Film buffs, queer and otherwise, are rejoicing — after two years of going virtual due to the pandemic, the TCM Classic Film Festival is back as an in-person event.
The festival, an annual event that began in 2010, takes over several theaters in Los Angeles for four days to screen movies from the silent era to the 21st century, many of them featuring discussions with stars, directors, historians, or other experts, including TCM hosts. There are also panel discussions, parties, and chances to meet other film-lovers from around the world.
The pandemic led to the in-person festival’s cancellation in 2020 and 2021, although TCM compensated with special programming on TV and online during the days the festival would have taken place. An advantage of the TV-and-online format was that made the festival accessible for those who couldn’t get to L.A., but those who’ve attended in person can tell you there’s nothing quite like being in a theater full of people who love these movies as much as you do.
This year’s festival will be held Thursday through Sunday. This year that gala is a screening of the much-loved Steven Spielberg film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX. Spielberg, Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas, and others are scheduled to discuss the film.
But for those who can’t get into E.T., however, there is plenty of other content during the festival, much of it LGBTQ-inclusive, featuring members of the community such as Lily Tomlin (in person!) and the work of John Waters, Stephen Sondheim, Anthony Perkins, Rock Hudson, and more. Since the fest uses multiple theaters, there are usually at least four movies playing in a given time slot, leading to some difficult choices. Still, it’s great to have an embarrassment of riches. Following are the films and related events likely to be of most interest to LGBTQ+ viewers — and if you’re not able to attend the festival, look for these movies the next time TCM shows them, and make plans for next year!
Friday, 3:30 p.m., TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX
Lily Tomlin is a delight in this Carl Reiner-directed comedy as a wealthy invalid whose soul lives on after her death — in the body of a lawyer played by Steve Martin. Tomlin will be on hand to discuss the film with TCM host Alicia Malone. Earlier in the day, Tomlin will be planting her handprints and footprints in cement in the forecourt of the fabled theater. The ceremony is scheduled to run from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will also feature TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. And you don’t need a ticket for it!
Saturday, midnight, Chinese Multiplex House 6
The King of Filth, the Pope of Trash, the Baron of Bad Taste — all these are monikers director John Waters wears with pride. Polyester, his send-up of 1950s melodramas, has his most iconic star, Divine, playing frustrated housewife Francine Fishpaw, who dumps her cheating husband for Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter). It was the first Waters film to elude an X rating and the first to have a mainstream Hollywood star, ’50s matinee idol Hunter, who came out as gay in his 2005 autobiography. The movie is also notable for its use of “Odorama,” scratch-and-sniff cards with odors ranging from flowers to flatulence to be used at appropriate points in the film. Costar Mink Stole, a mainstay of Waters’s films, will be there to talk with actor Mario Cantone.
Saturday, 11:30 a.m., Chinese Multiplex House 6
Both a murder mystery and a satire of Hollywood, The Last of Sheila is particularly noteworthy for its writers — Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins. Producer-director Herbert Ross had been so impressed with the elaborate games the two men devised that he suggested they try writing a screenplay, and this is the only one written by either. The plot has a film producer (James Coburn) inviting a group of friends on a cruise, with the secret intention of finding out which of them killed the producer’s wife. The cast includes James Mason, Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, and Raquel Welch; Benjamin will converse with TCM host Dave Karger after the screening.
