You can mark down 2015 as the year when I officially (and inevitably) lost my mind. And so early in the year, too.
I have somehow managed to sign myself up for 4 classic film festivals in the next 3 months.
Yes, I’ll spend more time in dark rooms with eccentric, potentially hostile strangers than a character in a film noir. Joking! Actually, classic movie fans are some of the friendliest, most endearing people out there. Just don’t unwrap candy during a screening. Unless you’ve got a death wish.
But, hey, loving movies means never regretting the decision to devote whole paychecks to watching marathons of obscure films without bathroom breaks or proper meals. Isn’t that right, brother and sister cinephiles?
I’ll be covering each of these festivals to varying degrees on this blog and on my social media channels, i.e. perilous holes in time:
- Twitter (where I spend most of my misbegotten time)
- Tumblr (where I keep my GIFs)
- Instagram (where I go to see the world through hipster glasses)
- Facebook (where I go when I have nothing better to do, which is often)
- Google+ (where I could post a complete print of London After Midnight and nobody would notice)
- Vine (I succumbed to peer pressure, okay?)
Without further ado, here’s my beat for the next few weeks… and won’t I be feeling beat at the end of them.
Cinefest 35 – March 19-22 – Syracuse, NY
The festival: This epic geek-out mostly screens ultra-rare silent movies and early talkies—you know, the kind with not a single IMDb review—on 16mm at a hotel convention center.
I’ll be making my first trek to the extravaganza… and also, sadly, my last. The Syracuse Cinephile Society has announced that, after this festival, the 35th, they will stop organizing the annual event. However, Cinefest promises to go out with a bang. They’ve put together a dazzling program of rarities and invited a stellar roster of accompanists, including my friend Jeff Rapsis, to score the silents.
What I’m most looking forward to: The surprises! I hadn’t heard of most movies on the schedule and can locate little to no information on them. As I discovered at Capitolfest, a mind-blowing number of good-to-brilliant movies have slipped through the cracks of movie history. Once seen after years of neglect, these buried treasures sparkle all the more stunningly.
The festival’s offerings in the pre-Code dames department sound particularly alluring. We’ve got Second Floor Mystery (1930) with Loretta Young, Once a Sinner (1931) with Dorothy Mackaill, Men on Call (1931) with Mae Clark, and a Fox musical My Lips Betray (1933), starring Lilian Harvey whom I found so beguiling in My Weakness at Capitolfest.
In addition to a bunch of lesser-known silents, a few high-profile pictures have caught my attention, including the recently rediscovered Colleen Moore vehicle Synthetic Sin (1928) and the supposedly superior silent version of Harold Lloyd’s profitable but clunky first talkie Welcome Danger (1929).
A wide assortment of film and ephemera dealers gather to sell their wares at Cinefest, so I’ll sift through the goodies and pick out a few choice souvenirs.
What you can expect: A nice long write-up (or several) synopsizing and evaluating the obscure movies on the program—no doubt including a passionate plea to get some of them on DVD.
TCM Classic Film Festival – March 26-29 – Hollywood
The festival: It’s basically old Hollywood fantasy camp. I mean, last year I saw Maureen O’Hara, got to ask Margaret O’Brien about Meet Me in St. Louis, and heard Mel Brooks tell an anecdote about Cary Grant—all during the first day!
Turner Classic Movies brings together film industry legends, great cinema, historic venues, and droves of ardent film fans for a 4-day lovefest. If you consider TCM a lifestyle choice, as I do, it doesn’t get better (or more emotional) than this.
What I’m most looking forward to: The TCM team has really outdone itself this year both with the range of programming and the wattage of the special guests. I plan to devote an entire post to the films and discussions I’d like to see but here are my top 5 screenings for now:
- Reign of Terror (1949) – with 100-year-old Norman Lloyd in attendance.
- Gunga Din (1939) – on 35mm, introduced by a witty and knowledgeable duo of Oscar winners, special effects man Craig Barron and sound effects editor Ben Burtt, as part of the “Academy Conversations” series.
