Classic film lovers know the importance of a grand entrance and the folks at Turner Classic Movies are pulling out all the stops for the return of the TCM Classic Film Festival this week in Hollywood.
After two years of virtual editions because of the pandemic, the festival kicks off Thursday with the help of Steven Spielberg, who will be on hand to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” He and stars Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace and Robert MacNaughton will gather at the TCL Chinese Theatre for a discussion with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz before the new IMAX restoration of the 1982 film screens.
It’s the first time Spielberg will be at the festival. He’ll also make an appearance to introduce a 4K restoration of the George Stevens’ film “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean.
“E.T.” isn’t the only 40-year reunion on the slate. Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, Steve Guttenberg and Paul Reiser are reuniting for a discussion and screening of Barry Levinson’s “Diner.” And Aileen Quinn is joining Alicia Malone to talk about playing the lead in John Huston’s “Annie.”
The festival will celebrate talent like 85-year-old Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie, the now 90-year-old star of “Carrie,” “The Hustler,” “Twin Peaks” and “Children of a Lesser God” and Floyd Norman, the 86-year-old animator who has had a hand in everything from “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Jungle Book” to “Toy Story 2.” Cast members of “Cooley High” and “A League of Their Own” will be on hand to discuss their films and Lily Tomlin will also cement her Hollywood legacy with a hand and footprint ceremony outside of the TCL Chinese Theatre.
“It’s a proverbial embarrassment of riches,” said Pola Changnon, TCM’s general manager. “Having people back together again in these venues is just so special.”
Changnon and others behind the festival are “giddy” to finally get to gather again at the historic spots along Hollywood Boulevard, from the Chinese Theatre to the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. Both venues have been been the site of past Academy Awards ceremonies and are just steps away from the Dolby Theatre, the Oscars current home. Red lipstick and fedoras aren’t required, but many attendees like to use the occasion to dress to the nines and pay homage to the fashions of Hollywood’s golden age for spirited film screenings and talks.
In addition to screenings of well-known standards like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Tootsie,” “Spartacus” and “Paper Moon,” the schedule also boasts “obscure jewels” that aren’t widely available.
“Our fans have eclectic tastes,” Changnon said. “Some want to see things they’ve seen before. Some want to see things that they’ve never seen. They want the discoveries.”
One such find is the 1945 romantic comedy “The French Way,” starring Josephine Baker as the owner of a nightclub in WWII France which has never been shown before in Los Angeles. Another is a new digital copy of “The Pajama Game,” which has been tied up with rights issues for years, and also coincides with what would have been Doris Day’s 100th birthday year.
“I get excited that people are going to go and discover things,” said Charlie Tabesh, who is responsible for the programming.
He’s especially looking forward to the showing of Herbert Ross’s “The Last of Sheila,” a cult favorite whodunnit from 1973 written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim and starring James Coburn, Dyan Cannon and Richard Benjamin.
The festival will once again have its home base at the Hollywood Roosevelt, which since opening in 1927 has housed the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Montgomery Clift and played a supporting role in films like “Almost Famous” and “Catch Me If You Can.” At the festival, it will serve as a headquarters, with panel discussions with honorees like Dern and Laurie and poolside screenings of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Soylent Green” and “Blue Hawaii.” It’s also the location of the closing night party on Sunday.
They’ll also have midnight screenings of “Miracle Mile” and “Polyester” and a live-read of “I Married a Monster from Outer Space” with David Koechner and Laraine Newman acting out roles from the 1958 sci-fi pic.
“One of the filters for us is ‘What can we do live that you just wouldn’t appreciate the same way if it was on the network?'” Changnon said. “Something like a live-read and a midnight screening brings a different kind of juice to the moment. You know things can go wrong! And just to hear others laughing around you makes it a special experience.”
And every TCM festival has its special unprogrammed moments too, even seemingly small ones like watching a film legend watch one of their films. Changnon fondly recalls sitting in a theater years ago near Tony Curtis during a screening of “Some Like It Hot” and the joy of seeing him respond to the jokes.
“Some of this talent haven’t seen an audience in a long time,” she said. “Understanding that their work lives on, that new audiences are seeing their work and that it’s still regarded and respected? There aren’t a lot of venues for that opportunity.”