The TCM Classic Film Festival is dead. Long live the TCM Classic Film Festival!
The coronavirus pandemic killed the channel’s plans to hold its annual multi-venue Hollywood fan event. Instead, Turner Classic Movies will adapt to the social shutdown with a “Special Home Edition” over the same four-day stretch this week (Thursday-Sunday), broadcasting some of the films intended for the live festival along with a greatest hits of sorts from the festival’s 10-year history.
And while fans won’t have the chance to shake hands with the on-air personalities, behind-the-scenes folks and their fellow fans, they’ll still be able interact in a couple of ways. Hosts will live-tweet some movies using the hashtag #TCMFF, and fans can win TCM swag through Twitter giveaways.
It was a tough but necessary transition.
On-air host Ben Mankiewicz said, “When I recorded the announcement that we were going to cancel the festival … I’m amazed I got through the first one without getting completely choked up. There was a huge pit in my stomach. As soon as I started talking, I said, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to cry.’ I didn’t expect that.
“We’re not doctors, nurses, researchers, scientists — those are the most important people in the world right now — but this matters to people. You hear people who’ll say, ‘I was sick for eight months; TCM got me through,’ moments where people sat for weeks, months with a dying parent and watched TCM together.
“Most of the world doesn’t care. But those who do, care a lot.”
Lead programmer Charlie Tabesh said it would not have been possible to show all the pieces they had planned for the live festival on the channel in four days, so they wanted to make the “Special Home Edition” a unique event. They realized they could give fans who can’t usually make it to Hollywood (where the channel says it routinely records about 33,000 admissions to its dozens of events) a taste of that experience.
The home edition will include highlights from previous years, such as clips with Eva Marie Saint, Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds and the cast and director of "Deliverance." The interviews are conducted by Mankiewicz and the late Robert Osborne. The channel has also prepared 30 new videos it will post on YouTube during the festival.
“The first night is a tribute to our first film festival, showing some of the things that were special that year; the last night being kind of an homage to this year," says Tabesh. “But everything in between, getting a mix of big movies, comfort movies everyone will enjoy, and things that are a little more obscure; that’s a big part of the live festival.”
General Manager Pola Changnon said the home version will include tribute videos they’ve made over the years and reminiscences by the likes of Mankiewicz and guest Peter Bogdanovich.
“The thing that’s newer for us is the ‘TCM Party’ — folks who self-organize on social media to watch [using the hashtag #TCMParty]. They’re watching the movie in real time together, and that feels special," said Changnon, noting the channel was still nailing down its specific plans for interactivity.
A TCM spokesperson said the Twitter giveaways would happen with @TCM posting prompts throughout the festival calling for fans to post a particular GIF. Winners will be randomly selected.
Chagnon said, “We’ll have some surprises planned that, through social, bring some of that host experience of our network to life in a new way. We’re reaching out to certain talent who were supposed to present to maybe have them virtually present. We’re all stuck in our houses, but we want to feel part of the communities we used to feel part of, and social is a big part of that.”
Changnon recalls with fondness how after Tony Curtis helped introduce “Some Like It Hot” at its 2010 screening at the storied Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, he sat down in the audience to watch it in a cinema for the first time in decades (the movie will be shown as part of the "Home Edition"). Tabesh counts this year's entries “Network,” “Auntie Mame” and “Jezebel” among his favorite films but is particularly excited to expose viewers to the festival’s pre-Code selection.
“There are some pre-Code films that are great” because they were made before so many storytelling choices were prohibited by the infamous "Production Code," or "Hays Code" of 1930, he says: " 'Red-Headed Woman' (1932); the full version of ‘Baby Face’ (1933) that we were planning to show this year.”
Mankiewicz has been there for every edition of the festival and has plenty of backstage stories to share with fans. He tells, for instance, of Jon Voight's remarkable kindness and the Oscar-winning actor hanging off the side of a golf cart as the cast and director of "Deliverance" sped through the Hollywood and Highland mall.
But despite having interviewed many greats, when Mankiewicz conducted a Q&A with Stanley Donen before "Two for the Road," he felt intimidated because “Stanley is not warm and fuzzy. He wasn’t mean. But … don’t be cute and silly and wrong with Stanley Donen. You get the feeling he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and that his subcategory of people who are fools is larger than most people’s,” says the TCM host.
“So I’m talking with him onstage and I know I’ve got to be on my game and two minutes in, a cellphone rings.” Mankiewicz repeatedly checked his phone, mortified, but it didn’t seem to be his that was ringing. The crowd laughed uncomfortably. The ringing continued. Donen checked his and — indeed, it was Donen's.
“I never felt joy like that moment. Then, because he’s Stanley Donen, he doesn’t silence it; he answers it. ‘Oh, yeah, hey. I’m at the TCM festival. I’m talkin’ with a whole bunch of people here. Hey, everybody!’ ” The crowd roared and Donen hung up and said, " 'That was my son.' I’m so glad he answered it. I’m so glad it wasn’t mine.”
Mankiewicz said, “I think everybody recognized at TCM when this hit — I don’t want to overstate our importance — that this was a time when we had to step up a bit, to keep providing the service we do. People are home and looking for little moments to ease their anxiety. Those are moments we can provide.“
The TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition runs April 16-19 on TCM.