Some observations about my first time at the Turner Classic Movie Festival (April 10-13th)

I am a movie nut and the fact that I’ve never gone to the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) Film Festival would probably be a surprise to people who know me.  After all, I write about films and review them and I am completely obsessed about classic Hollywood films.  Well, I am a newbie to this festival … as well as a newbie to Hollywood.  Now considering that many folk fall into this category, perhaps my experience might prove helpful if you’re thinking about attending next April.

In some ways, Hollywood Boulevard looks a lot like Broadway.  It’s not as big and bright but it more than makes up for it in garishness and loudness.  Some will adore the action and the hubbub, but to me it made walking to the festival (from a nearby hotel) like walking a gauntlet.  If you plan on attending, get a room BEFORE the tickets go on sale, as the featured hotels near all the theaters sell out quickly.  I stayed a mile away and had to talk the gauntlet many times–with loud and aggressive street vendors, Scientologists, scammers and the homeless practically everywhere.  Sure, you’ll also see this in New York but here in the film capital, it felt like a super-concentrated version.  Some might love the MANY folks dressed up like Chewbacca, Marilyn Monroe, Yoda and the like exciting—but most of these costumed folks trying to part you from your money looked really shabby and I was constantly zig-zagging to avoid them.  Many looked only vaguely like the characters they were pretending to be.  However, I should say that despite the huge crowds and seediness, it did seem pretty safe and a big difference between Hollywood and New York is that here in California, folks actually obey the WALK and DON’T WALK signs!

I spent a lot of money to go to the festival and none of the passes seemed very cheap.  There were four different levels of tickets and my wife insisted I get the best one—the one that would supposedly get me access to everything — the Spotlight Pass.  In hindsight, I could have spend half as much and done nearly as much by buying the next lower level pass.  The only big advantage for me with the super-expensive ticket was getting into movies first, though in most cases there were nice seats for the lower-level passes.  What this premium pass did NOT do was give the ticket-holder was much personal access to celebrities.  Aside from a Spotlight Pass breakfast each day which allowed me to chat and get a picture with my idol, Leonard Maltin, getting to meet celebrities was not easy—and happened very infrequently with any of the passes.  So, I did not get many autographs or photos with stars of the golden age.  This is true for almost everyone attending the festival—and if you think you are going to have personal contact with many celebrities, you will be disappointed.  You will see these people before each movie—and if you sit close you can get great pictures provided your camera works well without a flash.  You might also see a handprint ceremony at Grauman’s but they are not surprisingly crowded. And, you might get to attend a taped interview of a star or attend a special lecture about any number of topics.
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A featured perk that came with the Spotlight Pass that had very mixed reviews was the Vanity Fair party following the gala presentation of Oklahoma—the featured film which kicked off the festival.  I talked with quite a few people who attended the party and half loved it and half hated it; I was in the latter group and felt it was pretty shabby how they treated passholders.  Those who liked it commented how big the venue was, how it wasn’t nearly as crowded as last year and the free booze.  However, it still was very crowded and you have to feel comfortable in HUGE crowds to enjoy the party.  What really bothered me wasn’t how big the crowds were—that I could understand.  What bothered me is that this Spotlight Pass exclusive made me feel like a second-class person and it also made me mad.  It seems that SOME folks at this party are apparently connected with some corporations or celebrities—and they WON’T let you mingle with many of them!  I am serious when I say that body guards were stationed all over the place preventing you from getting near these elite—cutting the party in half.  Also, most of the tables and couches had reserved signs on them.  I am really surprised that the Vanity Fair and TCM folks didn’t ask us to also bus the tables and clean up afterwards!  If I return to the festival in the future, I’ll say no thanks to the ‘privilege’ of attending this function! Ironically, although I could not approach any famous folks at the party, as soon as my wife and I left and went to dinner, Kim Novak sat down just a few feet from us—and very she kindly gave me her autograph.

What I have said so far probably sounds like I didn’t have a good time, but I did overall.  I really enjoyed seeing the classic films on the big screen, though there were usually five running at the same time.  This means you’ll miss some films you really want to see because you’re seeing another great film at the same time—something that happens at any movie fest.  You can also see five or six films a day if you have the stamina.  A nice plus was that nearly all of the films were introduced by a celebrity—and these interviews were often the best part of the festival.  The folks were almost always very engaging and great to see and I got front row seats to see Maureen O’Hara, Jerry Lewis and many others.  I also loved seeing a Harold Lloyd silent shown with an orchestra—and that was a major highlight for me.

So will I go back next year?  I’m undecided and I think I need to take some time and think this one through a bit.  The snarky side of me is leaning against it just because of that awful party.  I am toying with instead going on the TCM cruise they have each fall, as according to many I met who did that, there are less movies and celebrities—but far greater access to these people.

To view my photos from the festival CLICK HERE

Article by Lead Entertainment Writer and Film Critic, Martin Hafer