The event of the year for classic-film lovers is upon us: The TCM Classic Film Festival, from the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, happens Thursday through Sunday in Los Angeles. The festival takes over three Hollywood movie palaces — the Egyptian, the El Capitan, and the Chinese — plus the Chinese’s adjacent multiplex to screen a selection of films with something for everyone, including LGBT cinephiles. Many of the screenings feature onstage talks by stars, directors, or film experts. And there are related panel discussions, exhibits, parties, and more at the Roosevelt Hotel and other nearby venues.
With several movies showing at the same time, there are always choices to make, but we’ve come up with recommendations for LGBT audiences for each day of the fest. For those haven’t bought a festival pass, tickets to individual screenings will be sold at theater box offices after passholders are seated. If you’re not in L.A., well, watch for the next time these are on TCM, or catch them via DVD or Netflix. For the full schedule and more info, click here.
Thursday, April 10
Charles Busch, actor-director-writer and drag legend, will be on hand to discuss Baby Jane, which is both a camp classic and a high-quality film, much better than the spate of horror films with aging screen goddesses that came in its wake. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford star as sisters, both faded actresses, living in a run-down mansion; Davis’s Jane is going mad and tormenting her paraplegic sister, Blanche. I’m willing to bet the audience will shout the film’s most famous line, Rocky Horror–style, along with Davis: “But ya are, Blanche!”
Joan Crawford again, in one of the most unconventional Westerns ever, featuring a feud and plenty of sexual tension between saloon owner Crawford and rancher Mercedes McCambridge, who does the near-impossible by stealing the film from her formidable costar. Directed by Nicholas Ray, who would go on to helm Rebel Without a Cause and along the way have love affairs with both men and women, the film transcends its meager budget and, as the festival website says, “manages to combine Freudian psychology, feminism and an attack on McCarthyism in just under two hours.” Film archivist Michael Schlesinger will speak at the screening.
Friday, April 11
Most everyone who’s ever felt like an outsider can relate to the eccentric women at the center of this documentary, Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, the aunt and cousin, respectively, of Jacqueline Kennedy, shown living on their decaying Long Island estate. Albert Maysles, who directed along with his late brother, David, will be at the screening, as will archivist Michael Pogorzelski.
It has gay jokes, fart jokes, ethnic jokes (most of which serve to make fun of bigotry), and send-ups of every convention of Western movies — what’s not to love? Seriously, only the most humor-impaired can avoid laughing at Mel Brooks’s Western parody, possibly the funniest film ever made. Brooks will be there to talk, and his movie will have you doing the French Mistake as you leave the theater, which, by the way, was one of the filming locations.
Saturday, April 12
In the 1950s audiences flocked to see Rock Hudson playing hetero heartthrobs, and now we watch him with a different point of view, knowing the closet was the price of stardom. This lush Douglas Sirk melodrama has Dorothy Malone as a trollopy oil heiress lusting after Hudson (and fondling phallic oil derricks) while he pines for Lauren Bacall, the wife of his best friend, Malone’s alcoholic and possibly gay brother, Robert Stack. Malone won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and Stack was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The film has been cited as an influence by gay directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pedro Almodóvar. Gregg Kilday, film editor for The Hollywood Reporter and a former Advocate contributor, will be on hand for discussion.
The mother of all catfight movies, with an all-female cast — Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, and more — battling over the men in their lives. From a feminist viewpoint, some of the dialogue is cringe-inducing, but it can also make you think about women’s limited options at the time (although some other movies of the classic era gave us some pretty darn liberated ladies, like Russell in His Girl Friday). There are plenty of zingers to relax and enjoy, however, and for generations of gay men, who didn’t see themselves represented on-screen until decades later, The Women was an iconic touchstone. “If you heard a man quoting the film, you knew you were among friends,” says my colleague Christopher Harrity. It’s all directed masterfully by a gay man, the great George Cukor. A fine actress of the current generation, Anna Kendrick, will speak at the screening.
Sunday, April 13
OK, because of censorship, the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play pretty much de-gayed the character of Brick (even though some other movies of the era cleverly got gay references across). Still, it’s Tennessee Williams, and it stars Paul Newman as Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as his frustrated wife, Maggie the Cat; both are at their most gorgeous and deliver stellar portrayals. Able support in this Southern dysfunctional-family drama comes from Burl Ives, Judith Anderson, and Jack Carson, the latter as Brick’s dim brother Goober, father of a brood of “no-neck monsters,” as Maggie calls them. Directed by Richard Brooks.
Bisexual author Carson McCullers’s first published novel was her third to be filmed. “The sensitive tale of a deaf and mute man (Alan Arkin) whose arrival in a small Southern town changes the lives of those he meets was so subtle and multi-layered it took screenwriter Thomas C. Ryan five years to come up with a suitable screenplay,” notes the festival’s website. Ryan’s first choice for the lead was Montgomery Clift, but he died before filming could commence. Arkin stepped in and delivered an acclaimed performance that brought him an Oscar nomination. He finally won the golden guy a few years ago for Little Miss Sunshine, and he’ll be in the house Sunday.
If you have to ask why this movie is on our list, you’re no friend of Dorothy. And at this screening, you can even go over the rainbow with Judy and friends in 3D. But if there are no seats left, or you’re just in the mood for something different, consider our next entry.
Alfred Hitchcock’s silent classic stars gay actor Ivor Novello as, guess what, an innocent man accused of a crime. It’s one of Hitch’s best early films and has been painstakingly restored. In 1932, Novello did an unsuccessful sound remake, sans Hitchcock; it was eventually retitled The Phantom Fiend. The remake is the film Maggie Smith’s Gosford Park character refers to as The Dodger during a conversation with Novello (Jeremy Northam).