For movie buffs – deprived of the cinema experience for a year – there’s a tad of good news:
Now we can all catch the Classic Film Festival. It will start with the 1961 “West Side Story” and will sprawl across four days (May 6-9), two networks (Turner Classic Movies and HBO Max) and 95 years.
For a decade, the festival was just for people who could get to Los Angeles. In classic theaters, it showed great movies, interviewing some of the stars and filmmakers. Then came the COVID impact:
– Last year’s festival was canceled; a few features were shown on TCM instead.
– This year, it’s strictly a network event … or a two-network event. One version will be on cable, via TCM; the other streans on the TCM hub of HBO Max. Both start at 8 p.m. ET Thursday (May 6) with “West Side Story”; TCM closes at 6:13 a.m. Monday with “La Chambre.”
That opening film is full of love, death, music and dance. The closing one is 11 minutes of a camera silently panning counter-clockwise in a room; for variety, it sometimes goes clockwise.
In short, not all movies will get the same reaction from viewers. Film festivals are like that.
People who savor the warmth of the 1949 “I Remember Mama” (4:30 p.m. Sunday) might not like the harsh – and sometimes hilarious – nastiness of Tex Avery cartoons (7 a.m. Saturday) or the droll brilliance of a heightened reading of the “Plan Nine From Outer Space” script (8 p.m. Friday).
But there is something for everyone here … and on HBO Max, it all arrives at once.
Starting at 8 p.m. ET Thursday, and continuing for an unspecified time after the festival, HBO Max will share a few TCM films and add almost 30 others, from “Love Story” to “The Color Purple,” from the 1959 Hitchockian energy of “North by Northwest” to the 2007 micro-budgeted “Once.” It will also have nine documentaries about movies.
TCM has a more-standard schedule. It includes (times here are ET; PT is three hours earlier):
– Conversations with some of the stars. “West Side Story” has Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn. Others will be Jacqueline Bisset, the 1968 “Bullitt” (5:45 p.m. Saturday); Barry Levinson, director of the 1982 “Diner” (Saturday night, 12:45 a.m.); Richard Dreyfuss, the 1977 “Goodbye Girl” (9:30 p.m. Sunday); and Debbie Allen, the 1981 “Fame” (11:45 p.m. Sunday).
– Other classic movies, many with strong audience appeal. Friday starts and ends with humor – “The Fortune Cookie” (1966) at 7:30 a.m., “The Producers” (1968) at 1:15 a.m. … Saturday has Marlon Brando’s blistering “On the Waterfront” (1959) at 3:30 p.m. … Sunday includes Jane Fonda’s “The China Syndrome” (1979) at 10:15 a.m. and Sally Field’s “Places in the Heart” (1984) at 2:15 p.m.
– Restored prints. That starts Thursday night, with “Doctor X” (1932) at 1:30 a.m. Others are “The Whistle at Eaton Falls” (1951), 10 a.m. Friday; “They Won’t Believe Me” (1947, restoring 15 minutes), 8 p.m. Saturday; “Princess Tam Tam” (1935), 12:45 p.m. Sunday; and “So This is Paris” (1926, adding a new score), 8 p.m. Sunday.
– Hollywood-related specials. They range from the “Plan 9” fun Friday (with “Plan 9” following at 9:30 p.m.) to a dreary piano special with movie music, Saturday night (or Sunday morning) at 3 a.m.
Saturday will open at 6 a.m. with a special on Tex Avery, the master of MGM animation. His cartoons – clever, inventive, funny, yet sometimes surprisingly mean-spirited – are 7-8 a.m.
It also has two looks at Mike Nichols. At 11:45 a.m., four of his radio comedy sketches with Elaine May are illustrated with animation; at 1 p.m., in a sharp change-of-pace, is his harsh, 1966 gem, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Both include talks with his biographer, Mark Harris.
From past years, there’s a repeat of a Sophia Loren conversation (4 p.m. Friday) and the latest in an annual series, looking at Hollywood home movies (8 p.m. Sunday).
And the festival closes Sunday night (or Monday morning) with avante-garde filmmaker Chantal Akerman. “News From Home” (1977, 4:15 a.m.) has long strolls through New York, while she reads letters, telling the minutia of her mother’s life in Belgium. There’s also an intriguing, 11-minute film about Akerman, plus the 11-minute “La Chambre,” in which she eats an apple; it’s not for everyone.