Film buffs who complain that there’s not enough great movies shown on the big screen these days have no reason to complain this weekend, as the fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival hits Hollywood with a dazzling array of classic films and discussions with many of their timeless stars. Ranging from the opening night gala screening of “Oklahoma!” featuring a discussion with star Shirley Jones through the delight of seeing “Blazing Saddles!” presented by its director Mel Brooks, plus a handprint ceremony for legendary funnyman Jerry Lewis outside the Chinese Theatre and a 3D IMAX screening of “The Wizard of Oz” to close it all out, the fest once again is the premiere weekend of the year for classic film aficionados.
That impressive schedule was put together under the guidance of Charlie Tabesh, the senior vice president of programming for Turner Classic Movies and head scheduler of the TCM Classic Film Festival. He not only got to select dozens of the most beloved films ever made for the four-day fest running in Hollywood from this Thursday through Sunday, but he also chose an enticing array of forgotten gems and was even able to invite some of the greatest names in film history to appear at the grand affair.
All his hard work will pay off as thousands of movie lovers from Los Angeles and around the world dash in and out of several prime venues — the Egyptian Theatre, the legendary Chinese Theatre, Mann Chinese 6 Theatre and Disney’s El Capitan — to get their fill of films. He took time off from his insanely busy preparations to tell The Tidings about what cinephiles have in store from the network, which presents films in uncut and commercial-free format in up to 85 million homes nationwide.
“There are a lot of things that go into programming the fest, and it’s somewhat dependent on the talent we can get,” says Tabesh. “We do try to have a balance throughout the festival, with well known classics but also some you didn’t have a chance to see before, like ‘The Stranger’s Return’ which is a terrific King Vidor film from the 1930s that hasn’t been seen in decades because of rights issues recently cleared by Warner Bros. I think if you’ve never seen ‘Make Way for Tomorrow,’ it’s an amazing movie about parents aging. And then for film noir buffs, there’s a great Edgar G. Ulmer film called ‘Her Sister’s Secret’ Saturday.”
At this point, Tabesh’s voice could trail off while naming an endless string of notable films but he remains in full command of his busy schedule. Once the organizers and TCM network officials have a broad idea of the themes for the festival, they reach out to the archives of present and former studios to search for restorations they can premiere.
Tabesh also notes that the biggest names appearing this year are certifiable Hollywood legends, kicking off Thursday with a gala screening of “Oklahoma!,” the fest will also feature classics ranging from “The Godfather Part II” and Orson Welles’ “The Lady From Shanghai” to the post-World War II groundbreaking drama “The Best Years of Our Lives.”
“We definitely try to balance it out, with some musicals and westerns included,” explains Tabesh. “This year there are no traditional war movies, although we have post-WWII’s ‘Best Years of Our Lives’ and I’m very conscious of trying to get a good mix. We do get complaints that there’s too much to choose from but that’s a good problem to have.”
There’s no better showbiz institution for running a fest like this than Turner Classic Movies (TCM), a cable channel that has been bringing uncut classics into nearly 85 million homes for the past 20 years. Even if a star or filmmaker is unavailable to speak about a film, the restorations that TCM helps fund make the movies look newly spectacular on the silver screen again.
To help mark the channel’s 20th year, fest schedulers selected a fully restored print of “Gone with the Wind” to run, since the movie is 75 years old this year and was also the first movie ever to play on the network. The station’s primary host, Robert Osborne, will appear at numerous events including a session of “Ask Robert” held at 2 p.m. Friday at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre on Vine Street.
“I think that there’s nothing quite like this really, not this ambitious and big,” says Tabesh. “There are a lot of great festivals but nothing as big for classic film.”
The TCM Classic Film Festival is Thursday, April 10, through Sunday, April 13 at the Egyptian, Chinese, Chinese 6 and El Capitan theaters in Hollywood. Prices vary. For scheduling and prices, visit tcm.com.