Monday, April 14, 2008

14 years of Turner Classic Movies

Fate is a strange beast. Today I decided to check out the Wikipedia page for Turner Classic Movies and discovered the anniversary of its creation is ... April 14! Surely this must be a sign from the weird hat-wearing dude on TCM's logo that a tribute to the channel is in order.

According to the aforementioned Wikipedia page, it was in 1994 that TCM was born to supplant TNT as the Turner Empire's flagship purveyor of its immense film catalog. The channel's traits reads just like a cinephile's late-night If I Ran the Zoo ramblings: "It won't have any commercials! No re-colorization! It'll have authentic aspect ratios! Diverse programming! An informative host! And after midnight we'll have nothing but ass, ass, ass!" Okay so some of us have different ramblings, but the channel remains a film fan's dream come true. And really, have you ever stopped to think about just how good we have it with TCM?

Sometimes it hits me, like the realization that it NEVER pops up a graphic to tell you what movie you're watching (probably a goodwill gesture to those who still tape record off it for their home library). Or that TCM's catalog is so vast that its programming never becomes predictable? Contrast that to American Movie Classics (AMC), where in the past two months I've surfed past it to find Robert Redford's by-the-numbers Brubaker no less than FOUR TIMES? It's also nice to see how seriously TCM treats a movie's original aspect ratio, for example The Night of the Hunter was the subject of The Essentials this weekend and was presented in its OAR of 1.66:1, as opposed to the movie's full frame treatment on DVD.

TCM has played a huge role in my life as a film fan. I have always enjoyed classic movies, but it wasn't until I got my first DVR in 2003 that I really started to discover film noir, classic westerns and the best directors and actors. Being able to set recordings and save them for later transformed TCM for me from just another channel to a virtual on-demand service of classic films. I've seen movies on TCM in that time period that I now consider among my favorites, such as Point Blank, Laura, Fort Apache, The 39 Steps, The Wrong Man, Tomb of Ligeia and The Unknown. While my house is temporarily without a DVR, it's actually increased my appreciation for TCM since I now just turn it on to see what's playing and have watched a few movies I probably wouldn't have recorded (I was surprised by The Buccaneer in the channel's Charlton Heston tribute).

It's a tall order to uniquely program 24 hours of movies, but an even greater tribute to TCM's attention to detail are the introductions and trivia by Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz for almost every movie. Both men treat their jobs like they're setting up a movie being shown in a living room, and come off as enthusiastic film scholars, not actors reading cue-cards. New wrinkles to TCM have been TCM Underground, an after hours psychotronic sampler (featuring the channel's premiere of Suburbia this weekend) and ongoing invitations to guest programmers, who join Osborne and explain why they picked the three films for that evening. The latter brings out the best in Osborne, and is continually entertaining because of the diversity of the guests -- tonight was Alex Trebek, and Evander Holyfield was a recent participant.

Such improvements to TCM can only mean the future is bright, but I have one crazy idea that could throw the cinephile community on its ear: TCM HD. Can you imagine turning on your TV and finding The Adventures of Robin Hood in 720p? Or The Haunting? Or Marnie? The way I see it, TCM exists because it acts as a 24-hour commercial for DVDs -- which would explain why other major studios have opened up their catalogs to the channel. This would make sense for HD, because it would show what black and white can look like in high definition, and motivate more people to upgrade to Blu-Ray.

Well, it's another dream. Happy 14th, TCM.


Moviezzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.D. said...

I love TCM as well. There are some days where I spend several hours watching a block of similarly-themed films.

I have fond memories of discovering films like THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT and SUNDAY IN NEW YORK on TCM. It is, hands down, my favorite channel.

Adam Ross said...

Looking at the new TCM listings is almost a morning ritual for me, trying to spot oddities and classics I've meant to see.

My free time is even more abbreviated these days, but I would someday love to watch TCM for several hours at a time, if not a whole day (it would make for a good post).

Damian said...

TCM also provides the invauluable service of occasionally broadcasting films that are not yet available on DVD. I love TCM.

cinemajohn said...

TCM seriously needs to be in HD. If it isn't soon, I will probably cut back on my cable package. It looks much worse than upconverted standard def dvds on my HD TV. TCM has been one of about five channels that have been our reason for having cable.