Every spring, lovers of classic film make a pilgrimage to Hollywood for four days of movies and special events at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, which has been held annually since 2010. They come to see their favorite flicks on the big screen, hear commentary from celebrities and scholars, and bond with their tribe. This year's festival has the theme "Powerful Words: The Page Onscreen," so many of the movies are literary adaptations, with sources ranging from the Bible to the Bard to Patricia Highsmith, and several are about writers. Overall, the festival offers something for everyone, with films from the silent era to the 1990s, plus a brand-new documentary, and some are of special interest to LGBT viewers. The fest takes place Thursday through Sunday; most attendees make their plans months in advance, but you can still get information about passes and tickets to individual screenings here, or you can just get excited and start planning for next year. On the following pages, check out some events that promise to be festival highlights.
Martin Scorsese isn’t just one of the most esteemed filmmakers of his time, he’s an advocate for film preservation. That’s why he’s receiving TCM’s inaugural Robert Osborne Award, named for the late, beloved (and gay) TCM host, who died last year. The award will be given annually at the festival “to an individual whose work has helped keep the cultural heritage of classic films alive and thriving for generations to come,” according to the festival website. In addition to crafting films like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Age of Innocence, The Aviator, and The Last Waltz, Scorsese created the Film Foundation, which since its inception in 1990 has restored more than 800 films. In 2007 he took the foundation’s work global by establishing the World Cinema Project. The award will be presented as part of the opening night gala, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the TCL Chinese Theatre. The presenter will be one of Scorsese’s most frequent stars, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Also as part of the opening night gala, the festival will screen The Producers, writer-director Mel Brooks’s first big film, later reincarnated as a musical. The comedy in which two Broadway producers set out to bilk investors by putting on a guaranteed flop – a musical called Springtime for Hitler – has something to offend everyone, but it’s all so hilarious almost no one will care. Starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, and the unforgettable Dick Shawn as L.S.D., the hippie actor who ends up playing Hitler. Brooks, who won a well-deserved Oscar for his screenplay, will make an appearance. 6:30 p.m. Thursday, TCM Chinese Theatre.
James Ivory has been making movies for more than 50 years, many with his late partner in life and film, Ismail Merchant, and he’s still going strong, as evidenced by his Oscar win this year for the Call Me by Your Name screenplay. At the festival, he’ll be on hand for the showing of an earlier gay love story he put on film, Maurice. Ivory directed the film and wrote the screenplay with Kit Wesketh-Harvey, based on E.M. Forster’s posthumously published novel. James Wilby and Rupert Graves star, along with a very young Hugh Grant. 2:45 p.m. Saturday, Chinese Multiplex, House 1. There will also be an hourlong conversation with Ivory, moderated by TCM host Dave Karger, at 4 p.m. Friday at Club TCM in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Alfred Hitchcock excelled at getting verboten material past the censors of his day, and Strangers on a Train is one of the best examples of this. In the story about a plot to swap murders, yes, the most obviously gay character. Bruno, is villainous, but he’s deliciously so. As Bruno, Robert Walker, who usually played lightweight good guys, shows what a gifted actor he really was; tragically, he died the year of the film’s release, only 32 years old. Bisexual actor Farley Granger costars as Guy, the tennis ace who gets caught in Bruno’s net. The great crime novelist Raymond Chandler cowrote the screenplay, based on the first novel by another great crime writer, Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote in other genres, giving us the lovely lesbian romance Carol). The Hollywood Reporter’s film editor, Gregg Kilday (a former Advocate contributor), and filmmaker Alexandre O. Phillipe will chat about the movie. 9 a.m. Friday, Chinese Multiplex, House 1. And if you want more Hitchcock, there’s also Spellbound, with Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, and a Salvador Dali dream sequence, screening at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Egyptian Theatre.
There have been other film versions of Shakespeare’s tale of the revenge-seeking prince of Denmark, but the 1948 film starring and directed by Laurence Olivier is still considered the definitive one. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, and Olivier won Best Actor, making him the first person to direct himself to an acting Oscar. Out actor and activist Alan Cumming, who’s portrayed Hamlet onstage, will introduce the film. 3:45 p.m. Sunday, Chinese Multiplex, House 6.
