Spring has arrived, which means it’s TCM Classic Film Festival season once again. As was the case in 2020, this year’s festival will be fully virtual. But while last year’s festival was fully on the Turner Classic Movies channel (with additional content posted to YouTube), this year’s festival will be a more expansive experience with additional movies available on HBO Max and Club TCM events taking place on Zoom. This approach adds to the festival vibe by giving people different venues to attend, so to speak, and lets people have the fun of choosing what they want to watch. (Visit the TCM Classic Film Festival website to see all movies playing on TCM and HBO Max during the festival.)
In some ways, planning what to watch for the virtual festival could potentially be even more challenging than planning for the in-person festival. Doing the festival in person means each day has a set start time and a set end time, so even if you go really hard and pack your days with as many events and screenings as possible, there will still be a point when there aren’t any official things to do. But with the virtual format, you can watch movies for a full 24 hours if you really want to, so it could end up feeling like an even longer marathon. And when in-person events are going on, there are only a handful of them happening at any given time. In this case, if you aren’t into what’s playing on TCM, there are over 50 other movies to choose from on HBO Max.
At the time of writing this post, the virtual Club TCM event schedule hasn’t been announced, so I haven’t figured out a real schedule for myself yet. The Club TCM events at the in-person festival are consistently excellent, so I know there will very likely be some that I’ll want to check out this year. Since those will be on a set schedule and will have limited capacity, I’m waiting on that schedule. But as it stands now, here are some of the things I’m most excited to see.
The festival officially kicks off on Thursday, May 6 at 8:00 PM with West Side Story and a virtual cast reunion of Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn, which is easily going to be a must-see for me. West Side Story is followed by Mean Streets, which is one I’ve been meaning to revisit for a while, but I may switch over to HBO Max depending on my mood that day. At 1:30 AM is 1932’s Doctor X, which I really hope I can stay up for because they’ll be showing a brand new restoration that I’m excited to see. If you saw the recent beautiful restoration of Mystery of the Wax Museum, you’ll understand why I’m so eager for the Doctor X restoration.
From Friday’s schedule, the big highlights for me are the Plan 9 From Outer Space table read at 8:00 PM, the screening of Plan 9 From Outer Space at 9:30 PM, and Grease 2 at 11:00 PM. Every year that I’ve done the festival in person, the midnight movies have always been a major highlight, so I’m very excited to see that those types of movies are being represented in this year’s lineup. The Plan 9 table read should be a lot of fun, and while I haven’t seen Grease 2 in its entirety, I’ve seen enough to know that it’s perfect late night movie material. Earlier in the day at 10:00 AM is Whistle at Eaton Falls, which would be a new one to me. I’ll be sure to set my DVR for the 3:15 AM showing of let me come in, which consists of footage from 1928’s Pawns of Passion, a now lost film, along with an opera score. let me come in is directed by Bill Morison, director of the Dawson City: Frozen Time documentary, which I really enjoyed.
On Saturday, I will likely spend much of the day checking out stuff on HBO Max and switch over to TCM in prime time. At 8:00 PM is the restored version of 1947’s They Won’t Believe Me, followed by Lady Sings the Blues at 10:00 PM and Diner at 12:45 AM. I also love the whole Saturday morning cartoon concept with the documentary Tex Avery: The King of Cartoons at 6:00 AM and Tex Avery at MGM at 7:00 AM.
Sunday’s lineup has a couple of restorations I’m really looking forward to: 1930’s Her Man at 8:45 AM and 1935’s Princess Tam Tam at 12:45 PM. The two big highlights of the day for me are the Hollywood Home Movies presentation at 7:00 PM the 8:00 PM showing of Ernst Lubitsch’s silent So This is Paris, with a new musical score by Ben Model. I saw So This is Paris at the festival a few years ago and I’m very excited to be able to see it again. Hollywood Home Movies is always one of the events I most look forward to at the festival and I’m happy that a wider audience will now be able to experience it. Later, there’s The Goodbye Girl at 9:30 PM with a conversation with Richard Dreyfus, Fame at 11:45 PM with a conversation with Debbie Allen, and the French new wave classic Breathless at 2:15 AM.
On HBO Max
The movies on HBO Max are organized into various collections, like tributes to Ali McGraw, Danny Glover, and Martin Short; movies introduced by their directors; The L.A. Rebellion; Immigrants in America; Hawks & The Art of Comedy; and The Streets of New York.
The Essentials and Discoveries collections are the biggest collections in the streaming library. In the Essentials collection, there are several classic Hollywood staples like Top Hat, The Maltese Falcon, The Searchers, North by Northwest, and The Thin Man. The Discoveries collection includes lots of great movies which might be new to people, like So This is Paris, Chain Lightning, The Mortal Storm, Victim, Cleo from 5 to 7, and The Decline of Western Civilization.
