Vanity Fair ran a delightful piece today about TCM’s fan community that really deserves a read-through. TCM Classic Film Festival: Comic-Con for the Martini Set absolutely hits the nail on the head when it says “Classic film lovers are as devoted as fangirls and fanboys of other genres, but until recently, they had no real place to gather and stoke their avidity outside of local revival houses.”
Full story found below:
Comic-Con for the Martini Set
They dress in vintage formalwear instead of storm trooper costumes. When they squeal, “Robert!,” it means Osborne, not Pattinson. And forget Iron Man 2—the movie they breathlessly anticipate this spring is a new restoration of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent masterpiece, Metropolis.
Classic film lovers are as devoted as fangirls and fanboys of other genres, but until recently, they had no real place to gather and stoke their avidity outside of local revival houses. Now Bogart and Garland fans have their own Comic-Con—the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Hollywood, which the cable channel just announced will become an annual event after selling 17,000 seats in its first weekend.
“I’ve got goosebumps,” said Debra Schweiss, a retail style director who had flown in from Dallas for the festival. Wearing a leopard-print jacket and scarf and vintage Miriam Haskell jewelry, Schweiss sat a few seats from Alec Baldwin waiting for the premiere of the newly restored 1954 Judy Garland classic, A Star is Born. Across Hollywood Boulevard at the Roosevelt Hotel, site of the original Academy Awards, fans gathered around the pool to watch the 1949 Esther Williams vehicle Neptune’s Daughter, with the 88-year-old actress in attendance and a troupe of synchronized swimmers named the Aqualillies performing. Diehards like Jon Olivan, a marketing director from Los Angeles, shuddered at the “Sophie’s Choice aspect,” of choosing between the two beloved leading ladies. But the draw for fans like Olivan was clear—classic films as they were meant to be seen, in a movie theater with an audience. “No matter how big your plasma TV is at home, you miss that shared experience,” he said.
There are film-noir and silent-film exhibitions, but there has never been a true classic film festival in the U.S before. TCM, a cult brand with 80,000 fans on Facebook and strong relationships with talent, film archivists, and historians, was a logical entity to launch one. “There’s a void we can step into and make a convocation of our fans,” said Genevieve McGillicuddy, the managing director of the festival. More than 2,000 people bought the four-day festival passes, coming from 44 different states, Europe, and Canada. The passes weren’t cheap: they ranged from $500 to $2,000, depending on which screenings and events they included, and the most expensive option was the first to sell out. Among the hottest tickets was a breakfast with TCM host Robert Osborne, who has, by the channel’s calculation, been on TV every day for the last 17 years introducing films. Osborne conducted Q&As at many of the screenings, and was mobbed for photos and autographs wherever he went. Fans told him how TCM had gotten them through a divorce, job loss, or illness. “He’s a rock star,” said McGillicuddy. “He’s in their living room every single night.”
Often the festival felt delightfully anachronistic: moviegoers lined up on Hollywood Boulevard for tickets to a western at 9 a.m. on a Sunday (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, with Eli Wallach speaking), men wore dinner jackets, and Cher showed up for the Vanity Fair opening night party at the Kress nightclub looking not a day older than 35. Can you blame people for wanting to turn back time? “Everything is disposable now,” said Bruce Barnes, a top hat-clad technology consultant from Chicago who came with his partner, Ben Ziola, an illustrator, both in vintage-style tuxedos that took a tailor six weeks to make.
Festival-goers talked of something missing in most modern movies. “The lack of a good story, a good script, personalities, humor,” said Paul Harrison, a National Archives historian from Alexandria, Virginia, while nibbling at the buffet at Club TCM, a kind of Rick’s Café Américain set up at the Roosevelt for pass-holders. TCM Weekend host Ben Mankiewicz may have best articulated the differences between old and new movies for this crowd when he introduced a 70mm screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In 1968, the sci-fi epic had frustrated audiences with its open-ended surrealism. “It’s not like when you came out of the latest Jennifer Aniston-Gerard Butler movie and you felt like you had to shower,” Mankiewicz said. “People were so angry and mystified that they went back and saw it again.”
The demographics of the film festival were surprising. There was a considerable contingent who had seen these films on the big screen the first time around and were indulging their nostalgia. But a number of attendees were far too young for that. They included Lauren Semar, 24, a server at Disneyland and would-be comedy writer. Semar, who went to the beauty parlor to get an up-do for the opening night, was turned on to classic film by her grandmother. “Most young people think old movies are boring because they have to think,” Semar said, while grabbing a burger after a screening of 1952’s The Bad and The Beautiful. “It would be nice to meet some other people my age who are into these kinds of movies.” A 15-year-old Humphrey Bogart fan from Lowell, Massachusetts, named Isaac Wright-Litcher went to great lengths to raise the money for his pass and travel: he re-wired a TV, planted a tree, swept garages, and did yardwork. Eating lunch with his mom between screenings of Treasure of the Sierra Madre and North By Northwest, Wright-Litcher says he has been a classic film fan “since way back.” The bug really bit him in 2003, when he was 9. At the festival he saw his idol on the big screen and met Anjelica Huston, daughter of regular Bogey director John Huston. For this classic film fan, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.