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Monday, April 17, 2017

TCM Classic Film Festival: Better to Watch the Game at Home (Part One of Three)

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An Unreal TV January 2017 post on the then upcoming Eighth Annual April 6-9, 2017 TCM (Turner Classic Movies) Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles expressed great enthusiasm for the event. The basic theme was that the clock was ticking on the chance to see surviving stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood in person and for such an event to be economically feasible for TCM. Unfortunately, the event did not produce a Hollywood ending.

This three-part Unreal TV analysis of the festival begins with discussing the basic flaws in the scheduling of the screenings and the other events. Part two will look at the highly inequitable festival pass system, and part three will wrap up with observations regarding the event as a whole.

These posts will include apt metaphors beginning with a reference to the must-see "Westworld" parody episode in an early season of "The Simpsons." Siblings Bart and Lisa incessantly bugged their parents to take them to the Itchy and Scratchy Land theme park out a belief that that would be the trip of a lifetime only to end up fleeing that facility in sheer terror.

Attending the festival had been a long-time dream and required postponing a decades-delayed virgin trip to Europe. However, there were no expectations that the festival would top many memorable events in an overall good life. Further, being less happy than anticipated on leaving was a far cry from sheer terror.

The spoiler analogy is that deciding whether to watch a game live or on television requires considering every expense and inconvenience associated with seats along the 50-yard line or behind home plate. The added relevant insult to the injury of paying up to several hundred dollars to sit on small hard surfaces in unpleasant weather is that the "one-percenters" in the luxury boxes live it up literally over your heads.

The armchair quarterbacking conclusion regarding the festival is that is better to stay home and watch the movies on a smaller screen in a less grand venue than the festival provides and to watch the taped interviews (that you likely could not get into anyway) with the Hollywood royalty at the festival than "go to the game."

The good news is that the organizers superbly selected and presented scores of well-known classics and obscure "shoulda been a classic" films from the '20s through the '80s and recruited several household names that included Carl and Rob Reiner, Mel Brooks, Lee Grant, Peter Bogdanovich, Sidney Poitier, etc to give talks and/or host screenings of their films. Screening many of these movies at the Chinese Theater and other exceptional venues was a large part of this experience.

The highly disappointing news is that a combination of materially incomplete pre-festival information, poor planning, and an unfair caste system regarding both the general pass program and a select few corporate fat cats and other "friends" receiving deity status precluded even folks who paid up to $799 (your not-so-humble reviewer and his highly significant other purchased $649 Classic passes) MERELY to attend the screenings and the talks from enjoying conservatively 10 more events in which he or she otherwise could have participated.

The ninth time may be the charm for this event, but 100s (if not 1,000s) of us paying the $799 or $649 tuition for the organizers to obtain this corporate knowledge is too high a price. There no longer is a need to save me the aisle seat.


The information on the festival website in October 2016 listed several films that would be shown and provided what turned out to be materially incomplete information regarding the manner in which people needed to line up during that event for tickets only to regularly run a risk of being denied entry to a screening or a celebrity presentation. The second post in this entry addresses this issue in depth.

Continuing with the analog theme of these posts, the organizers tantalize potential attendees with a menu of roughly 75 tempting ice cream flavors despite the organizers (but not festival first-timers) knowing that there is no way that attendees have a prayer of experiencing more than roughly 12 menu items. It seems that most folks would rather have a choice of 32 flavors and be able to enjoy 25 of them.

The response to this is "but ya can allow people to see more films, Blanche; ya can." The first simple solution is to abandon the festival practice of having pass holders line up for up to 90 minutes to have an excellent chance to attend a screening only to miss a second film or have to dash to another theater to repeat that three-hour or more process at the end of the first screening. Even the TCM network airs films in its televised festivals right in a row.

A prime example would be to have a triple-feature of festival films "Arsenic and Old Lace," "The Palm Beach Story," and the original "Born Yesterday." This would save festival goers roughly three hours in line. As an aside, your not-so-humble reviewer wanted to see all three films listed above (and MANY more) but saw nada in this trio thanks to the oft-mentioned poor planning.

A further enhancement would be to divide sub-categories of pass holders into groups named after old Hollywood directors. Examples would be Hitchcock, Capra, DeMille. etc. Each group would consist of no more people than the seating capacity of the smallest venue. A reasonable assumption that not everyone would attend every event SHOULD ensure that everyone can get a good seat for every screening or event that he or she wants to attend.

The only additional work for the organizers would be to place photos of the directors on the already color-coded tiered festival passes and print an adequate supply of each type of pass to meet the need. A simple example is that yours truly was one of the first purchasers of an orange-tinted Classic pass. Assuming that Hitchcock was the director for early birds (no pun intended), his visage with an orange background would be on my pass.

Using the above example of the triple feature, the festival could air it for Hitchcocks on Friday morning while DeMilles enjoy a triple feature of "Bonnie and Clyde," "The China Syndrome," and "The Graduate." These groups then would see the films that they missed on Friday on Saturday.

The largest logistical issue would be the availability of the celebrity who introduced the film. The solution would be to ensure that each group got to see at least one such luminary live and watch the recording of the one whom they missed.

The organizers could use this system but merge groups as feasible for screenings at the larger venues.

The festival workers dubbed "salmon-shirts" for their pinkish uniform ts already regulate entry to the events; asking them to further identify attendees by a photo on their badges does not require much more.


Similar to the above analogy regarding the sporting event, the chance to see far more films and not have to arrive 90 minutes early out of concern of being denied entry vastly outweighs the marginal burden on the organizers.

Comments or questions regarding these preliminary thoughts on the festival are welcome as email or as tweets to @tvdvdguy.

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