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TCM Classic Film Festival 2024

Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994)

Whether or not Quentin Tarantino settles on The Movie Critic as his tenth and final feature, this evening in Los Angeles, Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and Harvey Keitel will gather onstage at the TCL Chinese Theatre to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the movie that made him a household name. The screening of a 35 mm print of Pulp Fiction will open the fifteenth TCM Classic Film Festival, and just mentioning the film’s title immediately brings at least half a dozen quotes to mind. “Zed’s dead, baby.” “They call it a Royale with cheese.” “I’ma get medieval on your ass.” And of course, Ezekiel 25:17.

Revisiting Doug Liman’s Go (1999) at the Reveal last month, Scott Tobias listed nine more Pulp Fiction “knockoffs” released in just the five years since Tarantino’s Palme d’Or winner “electrified Cannes and went on to become a pop culture phenomenon,” including Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1995), Destiny Turns on the Radio (1995), and The Boondock Saints (1999). “While it’s true that Tarantino could not claim ownership over ’90s crime comedy—the Coens, for two, would like a word—and that few attempted to replicate his structural wizardry,” wrote Tobias, “the influx of undeniable, interchangeable wannabes trafficked in glib chatter and stylized violence without a sliver of the wit or dramatic pop.”

In 2014, Michael Green looked back twenty years in Senses of Cinema to the arrival of Tarantino’s second feature and noted that the “shift in consciousness—personal, cultural, cinematic—was seismic. As the story goes, Gen X was the first self-consciously postmodern generation, hyper-aware of its place in history and obsessed with popular culture: the movies, television, music, fads, and ads ever-proliferating in the age of mechanical and, increasingly, digital reproduction. As such, we were primed for a movie like Pulp Fiction. Its narrative and visual and aural pastiche, spitting pop cultural allusions like sparks from a grinding wheel, spoke a language we instinctively understood. Pulp Fiction didn’t define us so much as it revealed us, by dramatizing our sensibilities to the world.”

As TCM itself turns thirty, the ’90s make a pretty strong showing at this year’s festival. On Friday, Jodie Foster will dip her hands and feet in cement in the courtyard of the Chinese Theatre and then introduce a screening of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991). David Fincher will present the world premiere of a new restoration of Se7en (1995), and Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins will be on hand for the thirtieth-anniversary screening of Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption. Running through the weekend, the festival will also screen two more films turning thirty this year, Four Weddings and Funeral—director Mike Newell will be there—and Gillian Armstrong’s Little Women, the one with Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst.

On Saturday, the festival will present its Robert Osborne Award, named for TCM’s late and legendary host, to film historian Jeanine Basinger, the author of books on Anthony Mann and Lana Turner and the prime mover and shaker behind the founding of Wesleyan’s College of Film and the Moving Image and the Wesleyan Cinema Archive. The presentation will be followed by a screening of William A. Wellman’s Westward the Women (1951). “As Wellman presents it, the domestication of the American west was as brutal a struggle as any armed conflict,” wrote Ben Sachs in the Chicago Reader in 2014, adding that “the film’s matter-of-fact depictions of death on the frontier are some of the bleakest I’ve seen in any studio-era western.”

The Searchers (1956) has to be one of the most wrenching westerns ever made, and on June 6, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz will launch Decoding John Ford, the fifth season of TCM’s podcast, The Plot Thickens. As the Hollywood Reporter’s Mike Barnes notes, the seven-episode season “will feature never-before-heard archival interviews with the likes of John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Woody Strode, and Ford himself.” On Sunday, Alexander Payne will introduce the world premiere of a new 70 mm restoration of The Searchers.

Other attending directors include Steven Spielberg, who’ll discuss his director’s cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Nancy Meyers, who will introduce another world premiere of a new restoration—Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). Billy Dee Williams will look back on his work with Diana Ross in Sidney J. Furie’s Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and with James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor in John Badham’s The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976).

The overarching theme of this year’s TCM CFF is Most Wanted: Crime and Justice in Film, and there’ll be plenty in such programs as DIY Detectives, featuring Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954); Don’t Go Rogue Cop, with Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953); Stars Behind Bars, including James Cagney in Raoul Walsh’s White Heat (1949); The Perfect Plan?, such as the one played for laughs in Charles Crichton’s The Lavender Hill Mob (1951); and True Crime, a set of three classics: Phil Karlson’s The Phenix City Story (1955), Richard Brooks’s In Cold Blood (1967), and Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975).

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