All of the movies available through HBO Max include bonus materials, ranging from actor/director introductions to introductions by Robert Osborne, discussions between Ben Mankiewicz and various guests, and other supporting content from TCM. Some of these extra features are brand new, others have aired on TCM in the past.
Out of everything on HBO Max, I was most excited to see 1950’s Chain Lightning in the lineup, a Humphrey Bogart movie I’ve never seen before. Best of all, the bonus feature for it is a presentation by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt about the production of the movie. Barron and Burtt presentations are a regular feature at the in-person festival and are a must-see for many of the people who attend. Their presentation on the effects in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 2019 was excellent and I can’t wait to see what they have to say about Chain Lightning.
Another huge highlight of the streaming library for me is 1981’s The Decline of Western Civilization. This was on TCM during Labor Day weekend 2020 as part of their End of Summer Tour programming, but I wasn’t able to catch the whole thing so I’m glad to have another chance to see it. This one also features a conversation between Jacqueline Stewart and director Penelope Spheeris, which I definitely want to see. I may end up diverting a little bit from the official programming by following it up with my Blu-ray of 1982’s Smithereens just because I like the idea of doing a west coast/east coast punk block.
As a big silent film fan, I was very excited to see that one of the collections is The Melies Mystery, which consists of 5 short films (A Trip to the Moon, The Impossible Voyage, Four Troublesome Heads, The Infernal Cauldron, and The Old Hag) and the new documentary, The Melies Mystery. This will be an absolute must-see for me.
Some other standouts for me include The Color Purple, The Getaway, Misery, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dogfight, The Black Legion, Stranger Than Paradise, T-Men, Harlan County USA, and Speedy. Those are a mix of things that would be new to me and things I’m way overdue to revisit. I may also be tempted to check out the MGM Musicals and Outtakes collection to see some outtakes from It’s Always Fair Weather, Singin’ in the Rain, or Take Me Out to the Ball Game, as well as the collection of Powell & Pressburger movies. Those are all just awfully hard for me to resist.
More Ways to Bring the Festival Experience Home
Interested in having even more ways to get the full TCMFF experience from the comfort of home? There are lots of options!
If you’ve been missing being able to visit some of the locations you normally would during the festival, like the Hollywood Roosevelt, the Chinese Theater, and the Egyptian Theater, April Clemmer will be hosting a virtual presentation about these historic locations and more. The presentation starts at 1:30 PM Eastern, but if you aren’t able to watch the presentation live, you’ll receive a link afterward to watch it when you have a chance. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.
At 7:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday, May 5, Kimberly Truhler will be doing her annual Fashion in Film of TCMFF presentation over Zoom. This year, she’ll be discussing The Thin Man, Top Hat, His Girl Friday, North by Northwest, Breathless, Bullitt, and Love Story. If you’d like to attend, visit glamamor.com to sign up.
For a lot of people, no TCMFF is complete without a trip to Larry Edmunds Bookshop. They just recently launched a new online store, but if there are any other film-related books or movie posters you’re looking for that you don’t see on the website, give the store a call. Every year, during the regular festival, the store traditionally hosts an event at the store with a special guest where attendees have an opportunity to get signed copies of books. In the past, I’ve gone to these events for people like Marsha Hunt and Kevin Brownlow and they were truly excellent. This year, they’re doing a virtual Sunday (May 9) event, which is a conversation with Peter Bogdanovich at 3:30 PM Eastern. Tickets to the event are just $5 and autographed copies of some of Peter’s books are also for sale as a fundraiser for the store since they’ve been hit hard by COVID-19 closures. Visit their website if you’d like to buy a ticket to the event, order a book, or both!
Another great place to support is the Hollywood Heritage Museum. Since they are not currently open, sales through their online store help keep the museum going and they have a large selection of books, DVDs, notecards, posters, and more to choose from.
Another big TCMFF tradition is decorating pass lanyards with lots of pins, which are very often designed by Kate Garbielle. Every year, she makes a special TCMFF-themed pack of buttons and this year is no exception. This year’s pins are really cute, reflecting the different approach to this year’s festival.
On Monday, May 10, you can end your festival experience by checking out a virtual tour of Hollywood Forever Cemetery hosted by their in-house tour guide, Karie Bible. Lots of Hollywood legends are laid to rest there, including Rudolph Valentino, Judy Garland, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr., Janet Gaynor, Adrian, Peter Lorre, Mickey Rooney, Tyrone Power, Marion Davies, and Cecil B. DeMille, just to name a very few. The event starts at 9:00 PM Eastern and tickets are available through Eventbrite.