"Norma Desmond's here!"
"Norma Desmond!? I thought she was dead!"
There's a famous sequence in Billy Wilder's immortal classic Sunset Blvd (1950) in which Gloria Swanson, playing the fictional character of washed up movie star Norma Desmond, shows up at Paramount Studios to speak to her old director Cecil B. DeMille. We hear the quotes above from fictional gaffers, extras and assorted crew when the forgotten star waltzes onto the backlot. When the film was screened this past weekend at the incredibly elaborate, wonderfully surreal and absolutely exhausting TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles, the audience laughed uproariously at that series of lines.
An audience laughs hardest when they identify with a situation. Last Thursday night, Hollywood legends Margaret O'Brien, Ann Rutherford and Ann Jeffreys sat one table over from me at an opening night party thrown by Vanity Fair's professional party planners. When informed of Ms. Rutherford's presence I was aghast. Ann Rutherford? I thought she was dead!
The TCM Classic Film Festival has been deemed a complete success across the board. Watching Turner Classic Movies is an interesting exercise. Nothing on television is presented so tastefully, with such calculated artistic sense or with such absolute class. But beyond introductions by the universally adored Robert Osborne and the somewhat less adored Ben Mankiewicz, those involved with the channel remain invisible. It is as if this godsend in your cable line-up is beamed in from the moon. Nobody takes credit for the genius of its presentation. To steal a political speech-writing cliché: 'Make no mistake.' TCM is as hip as they come. So I wonder why I assumed those in charge of it would be humorless, elderly curmudgeons and pathetic social degenerates. The TCM Classic Film Festival taught me, to the contrary little Kliph, to the contrary.
The programming, art and even legal departments of TCM are run by the very hep; a collection of engaging non-conformists. I learned that both those in charge of the channel and those obsessed with watching it, do not bend to the whims of others, they know what they like and have no desire to fit in. It was a convention of individualists coming together to discover that they are, perhaps, not quite as alone in the world as day-to-day life makes them feel. The majority of the nearly two thousand delegates that attended the TCM Classic Film Festival came alone; an unparalleled statistic for an event of this scope. However, we bonded, acknowledging that even our closest friends cannot understand why we fawn over Ned Sparks' sneer. We knew that nobody back home could share our enthusiasm for late twenties footage of gyrating dancing girls moving in time to ejaculating marble fountains.1 Eating breakfast at the hotel restaurant, I overheard a man sucking back an omelette while talking about Marlon Brando's relationship with Wally Cox. I love the fact that suddenly there was a place in the universe where I could actually overhear someone mention Wally Cox. We all agreed, it was nice to not feel completely isolated from society... if only for four days.