Let’s movie

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A still from 'Bullitt.'
Warner Bros.

For more than a decade, cinema’s faithful have flocked to the promised land every spring for the TCM Classic Film Festival: One long weekend on Hollywood Boulevard in the movie palaces of yore under the flickering images of the familiar and forgotten. It’s a festival unlike any other.

But, for the second year in a row, it’ll be virtual.

Last year’s in-person festival was scrapped in the 11th hour by a pandemic that still has most of Hollywood by the reels. In its place, TCM unveiled a special “Stay the Heck at Home Edition,” as prime-time host Ben Mankiewicz put it, featuring popular titles from festivals past and on-air talent Zooming-in with interviews and remembrances galore. It was all very 2020: comforting in the time of uncertainty, but a shadow of its true self. That changes for the better with the 2021 edition, as the TCMFF will be adding a second “venue,” the streaming service HBO Max.

Launched last spring, HBO Max already has a hub dedicated to classic films curated by TCM, which will expand for the festival to incorporate programming themes (The L.A. Rebellion, Immigrants in America, The Streets of New York), lesser-known gems deserving of better recognition (Victim, a 1961 LGBTQ film that shone a harsh light on Britain’s anti-gay laws) and those evergreen essentials like West Side Story, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

West Side Story will also open the festival proper on TCM (May 6) and includes a cast reunion with Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn. A few hours later, the channel will premier a new restoration of 1932’s Doctor X, a two-strip Technicolor horror film about a reporter investigating cannibalistic murders at a medical college. TCM knows how to run the gamut.

It also likes to have fun: Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space (May 7) will be preceded by SF Sketchfest’s table read of the script, adapted by Dana Gould and featuring a bevy of comedians; Tex Avery’s MGM cartoons take over Saturday morning (May 8); while My Favorite Wife and The Producers (both May 7) prove that great comedy is timeless.

Speaking of timeless, both TCM and HBO Max have Steve McQueen in a turtleneck and behind the wheel of a ’68 Mustang GT in Bullitt. When Bullitt played the 2019 TCMFF, co-star Jacqueline Bisset was scheduled to participate in a post-screening discussion but had to cancel at the last minute. Not this year: Bisset’s interview is already in the can and ready for showtime. Sometimes Zoom can work to your benefit.

Then there’s the enchanted romance I Know Where I’m Going! from British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (May 9). Rare is cinema so divine.

Sitting on your couch isn’t the same as watching nitrate prints unspool at the Egyptian Theatre or seeing intoxicating vistas unfold on the TCL Chinese Theatre’s 90-foot screen, but this year’s lineup has plenty of discovery and excitement to fuel your cinematic hunger. As TCM would say: Let’s movie.  

ON THE BILL:The TCM Classic Film Festival, May 6-9 on TCM and HBO Max, filmfestival.tcm.com