Saints, Cinemas And The TCM Film Festival
Cinema Junkie / May 7, 2016
Cinema Junkie takes you on a pilgrimage to mecca, also known as the TCM Film Festival.
Beth: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast. I’m Beth Accomando and today we're going to church. I have to confess. I'm not a religious person, but there's one thing I hold sacred, movies. You can laugh and think I'm silly, but cinemas are my church and if you think films are just trivial, think again. Government seek to silence filmmakers and band films, so somebody thinks they can be important and yes I know they're plenty of bad movies out there and insignificant ones as well. But at their best movies are works of art. I've experienced enlightenment at the cinema and even moments of transcendence. Movies have taught me about compassion and tolerance and through film I found a community of fellow believers. Those are the trappings of many religions. For those who do see cinema as a church there's no more devout congregation and those who consider themselves part of the TCM family.
Once a year the cinema zealots make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood. The 2016 film festival took place on April 28th through May 1st. I thought it would be the perfect place to talk about film with people who love at the most. At a place that elevates watching a movie to something akin to a religious experience. For this podcast, I’ll be speaking with Charles Tabesh and Millie DeChirico of TCM as well as with key members of the TCM party social media community plus all of the few clips from some of the presentation at the festival. I want to start with a highlight from the festival, a film and more accurately an event that delivered the kind of transcendence cinematic experience that I hope everyone can have at least once. It was called voices of light, the passion of Joan of Arc. It was a presentation of the 1928 silent film with a live orchestra and chorus.
Waiting in line for this film about a teenage warrior who claims she’d spoken to god, I met fellow’s cinephile, Joe Williams.
Beth: So we are here at the Turner Classic movie film festival where it seems movie viewing is at its high point, so what I want to find out from you is, what is the movie going experience like for you? Is cinema like a church for you what is this experience like?
Joe Williams: That’s a great question. It's kind of like a church. I think that's a good analogy, you're in a room with lot of people in the dark. It’s definitely a different experience watching in a theater with other people and it is at home on television. You have different reactions the things you are more careful about what to do like unwrapping candy like you don't check your cell phone and that kind of thing. So it's definitely a more elevated experience.
Beth: And here at the festival the experience seems to be elevated even more because they tend to take a lot of great care with how a film is presented.
Joe Williams: Absolutely. They are very good with presenting films in their correct aspect ratio and they try to get films on 35 millimeter. There is a lot of people out there that appreciate showing the films on physical media like 35 millimeter versus digital and the people that come to this event, come to it in part because they know that the organizer of the event take the care to do these things correctly.
Beth: You mentioned that you tweet a lot and the twitter community is very active for TCM. Can you tell me about what that's like and you part take in things like the live tweeting.
Joe Williams: Oh yeah. There is a group of us on twitter that will tweak a long, while we are watching a film at home on TCM will twit using the Hashtag TCM party and we can comment about the film what we like about it, we don't like about it, comment about classic film in general. It's a community of people that have grown together over time and we actually look forward to meet each other here at the festival, those who can come every year and we all made a lot of friends online doing this.
Beth: Do you feel that TCM does something special for this event that tends to bring a particular kind of crowd out for the films?
Joe Williams: I think in general what they do is they really good with taking care of their people that love these films. They're really good at bringing talent and to do interviews before the films, doing special events like club TCM. They have a wide variety of choices for people in every timeslot, I think other film festivals you might have to just see films that you’re not the familiar with or films that you would normally want to see and you're forced into seeing in anyway. For me the TCM really cares about their fan base, so they really take care of us here.
Beth: Talk a little bit about the experience in terms of how many films do you try to cram in, are you running back and forth between theatres, is it a packed schedule, do you’ve leisure time? What’s it like coming to the festival?
Joe Williams: Yeah. There's a couple of theories, people come here with the one that I subscribe to which is get your money's worth which means go to as many films as you possibly can. I generally avoid the club TCM events. I generally avoid the extra events although I did get my Eleana Douglas book signed today at her book signing. The other theory is go to three films a day or two films a day and go to the club TCM events and kind a take it easier, that’s what my wife does. So we come down here, you have to differ schedules. I’m running between different theatres and she’s like I'll be at the house or the apartment if you need me. , give me a call.
Beth: And so far we are not at the end of the festival yet, we are about at the halfway point, what have been any really memorable experiences for you so for this year?
Joe Williams: I would say not yet. I am getting ready to walk into the passion of Joan of Arc, which is for me the messy event of the festival. For me when they announce that I knew no matter what else was playing is that I would go to this film to experience. They are going to have a live orchestra here and the chorus along with showing the silent film, so this is going to be something very special I think.
Beth: In the past, TCM film festival has brought a live orchestra to play for silent film. What does that add to the experience with the film guard?
Joe Williams: I think it has a lot, for example I think two years ago they ended the festival with the general with a live orchestra at the Chinese Theatre and I think that having a live orchestra adds something real to the experience of watching the film in the theatre with other people versus just having a soundtrack played along with the silent film.
Beth: I caught up with Joel after the Joan of Arc screening. He couldn’t quite find the words to describe the experience. But he agreed it was a religious one, something truly transcendent. Hearing the choir sings the film opened gave me goose pimples. Live music and voices in a theatre brought a dimension to the film that went beyond anything gimmicky 3D can do. It filled the theatre in a way that made it feel like a high mass in a cathedral. Not every screening was quite this rewarding. But TCM makes an effort to bring in people and offer enlightenment and what we're about to see. Take the screening of He ran all the way. Its John Garfield last film and directed by John Barrie and written by Dalton Trumbo. All three were deeply affected by the blacklist. Before the film Todd McCarthy interviewed the director son Dennis Barrie.
Dennis: I think this one quick question before I could see the film, but there is anything you went to see by, these are the 3 people who worked on he ran all the way Dalton Trumbo, Hugo Butler got indoor didn’t work out because it’s very distinguish and didn’t work out. All people are very severely affect by the blacklist.
Let's say the gentleman who wrote it is first of all an extraordinary the way and true what they did with a lower job, a little bit ran all the way, through expressionism, the readers visited to American Hollywood New York and vision a film. The gentleman took a step further and made it census tour movie going with listening but at the same time, with story and beauty and will see the film to see where it was flooded on the street and it is only lit by the reflection of water on the street. So that you have to this extraordinary wrong impression and it is one of the first time it was done. and you know at the same time, you could say that doubt and trouble was the wonderful screen way with role he ran all the way, as Hugo Butler did and John Garfield with Bob Roberts created this production company and used the film and he was looking from a way to talk where about where he came from and unfortunately characters dressed with doom the vagabonds with just getting out at the beginning of the film and that sense very noir and you could say that almost people who were the American fled of the red scare or you know McCarthy everywhere.
Anybody who had rest point of view, you did not comment on this, you were in danger of being blacklisted. So that in a sense, there is sense of urgency, a little bit of a sense of paranoid and trust of phobia in the film that comes from of those people working on the film were all the except James Wong Howe afterwards blacklisted.
Beth: Francis Ford Coppola was on hand to talk with TCM Ben Mankiewicz about the conversation. Coppola is best known for the godfather films and apocalypse now, but the smaller more personal film reveals his masterful storytelling.
Interviewer: What interested you about the story about the conversation?
Coppola: Well. The truth is number one; I had seen a film called Blow Up. And I just saw Blow Up that is a beautiful film. Thank you for Michelangelo, so when I saw a Blow up, I was just so impressed. You know when you're young, I think it’s okay to sort of following the direction or imitate, someone you admire because you really can't take them and you're going to try to imitate them but you're going to end up with what you could do, so I set out to do a film and I am having a conversation with the director, you may know Irvin Kershner, who had done the second Star Wars film, it was an older and very, very nice to us younger, fledgling directors and I was talking to him about how interesting it was that there was technology now.
Michael Holmes, you could put across the city block and aim at the mouth of a person in that actually get that person's conversations would be interesting if there was a mystery story, which some parts of the film left out and you had a beast or devil what was really going on and you know, with so meaningful to younger filmmakers. So, he was encouraging. That's a good idea if you should try to do that and so with the vision of wanting do something like to go Michelangelo Blow Up and with the fact Irvin Kershner had encouraged these for my surveillance idea. I began to try to write it and didn't exactly know what I was doing, but when you write very often we don't know, you just set off on telling the stories that you can and that's what I do, never the script.
Beth: Mankowitz asked Coppola about the costuming choice as for Gene Hackman's character, here we call.
Coppola: You put him or you and whoever worked on the costumes. You put in, I think in every scene is wearing a very particular French coat. I've never seen any French coat like it. It has certainly given the character not stylish, but it is I think clearly deliberately released revealing about all this menace. Well I've talked on my cases of talking to younger film makers about how you make so many decisions that they're basically how long, since you wear slacks with dress. It should be like a sports car or a van. You just make these decisions 100 a day, but when I am stuck, and I don't know the answer. I always in my mind have what the theme of the movie is and awarded to. In the case of the conversation the theme was privacy.
