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TCM Classic Film Festival's Second Home Edition Runs Through Sunday

Ben Burtt and Craig Barron at their 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival presentation of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." This year they have created a video presentation for the TCMFF Home Edition for "Chain Lightning."
Ben Burtt and Craig Barron at their 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival presentation of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." This year they have created a video presentation for the TCMFF Home Edition for "Chain Lightning."

'West Side Story' opens virtual festival on TCM and HBO Max

On Thursday, TCM Classic Film Festival kicks off its second home edition of the pandemic. Charles Tabesh, senior vice president in charge of programming at Turner Classic Movies and a programmer for the festival previews the event.
TCM Classic Film Festival holds its second Home Edition of the pandemic. Craig Barron and Ben Burtt are Oscar-winning artists who regularly host a panel exploring the special effects of old Hollywood movies. This year their panel goes online.

TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) on Thursday kicks off its second home edition of the pandemic.


TCMFF had to cancel its in-person event last year just weeks before it was to take place. The pandemic brought a halt to in-person, live events back in March of 2020. The festival had to scramble to adapt and moved to its TCM channel where it screened a very different lineup of films from what had originally been planned.

TCM Classic Film Festival Home Edition Preview

UPDATED STORY, May 6, 2021

Meet Ben Burtt and Craig Barron, the real Indiana Joneses of the cinema.

"We use the term movie archaeologists because we're trying to find the material that you haven't seen before. We're really trying to find something a little different, a little different take maybe from the standpoint of the people behind the camera, what their involvement was in making the film," Barron said.


Oscar-winning special effects artists Barron and Burtt have been digging up cinematic artifacts for TCM Film Festival audiences for years. Now they look to the Humphrey Bogart test pilot film "Chain Lightning" as their delightful and informative panel about special effects goes virtual.

"The documentary we made has us hosting from the cockpit of A flying B 17 in a thunderstorm," Burtt explains with glee. "Craig and I have a special fondness for aviation films because aviation and cinema have been paired up with each other for well over a century since they both began. So 'Chain Lightning,' it's not a well-known film but it was a film which we had a fondness for, and it introduced some technology uses of sound and visual effects, which intrigued us. And of course, we had fun because, as I said before, we're hams, and no matter how you do it, you want to have fun with the topic and it's important to us to try to always show and let the audience hear things that they have not. It's been exposed to before we try to always present something that's original that we have uncovered."

Their panel reflects the entertaining way Turner Classic Movies wants to educate audiences. TCM also wants to celebrate diversity says senior vice president in charge of programming Charles Tabesh.

"But not necessarily just diversity in terms of gender or race, but also diversity in terms of types of films, film history," Tabesh said.

Part of that diversity includes a short film by Bill Morrison called "Let Me Come In" that makes us look at film history with fresh eyes.

"It's taken from degraded old silent footage and then attached with it is an operatic score. And it's just one of his really innovative, experimental but beautiful pieces that he does. And we are proud to show it because it goes to that diversity point," Tabesh said.

There is even room for Ed Woods’ infamously awful "Plan 9 From Outer Space," which you can see in its original form and in a table read created by comedian Dana Gould. Plus the not so classic "Grease 2" will be the TCM Underground midnight offering, a choice programmer Millie De Chirico defended as part of the diversity the festival showcases.

"I love movies of all stripes, I think that film is history and I think that quote unquote good movies should be available to watch, as well as bad movies I don't feel snobby towards it," she said.

But she does admit films like Grease 2 are enhanced by a communal viewing experience.

"I would say like text each other, come up with a game plan, because honestly, you do really have to see something like this with other people," De Chirico added.

This may be the last time TCM Classic Film Festival is online so don’t miss the opportunity to explore the diverse cinematic offerings.

"Ball of Fire" is part of a collection of Howard Hawks screwball comedies screening during this year's TCM Classic Film Festival Home Edition.
"Ball of Fire" is part of a collection of Howard Hawks screwball comedies screening during this year's TCM Classic Film Festival Home Edition.


Tabesh, who is also a programmer for the festival and a UC San Diego alum, said they had more time to plan this year's online festival and added HBO Max as an additional venue.

"So we were able to do kind of one venue being TCM linear, the other one being HBO Max, and having them both with different films to use in each was really great and interesting and allowed us to do a little bit more," Tabesh said.

This means a lot more programming, but also a lot more choices. The home edition has now managed to replicate the torturous in-person decision-making process of being faced with multiple venues and wanting to see everything. Apparently, that torture is deliberate.

"We do like to create hard choices," Tabesh confessed. "We do like to torture people just a little bit like we do at the live festival. Bill Pence who founded the Telluride Film Festival said, 'Just let people feel like they wished they could see a little bit more.' I guess I like that and I think it leads to people having fun and talking about what they saw that other people didn't."

The choices this year are incredibly broad and with a wealth of supplemental features that provide context for the films. So there are segments in which the screwball comic of filmmaker Howard Hawks ("His Girl Friday," "Bringing Up Baby") is dissected as well as a segment looking to the L.A. Rebellion and the wave of Black filmmakers coming out of UCLA in the late 1960s to late 1980s.

One of the special presentations I am most excited about is one featuring Ben Burtt and Craig Barron, both skilled special effects artists, who every year host a screening and provide insights into the special effects of an old Hollywood film. They had to skip last year but this year, TCM has produced a segment with them and has added a Zoom session with them as well.

"That's a great example of something that is always so popular," Tabesh said. "When we do it live, they come in, they set up a film, they talk about the special effects, what went into creating it, and they make it so entertaining. But you learn a lot while you sit there and watch them and listen to them. And while it's so great live, that's one of the things that we could really translate into this environment. We could film them, we could produce with them. They could actually even do some things that they couldn't do live. So they're super passionate about the film 'Chain Lightning' and the special effects that went into it. And it's a pretty cool Humphrey Bogart jet film movie."

In the past, only a few hundred people could enjoy their presentations but now the audience is unrestricted, so look for it on HBO Max. And while you may be tempted to just watch the films, also make sure to check out all the supplemental materials.

"I think there are a lot of pieces that really help contextualize these movies," Tabesh said. "So don't just dive into the movie, even if it doesn't have a big actor or director introducing it, there are pieces that accompany a lot of these that are really interesting. It's things like we have Bruce Springsteen talking about 'The Searchers.' Those types of things I think really are engaging and I think will lead people to appreciate maybe these movies in a deeper way than they typically would just sort of clicking on it and starting the film."

There will also be a script reading of the cult classic "Plan Nine From Outer Space" led by Dana Gould as well as an online equivalent of the TCM Underground Midnight Movie curated by Millie DeChirico. This year the selection is "Grease 2."

Another in-person event that TCM is trying to replicate online is the silent film screenings with live music. That can't quite happen but there will be a rarely screened Ernst Lubitsch silent comedy called "So This Is Paris" and Ben Model created a special score for it.

I'd also like to highlight Bill Morrison's new film "Let Me Come In," a wildly experimental short featuring decayed film reels from the lost, German silent film Pawns of Passion (1928). Morrison breathes vivid life into damaged film and finds a way to both rescue lost films and create a whole new narrative around them.

The festival also has tributes to stars and filmmakers and everything from Tex Avery cartoons and the 60th anniversary of "West Side Story" to the short silent work of Georges Méliès and the bold new work of British filmmaker Steve McQueen.

So if you are a cinephile craving a deliciously diverse array of films to immerse yourself it, then curl up on your couch this Thursday through Sunday and savor the TCM Classic Film Festival's Home Edition.

TCM Classic Film Festival's Second Home Edition Runs Through Sunday
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.