The first Filmex, and my first film festival

We’ve been cleaning our house lately, and I stumbled upon a fascinating relic of my youth: The program for the first film festival I ever attended. It was the inaugural Los Angeles International Film Exposition, also known as Filmex.

This was in November of 1971. I was a senior at Hollywood High School, only two blocks from the festival’s primary venue, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. More than 50 years after it became the center of commercial American filmmaking, Hollywood finally got its festival.

Looking at the program, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the Board of Trusties, which included George Cukor, Rosalind Russell, and King Vidor. It’s strange to be reminded that these legends were alive – and local – when I was a young cinephile.

As seems appropriate for a film festival in the heart of Hollywood, a lot of classics were screened. These included:

  • The Misfits
  • Penny Serenade
  • Unfaithfully Yours
  • The Docks of New York
  • Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 version of The Ten Commandments (with a 21-piece orchestra)
  • The Long Voyage Home
  • Ace in the Hole
  • Chaplin’s Modern Times
  • D. W. Griffith’s Lady of the Pavements
  • The Kid Brother
  • Baby Doll
  • The River
  • Mystery of the Wax Museum
  • The Three Caballeros
  • Ernst Lubitsch’s The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg.

The River

Out of those 15, The Kid Brother was the only one I’d previously seen. I have yet to see Penny Serenade, Baby Doll, and The Three Caballeros.

And that’s not all. A film noir series included Gun Crazy, White Heat, Pickup on South Street, and four other classics. And then there was the six-feature Alfred Hitchcock marathon.

So what did I catch? Not much, I’m ashamed to say. I skipped a couple of classes to see the first two Hitchcocks – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 version) and The Secret Agent.

But the big excitement for me was the chance to see Modern Times. I grew up hearing about the wonderful Charlie Chaplin, and especially his very leftwing take on the Depression. Chaplin withdrew his films from American screens before I was born, and he made a rare exception to allow this screening. He would re-release all of his films to American audiences the next year. (Hitchcock did the same in allowing Rope and Vertigo for the marathon. They would not be shown again until after his 1980 death.) And yes, I loved the movie.

Modern Times

Of course, the festival also screened new films not yet released. These included The Last Picture Show, The Decameron, and Murmur of the Heart.

By the second Filmex in 1972, I was studying film in college, and we were all expected to attend the festival. But what I remember most from that second Filmex was the deep, authoritative voice that proclaimed before every feature “The Los Angeles International Film Exposition – Filmex! A tradition…since 1971.” That was pretty funny in 1972.

The Last Picture Show

Filmex skipped 1973, but they co-produced (with the then new American Film Institute) a Great American Film Series that fall. I saw many classics for the first time during that series, and others I saw for the first time in 35mm. Filmex came back as a spring festival in 1974. The last one I attended was 1975, where they screened a 50-hour science fiction movie marathon. I moved north that summer.

The Los Angeles International Film Exposition never got to be much of a tradition. The last Filmex ran in 1983.

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