So when they asked me what kind of coat you want to wear, they showed me a half dozen detective. It was all like a detective that I guess surveillance guide, the post that you could say like a detective and I wasn't really sure, it's put them like a real, you know put him in a real Humphrey Bogart trench coat. And then showed me a few and one was a plastic sort of a raincoat, trench coat that was transparent and I thought was this was about privacy. It's interesting to have him in a transparent raincoat and that's how that choice got made.
Well, it is to say one last thing about the conversation and interesting story. Folks, many of you heard of the phrase called sound designer. I will tell you where that comes from. So, what we were doing, where we were about to do the conversation. A colleague of mine someone who is wonderful talent and it was one of George Lucas USE, Walter Murch who was a wizard of sound. I had this idea to have Walter Murch actually be the editor, who is pretty much known as sound editor in those days but be the editor of the conversation and he did that. But, having trouble with the Indian because he was in the Union and he absolutely, he's going to do the sound and he said no, no, no. He cannot have the title editor. He can be sound editor or anything editor.
So I went to Walter and said Walter we can do it and you should it, but cannot be editor as well. Call me sound designer and that's where that phrase came from and Walter did edit the movie and did that extraordinary job in both editing of the film and the fantastic sound design that supports it all is the work of Walter Murch.
Beth: Seeing the conversation more than four decades after its original release made me appreciate it all over again and realize how little innovation we've had in the realm of sound. When I thought, I thought the floodgates would be open to all sorts of clever sound design for film. But sadly, sound is still an under used and under underappreciated craft. Another somewhat forgotten film from the 70s that was resurrected at the film festival was John Houston's Fat City. It's a film about characters on the fringes of life. Eddie Muller moderated a discussion with the film star, Stacy Keach who did a spot on imitation of director John Houston.
Eddie: Shut down, shut down where Stacy got much invisible and want to descript and I want to play this part. Really too late, he is a washed up boxer and you get to work with Jeff Bridges. Well, I was thrilled because Jeff and I was one friends and we know each other for a long time. So, that’s how it began.
Stacy: One thing I wanted to ask about this and what you take away from this film, what this film is about. Watch this film carefully or read Leonard book. I mean this is an extraordinary story about surviving when life gives you nothing.
Eddie: So you know one the problems in film first came out. It didn't not do well in the box office at all and reason that the studio came there is a lot of people who started point A at they never point A. They never [indiscernible] [00:17:37] that was more sprit what the American dream was body in the turn, but I think one of the great things we are going to this is in science, into people who are searching with grown on unity and what they want to become, what their dreams are and what their fears are and really it gives tremendous amount [indiscernible] [00:18:14]
Beth: One of the people responsible for making sure that films like the conversation in Fat City are not forgotten is Charles Tabesh. He's senior vice president in-charge of programming and production at TCM. When I interviewed him, I admitted that I had to leave a screening of Shanghai express to come talk with him. He was upset that I was missing a film and said we could reschedule. But, I pointed out there was so many films playing. I was bound to have to miss something to do the interview. So we offered to sneak me back into the screening after the interview. So, I could see the rest of the film. Now that someone who loves movies. In contrast AMC theaters recently floated an idea to allow cell phones into some screenings. That stood a surprising backlash from film goers on social media. So I began my conversation with Tabesh by asking if he thought it was accurate to say that some people, view movie theaters as the churches and allowing cell phones would be sacrilegious.
Tabesh: Oh well without question, I think if you come to the TCM classic film festival that's where you'll see those people are Alisa, I think of the TCM attendees all of them would describe it that way. You know I certainly understand and respect AMC feeling that they need to change with the times, as the times have changed but, not everybody wants to go in that direction. and certainly our audience doesn't and I don't and as you know, at our festival we're pretty adamant about. You know, we make an announcement before every single screening, turn off your cell phones because our people want to watch the big screen and see that uninterrupted in the way it was meant to seen.
Beth: For your fans, I would say that this is kind of a Mecca for them.
Tabesh: I hope so and I think so I think it is a special time, it's a special weekend, it's a time that people can really immerse themselves in the world of classic film and be around other classic film fans and enjoy them and share them and I think that's wonderful. So, I agree, I think it is a great time and over the seven years we have been doing this now, I think there are people that look forward to it all year which is great.
Beth: And in particular this year one of your sidebars or themes does have to do with religious films?
Tabesh: It certainly does. Well are broader themes moving pictures or film that emotionally move you and religion doesn't fit into a lot of broader categories, but that's when it does fit into and so it's been an opportunity to show some religious films, which are an important part of film history and since films have been made the religious films been popular and just like any other genre, there have been some good ones and some bad ones, but there are some truly great ones and so we've shown a couple here at the festival this year and I'm really happy about that.
Beth: One of the films that it really does merits the term transcendent, which was the passion of Joan of Arc, which you guys didn't just show. You brought some extras for. So explain what happened at the screening and what went into putting this together because it was phenomenal.
Tabesh: It was produced by a couple of people on our staff. Scott McGee and Genevieve McGillicuddy and Ethan Collister who deserve the credit for putting it all together. About, maybe a couple of two years ago perhaps, Mark Sumner whose is a professor up in Northern California and he is also a conductor and he's conducted a performance of Visions of Light, which is Richard Einhorn score to passion of Joan of Arc. And I've seen the DVD of the film and I’ve listened to the score and I’ve always considered it one of the most beautiful film scores for any silent film that I’ve ever heard, so when Mark suggested it, I thought it was a great idea. It takes a little bit of time to put these things together and it didn't fit last year, but this year it was a perfect fit. So we decided to give it a try and we take the Egyptian theater, which is a wonderful theater to do a silent film with a live orchestra.
We've got an orchestra and chorus and the chorus adds just a dimension that is really amazing and you know, I think use the word transcendent and I think I would agree. I think it was a really special experience. To be there live for that, it was wonderful and my hope is the people that went there feel that way, because I heard from a couple people they did as well and I thought was pretty special.
Beth: It really was like a church in there?
Tabesh: Well yes. I’m glad to hear that. Thank you Beth. That's great to hear.
Beth: The other thing that makes this festival very special is you guys take a lot of care in terms of how a film is presented in terms of the print quality, restored prints about 35 millimeter prints. Tell me a little bit about what you do to search out some of these films and get these films that are at the peak quality?
Tabesh: Well we certainly try and we don't how we succeed because sometimes there are films we really want to play and the only thing that's available is a print that's not in great shape and we have to decide is it worth playing, the print that might not be so great we're not even playing the film at all and there are times where we have to make that call. But, we always try to get the best thing available. There are always situations that are touch and go this year and there is a film called one potato, two potato that I really love. I really wanted to play and we couldn't find a print at the distributor. Realto films ended up finding a print in England that was in terrible shape, they shipped it over here so that our partners at photo camp could take a look at it, rejuvenated and photo Kim did an amazing job and end up looking beautiful and we had the director of the film there, who was marveling at it because he has not seen a print look that good since it was released in the early 60s.
Photo Kim: There is no doubt. The home life of the child Alan was close to the idea. Every standard, the home provided by Julie and Frank Richards was more than suitable. He might have said this superior, by every standard except one. The world we live in, the standard of our society. I’m speaking of course of prejudice. The color line. Principles in a biracial marriage, particularly black and white becoming sense pariahs. The value needed to the white community or the Negro community. We can protest such bigotry. We can fight it. We cannot ignore it. It must be taken into consideration determining this child's future. How will a background of the Negro home affect this child's chances of happiness in an adult world? That's is not the same. These difficulties cannot be met and overcome, but are we justified in taking that chance particularly when she has an alternative, a white father capable for her support and anxious for her custody.
Tabesh: We make every effort to make things look as good as we can. We work with the best technical team, Boston Light sound, who really they know their stuff better than anybody. And I think you know Genevieve who puts the entire festival together has made a lot of smart decisions and among the smartest was hiring bottom line sound to do the technical side of things for us.
Beth: And you guys have in the past struck prints that were specifically for the festival.
Tabesh: Well this year’s well I mean in fact this afternoon we've got children a lesser god coming with Marilee Matlin. No DCP exists. No good material existed. Pearlman had the underlying material, so we worked with them to create a print and every year there are films like that where this year with Warner brothers we made a new print of tea and sympathy, again working with photocam that's part of the process, sometimes as a film we really want to play. The materials exist, but the actual pliable print doesn't exist, so we're able to work with the material to help fund the creation of a print or like does it work with photocam to get it done.
Beth: And then a number of the screenings there are people representing other organizations that are striving to do film preservation you have the film war foundation, there was someone from a group saving 3D films, the vitaphone. Are those partnerships or organizations you look to work with?
