Repertory cinema is alive and well across the world, and the TCM Classic Film Festival is the zenith of repertory celebrations. This year’s 10th anniversary four-day marathon, with more than 75 films screened, was a buffet of cinematic classics catered to an assortment of themes and tributes.
If you’re used to the Turner Classic Movies Channel’s Silent Sundays or Noir Alley, you know what to expect. Where previous years have focused on literary adaptations, comedies, and historical adaptations, this year’s iteration shone a light on big-screen romances, from the Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn classic Holiday, to Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in High Society, to the bromance of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There was even perverse love in the 1935 Peter Lorre-led horror classic Mad Love. Whatever makes your heart soar—or skip a beat.
Another subdivision of the far-reaching fest operated as a long-running tribute to 20th Century Fox, screening everything from the first Best Picture-winner Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans— or first-and-only winner of Best Unique and Artistic Picture, if you’re a stickler about that kind of thing—to the ’80s gem Working Girl, to a 70mm screening of The Sound of Music. With the recent purchase of Fox by Disney, it was a bittersweet tribute—both a celebration and some form of elegy. Everything screened at TCM Fest is of a bygone era, but this section displayed an era whose place as a thing of the past is still settling in. Fox as we knew it may be no more, but Marilyn Monroe’s performance of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend will forever be timeless.
Down the street from the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, at the recently-purchased-by-Netflix Egyptian Theatre, there are the nitrate screenings which remain the most unique attraction at the fest. Beyond the possibility of death by incineration in a movie theater, there is an indescribable thrill to viewing a luminous nitrate print on the big screen. This year’s selections provided lesser-known gems such as Jean Negulesco’s Road House and the Betty Grable and June Haver-headed The Dolly Sisters. And there was the Technicolor splendor of the demented DeMille classic Samson and Delilah. “Good” may not be the operative word when describing this biblical epic but, in a theater full of classic film fans, “electric” may be the more fitting description.
A special addition to the festival was the Legion Theater at Post 43. A slightly longer walk from the fest headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard, the recently renovated Legion is a gorgeous locale: The only historic theater in Hollywood owned and operated by veterans, it’s undergone a major transformation into a state-of-the-art cinema and event venue. Seeing a wartime classic like Sergeant York at such an important gathering place for vets made it feel like the only environment that the Howard Hawks-directed film should ever be seen in.
The Legion rounds out a terrific assortment of theaters that includes the Chinese and the aforementioned Egyptian, as well as a poolside screening venue at the festival’s headquarters, the Roosevelt Hotel. (Those planning to attend next year’s edition can look forward to a select few screenings at the legendary Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard.) What was once the most fascinatingly cutting-edge way that you can see a film remains just that—an old-school, special event presentation like no other. It’s as rare as the nitrate screenings and, as with this year’s screening of Cinerama’s Russian Adventure, it’s just as beautifully immersive. That’s just what the TCM Fest remains after 10 terrific years: an enchanting, enveloping testament to the immediacy of the classics and what makes them oh-so-special. MM