more than one right answer or no right answers at all. I was planning on watching, as I have in years past, but one of the staffers asked if anyone wanted a seat up front. I said yes, and found myself on a team with a fellow named Lee Tsiantis, who knew everything. I knew a lot of the answers (maybe one or two he didn’t, but that was about all), but I was outclassed by him. It was a relatively short quiz (15 questions? 20?), but we did well, I thought. The staffers collected the answer sheets (and there were a lot) and we waited for the final tally. When the scores were announced, our team won with 21 points (two teams tied for second at 15), but were disqualified because Lee had worked for TCM at one point. I was none too pleased, but good-naturedly so, and moved on.

The next order of business was the opening night party, so I went back to the room to change into my suit (“cocktail attire” is suggested, and I had to walk the red carpet and go the big opening night gala afterward). This party was when I first noticed how things were a little different this year. In the past, attendance had grown and grown to the point where things were starting to feel a little unwieldy. The staff never lost control of anything, but things were getting big. (There was even some speculation among some people I spoke to about whether they’d have to add another day to make sure everyone got to see enough and get their money’s worth.) The parties were always were done, though, with plenty of free booze and hors d’oeuvres, not to mention all the signage along Hollywood Blvd. All of that was missing thus year though, which was especially surprising to me, given at how much they’d jacked up the prices for the festival passes—and it was a significant hit. I don’t know if it was due to Time-Warner cutting back the budget or they were consciously making an effort to keep attendance down (and it did seem down—though I don’t know if that was due to the prices or an accrual attempt to keep things more manageable).

I’ve never been a good mingler, so the parties can be somewhat forced for me. I kind of wander around looking for people I’ve met in years past (fewer this year than usual). I spoke to a few folks, got caught up, had a drink (which was actually bought for me by someone I’d just met; she was very nice), then walked over to the Chinese for In the Heat of the Night. Here was another anomaly; and again, nothing major, but off just enough. For premieres at the Chinese, the westbound lanes of Hollywood Blvd. are blocked off, and a red carpet area and bleachers are erected. Celebrities and prominent guests are interviewed by the media, and everyone else slips past. The block between Orange and Highland is a long one, though, and there’s a crosswalk about halfway between. This year, the crosswalk was closed, meaning anyone going from the party to the theatres had a long walk ahead of them. It wasn’t terrible; just the first of many small annoyances that the festival would provide.

But I’ll deal with those in my next installment.

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