Happy 15th Anniversary, TCM

clash-by-night1

Turner Classic Movies started piping into my Buffalo family’s cable box circa 1999, just as I was schlepping downstate to grow a wispy goatee at Binghamton University. This was vexing. I was already committed to studying the movies, eyeing the school’s vague “cinema” major like it was a slab of rare steak. And now that I was leaving home, this vast library of celluloid was going to broadcast 200 miles away from my rapidly watering eyes (TCM was persona non grata on campus). And so a plan was hatched. Every month, after exhaustively parsing the schedule and cross-checking titles at IMDB, I would send my father a lengthy list of films to record through my newly minted dial-up AOL account (screename: EdAsner). I tried to instill a military vigilance regarding this burgeoning bootleg operation, and he endured my tyrannical reminders with annoyed resignation. My “Make sure you get that Bollywood triple feature tonight!” would be followed by his drawn out, perfectly enunciated sigh of defeat.

Armed with one dollar tapes from the orange-besotted Aldi’s chain, he manfully battled our VCR to a draw. A few endings were clipped, but most made it through the Sony’s maw intact.  Soon enough there was an imposing, wobbly 1952lustymen03tower of cheap cardboard and cheaper tape cluttering my Dad’s living room. They were shipped out in increments, or picked up at holiday visits. His labeling was sparse and incomplete, and most of my Christmases involved archiving the new stack of cinema accrued during the semester, toggling back and forth to see which title Mr. Robert Osborne would announce next.

My Dad endured, and snuck a few peeks at my obsessions, becoming especially enamored of Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night (1952, image at top, from DVD Beaver). He couldn’t remember the name when I talked to him last night, just images of Barbara Stanwyck, a fishing village, and its stark rendering of failed trust and nascent forgiveness. “They worked it out”, he said. “After all that.”

And so began my personal, idiosyncratic repertory house, airing nightly in a tripled dorm (three living in a space for two), which naturally provided its own version of Smell-O-Vision. Some sample offerings: Zombies on Broadway (1945) followed by Anthony Mann’s Border Incident (1949), Kiss Me Kate (1953) paired with The Story of rancho_notoriousG.I. Joe (1945), or, my favorite, a triple bill of The Lusty Men (1952), Rancho Notorious (1952 – what a year!) and The Big Knife (1955). That latter tape alone introduced me to the carnal cinemas of Nicholas Ray and Robert Aldrich, and made me re-evaluate the received wisdom about Fritz Lang’s Hollywood work.  The cramped, grimy noirs of Anthony Mann and John Alton, though, seemed especially appropriate to my living quarters, and TCM always delivered (one tape contained the chiaroscuro masterpieces T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948)).

So happy 15th birthday, TCM (and a happy ten years of viewing for me). It was always a thrill to see Robert Osborne’s avuncular bearing shimmer through my shoddy 13′ TV screen, because it meant a further dip into the seemingly inexhaustible archives of the classical Hollywood cinema. Not to mention Osborne’s always useful historical notes before each screening. But what’s most important is how the channel, through its devotion to showing films uncut, and in the correct aspect ratios, is preserving film history. While learning the rudimentary tools on a Bolex 16mm at Binghamton, TCM was offering me a crash course in the history of screen editing, from the brisk shot-countershots of Preston Sturges comedies to the longer takes necessitated by the CinemaScope process, seen in later Manns like the underrated The Last Frontier (1956) and Man of the West (1958). My education at school was valuable, but if I were to quantify how much I’ve absorbed about film history and style, how much can be imparted through a flick of a cigarette, a tip of the hat, I’d say the cable channel comes out on top (sorry Mom and Dad).

I come from a generation where this was the only place to discover the glories of the studio system. DVD has been spotty at best at releasing pre-1960 films, and TCM has been extarodinarily willing to air “uncommercial” product. How else was I going to see Frank Borzage’s romantic masterpiece Man’s Castle (1933) without paying exorbitant amounts for an import? Its broadcast was one of 2008′s major highlights. So many “movie lovers” haven’t seen anything before 1970, and I shudder to think where my own taste and knowledge would’ve wandered to without the channel’s existence. So here’s to another 15 years. Don’t ever change.

0 Response Happy 15th Anniversary, TCM
Posted By Suzi Doll : April 14, 2009 5:02 pm

Your post reminds me of me. Before TCM was part of the cable package I subscribe to, I would print out the TCM schedule for the month and send it to my Mom in another state. My Mom did have TCM as part of her satellite package. I checked off movies on the printout that I thought she would like and those I wanted her to tape for me. I will bet your Dad secretly liked feeling as though he was doing something special for his kid. I know my Mom did.

Posted By Suzi Doll : April 14, 2009 5:02 pm

Your post reminds me of me. Before TCM was part of the cable package I subscribe to, I would print out the TCM schedule for the month and send it to my Mom in another state. My Mom did have TCM as part of her satellite package. I checked off movies on the printout that I thought she would like and those I wanted her to tape for me. I will bet your Dad secretly liked feeling as though he was doing something special for his kid. I know my Mom did.

Posted By Laura : April 14, 2009 6:11 pm

There are a lot of us out there. :) I ship movies to my daughter at college and also to my dad back East…it gives me a lot of pleasure taping and sharing great movies.

Thanks for a lovely tribute!
Laura

Posted By Laura : April 14, 2009 6:11 pm

There are a lot of us out there. :) I ship movies to my daughter at college and also to my dad back East…it gives me a lot of pleasure taping and sharing great movies.

Thanks for a lovely tribute!
Laura

Posted By Happy 15th Anniversary TCM! | What Price Hollywood? : April 15, 2009 12:13 pm

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Posted By Happy 15th Anniversary TCM! | What Price Hollywood? : April 15, 2009 12:13 pm

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Posted By Em : April 15, 2009 4:55 pm

TCM is an amazing channel:-) I started watching it only about a year ago, but I’ve decided that studying film is what I want to do in college. I should start recording movies…I miss so many that I want to see.