Tabesh: Absolutely it's great for us and hopefully it works for them I mean we’re all on the same team, we all want to preserve film history, we all want to showcase different aspects of. film history, so we are eager to partner with groups like that and hopefully they get some value in working with us. A lot of them are more specific than are than, you know they are focused on 3D or vitaphone and Ron Hutcheson is focused on vitaphone. The film war foundation obviously film you are. You know we're more broad than that, we like all of them to be part of this and part of the TCM family and for us it helps us, it helps us program this festival and we really appreciate that and hopefully we can help them out a little bit as well.
Beth: Can you describe for someone who maybe has never walked into the Chinese theater. What that experience feels like because that is an amazing venue.
Tabesh: Well it's amazing, it's historical, it's beautiful and you know I think you walk in and you feel like you're in a movie palace and you feel like you're experiencing movie history and you're walking past the hand prints in the footprints that all the great stars have created over the years. That's one of the great things the people that come here from all over the country and somewhere between 80 and 90% of our pass holders are not from the LA area, but for them to come to the heart of Hollywood and in the heart of Hollywood the Chinese theatre is really the kind of showcase, key golden aged venue and I think that history is part of what the festival hopefully is about and the Egyptian too of course has so much great history, so I think people really respond to that and it's feel big and grand and it's just a wonderful place to watch a movie.
Beth: I think it was last year that I saw Hunchback of Notre Dame in that venue and people were crying next to me.
Tabesh: That was an amazing screening because it was I think at 9 in the morning and it was a packed house for a 1939 you know black and white film. It was just wonderful and I think that adds to the experience for the audience when you're watching with other people and then the emotion feeds off of the person next to you and it sort of makes it even a greater and more fulfilling experience.
Beth: Are there any films this year that you feel particularly proud of getting?
Tabesh: Well, I mean the passion of Joan of Arc was sort of the one that I was most excited about. I mentioned one potato two potato. Brian song, I was excited about because it was made for television movie but a great film and I was really happy to be able to show it.
Beth: This year you guys are also launching the Backlog, which is kind of a fan club sort of thing. Talk about, why you wanted to do that and what kind of things that's offering to people who are TCM fans?
Tabesh: Well I should say I’m not sort of on the front lines of that project, so you know we have an element of kind of hardcore fans of classic movies and TCM of wanting to know more be part of kind of a little bit part of the process and I think it's just kind of another way for TCM fans to get together and participate and hopefully get some also bonus things and discounts and other special perks to be part of it. But fundamentally it's just a place for the hardcore TCM and classic movie fans to come together and talk and communicate regarding classic films.
Beth: So one of the people that I came up here with logged in for their membership while we were here at the apartment and he was going through it, he said we get to vote on things.
Beth: And the first thing that came up was Jimmy Cagney verses Edward G. Robinson and we must have spent 5 minutes debating.
Tabesh: Well that makes me happy because that is well as you can imagine, you know there are a lot of times where we know what we want to do. There are stars that we know we want to feature. But there are a lot of times words comes down to a judgment call or comes down to you can go either direction and this year would we rather have this is our star month or this is our star of the month and we have the movies and we don't know and so the ideas will want we throw it out to the fan club and let them vote and see we can get some good feedback from them and so that's the idea there and I’m glad to hear that it generated a little bit of debate discussion because that's certainly what we want.
Beth: Well you seem to be throwing a lot of hard choices to your fans because going to the festival there with 6 theaters going simultaneously and it's like you want to see practically every single film.
Tabesh: Yeah. Either five or six theaters plus the TCM with the conversations and every year the people you know, I can choose what I do. So we know that's going part of that. You know the fun I guess going into it is you're going to have some hard choices, but flee at any time there's at least something that you're excited to see and that's really what it comes down to and there is a little bit of okay you know, I'd rather people left wanting more than being, you know wanting less or wishing it was over sooner so. If you're going to air on any side, its air on the side of making people want more. So, I hope we succeed and yet those choices are hard to make it from our perspective too for sure.
Beth: And for you, what makes for like a perfect film going experience.
Tabesh: It's the communal aspect. It's being part of an audience where you feel like you're all sharing it together you know one of the great things about being at the festival and watching a movie with the TCM crowd is, people are clapping for you know the director, the key actors, the film composer you know the cinematographer. In the theater people are giving you know raucous applause, you know that doesn't happen usually and so you know you're around people who are appreciating this in the same way that you do that makes it a special experience and then you know, we were talking about hunchback of Notre Dame are very emotional film or if you're in a comedy and people were laughing around you, it just feels part of a community, that's a nice feeling and I guess that's what makes it special.
Beth: All right. Well thank you very much.
Tabesh: Thank you, Beth I appreciate it.
Beth: I also spoke with Millie De Chirico, manager of programming at TCM. I asked her if she saw cinemas as churches.
Millie: I do, actually. I haven't been to church in a while I’ll say that for the record, but yeah I definitely think that.
Beth: We had this incident with AMC where they said, oh I think we're going to let cell phones into some of the screenings and there was a really surprising amount of backlash about that saying like no that's not what we want in our movie theaters. So what do you think about the people who are coming here to the TCM festival. They seem in particular to really view films in a special way.
Millie: Definitely. I think they are the most incredibly respectful film fans ever. And I think it's because they're true Cinephiles. I mean I think that's the key right. I think that if you're like a lover of film and you love the experience of attending films, you don't want anything to like disrupt that process and I always find that the best theaters out there are always very strict about that because they understand that. You know, people are there to see something and have an experience and it's kind of their own and you know there's so many like things that are happening and going through your head when you're engaging with a film in a theater that, you know you don't really want to see someone texting or somebody talking or someone you know being very distracting. And I will say in particular for the TCM Classical festival, last night at one of the screenings there was a woman who came down immediately and told me that somebody was like taking pictures during the film and I mean it was just like within the first minute of the film starting so, that's how serious these people are. They really want to enjoy it and they don't want any distractions, which is great.
Beth: And when TCM does here also that's really great if you guys really care about the presentation of the films themselves and can you talk a little bit about what you guys go through sometimes to get prince and to show stuff on 35 and just make sure that the screening experience is good.
Millie: Yeah. I think that's a huge, I mean that is a testament to my boss who's the head of programming at TCM and he's the head of the program at the festival Charlie Tabesh, I think that's his singular mission really and I know it's others that you know Genevieve, McGill Cuddy the festival director and really everyone that's working, I think that's kind of what we strive for it when we do this festival is just make sure that we're getting the best quality prints I know Charlie's in touch with all the studios and he really hears about like restorations that are coming out. He kind keep tabs with that and I think that that's a big influence on his program and decision and that's great because there's a lot of world premiere restorations here, there's a lot of world premiere here just in general of titles that haven't played ever. You know and I think that's again I think Charlie is great.
He's a huge film lover, but he's also like a guy that you know sort of knows a lot of people and he knows a lot of archivists and restoration experts and people doing distribution, so that's how he kind of works. It's great.
Beth: What I love about the festival too is that there's all this emphasis placed on the presentation and the films are making sure everything's great but there's also not really like a sense of snobbery in terms of. Yesterday I got to see the passion of Joan of Arc with a chorus and a live orchestra and I also got to see roar. You talk about kind of the breath of this programming.
Millie: Yeah. Again I think this reflected in the network and it's also reflect in the festival, I think that classic film is sort of, I mean it's really kind of a nebulous term if you think about it because there's people who are really young that come to these festivals and they think their classic film is a 90’s film. Then there are people who think that classic films are only silence. So I mean you kind of have to cater everyone and most film fans are kind of into everything and they're not snobs and we kind of were blessed with having like kind of open minded cine files if you will. That's kind of the philosophy behind everything that we do is that classic can mean anything and you know especially now with new movies that are, you know coming into that term I mean classic film now is 80’s movies, it's 90’s movies, 70’s movies, so we're just I think trying to reflect that in the programming a little.
Beth: You are connected specifically with the TCM underground programming. Can you talk a little bit about some of your choices? Last year I believe we got to see boom, which was fabulous at midnight, I mean boom and roar both have this certain quality of when you're going there at midnight after being up a long time, your kind a drift in and out of these kind of hallucinated weird dream states or something.
Millie: Yeah. Definitely last year with boom that was definitely the case. Well what's great about boom and roar in particular, they both kind of studio films or they starred studio stars like big Hollywood stars and then it was just in this weird film. You know, I mean that was made it was kind of like a one off thing and they kind of fell out of distribution and nobody had really seen it so I think that's what makes it special to play at the festival, but then there's also just sort of this weird quality of the films that is really kind of good for an audience maybe been up all day and then they're like should I go to this midnight movie. I'm kind of tired. I really had some drinks let me just kind of like wander in figure that you know what I mean and that's I think a good combo. That kind of viewer with the movie you know and at the end up being really fun and I love the audiences because they're superb, fun and a little rowdy which I like and it's like a typical midnight movie crowd which is great, I love it.
