There are over 700 film festivals worldwide, but only a few are devoted entirely to showing old movies — which is odd, considering that these days, it’s just as hard to see most older films in a theater as it is to see any of the new festival darlings. Those that do exist tend towards the obscure and specialized. MoMA’s annual “To Save and Project” series (which is now in progress) alternates between the well-known (say, a new print of Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under The Influence”) and movies whose reputation is so specialized you basically have to attend on faith (say, 1964’s “The Changing Village,” from Ceylon). Arlington, VA’s Slapsticon resurrects silent comedy; Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato digs up new prints of old films for your hardcore type who’s ready for a marathon of long-thought-lost rarities and pre-code Capra. Also, you have to fly to Italy.
Most of the major festivals have sidebars on classic films, but most people who have to travel to Toronto or Telluride don’t have the time for that; since, these days, it’s mostly journalists, industry types and locals who can attend major festivals (the former two only looking for the big new thing), the older film sections go ignored. So it’s nice to hear that Turner Classic Movies is launching the TCM Classic Film Festival, 50 old films over four days next April in Los Angeles, if for no other reason than that the magic word “festival” tends to have an “event”-type connotation to the unglamorous business of people in seats watching movies, possibly enticing a wider crowd into considering screening they wouldn’t ordinarily touch. Scorsese’s Film Foundation preservation organization will provide much of the line-up for the inaugural fest.
At a time when LA’s repertory scene struggles are well-documented, an announcement like this is heartening, even if this ends up appealing only to the elderly and the crankily cinephilic. It’s a losing battle, of course: my entirely intelligent viewing companion noted, after a couple of Roger Corman movies last week, “it’s weird to see these in a theater.” And it is, unfortunately. We could all use more rep screenings.
[Photo: Jean Renoir’s “The River,” a recent Film Foundation restoration, United Artists, 1951]