There’s been some debate about whether Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy had a romance or an enduring platonic friendship (which is nothing to sniff at), but their first cinema pairing shows they certainly set off sparks on-screen. The story of feuding journalists who fall in love and marry but run into trouble because of her careerism (gasp!) is not a feminist favorite like some of their later films (Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike), but it’s still an enjoyable movie, directed by George Stevens. Keith Carradine, whose father, the great actor John Carradine, was a contemporary of Tracy and Hepburn, will introduce the film. Oh, and Keith’s a pretty good actor in his own right, with a career that’s taken him from sexy singer in Nashville to principled president in Madam Secretary. 9 a.m. Sunday, Chinses Multiplex, House 1.
Despite the title, feminists and anyone who likes to laugh will find much to cheer in His Girl Friday, for which director Howard Hawks had the brilliant idea of performing a gender switch on the play The Front Page: making reporter Hildy Johnson, who is about to quit the newspaper game, a woman and the editor’s ex-wife. Of course, editor Walter Burns wants to keep her on his paper and keep her from marrying the guy who he says “looks like that fellow in the movies, Ralph Bellamy,” in one of the movie’s delightful in-jokes. Comedy aces Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant star as Hildy and Walter, supported by, yes, Ralph Bellamy, and the rapid-fire dialogue guarantees way more than a laugh a minute. For that, credit the screenplay by Charles Lederer, based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Film historian Cari Beauchamp will be on hand to discuss the movie. 9 a.m. Saturday, TCL Chinese Theatre. Beauchamp will also moderate a panel of women screenwriters, featuring Callie Khouri, Joan Tewskesbury, and Linda Woolverton, 6 p.m. Friday at Club TCM at the Roosevelt.
This feminist film about an aspiring writer in Australia launched the brilliant careers of several principals, particularly director Gillian Armstrong and stars Judy Davis and Sam Neill. Sybylla, the character played by Davis, was a lesbian in the source material, a 1901 novel by Miles Franklin. “But Gillian didn’t want to reinforce the attitude that all career women were dykes,” Davis told The Advocate in 2001. “So I respected that.” And Armstrong, who will speak at the screening, is no homophobe, as evidenced by Women He’s Undressed, her sympathetic 2016 documentary about gay costume designer Orry-Kelly (Casablanca, Some Like It Hot) and his relationship with Cary Grant. 11:45 a.m. Friday. Chinese Multiplex, House 1. There will also be “A Conversation With Gillian Armstrong” at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Club TCM at the Roosevelt.
Another unfortunate example of straightwashing but still a good film, The Lost Weekend won Oscars for Best Picture, director Billy Wilder, star Ray Milland, and the screenplay by Wilder and Charles Brackett. Milland’s character, alcoholic writer Don Birnam, was a repressed gay man in Charles Jackson’s novel, but because of Hollywood’s self-censoring Production Code of the era, in the film he’s grappling mainly with a bad case of writer’s block. On the plus side, the movie has high-quality work from all concerned, and it features harrowing scenes of Birnam hallucinating and some groundbreaking location shots. Given the Academy’s preference for “serious” material, it’s unsurprising that Wilder won an Oscar for this rather than one of his smashing comedies (Some Like It Hot) or noirs (Double Indemnity), but at least Academy voters later honored him for his great comedy-drama The Apartment. Actress Kate Flannery, who played the drunken Meredith on The Office, will introduce the film. 7 p.m. Saturday, Chinese Multiplex, House 6.
Want more Billy Wilder? We’ve got more Billy Wilder, and it’s one of his masterpieces. Gloria Swanson, as forgotten movie star Norma Desmond, is simultaneously laughable and pathetic (and probably inspired many a drag performance), and William Holden, as the struggling screenwriter who becomes her gigolo, is an unbeatable package of acting ability and sex appeal. Director Cecil B. DeMille and silent stars like Buster Keaton make cameo appearances. Nancy Olson, who plays the screenwriter’s alternative love interest, will be present, along with film-loving musician Michael Feinstein. Get ready for your close-up a 3 p.m. Saturday at the TCL Chinese Theatre. And you can see one more Wilder film, the Agatha Christie-based Witness for the Prosecution, at 11:45 a.m. Friday at the Egyptian Theatre; it stars Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, and Charles Laughton.
