TCM celebrates 10 years of film festivals: Our first-person account includes ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ ‘Nashville’

TCM took over the famed Chinese Theater in Hollywood for four days earlier this month for its 10th annual classic film festival. Network honchos hailed the festival as their biggest ever with 129 separate events. The film screenings had movie fans scrambling all over town for viewings, discussions and info sessions, sometimes successfully and sometimes with disappointing results. Below, take a look at my first-hand account covering the 2019 TCM Film Festival for Gold Derby.

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan reunited for the opening night screening of “When Harry Met Sally,” which celebrated the film’s 30th anniversary. Along with director Rob Reiner, the two provided many memories of the film and yes, of course, reminisced about the film’s famous delicatessen scene. Crystal was also honored the next day by having his footprints placed in the forecourt of the famed Hollywood landmark theater.

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Things sadly didn’t go as smoothly with other screenings. The festival seemed plagued with last-minute cancellations. Scheduled appearances by Shirley MacLaine, Lily Tomlin, Gena Rowlands, Norman Lear, Helen Shaver and director Chris Weitz were dropped at the last minute with no explanation. TCM also seems to be unaware that its interviewers have followings of their own and, for some reason, each event’s host was often not publicized. I, for one, missed out on seeing my favorite TCM personality Illeana Douglas interview casting director Juliet Taylor and the offspring of Charlton Heston, Cary Grant and Ruby Dee simply because Douglas was not publicized as being the host.

There were of course some magical moments that TCM always provides. Horror and action fans waited through a particularly chaotic line, but those who survived it were treated to an intriguing discussion from director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell prior to a screening of “Escape from New York.” Russell thanked Carpenter for changing his career from wholesome Disney star to action hero and beyond by taking a risk casting him.

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The highlight of the festival for me was a screening of Robert Altman’s “Nashville” with Dave Karger interviewing stars Ronee Blakely, Keith Carradine and Jeff Goldblum, and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury. It was a personal thrill for me as a “Nashville” fanatic to get to speak to Ms. Tewkesbury after the screening.

SPOILER ALERT! I told her how I was always curious about the film’s violent ending with the assassination of the country star Barbara Jean played by Blakely. I asked Ms. Tewkesbury if the killer had planned the killing in advance or if it was a spur of the moment decision. She answered that it was a spur of the moment choice but something that had been building up in the character for a long time. She wanted to replicate the political assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. that had shocked the world and seemed to keep springing up for unfathomable reasons. As to why he does it, she said she told the actor playing the part to come up with his own reason and then not tell anyone — even her. (She was upset she couldn’t remember the actor’s name, so here’s a shout-out to David Hayward, one of many in the great cast of “Nashville.”)

So, despite the crowds, cancellations and other problems, TCM still did itself proud for this 10th anniversary. Where else can you get a chance to discuss a 45-year-old film with the people who made it?

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