Beth: Talk about the programming choices you make for the films you play at midnight here at the festival and also the programming choices you make for what goes on the air for the network.
Millie: Well the midnights are kind of, you know obviously Charlie is kind of, you know the final say, but he definitely consults me with the mid nights, just because I think he understands that I program for people that stay up late. So last year he kind of asked me about what we should do for the midnights and I suggested both boom and nothing last forever which is a very rare film and I don't actually think it's going to be on home video anytime soon, so that was actually really good get. But then this year, I think that there was a chance to play GOG in 3D, which I think we had to do because I don't think we've ever.
Well we did a 3D film before but not in the midnight, so that's really going to be great and we have two of the guys from the 3D film archive that are going to talk about it and then with war last night, I mean he was just basically like what do you think about playing this film and I definitely play it for TCM underground, so I think we should definitely play at the film festival and you know of course there was a back and forth about whether or not you know, people would react have violent reactions to what they were saying, which is always a conversation that we have about the midnights, but I think it worked out. I think people really got a kick out of it so.
Beth: And what are you looking for the films that you're programming on air or what defines underground for you?
Millie: Right. Again that's another kind of nebulous term. To me I think the term underground is kind of alludes to something specific, but I do make it. I do think of it as a very broad based sort of franchise for us because there are films in the franchise that are truly underground films like films that have never been on home video and have been bootlegged forever and ever and ever and ever and like we've played movies like the world's greatest sinner and you know some really rare, like we played the decline of western civilization documentaries before they were on the DVD's, so it's kind of like, yeah, those are underground films. Films that are kind of being passed around and they don't have wide release or they never had wide release, but then there's also things like boom, which are like studio pictures that are kind of flops and you know like they're kind of shelved, but are technically like available.
And then you know kind of the stuff in between just like really quirky comedies really obviously like Joyner pictures like horror science fiction action so, to me it's just kind of like whatever is interesting, whatever is either like something that the cult, audience would appreciate or maybe something they don't know about or maybe something they want to reconsider, it's just kind of like it's a catch for all for just weird things and it's kind of the way I look at it.
Beth: Do you also feel it’s kind of like a place for, I don't know like lost children like films that you want to kind of just give a little leg up to saying like, Hey, maybe you haven't heard of this.
Millie: Well. Totally the weirdest part is that I think there are movies that there are definitely movies that have started in underground technically, but have moved to like the prime time slots, which I got to admit, I kind of pat myself on the back a little bit like we're doing in American International Pictures Festival this year and there's a lot of titles that played in you know like Old Roger Croman movies and some Blaxploitation films that are going to be playing at like 8 p.m. which I’m like great. I love that. You know TCM I think, there's not a super big distinction between like an underground title one. But, the goal is to really kind of push the envelope. So you know there are movies that have played in underground that are kind of never appropriate for primetime and because they've got a lot of content, a lot of violence, a lot of sex, a lot of nudity, whatever.
So, yeah I do think that there are some movies out there that are just kind of like too weird and are definitely “lost children” because either they just haven't like become part of that even the lexicon like they're just kind of right there waiting to be kind of rediscovered. You know maybe that's not an 8 o'clock movie maybe that's 2 o'clock in the morning movie and then you have to have a wash over people in the middle of the night as opposed to, you know, which I like. I mean I like knowing that there's a weird movie out there that probably would never get played ever, if it wasn't for underground so.
Beth: Well I think you are going with a completely different mindset when you're going in at midnight to see something.
Millie: Yeah. Totally so, I grew up in the era of like night flight and those kind of like Goulority, Elvira like things. I was obsessed with things that come on in the middle of the night when I was growing up. So, I was always like on the weekends staying up with my friends watching whatever was on TV at like midnight or 2 a.m. and those are like these movie memories that I have always had with me and so there's something about that time slot, I think it's because of like just maybe the state that you're in, I mean you know whether it's your tired or you maybe had some drinks or maybe there are some drugs involved, but like it's just a different world and I like that. I like that that world a lot.
So, when underground kind of became an idea and got kind of put on the network, I mean that was kind of and it still is the kind of mission of it is to just have it on in the middle of night. You know people will kind of come into it and go what is this and then they just kind of have the experience of just being wait and watching so, just as I did when I was growing up.
Beth: And do you think that having the TCM brand connected to that underground term helps people to maybe be a little more adventurous and say like I’m going to give it a try as opposed to you know if it pops up at the midnight movie circuit and you know with theater or something like that.
Millie: Well right and this is something that I talk to Charlie about a lot because he and I are totally in agreeance about this. I never want to like make any of those movies like I’m not trying to make these movies into like check out the big dumb weird movies. Because at the end of the day, I think that I would rather come at it from like, I'm not saying it's a serious place, but it's sort of like even if it's a “bad film. ” Even if it's like people think it is the biggest pile of garbage that it was ever put on screen. I mean somebody made that movie, there's some kind of context to it and like you can kind of have a discussion about it even if it's ridiculous. So in that way I feel like I don't really have that impulse to like destroy it, like to make fun of it to be like you know. This is a pile of garbage let's just like make fun of it, I mean that's a part of enjoying a film, but I don't think that should be like the presentation of the film, I think that you should be like here's a film.
I am going to tell you right now, it's uncomfortable, it's weird, it's strange, it's you know probably bad, but we'd like to try to just be it. We're not trying to like make fun of it on the onset and you will let people decide for themselves, if it's good or if it's bad, if it should be made fun of so.
Beth: Well I think the midnight notion or that underground notion, there's got to be some element of affection for it. It can be bad, it can be awful, they can be all sorts of things, but there's some place in that film, where you find you love it for some bizarre reason, but I mean that always seems a qualified midnight movie because I’ve seen so. There are some images that are just, you try explaining the people who maybe are not midnight crowds and they're like really you want to watch that, but there's always seems to be this level of affection.
Millie: Oh totally and I would say like even if the movie was made for the purpose of making money and I never thought put into it. There's at least one person in that film I thought that they were like doing the best work of their career, like there was somebody either in an actor or a director, especially director or a sort of photographer that was like this is totally going to make me I'm the next Orson Welles'. I am that person. So, you know in that way I feel like, yeah I mean it's somebody's specific vision and like you know and you got to love that, you've got to love somebody who's like very passionate about making something that just didn't turn out that well at the end of the day.
Beth: Well in midnight films especially some of the stuff that you run always there seems to be something either passionate or extreme about it whereas to me the most offensive thing in a film is kind of mediocrity like blindness.
Millie: Yes, I totally agree. People who are like maybe like trying really hard to make it weird like I don't know, I mean I don't want to really, you know there are some times especially with new films where you can just kind of tell they're sort of purposely trying to make it bad and you're going why. Why just like. Just do the best you can and if you're a terrible writer or something it'll come through trust me. We don't have to like make it weird. Yeah. You know there's a lot of cult film out there that's kind of boring and it's you know and maybe there's some kind of like great you know actor or great you know soundtrack or something like that. But, yes sometimes they're just kind of boring films. I mean not all of them but like you know they're just kind of hard to watch and yeah those are probably not like my favorite ones but yeah, I would rather have something be bad and then be boring.
Beth: So how do you get into films and how did you fall in love with movies?
Millie: I have to admit I was obsessed with television when I was growing up, so I watch a lot of film on TV and I kind of grew up in the 80s so there was a lot of, you know I watch a lot of HBO. I watch a lot of you know cable films and a lot of public access, so I learned about films really through by going to the movies with my family and then also just watching a lot of movies on television. The VHS was a huge thing when I was growing up so I had friends whose parents had huge VHS. My parents did not have a good movie collection at all, they still don't to this day they have like five DVD. 's.
But I would go over to my neighbor's house, my friend's house, their dad was like one of those guys that like had tons of taped VHS and they had like perfect handwriting on all the spines, he's like a huge VHS collector so yeah I was just like going through those collections and you know just sort of like trying to watch a ton of stuff. I was just soaking it all in so.
Beth: It seems like you have kind of an enviable job, do you gain in terms of being able to, all the way able to program movies that you discover and find, I mean is that a job that you enjoy doing?
Millie: Oh. Immensely I think I hate to say I really do think I have a dream job in that way. Especially as a person who grew up watching film and then went to film school and then ultimately became interested in programming. It's a best job in the world and especially at TCM, which I always tell people when you are programming typically for television, you know you really are kind of dictated by advertising and your different shares and you know all this terminology about audiences and stuff, I mean TCM that does not really a metric we follow, I mean we are noncommercial network, so we really have a chance to be creative. So I think that's a very important part. My job satisfaction is that I don't have to worry about whether or not this movie is going to sell tons of cars or anything like that. I mean there is you know obviously it's a business but it's very creative and as a programmer it's like a dream place to work.
