TCM Classic Film Festival 2011: Robert Osborne interview

As film fans from around the world descend on Hollywood this week to watch well known (and many lesser known) classics on the silver screen as part of the second TCM Classic Film Festival, one man is preparing to once again act as the public face of the event.

Robert Osborne has been the figurehead of TCM since its launch in 1994, hosting films each night and interviewing some of the biggest names in cinema for the Private Screening series.

Meeting in Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel, as a small army puts the finishing touches to the exclusive Club TCM venue, I ask Osborne if the TCM festival has come about thanks to a rise in popularity of classic films amongst the general audience.

“In the last five years I’ve noticed a passion that was never there before and I think that television has something to do with it,” says Osborne.

“We have all these channels now, and when I go home and I always check TCM first to see if there’s something I particularly want to watch and if not I try the others and it’s just terrible. Even family sitcoms like Two and a Half Men are so smutty and basic. Then there are the reality shows.

“I think people gravitate towards TCM because you can find a really nice story, you don’t have to worry about who’s in the room with you, your grandmother, kids or wife and you’re not embarrassed about what’s going to be on the air.”

Osborne pauses before continuing. “The one thing movies don’t do today is necessarily leave you with a positive feeling when you exit the movie theatre. But those sharks who ran the industry back in the 1940s were showmen and wanted you to come back the following week, even if you had The Grapes of Wrath or High Sierra.

“At the end of that Humphrey Bogart is shot and killed and this little dog is licking his hand and Ida Lupino is distraught because Roy is dead. She picks up the dog and she’s walking to the camera and she’s saying “Roy’s free, oh yeah, he doesn’t have to be chased anymore,” and the audience is thinking “Oh yeah, Roy’s free,” and they always knew how to put a positive spin on things.

“Even with the Grapes of Wrath, where there’s a family who have been through just about everything, you go away thinking you can make it if you’ve got family and you stick together. I think the movies we have on the air, the mix of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Bacall and Bogart, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, offers movies that are endearing to people who don’t get that elsewhere.”

Are class and style four letter words to filmmakers today?

“We’re in an era where people love everyone to be common and real,” muses Osborne. “If you’re a taxi driver you don’t want Robert Taylor or Tyrone Power you want Robert De Niro looking just like a cab driver in New York. If you have a beautiful woman like Michelle Pfeiffer you want her to downsize the glamour and not have her look like Grace Kelly.

“I think people still love the reason they used to go to movies, and that’s for something different from their everyday life. There’s nobody like Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis or Gary Cooper today. Even when they were playing real people there was something larger than life and heroic about them and we don’t really have that today.

“I’m sure those people are out there but they’re not able to have careers.”

As Osborne heads off to fulfil more of his duties, the stage is set for what should be a memorable four days. With over 70 films playing out on various screens around town, each of them for one night only, this is one place where style and class haven’t gone out of fashion.

Visit the TCM Classic Film Festival website to find out more about the event and to follow its progress.

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