Friday, 7 p.m., TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX
Giant is, well, one of Rock Hudson’s biggest films. Based on an Edna Ferber novel, it’s a sprawling saga of Texas from the 1920s through the 1950s, with Hudson as rancher Bick Benedict; Elizabeth Taylor as his independent-minded wife, Leslie; Mercedes McCambridge as his butch sister, Luz; and James Dean as Jett Rink, an impoverished ranch hand who gets rich from an oil strike. Along the way, Giant explores racism and sexism on the range. George Stevens won the Oscar as Best Director for the film, and it got nine other nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor nods for Hudson and Dean, and Best Supporting Actress for McCambridge. The festival showing marks the premiere of a restored version of the film. George Stevens Jr., the director’s son, will be on hand to speak, as will Steven Spielberg and film restoration expert Margaret Bodde. By the way, if you want to catch another Hudson film, the festival will be screening the rom-com Lover Come Back (1961), with him and Doris Day as rival ad execs. It will be shown Thursday at 9:45 p.m. at the Chinese Multiplex House 1.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX
Friends of Dorothy shouldn’t miss a chance to follow Judy Garland down the Yellow Brick Road on the big screen. Prepare to once again recoil from wicked witches and flying monkeys, get chills as Garland sings “Over the Rainbow,” and laugh at the antics of Dorothy’s companions — and Toto too! TCM host Dave Karger will introduce the film. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Garland’s birth, and the festival will be screening another of her films, The Harvey Girls (1946), Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Chinese Multiplex House 1. Garland stars as a waitress bringing civilized dining to the Wild West and sings “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.”
Friday, 11:45 a.m., Chinese Multiplex House 4
Candice Bergen as lesbian Lakey Eastlake. Need we say more? But we will anyway. The screen adaptation of Mary McCarthy’s popular novel about the post-college lives of a group of Vassar friends features several other talented actresses besides Bergen, including Jessica Walter, Shirley Knight, Joanna Pettet, Joan Hackett, and Elizabeth Hartman. It was pretty sensational at the time for its frankness about sex, and it shows how women’s roles were changing even in the 1930s and ’40s. Diane Baker, who didn’t appear in The Group but starred in many notable 1950s and ’60s movies, will introduce the film.
Sunday, 7 p.m., TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX
The film shied away from hinting at any sapphic tendencies among members of the Rockford Peaches, a team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, created during World War II, when many of the best male pro baseballers were in the armed forces. But many LGBTQ+ moviegoers loved it anyway, with its witty yet touching script and a cast led by Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, and a not-yet-out Rosie O’Donnell. Those big stars won’t be on hand for the screening, but there will be an onstage reunion of other cast members, including Lori Petty, Megan Cavanagh, Jon Lovitz, Ann Cusack, Anne Ramsay, and Patti Pelton.
Kirk Douglas stars as the titular escaped slave rebelling against the Roman Empire in this epic directed by Stanley Kubrick. To modern audiences, it’s most notable for the fact that Douglas broke the Hollywood blacklist by hiring screenwriter Dalton Trumbo — and allowing Trumbo to be credited under his own name, not a pseudonym — and for the inclusion of a scene where Laurence Olivier comes on to Tony Curtis. TCM host Jacqueline Stewart will introduce the film, which will be shown in a new 70-millimeter print.
Sunday, 7 p.m., Chinese Multiplex House 1
Janet Gaynor became the first Oscar-winning actress with this film and two others, Sunrise and Street Angel (yes, the Academy did it that way back in the day). Gaynor, who was reputed to have relationships with women such as Broadway diva Mary Martin, stars as a streetwalker who wins the love and protection of a Parisian sewer worker. The silent film will be accompanied by a live orchestra, something the TCM fest has offered with other silents, to much audience satisfaction. Fest attendees can also catch Gaynor in her best-known talkie, the first version of A Star Is Born (1937), as a rising star involved with a falling one, played by Fredric March. A new restoration of the early Technicolor film will be shown Thursday at 9:45 p.m. at the Hollywood Legion Theater.
Many in our community love a strong woman character, especially played by a strong actress, and the fest offers plenty of them, including Bette Davis in The Letter and Three on a Match, Barbara Stanwyck in the pre-Code Baby Face, Joan Crawford in Queen Bee, and going forward to the 1970s with Pam Grier in Coffy. For fans of musicals, the fest has one of the best, Singin’ in the Rain, plus It’s Always Fair Weather and the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers pairing The Gay Divorcee (the gayest things about it are Cole Porter’s song “Night and Day” and the presence of the great — and gay — character actor Edward Everett Horton). And there are many, many other noteworthy films screening, from the comedy of After the Thin Man, Dinner at Eight, and Hail the Conquering Hero to the socially conscious drama of High Noon and To Kill a Mockingbird to the suspense of Key Largo, Force of Evil, and The Third Man. Truly something for everyone. Find the full schedule here.