Beth: TCM has created this community. It seems here at the festival you can see there's a lot of support for the TCM party and people who are on twitter and social media and sharing, what do you think contributes to that?
Millie: Well I got to say I think the network is really interested in reaching out to their fans like I think that's probably, I don't think I’ve ever seen it at any other channel. I was just trying to think about would any other channel on the on the cable dial would they like have a film festival and invite their fans to come and have you know dinners with stars and host and there's a lot like a lot of back and forth between the company and the fans and like the fans program the network sometimes and I think that that's kind of what makes it a family is I think that like TCM facilitates these events in these ways for people to connect and especially when you're a film fan, you know you really are a classic film fan I will say for sure. You know, I mean what kind of like.
I got to say like, we got to like stick together because we're in an era now where they want people to text in you know movie theaters and you know the movies are getting crazy out there so I think that you know having like the hash tags on the social media having. film festivals and parties and especially coming full festival and there's like a little side parties and fun things for everyone to get together I love it and I love that it's like I love it when all the twitter people come together I love it when the Facebook fans have their Facebook page and do events, but I think it's so wonderful, but I will say I think that there are networks or businesses that discourage that kind of thing and I don't think TCM is one of them at all. I think they're kind of encouraging it so.
Beth: Well you guys just launched your TCM backlog and I know I’m here with two other people and we went back to our apartment and all were logging on and voting on because they're asking like you know between Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, we're sitting here like damn that's a tough choice, but that seems to be engaging people.
Millie: Right because that kind of you know we're in an election year, so I think that's kind of you know everyone's kind of ready to make decisions on things like that right now or when they came up with the idea for the backlog here like. What do you think about having you know some of the members or some of the fans vote and I think that's awesome. We should always be doing that we should always be like hearing, I mean as a programmer again I love hearing ideas from fans and you know the idea of people having to choose and that is a really hard one and that one in particular is really hard and I remember they were like you know what other I mean there's just classic debates like Betty versus Joan and like you know that kind of thing where I’m like, so people strong opinions about that kind of stuff.
You know we've got to like maybe tap in on that a little bit see what people because I’m curious to who win, you know what I mean now I’m like Haver G. Robinson or James Cagney, I don't even know they're like in the same era, but they're kind of got different styles. But they're still both tough guys so I don't know. I don't know who’s going to win.
Beth: In terms of some of the films you've programmed here at the midnights, do you remember any particularly strong reactions from audiences?
Millie: Boom was definitely a strong reaction I remember. I think it's because I didn't really give much information about it in the intro so, I think I just said you should just watch this film and then let me know everything. And I think people were kind of like what was that? That was so deeply weird. Other than that I’m really curious to find out what was going to happen with Rourke because I was like, you know kind of thinking that people. I don't know what people were thinking, but everyone that's come up to me today to talk about it has been like, okay that was really uncomfortable, but Ii watched the whole thing, so I didn't come running from the theater, which is kind of what I told my happen, but I will say that I think boom was probably, I had the most conversations about that. And I think it's just because it's so bizarre and people want to know what happened what it was about knows like. I don't know no idea.
Beth: Well it's funny because we've been going to all the midnight ones and everybody that I was around for roar was wide awake and watching the whole thing. And boom it was like people were falling in and out of sleep like some sort of weird dream state. So they would pop back up and it's like is it still going on like what's happening?
Millie: Well that's I think the testament to the different like styles of the movie because you know, Boom it's got, it's like set on the water and there's a lot of pastels and a lot of like fancy headwear and flowing robes, so of course there's kind of this maybe, I don't know and it's kind of glacial like pacing wise and so that is kind of like a dream, so I would assume that people were kind of like falling in and out of consciousness. Whereas, roar is like super high anxiety, the cutting of the movie was so rapid and I was reading a blog today that talked about it last night and the writer of the blog said that he thought that they had edited that way because they were trying to avoid showing like massive injuries. So they were editing to not show like people's legs being torn up, so I thought that was hilarious and maybe that's why people were wide awake because they were like couldn’t stop watching everything was happening and was very, very anxious.
Beth: That has one of my favorite tag lines on the poster which is no animals were hurt during the making of this film but 70 cast and crew members were.
Millie: And I kept thinking that can't be like as precise number. There's got to be more. Because 70 seems a really round number and there's a lot, there's a lot going on in that movie so, maybe they're fudging that number a little bit.
Beth: The only reason I would give them that number is because I don't think they had enough money to have a whole lot of people working on it.
Millie: Right. I kept thinking, is that over the course of the 11 years that this was made and who gets who is counted as the cast and crew are like you know, so maybe it is a firm seventy but I suspect that there's more that we don't know about.
Beth: Any final words about this year's festival? Anything that you programmed or that is screening that you'd like to comment on?
Millie: The thing that's different about the show me all of them are great and for some reason they end up getting better every year, which I think is really cool. I would say that everybody is super nice this year like not to say that everyone hasn't been in the past but everyone's being very sweet and complimentary and like I’ve been walking through the multiplex and it's people like. I love your dress, I love your hat, great this, great you know good to see you, I just like that. It's so positive and it's nice that like strangers will virtual strangers or talking to other strangers and I mean that's always been a big part of the festival but, I don’t know I feel like the vibe is really good to sure and I am pleased about that so I am hoping that continues to the weekend and as for the programming I was telling you I kind a want to see Rocky, so I am kind of interested in saying that again and then I am going to see band about Siders tonight, which I am very excited about because Anna Crane is going to be there and she was a huge hero mind, when I was in college, so I am very, very, very excited.
Beth: Were you mentioned virtual strangers. Is that interesting for you to meet people that you may have engaged in social media and then suddenly getting to actually meet them face to face.
Millie: Totally it's been happening every 5 minutes since I've been in LA like it's wonderful because you know you spend so much time, you know we have jobs where we have to spend a lot of time in social media and especially with the TCM fans, I mean they're on social media as are watching films a lot of the times. So it's kind of great to just like meet up with everyone and everyone feels like a friend before I even catch eyes with them and when they finally say, oh hey I'm you know we are twitter buddies that I hug them, I am just like, oh you know we have been hashed tagging each other for like two years now and it's great and I immediately feel a connection to them. I don't think it's weird. I love it and I was like basically encouraging everybody to introduce themselves to everybody because I think it's really sweet, but yeah I love that part of it. She's meeting up with the twitter. Twitter followers is awesome so.
Beth: Right so we started this conversation about the cinema's church. Do you feel that these TCM fans are kind of these devout people and that your festival is some kind of Mecca for them?
Millie: I think that's how they think of it yeah. I think it's a religious experience. I mean being in Hollywood where it all happened and that and having the celebrities come in and talk about the movies and having great prints of things and you know respect the films and everything and yeah I think people are very much you know they're in a religious fervor when they're here and I love it and I am too. I mean, I think it's great and I'm so happy to be here so.
Beth: All right. Thank you very much.
Millie: Oh you're welcome. Thank you Beth.
Beth: One person steering this religious fervor at the festival was Paula Guthat, the founder of the twitter handle TCM party. She doesn't work for TCM, but she hosts live tweeting events that bring TCM fans together in a virtual living room. She also runs a movie theater in Detroit. So I thought she would be a good person to ask if cinemas are places of worship.
Paula: Yes. I believe that it is. I think that it theater watching a film with other like minded individuals can definitely induce the same kind of transformative experience as a team in church. The most recent example, the most vivid example to me right now is our screenings of purple rain where people got together and sort of worship Prince. It was a little bit like attending a service for him. It was definitely for the living to get together and celebrate his life, much like it would have been you know memorial service in the church.
Beth: And tell me you also run a theatre too, so tell me about your theatre?
Paula: My theatre is cinema Detroit. We are the only first run 7 day a week theater in greater downtown and we run like a wide variety of films from mainstream to the truly independent. We also do know fun events like showing a bunch of Nicolas Cage movies, it is a Nicholas Cage, but one thing that I have noticed with certain of our documentary is as well as something like pepper lane is like when we showed Annie same idea giving people closure, getting together in the dark with other likeminded individuals and it helps you feel better. You know similar to like hero rites, are for the living to work through their great. I think it can also in the best sense provide a community, much like a church where is spiritual but not religious. You can sort of be transformed by the emotions that are brought forward by watching a movie or you can sort of escape and feel better for a couple of hours.
It is interesting because my Sunday morning screening at TCMFF was MASH and whoever introduced the person, who introduced the screening that he said he came out and he was like all right so why are not you guys in church. And everyone laughed. And then a few of us yelled. We are in church. This is our church; this is where we found our community.
Beth: We are talking about the TCM film festival, which seem that if anybody looks at cinema as church, then the TCM film festival has to be some kind of Mecca.
