Gus Kenworthy
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TCM Film Fest: Divas, Closets, and Politics

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Divas from Marlene Dietrich to Faye Dunaway. A glimpse into the celluloid closet. And movies that almost seem like documentaries in this election year.

All that and more will be on offer during the seventh annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, opening Thursday in Los Angeles.

The festival, which takes over several venues in Hollywood, is the highlight of the year for classic film fans, LGBT and straight alike. This year’s lineup includes movies from the 1910s to the 1990s, many featuring an onstage conversation with some of the film’s talent or an insightful historian. There are also several longer interviews scheduled, plus book signings, trivia contests, parties, and other events. Admission to some portions of the festival is limited to those who’ve bought passes, but individual tickets to film screenings will be available, once passholders are accommodated.

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Divas, Divas, Divas

The biggest draw for diva-worshippers will undoubtedly be a two-hour interview with Faye Dunaway (above, right), set for 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Montalbán Theatre. The Oscar-winning actress, described as “difficult” by some colleagues, is sure to be an entertaining subject. She’s reportedly quite touchy about her gay-beloved cult classic Mommie Dearest, so it will be interesting to see what she says if it comes up. The interview, to be conducted by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, is open to festival passholders only, but it will be taped for airing on the channel later. And no, the fest isn’t screening Mommie Dearest, but it is showing Network, the 1976 satire of television that brought Dunaway her Oscar and seems eerily prescient now. She will be on hand for the screening, set for 8 p.m. Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre.

The same afternoon — what choices! — Gina Lollobrigida (above, left) will be interviewed from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Club TCM, a space dedicated to the festival in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The 1950s-’60s bombshell will also be present at a screening of Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the TCL Chinese Theatre. In the 1968 comedy, she plays an Italian woman who became pregnant during World War II and wasn’t sure which of three Allied soldiers was the father. She has brought up her daughter while pretending to be a widow but collecting support checks from all three men. Twenty-some years later, the men return to her village, each hoping to meet his daughter. The film was the uncredited inspiration for the musical Mamma Mia! She also will be at Trapeze, a 1956 film about circus performers, costarring athletic Burt Lancaster, at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Egyptian.

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And Rita Moreno (above, left), beloved as Anita in West Side Story and Googie Gomez in The Ritz, will be signing Rita Moreno: A Memoir in the Roosevelt lobby at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. She will then be in the house for a showing of The King and I at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the TCL Chinese. She had one of her first major roles in the 1956 film, playing the slave Tuptim, who rebels against the king of Siam and stages a ballet adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

One diva who will be on-screen but not, unfortunately, in attendance is the one and only Barbra Streisand (above, right). One of her most popular films, 1973’s The Way We Were, scripted by gay writer Arthur Laurents, will play at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Chinese Multiplex. Bring plenty of Kleenex! And while Babs won’t be there, nor will costar Robert Redford, esteemed feminist film historian Cari Beauchamp will introduce the movie. Beauchamp will introduce several other films too, and she’ll be signing her latest book, My First Time in Hollywood, beginning at 1:45 p.m. Saturday in the Roosevelt lobby. That will be preceded by an all-star reading with Laraine Newman, Nancy Olson Livingston, David Ladd, and more, starting at 12:30 at Club TCM.

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And of course many of the movies at the fest feature stars who couldn’t possibly attend, except perhaps in spirit form, but happily we have their flickering shadows preserved for posterity. Two of the most notable in the diva category: Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis.

Dietrich (above, right) is a woman with a past — “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily” — who meets an old lover on a train in director Josef von Sternberg’s lush Shanghai Express, from 1932. Von Sternberg’s son Nicholas, himself a noted cinematographer, and film historian Jeremy Arnold will speak at the screening, set for 9:15 a.m. Friday at the Chinese Multiplex.