- “The Return of the Dream Machine” – 35mm prints of pre-1915 films shown on a hand-cranked projector? A dream indeed!
- Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) – with Carl Davis conducting his own original score for a world premiere restoration.
- Boom! (1968) – in which neurotic, windblown dowager Liz Taylor coerces gigolo-poet Richard Burton to kiss her in exchange for a cigarette. Any movie John Waters calls “the other side of camp” must be worth watching. In fact, this sounds so richly satisfying that I myself might need a cigarette break when it’s over. And I don’t even smoke. I am all in for this midnight screening.
In addition to the movies, I plan on reconnecting with my #TCMParty friends (and meeting some new ones) while sobbing into our Junior Mints over cathartic weepies. If you sit next to me during Queen Christina, it’s gonna get real.
What you can expect: A near-constant stream of updates on social media, hysterical fangirling, and transcriptions of interviews with old Hollywood luminaries. I may be insufferably happy for weeks afterwards.
This year I was also given a special opportunity: I’m helping to promote the festival as a social producer (antisocial producer wasn’t available, alas).
Toronto Silent Film Festival – April 9-14 – Toronto (surprising, right?)
The festival: A classic film festival with leisurely paced screenings (about one per day) and plenty of time to eat? Is this heaven? No, apparently, it’s just how they do things in Canada. And I’m pleased to be making my first trip to this event and to Toronto itself.
Primarily organized for the city’s thriving cinephile population, Toronto Silent Film Festival screens a selection of silents at area cinemas, as well as at the historic Casa Loma which I’ve wanted to visit for ages.
What I’m most looking forward to: Basically everything. It’s like they wrote down the names of all my favorite silent stars and programmed accordingly: Lon Chaney, Harold Lloyd, Erich von Stroheim, Louise Brooks, and Mary Pickford. What more could I possibly ask for?
Well, I guess I could ask to get there a day earlier—I’m devastated that I’ll miss the screening of Diary of a Lost Girl. I do have to work sometimes. However, I refuse to get all glass-half-empty about that.
Erich von Stroheim at his most leering in Blind Husbands, Lon Chaney at his most dastardly in The Penalty, and Harold Lloyd at his most iconic in Safety Last will all assuage the heartache of my lost chance to see Lost Girl.
Best of all, Toronto will celebrate its biggest little home-grown star with a 100-year-old Mary Pickford film, Mistress Nell, and rare newsreel footage of America’s (Canadian-born) Sweetheart.
What you can expect: Maybe a festival write-up, maybe specific reflections on seeing certain movies on a big screen with live accompaniment. We’ll just have to wait and see.
The Nitrate Picture Show – May 1-3 – Rochester, NY
The festival: No, it’s not a film festival in my honor. (I know, I was disappointed, too.) At this intimate gathering, 500 attendees will savor the rare privilege of watching classic movies on lustrous 35mm nitrate prints from the George Eastman House’s collections and other vaults around the world.
Billed as “the world’s first archival festival of film conservation,” the event will even hold workshops on the composition of nitrate stock. It’s enough to make a nerd like me positively combust with joy.
What I’m most looking forward to: Here’s the thing… the titles won’t be made public until the attendees arrive. Only the opening night movie—A Star is Born (1937), introduced by the director’s son, William Wellman, Jr.—has been released.
The Eastman House has also announced that my personal hero Kevin Brownlow, the patron saint of film preservation, will give a talk. I don’t presume to understand the bewildering ways of the modern world, but I suspect that this is sort of the film geek equivalent of, say, a Beyoncé concert in terms of sheer idol worship on my part. I think I might cry.
What you can expect: Gosh, probably a volume of lyric poetry evoking the shimmer of film projected from nitrate. Plus, you know, lots of ecstatic tweets and a blog post or two.
So, if you’re attending any one of these festivals, keep on the look out for a lanky brunette with a wicked jaw… named Nora (Yes, really.) and please say hello!
Just don’t unwrap candy in the screenings—or I’ll go ballistic.