Paula: Yeah it's the tendered bible of classic films. I guess you could say and then like I said I am a catholic and I know that a lot of people especially older generations, prayer was like their way to feel better and I know from doing TCM party for almost 5 years now really. You know, the classic films are the cinematic comfort foot. It's comforting to go in watch your favorite classic films just go by TCM. Many times people have said that they got into employment, illness, you know all of these things and that to me a sort of like a sustaining force like you might find in a religion.
Beth: And let me ask you what ledge you start TCM party and what kind of a community has that built?
Paula: The hashtag was owned by someone else and I was the one who started the twitter account and started scheduling parties and started promoting them actively and then doing 2 or 3 a week except all these. I just was overjoyed to find other people that knew who like [indiscernible] [01:03:57]. Just I thought it would be a way to help us find each other and it turned out that was true and now it's just kind of like a community about all sorts of classic movie going on.
Beth: And what kind of turnout do you get for these live tweeting events?
Paula: It just kind of the movie like for Wizard of Oz or Casablanca or something like that if not a unusual for us to trend nationally and in a week it’s not an unusual to get 30 million potentials so there’s a lot of people that are paying attention.
Beth: And talk about going to the TCM film festival, what does it mean to kind of make that annual track there?
Paula: It’s like a pilgrimage. If we are going to stick with the religious theme you know Mecca is not a displaced term for this. Everyone gets to together you are in the birth place of the movies. You are walking over the stars. You know no one else and how we will go about except for us knows who these people are and yeah you just get together and spontaneous conversation is break out about like you know Warren Oates and film editor and you know people that pretty much forgotten in current pop culture that everyone there knows who they are, you can always start a conversation with anyone there because these are all there for the same thing.
Beth: And the venue is also, we have a couple of venues at the TCM festival that are old school like the Egyptian and the Chinese.
Paula: As a cathedral.
Beth: Describe for someone what it's like, like walking into that Chinese theater to see a film?
Paula: When you come out of the extremely bright sun into the dark and you go in and then it’s like the most beautiful ornate colorful sort of like roles and details of everything and it is mostly insane power.
Paula: It's just lovely.
Beth: I always think of the women.
Paula: Exactly and that's what I said to somebody I was like oh look, jungle red. It's like being in the women. I mean certainly going in the Grumman’s, is a little bit like going into you know that sort of education, you could make a parallel with a stained glass windows. Everything there is to dry your eyes sort of upward, its elevating, its inspiring.
Beth: All right well. I want to thank you very much for taking some time to talk with me.
Paula: Thank you.
Beth: Another member of this TCM social media community is blogger Will McKinley. He likes the idea of cinemas as churches, but that raises some issues for people who engage in social media.
Will: I would say most of the people that attended you know TCM classic film festival feel that the experience is religious in nature. You know but it's a funny thing and this is like you know this is not the like short, you know punchy answer that you know any radio producer wants but TCM film festival has a complex relationship with cell phones and electronic devices because so many of us including people deputize by the channel them itself have to have our devices out to cover events and so what will happen is the host of the event you know get up at the microphone and say please turn off your cell phones and a good, you know 5 to 10 of us in the audience in any theater maybe sometimes more are there in part to live tweet what a guest is saying about the movie. So this was the first year where I had an audience member reprimand me for having my cell phone out and the movie had not even started yet and I said to the guy, I am on your side.
Right like I am of you I'm the guy who usually says what you are saying now to somebody else but because of the nature of this event and the nature of the way the blogging and tweeting and social media community covers it there's a complex relationship with electronic devices. That said, once the movie begins everybody puts away their cell phones. Except I did notice this year something strange and that's happening not just here but basically everywhere you know where I experience movies and that is the people taking pictures of the screen to put on their Facebook, Instagram or twitter or whatever and you know it's a strange phenomenon because you know these are images that would easily be like Google able, you know if they had just sort of done it before they got there, but there's such a pressure, you know to sort of cover our lives like the citizen journalists that people need to sort of prove their existence by taking a picture of a movie screen, which is very strange.
Beth: For people like fans of TCM coming to the film festival like this is this something like coming to Mecca?
Will: Yeah. It's the TCM classic film festival is something that many of us in the fan community almost structure our lives around and that sounds really kind of sad and tragic but, it's like you know it's like an annual reunion because it's not just about interacting with the channel or seeing the movies, it's about interacting with a group of friends that you make and in some cases those relationships begin online and then they transition into real life at the festival. And in another case they begin at the festival with people that you know you sort of meet while your way waiting online or in your travels or in your seat and then those friendships carry over to subsequent years.
It is like a big part of why some people I know are attracted to religion is because of the community aspect of it and there is a huge community aspect to the TCM classic film festival something probably I think that's unique because when people go to say to tell you ride to Tribeca, they don't go because they love Tribeca as a brand. They go because well maybe there are some interesting movies that are playing, but here like they could not tell us what's playing, they could not tell us a single movie that is playing and the festival would sell out. They would sell out every past level. I have no doubt whatsoever of that. Because a big part of it is the interaction the communal experience.
Beth: Talk a little bit about the presentation of films here. Because one of the things that makes this festival so nice is they do things like strike a 35 millimeter print for the festival.
Will: TCM has been doing the classic film festival for 7 years now they just completed their 7th year. I have been to all of them and you know I remember the first year it was you know primarily majority of the films were on film and you know there were sort of handful of digital presentations and people were like, you know I wonder, you know is this the direction the TCM is going to go in but probably not because they are you know a community of purists. And now 7 years later we have, you know I need to do the final math on this, bu. I am relatively sure that this is the first year where digital presentations will outnumber presentations on film. And you know there was some backlash about that. You know in the sort of like social media, community and the fan community and you know the question came up at the initial press conference and Genevieve McGillicuddy who's the managing director of the festival basically said that film is extremely important to TCM, but it doesn't supersede the desire to put on a good show.
If something is only available in a DCP, they're going to go with that rather than not and let the lack of that film hurt the schedule, you know the program. I can tell you that for me this year, I made a concerted effort to seek out screenings that were on film. Over the course of the weekend I saw 18 full length features and I think a dozen of them were on films. At the point now where that has to be a plan that has to be a strategy, it can't just be a random; it's never going to be a random thing. You have to sort of make that decision and you know they do give us the opportunity to do that if we are willing to, you know sort of see films in the smallest of the venues and you know arrive early and wait on line and this is the premium that we pay for the experience of experiencing film on film.
Beth: For you that seems to make a real difference in the experience of watching a movie?
Will: You know it does here for some reason. In real life you know, living in New York City with a very active repertory theater community, I'm largely format agnostic, but there's something about coming here, this experience of the TCM film festival. Because of the films, I choose to see here, which tend to be older, it feels more. The experience feels more genuine to see them on film. So in the case of a programming block, I may look at the four or five or six choices and make my decision based on which one is actually being presented on film.
Beth: And for you, were there any high points this year of what you saw?
Will: So the weird thing is that you know the highest point for me. You know I am kind of a purist. I strongly believe that this film festival and TCM in general, should stick to its core mission and I have very specific ideas about what that core mission is and it basically has to do with you know movies from the studio era, which you know a lot of people think ends around roughly 1960 although you'll find a million different definitions of classic. But my high point this weekend was seeing batman from 1966 with Adam West by the pool of the Roosevelt hotel, you know screened on a DVD, which there's like 3 or 4 things in there that kind of fall out of my comfort zone as you know old movie pure earth. But it was such a great communal experience, you know to see Adam West it was the 50th anniversary screening, everybody at the pool.
You know there was hundreds of people there cheering, screaming, they loved it kids, old people, people who watch the show in the original run; you know just a great like communal shared experience. And you know one of the great things generally about this festival besides the opportunity to see obscure films, which is a big part of what I chose to do this weekend. I'm going to go home and my friends are going to say you know, what did you see? You know tally a shier, did you see Rita Marina, did you see Angela Lansbury, did you see Elliott Gould and the answer is no to all of those. I saw none of those people because Ii chose to sit in the smallest auditorium and see obscure older films that I had never seen before. Because that's what I enjoyed doing at this. It's the discovery part of it and part of those discoveries also where a presentation on, you know the very earliest sound shots.
You know where they screened, two short subjects that have not been seen since 1929 for the first time, newly restored, presentation by the you know the film archivist, Serge Bromberg of you know lost short subjects' and you know films that are in process of restoration. So that for me is a big part of why I come to this those sort of discoveries and those oddities and those strange things and those rare things and that's more attractive to me than say you know seeing rocky, you know which I can see pretty easily anywhere else.
Beth: The Vitaphone films were especially interesting because it really felt like this little slice of time that you got back, like a window into a period that we don't have anything quite like that anymore?
Will: Well it is a window. I mean it's you know everybody thinks well if you think about, you know like when did movies start talking. You know for the sliver of society that actually has that on their mind. You know most people think oh well movie started talking in 1929 would that the movie the jazz singer roughly. If you think about it that's when you think. But in the short subjects they really started, you know a good three plus years before that. You know the Vitaphone shorts were released roughly between 1926 and 1930, you know as the president, Iran Hutchinson from the Vitaphone project said they were you know shooting 2, 3, 4, of these a week. You know, they made you know 100’s of them.