There’s more great drama, plus gorgeous Gene Tierney in glorious color, in Leave Her to Heaven, in which she plays a socialite so obsessed with her novelist husband that she’ll commit the most dastardly deeds to keep him all to herself. Tierney received her sole Oscar nomination for the film, which costars Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, and Vincent Price. Archivist Todd Wiener will speak at the screening. 9:30 p.m. Friday, Egyptian Theatre.
We have to cherish the few Hollywood Golden Agers still living, and one of the most beloved is centenarian Marsha Hunt. She was a busy MGM contract player in the 1940s. but she was blacklisted in the 1950s, when, like many outspoken liberals, she was accused of communist leanings. She bounced back and made many stage and TV appearances later in her career. She’ll be at the festival for a screening of the prescient drama None Shall Escape. She plays a woman who testifies against her former fiancé, a Nazi leader, in a story that anticipates the Nuremberg war crimes trials, which took place the following year. None Shall Escape is also notable as the first film to mention the Nazis’ “final solution.” Joining her at the screening will be TCM “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller. 4:45 p.m. Friday, Chinese Multiplex, House 6.
In the age of #MeToo, this film about a young woman dealing with the psychological damage caused by harassment and rape is particularly relevant. The subject was considered daring in 1950, but actress turned director Ida Lupino was dedicated to exploring serious issues on film, especially issues that primarily affect women. Mala Powers stars. Mary Ann Anderson, who has written several books on Lupino, will be at the screening, as will film archivist Anne Morra.11:30 a.m. Saturday, Egyptian Theatre.
The 1970s brought long-overdue representation of African-Americans on-screen, but Sounder, a quiet, touching story of sharecroppers during the Great Depression, was a far cry from the ubiquitous blaxploitation pictures of the era. Martin Ritt directed from a screenplay by Lonne Elder III, based on the Newbery Award-winning novel by William H. Armstrong. The film, screenplay, and stars Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield all received Oscar nominations. Tyson will attend the screening – 2 p.m. Friday at the TCL Chinese Theatre – and earlier in the day, at 10:30 a.m., she’ll put her handprints and footprints in the theater’s fabled forecourt.
A classic film festival isn’t complete without a few big showy musicals, and one of this year’s offerings in that category is Silk Stockings, featuring music by the great (and gay) composer-lyricist Cole Porter. It’s based on the 1939 Greta Garbo comedy Ninotchka, in which a Soviet emissary on a mission to Paris is tempted by the pleasures of capitalism and romance. Cyd Charisse was no Garbo in the acting department, but she was one heck of a dancer, something the film shows off to great advantage. And she’s paired with another master of dance, Fred Astaire. Vanessa Theme Ament, a musical enthusiast and sound technician, will appear at the screening with Hollywood Reporter tech editor Carolyn Giardiina. 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Chinese Multiplex, House 1.
Finally, after seeing all those glamorous stars on the screen, who doesn’t want a glimpse into their real lives? Mary Astor, whose film roles ranged from the sweet mother in Meet Me in St. Louis to the treacherous femme fatale in The Maltese Falcon, had quite the active love life offscreen, detailing it in her diaries. The contents became the subject of much speculation because of a 1936 court case in which she fought for custody of her daughter, Marylyn. Filmmaker Alexa Forman’s documentary features interviews with Marylyn as well as film scholars and critics, including the eminent feminist writer Molly Haskell. It’s a timely film that will add to the discussion of women’s sexual agency. Forman will speak at the screening, set for 8 p.m. Friday at Club TCM at the Roosevelt.
While these are some of our recommendations, they’re just a fraction of what the festival has to offer. There’s The Big Lebowski, with the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, in the house; Bull Durham, with star Tim Robbins in attendance; Animal House, with toga-wearing encouraged; pre-Code goodies like Girls About Town and Finishing School; a salute to the works of director Robert Benton, including Places in the Heart and Kramer vs. Kramer; and much, much more. Again, find it all here.