Posted By Em : April 15, 2009 4:55 pm

TCM is an amazing channel:-) I started watching it only about a year ago, but I’ve decided that studying film is what I want to do in college. I should start recording movies…I miss so many that I want to see.

Posted By Chuck McKibben : April 15, 2009 11:29 pm

TCM doesn’t just show a glorious, eclectic collection of pictures; it “frames” them with impeccable style and good taste. First, of course, there’s Robert Osborne…the essence of class, the Cary Grant of program hosts. His polished commentaries greatly embellish the enjoyment of every film, and he’s also a peerlessly smooth interviewer.

Then there’s the rich, cinematic feeling of all the production elements. They come as close as possible to recreating, on TV, the elegant ambience of the grand “atmosperic” theaters of the past. Your pleasant reverie is never disrupted by blaring promos running on top of squashed ending credits, or by annoying animations popping up over a scene to hawk another show. TCM displays a refreshing reverence for its program content and respect for the viewer, not found on any other network. However this treasure-trove of films is funded (through sales of the viewing guide and DVDs?), it deserves to survive and thrive forever. Let us give praise to Thomas Edison, for his conception of moving pictures; Philo Farnsworth, for his development of television; and Ted Turner, for creating TCM.

Only one thing would make TCM a better experience for me, personally, and that’s if I could be on it. Mr. Turner, I’m a voiceover actor of some considerable experience. May I please voice a few little pieces for your wonderful network? Not for the money, you understand, but just for the sheer joy of being a part of the finest programming on television. Thanks for the endless hours of unspoiled viewing enjoyment.

Chuck McKibben, Philadelphia

Posted By Chuck McKibben : April 15, 2009 11:29 pm

TCM doesn’t just show a glorious, eclectic collection of pictures; it “frames” them with impeccable style and good taste. First, of course, there’s Robert Osborne…the essence of class, the Cary Grant of program hosts. His polished commentaries greatly embellish the enjoyment of every film, and he’s also a peerlessly smooth interviewer.

Then there’s the rich, cinematic feeling of all the production elements. They come as close as possible to recreating, on TV, the elegant ambience of the grand “atmosperic” theaters of the past. Your pleasant reverie is never disrupted by blaring promos running on top of squashed ending credits, or by annoying animations popping up over a scene to hawk another show. TCM displays a refreshing reverence for its program content and respect for the viewer, not found on any other network. However this treasure-trove of films is funded (through sales of the viewing guide and DVDs?), it deserves to survive and thrive forever. Let us give praise to Thomas Edison, for his conception of moving pictures; Philo Farnsworth, for his development of television; and Ted Turner, for creating TCM.

Only one thing would make TCM a better experience for me, personally, and that’s if I could be on it. Mr. Turner, I’m a voiceover actor of some considerable experience. May I please voice a few little pieces for your wonderful network? Not for the money, you understand, but just for the sheer joy of being a part of the finest programming on television. Thanks for the endless hours of unspoiled viewing enjoyment.

Chuck McKibben, Philadelphia

Posted By Michael J. Anderson : April 18, 2009 11:38 am

R.,

A very nice piece. TCM has been truly formative for many young film scholars like myself, and remains, for better or worse (and this is no reflection on the finest of all cable networks… yes its better than G4) the absolute epicenter of American film culture and connoisseurship. It helps in this respect that TCM continues to maintain such a extraordinary level of quality.

Personally, I will be in debt to the network for the opportunity to see Lubitsch’s supreme masterpiece “Trouble in Paradise” for the first time, a number of more clandestine classics from Hawks’s “The Dawn Patrol,” d’Arrast’s “Topaze” and “Cluny Brown,” to “Stars in My Crown,” and Sweeney favorites “The Lusty Men” and “Rancho Notorious.” (“Man’s Castle” was a fabulous pick up as well.)

Most of all for me, however, there were those truly life-changing four weekend triple-feature of Bollywood films, which in retrospect were remarkably well curated. I of course watched – and taped – them all. If you’re listening TCM, thank you, and how about a second round?

Posted By Michael J. Anderson : April 18, 2009 11:38 am

R.,

A very nice piece. TCM has been truly formative for many young film scholars like myself, and remains, for better or worse (and this is no reflection on the finest of all cable networks… yes its better than G4) the absolute epicenter of American film culture and connoisseurship. It helps in this respect that TCM continues to maintain such a extraordinary level of quality.

Personally, I will be in debt to the network for the opportunity to see Lubitsch’s supreme masterpiece “Trouble in Paradise” for the first time, a number of more clandestine classics from Hawks’s “The Dawn Patrol,” d’Arrast’s “Topaze” and “Cluny Brown,” to “Stars in My Crown,” and Sweeney favorites “The Lusty Men” and “Rancho Notorious.” (“Man’s Castle” was a fabulous pick up as well.)

Most of all for me, however, there were those truly life-changing four weekend triple-feature of Bollywood films, which in retrospect were remarkably well curated. I of course watched – and taped – them all. If you’re listening TCM, thank you, and how about a second round?

Posted By jbl : April 19, 2009 3:54 am

Though he hasn’t been there the whole 15 years, a tip of the hat also to Ben Mankiewicz, himself part of an influential and creative family, whose commentary livens up weekend daytime showings of classics of all kinds.

Posted By jbl : April 19, 2009 3:54 am

Though he hasn’t been there the whole 15 years, a tip of the hat also to Ben Mankiewicz, himself part of an influential and creative family, whose commentary livens up weekend daytime showings of classics of all kinds.

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