They do exist as a time capsule not just because, not just as a technological time capsule. But in a lot of cases they capture contemporary acts of the late 1920’s, you know Vaudeville comics and you know Jazz bands and these you know odd like comedy duos and there's no other way to see these people. You know it's not even close because in most cases didn't get cast in movies. Some of them survived into the television era and sort of revived their 20's and 30's acts but this is a very, very unique time capsule and you know it's great news that so many of these shorts more than 130 have been restored by the Vitaphone project and many of those are available on DVD from one archive.
Beth: For you how would you describe what would be kind of the optimum viewing experience for a film?
Will: If I had to list my top 10 or 20 experiences of seeing old movies in movie theaters, probably all of them would come at the TCM classic film festival over the 7 years I've been attending. And that has a lot to do with the curatorial brilliance of TCM and you know people like Charlie Tavish is you know the vice-president of programming. But it also has a lot to do with the audience. Because these are people who you know sometimes maybe you'll get a repertory theater audience, you know that knows their stuff but is so like abjectly odd. You know that it makes the experience kind of unpleasant and sometimes you'll get an audience of newbie’s who are like over reacting to things because they're unaccustomed to it. At the TCM classic film festival you can see a doctor offer a patient.
A cigarette in the bed of a hospital room and people don't start shrieking with laughter because we have all seen this in movies. This is the way it was apparently in the you know dim dark era of the 1940’s. But it's an audience that knows their stuff and that appreciates it, is interested in sharing it and the experiences of these screenings are shared. You know, I close the festival this year with a screening of network with Faye Dunaway attendance and it was a packed crowd and people were not only cheering appearances of actors and characters, but they were cheering sentences and line deliveries and you know these are like, you know, these are our people. It's like the one weekend of the year where all the weirdos from all across the country in the world sort of gather and revel in their weirdness and share it with each other and it's like a reunion you know it's probably the one weekend out of the year where all of us feel happiest and most comfortable.
Beth: And to bring this podcast to a close, here's my interview with Miguel Rodriguez, a pod caster himself and the director of horrible imaginings film festival. I decided to interview him on our drive back to San Diego, as a means of ensuring that he'd stay awake.
Miguel: Wish to keep that in podcast. Miguel is going to kill us all.
Beth: We are hoping to reach it back to San Diego. It's just about midnight on Sunday, the Turner classic movies film festivals, just ended few hours back and Miguel Rodriguez, a horrible imaginings pod cast and I and Niko Will from KPBS as well are heading back to San Diego and it seems like a perfect time to kind of reflect back on this film festival and what I've been asking people is that in this aftermath of AMC suggesting that they were going to allow cell phones in to movie screenings and there being a backlash of people saying no, we feel that there are certain things that shouldn't be in movie theaters. The group of people attending TCM kind of view cinemas as churches. So Miguel, is that description feel apt to you?
Miguel: I think that you can’t make that connection since the experience of attending the cinema and all that goes into it is at its best it achieves a transcendence and transcendence typically is what people are looking for with religion. So yeah, I think in a way it is rather a church like experience because there are certain ceremonies that people try to afford each other and certain rights of passage and a lot of those things that are typically associated with church going. You can see with cinema attendance particularly when the audience are deeply, deeply devoted to the art of cinema. So yeah it makes a lot of sense plus there's the community aspect as well which a lot of people turn to religion for the community aspect and cinema is that for a lot of people, so I don't think it's off base at all to call this a church experience or religious experience.
Beth: And if cinemas are something like churches, it would seem then that this turner classic film festival something of a Mecca for those devotees.
Miguel: Yeah I think Mecca is a pretty appropriate term or Vatican City or The Wailing Wall or any number of other highly, highly religious places. TCM as a brand, as a company, as a network has for more than 2 decades now, built an incredibly loyal following. Will call them acolytes if you will and for very good reason, we can look at TCM as rising above the typical network on television because they have never been afraid of showing films uncut and completely commercial free and a variety of programming that can often include some bold choices that can be unexpected and this whole idea that we are going to see a history of the cinematic art on television as part of a basic cable package as the only basic cable channel to have zero commercials and you know show films in their entirety regardless of you know profanity or what have you that other TV channels might shy away from.
When that started in the 90's, you know we can believe it and it always surprises me still how there are swathes of people out there, who don't realize what TCM does for us. You know, I will post something like can you believe this TCM is showing such and such movie and then on social media inevitably there's someone who says, Oh why would you want to see that on TV, it's going to be cut or whatever like no, no, this is TCM having that as a resource has always been something that's remarkable and it's so strong that that's why people have this kind of devotion to it, disciple like attractions to TCM and when you have an audience, who is that loyal then by staging an event like the TCM classic film festival, which they started in 2010 so this is 7th Annual Festival. It is like Mecca. I think these are the religious places I mentioned because these are places that people make pilgrimages too, so the idea of the pilgrimage is also you know it rooted in religion and the TCM classic film festival is a pilgrimage for people.
There are people coming from other countries all over the states. We are very fortunate to be in San Diego which is you know relatively very, very close and the act of attending the festival itself is it requires ritual, it requires knowing what your schedules going to be, it requires foregoing like a lent. We have to give up sleep. We have to give up certain meals. But it's all for the transcendent experience of seeing films like you know just tonight we saw Fat City and Bulldog Drummond strikes again, which both of our films I had never seen before. Both were just incredible cinematic experiences. Both so completely different from one another that it just underscores why I personally love. A film festival like the TCM classic film festival because overlooking, you get this survey of films and the type of films, tone of films, it's all over the place. You could see something very intense in one block and then immediately go to screwball comedy or romance or horror or mystery.
It could be anything as long as you know there is some validation by the programmers. Either because it fits their overall theme or what have you for being on the program so you get the cream of the crop. We go to lots of film festivals, but with the TCM classic film festival, you know that you are getting something special.
Beth: Also what special are some of the venues. There is the Chinese theater which is a landmark in Hollywood. Its seats I think over 900 people going into a place like that is very much kind of like going into a temple of worship and experiencing something sacred and I want to talk a little bit about last year seeing the Hunchback of Notre Dame there.
Miguel: Yeah. There we have seen a bunch of films where there's now the TCL Chinese Theater. Seeing a film there it does go beyond entertainment to something more special and Hunchback of Notre Dame series, I am glad you brought that up because it's a powerful film that we are talking about the one with Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara, it's a brilliant film and it's a powerfully emotional film. I would venture to say it would fit in nicely with this year's theme, which was moving pictures upon being moved there are films that move you. Anyway, I am going to guess you mean that my experience with Bill.
Beth: With the just packing, I mean first of all one of the things that TCM does too is they are very careful about the presentation of the films. So they tend to be restored prints 35 millimeter prints struck specifically for the festival and it was seeing this glorious black and white film on a huge screen, instead of a small TV screen or on a DVD or anything like that and the actual experience of watching it combined with the content of the film just was amazing.
Miguel: I mean, one thing you can say for the TCL Chinese as opposed to the Egyptian which is, you know a wonderful theatre at John Wright, but it's the size of the screen and also the projection capabilities at the Chinese seem to be a little bit of a cut above and it does look very, very crisp and immersive. It's an immersive experience seeing a film there, you forget that there are borders to the frame because the film becomes the world. Yeah we saw hard day's night with the Beatles on their too couple of years ago and it was similar but, yeah with Hunchback film is just a particularly powerful one and one memory of that is a little bit embarrassing. We were seeing it with our friend Bill Ramiro who joined us on my podcast. ramp up of the festival last year.
I guess I might have a bit of a reputation for being kind of a tough like not very sentimental I represent a reputation for not being very sentimental I suppose. Because Bill confessed to me after the film was over, he was sitting right next to me and that was one of the touching scenes with the Hunchback Quasimodo talking to Esmeralda and Bill was trying to hide the fact that like the waterworks return on and tears are rolling down his cheeks and he said I am sitting next to Miguel, the horror guy. I better not let him see me crying and as he's thinking this he turns to look at me and my tears are rolling down my face. It's like oh it's the same things over there and then we both have that kind of bonding moment.
So that's one loud part of the story and we both have that bonding moment where you know you both experiencing this heightened emotion, simultaneously for the same reason and that's a bonding experience and you know I think the location and being there and being with that audience, it's all of those elements combined to make that an even more enriched experience.
Beth: And did you have any high points at this year festival?
Miguel: For me the high point was probably the Vitaphone presentation and the reason I am going to go with that is one of the reasons I love classic film is, one second this is a very tiny tunnel here it's freaking me out.
Beth: And we don't want to crash during the podcast.
