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tcm, tcm classic film festival, alec baldwin, margaret o'brien, elliott gould
Margaret O’Brien at TCM’s Classic Film Festival | Lisa de Vincent Photo

Attention, classic movie fans! The gates are now open to get your passes for Nirvana on Earth – TCM’s Classic Film Festival coming in April 2017. TCM is the country music community of film festivals, and attending it is like a religious experience. Watching movies on the big screen as they’re meant to be seen, the Classic Film Festival is held in Hollywood surrounded by like-minded fanatics, listening to the stars divulge secrets and interact with the TCM brass, a selfless and devoted group of individuals who are truly concerned about their extended family. It doesn’t get much better.

TCM is not just a TV channel. It’s an immersive experience that includes not only the Classic Film Festival, but also the Wine Club, which pairs film with wine selections; a monthly film selection screened nationwide in select theaters; the “TCM Backlot,” which is the ultimate fan club experience with too many benefits to name; and the Criterion Collection, now offering instant access to some of the world’s greatest films through FilmStruck.

To whet your appetite, here are some of the highlights from TCM’s 2016 Classic Film Festival:

THURSDAY

Thursday’s opening-night film was “All The President’s Men.” In attendance were Carl Bernstein, “Spotlight” writer/director Tom McCarthy, and screenwriter Josh Singer. It would take an act of Congress to get in.

Instead we opted for “The Freshman,” starring Harold Lloyd, poolside at The Roosevelt Hotel with an enthusiastic performance by USC’s Trojan Marching Band to get us primed for the restored 1925 print introduced by Lloyd’s granddaughter. True to form, during the interview, someone yelled f*ck over and over from somewhere on Hollywood Boulevard. What can I say? It’s a classy part of town.

The silent film was DJ’ed by “Breaking Bad” composer Dave Porter. He did an amazing job matching songs to the action, with standouts including Vampire Weekend, Eric B and Rakim, Joe Jackson, The Beach Boys and I Monster. The final football game sequence was full throttle with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” – perfection.

FRIDAY

In the morning, Francis Ford Coppola was honored with a hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Why did it take until 2016 to have this happen?! Afterwards, the Coppola Q&A was the place to be for aspiring filmmakers and trivia hounds, followed by a screening of “The Conversation,” starring Gene Hackman. Coppola said that during the five years it took to make “Apocalypse Now,” he was a miserably depressed and frightened person. He believes there’s a hormone that makes you hate what you’re working on. That explains a lot.

Next up, “Boyz n the Hood” director John Singleton described growing up in South Central next to a drive-in and watching movies through the fence. He said he became a filmmaker because of Pam Grier’s breasts. Singleton and friends Jimmy Ray and Fat Back would take a bus to Grauman’s to watch movies, and then discuss them on the way home. They decided to make a movie about them. He thinks “Boyz” was the first black movie in a long time to depict black life. In 2002, it was put on the National Registry. John’s parting shot – “Increase the Peace.”

Then Alec Baldwin did a Q&A with Angela Lansbury, which preceded “The Manchurian Candidate.” Director John Frankenheimer gave Angela the book and said, “There’s your next movie.” She decided it would be her last great movie role and went on to do Broadway.

SATURDAY

A delightful addition to the Classic Film Festival are the panels. Carrie Beauchamp, author of “Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood” and “My First Time in Hollywood,” moderated a reading panel entitled “My First Time In Hollywood,” featuring Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter Sue Lloyd, who read a letter Harold wrote his wife when he first got to Hollywood. Lorraine Newman of “Saturday Night Live” fame read an excerpt about the first screenwriter Anita Loos. Nancy Olson, who played Betty in “Sunset Boulevard,” talked about Colleen Moore. Bruce Goldstein read an excerpt from Ben Hecht’s biography (including the time Herman Mankiewicz, “Citizen Kane” writer, called and told him to come to Hollywood because “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around”), and producer David Ladd spoke about his grandfather Alan Ladd.

At the FilmStruck panel, Ben Mankiewicz (who is Herman’s son) announced that TCM has some generational programming in the works focusing on film dynasties, and Ben’s cousin, Max Davis, is making a documentary about Herman and Joe Mankiewicz.

The next panel, hosted by Alec Baldwin, featured a conversation with Elliot Gould. Gould’s first role on Broadway was “I Can Get It For You Wholesale.” Barbra Streisand, his girlfriend at the time, stole the show. He recounted his early film career, noting that it took him three films to find the camera. It was thrilling to sit a few feet away and take it all in. After a woman in the first row crinkled a candy wrapper for about five minutes, Baldwin shot her a look that could melt ice.

Carl Reiner’s interview with the lovely Illeana Douglas prior to “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” was hysterical, off-color stories included! Carl, who is still working at 94, said you have to make fun of the things you love. He wasn’t even the oldest featured guest at the fest; that honor went to the very lively Norman Lloyd, now 102, whose most recent role was in “Trainwreck.”

Last up was a poolside screening of everybody’s favorite version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” – “Forbidden Planet,” in which Robbie the Robot makes a guest appearance.

SUNDAY

Serge Bromberg introduced Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid,” which has been preserved by Lobster Films. Jackie Coogan’s grandson Keith was in attendance.

Next, David Steinberg introduced the Marx Brothers’ “Horsefeathers” and gave a funny take on how the act and ensuing movies came about.

The final film was “Network,” with Faye Dunaway in conversation with Ben Mankiewicz. Both agreed that the time period of 1967 to 1976 was a bellwether of seminal filmmaking. During that time frame, Dunaway did “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Chinatown,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Three Days Of The Condor,” and “Network.” Not too shabby. She noted that for her, there is no such thing as retiring.

Other attendees included Gina Lollobrigida for “Buena Sarah Mrs. Campbell,” Eva Marie Saint for “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!,” Adam West and Lee Meriwether for “Batman: The Movie,” as well as Keith Carradine, Marlee Matlin, Stacy Keach, Rita Moreno and many more.

The closing night party at the Classic Film Festival offered us the chance to chat and take photos with Ben. I was also able to speak with Illeana Douglas and have her sign a copy of her book, “I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies.”

My friends and I impatiently await our next opportunity to spend five days and nights with little sleep, too much popcorn, and standing in long lines to see these wonderful movies on the big screen.

tcm, tcm classic film festival, alec baldwin, margaret o'brien, elliott gould
Lisa de Vincent and Pals at TCM’s Classic Film Festival | TCM Photo

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