Davis (above, left) has one of her signature roles as doomed socialite Judith Traherne in 1939’s Dark Victory, which brought her one of her 11 Oscar nominations. (She won twice, for Dangerous and Jezebel.) One of the movie’s great pleasures is its portrayal of strong female friendship, between Davis and Geraldine Fitzgerald as her secretary and companion. Keith Carradine, a fine actor from an acting dynasty, will be a special guest at the screening, 6:45 p.m. Thursday at the Chinese Multiplex.

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The Closet on Celluloid

A few of the movies at the fest provide a look at the time when homosexuality could not be spoken of, or a little later, when it could be spoken of only negatively. One, featured prominently in Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet, is Tea and Sympathy (above), from 1956, about a young man (John Kerr) bullied for being “sensitive” and the older woman (Deborah Kerr) who takes it upon herself to prove he’s not gay. Darryl Hickman, who played John Kerr’s roommate, will be in the house for the film, showing at 2 p.m. Friday at the Chinese Multiplex.

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Private Property (above, right), a noirish 1960 entry, also involves a man trying to prove his heterosexuality, with Warren Oates and Corey Anderson as drifters who try to seduce a beautiful woman. It’s on at 5:15 p.m. Friday at the Chinese Multiplex. In a different vein is an earlier noir with supernatural touches, 1947’s Repeat Performance, with Joan Leslie, usually an ingenue, in a more serious role as an actress who kills her unfaithful husband (Louis Hayward) but wants the universe to grant her a do-over. Richard Basehart, in his film debut, has a supporting role as a maybe-gay poet. Catch it Friday at 10 p.m. at the Egyptian.

And 1954’s All That Heaven Allows features not a closeted character but a closeted star — Rock Hudson — in a tale that served as at least partial inspiration for out director Todd Haynes’s Far From Heaven. Hudson (above, left) romances older woman Jane Wyman, despite her family’s disapproval, under the direction of Douglas Sirk. See it at 9:45 a.m. Sunday at the Chinese Multiplex, with indiefilmmaker Allison Anders providing commentary.

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 Ripped From the Headlines

The fest offers several explorations of both media and politics, often intertwined, and some may make you think of this year’s presidential election. The opening night gala screening, All the President’s Men (above, left), from 1976, showcases journalism at its best and politics at its worst as real-life reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) investigate the Watergate break-in. Bernstein himself and the filmmakers behind 2015 Oscar-winner Spotlight, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, will be in attendance. The passholders-only event takes place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the TCL Chinese. Then Friday at 12:15 p.m. at Club TCM, Singer, director James Vanderbilt, and journalists Mary Mapes and Ben Bradlee Jr. will discuss the challenges of portraying newsgathering on film.

For journalism at its worst, there’s the aforementioned Network, plus Ace in the Hole (above, right), writer-director Billy Wilder’s 1951 film about an ambitious reporter (Kirk Douglas) willing to put a man’s life in danger for a sensational story. It screens at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Chinese Multiplex.

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A Face in the Crowd (above, right), from 1957, may put you in mind of certain candidates and cable TV talking heads. If you only know Andy Griffith as Matlock or the Mayberry sheriff, prepare to be blown away by his portrayal of a TV personality with political ambitions; behind his folksy exterior are despotic tendencies and an ego that rivals Donald Trump’s. Patricia Neal, Lee Remick, and Walter Matthau costar, under Elia Kazan’s direction. See it at 11:45 a.m. Saturday at the Egyptian.

And perhaps the greatest political movie ever is The Manchurian Candidate (above, right) — the original, from 1962, with Angela Lansbury as the monstrous mother who manipulates her son (Lawrence Harvey) in the service of promoting the career of her husband, a Joe McCarthy-like senator (James Gregory). Directed by John Frankenheimer, it also stars Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh. Best of all, Lansbury will be at the screening, and she will undoubtedly have many insightful things to say. It’s on at 9:30 p.m. Friday at the TCL Chinese.

Want more? We haven’t even mentioned Intolerance, The Big Sleep, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Brief Encounter, The Kid, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Band Wagon, The Long Goodbye, Boyz in the Hood, Cinema Paradiso, The Song of Bernadette, or many, many others. Go here for the full schedule. And we’ll see you at the movies.

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