Miguel: We are in the car pooling and on the five when you're still in LA it gets really narrow, it's like we're making the trench run on the death star.
Beth: Stay on target.
Miguel: Stay on target. Use the force Luke.
Miguel: Vitaphone. Okay. So one of the reasons I love classic film is it's like a time machine. I know that seems rather obvious but you are watching. When I watch a classic film and I'm watching these actors talk to one another and strut on the stage and they're so young and there's so full of life and they're so powerful and it's just amazing to think that that this is a time that is a long past and especially some of the studio era classic films, from the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's where they are depicting the time that is familiar, but kind of legendary in American history whether it's a great depression film or world war two era film. You get to see how society changes a little bit and how people act toward one another changes a little bit. If you watch some of these older movies over a period of time, so this peek into the past is so fascinating for me and what we got this year with the Vitaphone presentation was a look at some short film while I don't any one call them films, but some shorts.
Essentially they were filmed wad will act and it was the dawn of the talking, so this is the earliest examples of sound in films, some experimental use of sounds before 1929 and the jazz singer, you had these short things. I think the earliest one was 1926 or 1925, so lot earlier that I though and you got the presentation talking about how it was done showing pictures of the original projectors with the sounds part built in with the disks that you would place and have to sink up to match sounds. What the image and all of these things are really fascinating to me. But then when we get to see these shorts and I know a couple of them haven't been seen for 80 years, which is something else that kind of blows my mind. What they are literally vaudeville acts. What we saw are vaudeville acts and the idea here was your typical cinema could not afford. It was basically vaudeville for poor people I think. So they couldn't afford getting a live vaudeville act.
So the studio saw a cash cow there and would record vaudeville act to sell the cinemas as a means for people who couldn't afford to go see Al Jolson, to see basically his act on the cinema and I think that the curatorial aspect of this was really clever because at least 3 of the 7 shorts had the vaudevillians, the comedians, the musicians they would make almost a meadow reference to the fact that they were filming this instead of being on stage. One of them was even a story exclusively about the singer saying you know when I have an audience in front of me, I can, you know relate to them it's almost, he is literally pointing out that this is kind of weird that you guys are filming me do this and he makes the camera guys and crew acts like the audience, it was actually pretty hilarious. But the vaudeville is something we don't really have anymore.
It's a lost art and it was such a different world, but also something very, very similar to ours, in ways that might disturb people for example there was I wish, I am calling you know get the higher level lot of people for not remembering the child stars name the first story.
Miguel: Her tag was a child wonder. I just can't remember her real name. It's Rosemarie the child wonder perhaps. I know it's a child, but anyway so it was 3 jazz songs sung by this little girl I guess she must have been 6 and it kind of reminded me actually a little bit of whatever happened to baby Jane of course. But it did also remind me of things like you know really creepy things like these are beauty pageants for young children and honey boo-boo and JonBenét Ramsey, even those like.
We still have things like that in a certain kind of way where we are fascinated by making tiny, tiny children do bizarre grown up things, but you know the act was really fascinating. She was really good. It makes for a bizarre experience. It was something I certainly had not seen before. That's one thing I really want is an experience that is new to me.
Beth: If we look at cinema as church and TCM is this Mecca, it seems to be a very encompassing church when you consider that you have something like the passion Joan of Arc with a choir a live choir and orchestra as well as the 3D restoration of GOG.
Miguel: You're exactly right that's what I mean when I say one thing that's beautiful about the TCM classic film festival is, it's not a narrow definition of classic film, which a lot of people have. If I go to any snow on the street and even if I go to some classic film fans and I say what is classic film, it's going to be something very narrow. You know, it's black and white. It's old. I've never heard of it it's boring or whatever else you're going to get from people who don't know classical very much. What TCM does that I think is very smart and astute. They define classic film a little more broadly. They really are looking at the arts of cinema and how that art has influenced our culture as well as how our culture has influenced art and how much of ourselves we see in the films and that can look a lot of different ways and that's why you can have something like the passion of Joan of Arc, which is unbelievably brilliant masterpiece and you can have GOG in 3D, which is far, far from a masterpiece. But it has its place in cinema history.
I talk about this a lot actually when I used to do films hit series called Deliria, which was all international films but it was international films that were kind of like GOG, they were the Z-grade kind of throwaway B movies, but they were popular in the countries in which they were made. And one thing I wanted to point out was there is this idea of high class and low brow. High brow or low brow cinema and one thing that TCM understands is that both sides of that spectrum are important. Both sides of the spectrum tell us something about ourselves and my analogy that I always come back to from that is if I am going to travel to Paris, say, there are different ways I can experience that amazing city.
There's the high brow, which would be say visiting the Louvre the arc of triumph for something. And then there's what could be the low brow analogue, which would be going to some pub and buying from the locals a round of drinks and getting to know them on that level and singing and dancing and things like that. So I view the passion of Joan of Arc as the Louvre and GOG as getting drunk with the locals. And both of those are totally valid ways to get to know other human beings through art.
Beth: This year TCM has also launched something advance called back log which we all got a membership in and you actually started to logged into see what you could get and found that there were actually ways that you could influence programming choices.
Miguel: Yeah. I think this oh god, I feel like I am just going to be a cult fanatic here. Because I love TCM so much and this kind of stuff just makes me love them more where a classic film channel could so easily pitch in the whole themselves as being kind of old fudgy buddy folkies and TCM is really good at taking social media and new media and 21st century environments like that and using those outlets to bring classic films to a whole new group of people. I think that's why you have young audiences coming to the TCM classic film festivals. LA weekly just did an article about that exact thing where there is a surprising number of young people who go to this and surprising number of young people go to TCM. I attribute that to very good programming but I also attribute that to the fact that they have a really strong social media presence. And what I mean by strong, I don't mean that you know they tweet hey guys we're going to show this at 3 p. m.
They engage on a personal level with all of the fans every day and they know without TCM insane people like us are quite knowledgeable, because this is our obsession and so they take our feedback pretty seriously. And they've done a variety of ways and one way they did that recently is that they have the fan programming which I must say I'm very happy to have been a part off, where I was invited to program a film for them two years ago around Thanksgiving. I showed things from another world and got interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz on TCM which was really exciting for me, so I view this TCM backlog thing as kind of a natural progression from what they did with that. They're opening this venue up to people and now in typical fan club fashion it is a subscription based thing where were people going to buy their way in. It does cost a little bit of money, but I have to give them credit for taking their offering the membership to press so we could check it out and tell everybody you know that it's worth it and based on some of the things I saw, I only granted.
I only spent a few minutes on it this weekend. There are exclusive videos and content that I don't even know if TCM would want me to tell exactly what there is. But let's just say it involves Dr. Zeus in one of those and so you've got me. You've got me right away with that. So you get access to exclusive content, exclusive videos, trips and stuff like that. But yeah what's really most fascinating is the opportunity to vote on programming for the actual network, so you know I think one of the voting that was up right now, I forget the date, but they were saying should we dedicate a block of programming to Cagney or to E G Robinson and man that's a tough choice. It's a tough choice, but how cool to be able to have a say in something like that for you know what actually going to be aired. So I think that's kind of exciting you know. You feel a little bit part of the family that way and that's always been kind of a fan club thing right there that your part of something whether it's Musketeer or little over fan club or whatever and so they promise that this is going to be the best fan club ever.
Beth: Alright any final thoughts on the festival or on the experience of cinemas as a religious experience?
Miguel: Final thought on cinema as a religious experience, while the festival by the way I would say that every year, it's an amazing experience. You know as a festival director myself, it's inspiring to see a festival of this magnitude with this number of venues, this number of films, this number of special guests and presenters, and this number of days. To see it happen in a relatively organized and chaos free manner you know. It has its moments of chaos for sure, but my god what a complicated event this is and they really do a great job and most of it is spent admiring this art of cinema that means so much to all of us. As far as cinema as a religious experience, as someone who doesn't really have a religion, I would say that this is as close as I get to having one.
But it's interesting because it's a religion where you have a lot of people in one place particularly at an event like the TCM classic film festival and not everybody agrees on everything and that's encouraged. You know there are films that play as the same time as other films and you could see network and I could see Bulldog Drummond strikes again and people can make their own choices and so it's a little bit better than religion in that way. I am a little bit loopy from the experience of the weekend, but all I can say is I have got a bit of post festival depression already and I just can’t wait for next year.
Beth: All right well I will let you back to the task of driving us all safely home.
Miguel: So far we are alive. Thank you so much for allowing me to talk.
Beth: And keeping you awake.
Beth: Oh yes. Our pilgrimage has come to an end. But the transformative film experiences will stay with us forever. Thanks for spending time with me in my cinema church. I leave you with more of the music and the choir from voices of light.
So till our next film fix, I'm Beth Accomando, your resident cinema junkie. And right now, I'm feeling very blessed to have just attended the TCM film festival.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place