This year marks the fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival, and the 20th anniversary of the Turner Classic Movies television channel. To commemorate, the theme of the 2014 TCMFF is "Family in the Movies: The Ties that Bind." While that's a pretty broad theme (as all festival themes have been), when we expand the definition of family to include (the idea of) community at large, the theme becomes a comment on the festival, and the channel itself--the first "meta" TCM Film Fest.
From the TCMFF website: "TCM is summoning its family of movie lovers from around the globe to
come to Hollywood for a cinematic celebration of the ties that bind us
Never let it be said that TCM isn't brand-savvy. They may be the only TV channel with its own Bat-Signal. For those of us who have been attending TCMFF for a while, the decision to focus on the attendees as much as the films itself (and the intersection between the two), comes as no surprise. The first time you come to TCMFF, you're home. It's a cliche, but the people you meet at TCMFF really are like family.
The great thing about this festival, and what makes it different than most film festivals, is that everyone is here to have fun. Since none of the films are new, there's no sense of competition, no nervousness over their reception. Everyone is a fan, even the "celebrity guests" and panelists. It's no exaggeration to say that TCMFF is closer to a fan convention like Comic-Con than your typical film festival (some people even cosplay!). Unlike Comic-Con, which in recent years has been plagued by overcrowding and is increasingly just another arena for film studios to sell their new summer superhero tentpole, there is comparatively little pressure to "debut" new content (restorations, original scores, cast reunions) at TCMFF. For most attendees, they're here for the movies.
Which brings me to the schedule itself. While some films present a traditional portrait of a family (Cheaper by the Dozen, Father of the Bride), other selections are deliciously dysfunctional (Grey Gardens, The Lion in Winter). Friday provides us with two terrifying science-fiction portraits of perverted childbirth, in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Eraserhead. Siblings take center stage in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Innocents, and East of Eden. Several films blend family and community, notably The Best Years of Our Lives (in which WWII veterans are inextricably linked via their military service), and Gone With the Wind (in which the divisions within a country are expressed in microcosm by Scarlett O'Hara's family). John Ford often created communities, both with his stable of actors and crew members, and in the stories he chose to tell: The Quiet Man (in which the community takes the lead in creating a new family) and Stagecoach (in which traveling strangers take on the roles of members of a small town, another microcosm) are prime examples of Ford's favorite theme. (How Green Was My Valley, is of course, a more traditional example of a Ford family.)
The Club TCM discussions and guest talks also reflect the larger theme of how the classic film community forms a kind of multigenerational family. "Sons of Gods and Monsters" features makeup artist Rick Baker and filmmaker Joe Dante, both of whom got into movie-making because of their love of monster movies. TCMFF is fantastic at highlighting the legacy of classic film, and how we are all living within a continuum of cinematic influence--regardless of whether we're fans, filmmakers, critics, bloggers or historians. More than most, TCM understands its audience is as deeply engaged in classic cinema as many professionals in the industry, and the festival respects that relationship.
I'm especially glad this year features more contemporary actors speaking on behalf of classic movies. I understand this is a somewhat contentious issue among attendees, but in my opinion, the more inclusive and wide-ranging the festival programming is, the more relevant and engaging the festival becomes. When they're introducing cinema classics, Patton Oswalt, Greg Proops, and Dana Gould aren't just comedians, they're fans (maybe funnier and more well-spoken than most, but still, fans). When Bill Hader introduces The Muppet Movie, he's just kid who loves the Muppets (aren't we all?). When Anna Kendrick introduces The Women, she's not an Academy Award nominated actress, she's a Norma Shearer fangirl (again, who isn't?). The idea of cinematic legacy is stronger than ever given the slew of remakes and reboots in contemporary Hollywood; hopefully Gareth Edwards (director of the upcoming Godzilla remake) won't skirt the issue when he introduces the original Japanese Gojira.
I think the universality of this year's theme has lead to the strongest line-up of TCMFF films yet. It's also a major step towards acknowledging that that while a channel/festival specializing in classic films shouldn't necessarily always be looking backwards. Programming contemporary Hollywood guests like Kendrick, Edwards, etc. speak to TCM's understanding that "old" films exist in a universe where time is relative. As long as classic films are screened and seen, they remain contemporary. To paraphrase an old NBC slogan, if you haven't seen it, it's new to you! As we move forward in time (unfortunately, unlike great films, we all have to age!), the "legacy" aspect of the family/community film will become more prominent.
Luckily, TCM has fostered and inspired thousands of thoughtful, engaged and passionate fans to carry on the legacy of classic film, and hopefully, as we move forward, continue to update and redefine what it means to be a part of the classic film community.