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Going Hollywood

At The TCM Film Fest

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Christopher Plummer at TCI Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Calif., March 2015. Image courtesy of TCM Film Festival.
Christopher Plummer at TCI Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Calif., March 2015. Image courtesy of TCM Film Festival.
Shirley MacLaine (left), Ben Mankiewicz (center), and Christopher Plummer (right) at TCM Film Festival in Hollywood, Calif., March 2015. Image courtesy of TCM Film Festival.
Jam-Packed Crowds Of Adoring Fans Have Finished Rampaging Through Los Angeles For The Annual Celebration Of Classic Cinema Put-On By The Biggest And Best Source Of Old Movies In The United States

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By David Fantle and Tom Johnson
Reel to Real Special For Modern Times Magazine

April 6, 2015 — The star-studded, TCM Classic Film Festival just wrapped in Hollywood with a program of films, ceremonies and discussion panels that were more jam-packed than a Biblical crowd scene directed by Cecil B. DeMille.

Film lovers from around the world converged on Hollywood Boulevard for four days — March 26 to 29 — of blissful immersion in (mostly) vintage movies that are a staple of the Turner Classic Movies cable TV channel.

At the opening night party in “Club TCM” (a room converted for the festival just off the main lobby at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel), we talked with some fans who treat the annual film festival as a chance to reunite with old friends around a common bond of veneration for vintage flicks and the stars that populate them.

“TCM is our common thread,” a woman named Kim from Paradise Valley, Ariz., told us, who was dressed ‘to the nines’ in a stunning sequined gown. “I’ve been coming for four years. It’s about reminiscing, old movies and being able to dress up similar to what the glamorous stars wore in their heyday. It’s a like little girls and their dollhouses – but we’re big girls in L.A.”

Renee from Springfield, Ohio, said it was her second year attending the festival. “I used to work in product development for Max Factor 30 years ago just up Hollywood Blvd. a few blocks,” she told us. “The building is now a museum.”

Kim volunteered that her favorite movie star is Barbara Stanwyck. “She’s got moxie and stamina. She’s versatile, strong and passionate.”

Renee’s favorite “thing” about TCM is the channel’s primary host, Robert Osborne. “He just teaches you,” she said. “A few years ago, old movies were, well, new to me. But now I feel like I know about them via “The Essentials” chat with Robert and Drew Barrymore and Alec Baldwin.”

Ed Weisberg, a graphic designer for a healthcare communications firm, made the pilgrimage – as he’s done for several years now – from Newtown, Pa. Weisberg loves old movies so much that he shares that bonhomie with others at the festival by giving out handfuls of wearable movie buttons that he designs and produces at his own expense.

Buttons like “Be in the LIMELIGHT,” with a graphic image of Charlie Chaplin from that late-era film. Or, “TCM Puts a Smile on My Face” illustrated with a photo of famously expressionless silent-era star Buster Keaton who was known as “The Great Stone Face.”

The buttons have become a prized and vied-for collector’s item that, as the festival progressed, we saw hanging from passholder lanyards that draped the necks of attendees.

The next morning we were on hand to watch Academy Award-winning actor Christopher Plummer get his hands and feet enshrined in cement in front of the TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theater whose forecourt is home to the hand- and footprints of generations of movie stars like Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn and even Plummer’s costar in “The Sound of Music,” Julie Andrews.

On hand to pay tribute was fellow Canadian William Shatner and Shirley MacLaine, Plummer’s costar in Elsa and Fred.

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz kicked off the ceremony by saying he waited his whole career for a chance at introducing his two favorite captains (Plummer as “Captain Von Trapp” and Shatner as “Capt. Kirk”).

That said, MacLaine wasted no time inserting the needle: “I so admire you Christopher, I cannot tell you,” she said, “mostly for the fact that you’re still walking upright. I want to thank you for being my compatriot, my working actor friend and my secret talker when we go to dinner. You taught me how to drink one whole bottle of wine in 15 minutes!”

MacLaine went on to say that their mutual discussions – usually about directors – are never very good. “Christopher adores my dogs and whenever we work together and I have my doggies with me, he would always come in, cuddle them, and play with them and be another quasi-parent to them,” she said.

Not to be reduced entirely to a punchline, Plummer, from the sidelines, retorted in a stage whisper for all to hear: “Thank you Shirley, I actually prefer your dogs to you!”

MacLaine said that except for all the “Jacks” she’s worked with, Plummer is her favorite screen partner.

“I’m here not only to honor the fact that you’re putting your hands and feet in cement, but I’m here to see how the hell you get up!”

Plummer told the crowd that his mother once predicted that he would be a very old man before receiving recognition as an actor.

“She was absolutely right, of course,” Plummer said. “But she never mentioned anything about getting stuck in cement, or allowing pedestrians to trample over me to their heart’s content.”

Nevertheless, Plummer confessed that he was immensely touched to be part of the glorious history of motion pictures. He said, motioning to the other hand- and foot-printed squares, “To my newfound brothers and sisters in arms, my talented new neighbors through life after death, those wonderful artists whose grand achievements are forever carved into memory, I promise I won’t spoil the party.”

In a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine, Leon Wieseltier wrote that “some people turn on to psychopharmacology when they are blue. I prefer Turner Classic Movies.” In tribute to TCM, Wieseltier opined that vintage films have an integrity that many current films conspicuously lack.

“The integrity is physical,” he wrote. “It is owed to the certainty that no computer interfered with anything. We like to refer to the illusion of the movies, but the illusion in those movies was less illusory. The people in them did what they were filmed doing.”

Plummer, his hands grainy with wet cement, put it more succinctly: “There can never be a future without a past.”

And that, in the end, is what the TCM Classic Film Festival is all about.

Look for more TCM Classic Film Festival coverage in the coming weeks.

David Fantle & Tom Johnson have been entertainment journalists for more than 30 years and co-authored the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 Years Of Celebrity Profiles From Vaudeville To Movies To TV. Fantle teaches film and television at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Johnson is a former senior editor for Netflix. They can be reached at www.reeltoreal.com
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