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Grauman's Chinese Theater, Hollywood, host to the TCM Classic Film Festival. Photograph: Jean-Pierre Lescourret/Corbis
Hollywood Boulevard was closed to traffic and the crowds were gathering outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre to spot the stars – Peter O'Toole, Tippi Hedren and Mickey Rooney among them – as they walked the red carpet and filed past hundreds of famous foot and handprints for the premiere of Gene Kelly's 1951 film, An American in Paris. Fans cheer and cameras flash.
At the TCM Classic Film Festival stars from yesteryear rub shoulders with paying guests who made their way past the pair of giant Chinese Ming Heavens dogs guarding the main entrance of the 85-year-old picture palace.
Home to the biggest film premieres in Hollywood since 1927, the theatre interior rises 90 feet to a bronze roof, two coral red columns sitting either side of a 30-foot dragon. The 1,161 plush red seats started to fill as patrons waited for the movie to start, just one of dozens of screenings that would take place over the next four days.
Initiated in 2010 by the US cable channel of the same name, TCM brings together 2,000 film fans from around the world to watch classic movies that are introduced by the people who made them.
The event is hosted by the channel's anchor, 79-year-old film historian Robert Osborne (think Barry Norman meets Michael Parkinson), and passes range from $299 to $1,199, though $20 tickets can be bought on the door for many screenings. They sold out within weeks this year, as the festival's reputation has spread around the globe.
Ticket holders get access to movies, panels, receptions and the exclusive Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, one of LA's most popular venues for young Angelinos, most of whom have probably never heard of Roy Rogers and Trigger.
The Roosevelt hosted many a star in its heyday, including Marilyn Monroe, a resident here for two years, whose ghost is said to haunt a mirror which once hung in her room. But for this traveller the nearby Quality Inn, situated near an International House of Pancakes and an In-N-Out Burger joint, was as glamorous as things got last year.
My first film of the festival was inside Grauman's Multiplex, an ornately decorated group of cinema screens echoing the 1920s style of the main Chinese Theatre, where they screened Edmund Goulding's The Constant Nymph, a 1943 film that hasn't been shown in a cinema for almost 70 years.
Introduced by the ever-dapper Osborne, the screening was accompanied by laughter, gasps and the occasional tear.
Over the next few days I listened to Peter O'Toole discuss his career, spotted Angela Lansbury being ushered into a taxi and managed to miss Hayley Mills introducing her 1961 Disney film, The Parent Trap while I attended a screening of All About Eve.
My Saturday night was spent at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, which opened in 1922 and hosted Hollywood's first movie premiere, Douglas Fairbanks' Robin Hood. To modern eyes the faux Egyptian hieroglyphics, which carry on into the foyer and through to the 616-seat auditorium, may appear more kitsch than classy, but there's an undeniable charm and faded Hollywood chutzpah about the place.
In the queue I met a woman who had travelled more than 500 miles to be here. The TCM channel is a constant in her life, a safe haven from reality TV and 24-hour rolling news … a place where Bette Davis and Victor Mature are bigger than Simon Cowell will ever be.
Clutching my buttered popcorn and soda, the night kicked off with Buster Keaton's silent 1928 classic, The Cameraman (some of which was filmed just a few hundred yards away in Cahuenga); continued with a 40th anniversary showing of Shaft, introduced by star Richard Roundtree; and ended with a midnight screening of Boris Karloff's 1932 version of The Mummy, with a live introduction by Hellboy actor Ron Perlmann.
Between films there was a chance to meet people whose only connection is a shared love of classic cinema, leading to discussions on everything from Clara Bow's real-life exploits and Charles Boyer's career choices to the best place to get a sandwich between screenings (that would be the Musso and Frank Grill at 6667 Hollywood Boulevard).
On the last day we headed home to our DVDs and cable TV, but until then we enjoyed our own movie premieres, followed by drinks at the Roosevelt, just the way they would have done in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
• The 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival (tcm.com/festival, 12-15 April) is sold out. Dates for the 2013 festival tbc