I was reading another person’s profile and he/she mentioned the variety of great movies one could see on TV. I don’t TV right now, so I’m not sure what the situation, but when I was growing up there was quite a bit of movies shown on TV. In Hawaii, on weekdays there would be a morning movie at 10 AM. (They would sometimes have theme-based weeks—e.g., Marx Brothers—I’d want to be sick during this week.) There would be an evening movie on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (Ditto afternoon movies on Sat/Sun.) Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I got to see a lot of films older movies (although the movies weren’t as diverse or good as TV on the mainland). In any event, I got a pretty decent exposure of older films while growing up (although most of them were action-oriented). Is that true today? My sense is that even with cable TV, you’re not really going to get that exposure….then again, TCM is pretty great.
Then again, even with the TCM, the problem with TV today is that amount of choices one has—which means that many viewers can choose something other than TCM. Back in my day, you really didn’t have those kinds of options. And these limited options lead to watching programs or movies that you wouldn’t have, if you had another choice. (When I was a kid cartoons ended about around 12 noon on Saturday mornings, and I remember being so bored that I would actually sit and watch bowling on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I could never bring myself to watch golf, though.)
What do others think? Did TV provide a good exposure to quality films? Has the number of cable stations made the situation better or worse?
I mean, I think it’s mostly irrelevant now. Websites like this and even Netflix completely blow TV away in this regard in every single sense.
TCM is still a very good channel, the best for movies, but only rarely do they show something obscure and out of print (I saw Skidoo! because of TCM as well as Rebecca).
But I mean, the internet blows everything on TV away. VOD services, streaming, DVD subscriptions, ebay, torrents. You can’t compete with that.
Also, IFC is so lame now. All they do is show sitcoms and boring stuff like American Psycho. And they have commercials that interrupt the movie. Independent Film indeed.
Back when I first starting seriously paying attention to movies, they used to regularly show foreign films on PBS, there used to be (albeit poorly dubbed) HK martial arts films on one of the local stations every weekend, and they would frequently show Hitchcock and other classic films. Later, there were the cable “superstations” that used to show a little bit of everything, and TCM and AMC showed nothing but classic films without commercial interruption.
Nowadays, cable and satellite give you more options then ever, it’s just that now more than ever they are bad ones.
Right, but that means people can find what they want, which allows them to ignore what they might not think they’ll like. Back when one was limited to three network stations and public TV, one was forced to watch things that one may not have chosen. Maybe this lead to exposure to better films and a greater diversity of films.
TCM stands alone as a cinephile’s haven on TV. Former havens, AMC and IFC now run commercials. The Sundance Channel has the occasional winner, but there’s a lot of repeating and junk there as well.
Network TV in the seventies and early eighties was a great introduction to quality mainstream films from James Bond to the Casablanca. The advent of video rendered this service obsolete.
“that means people can find what they want”
I’m not sure even this is completely true, as Netflix’s streaming offerings for example, have become a lot more focused on TV and a lot less focused on films over the course of the last year or so.
Re: IFC, no only do they show commercials during their films now, but their programming is lousy and sloppy. For example, I DVR’d The Protector only to discover that the version they’re broadcasting is both dubbed into English AND subtitled in English.
“Maybe this lead to exposure to better films and a greater diversity of films.”
Yeah but it just switches to different channels. Blogs and websites like this do that. I’ve learned about directors and films I would have never heard of because of mubi. It’s a very great resource, like Criterion.
The experience is not the same, of course. I know what you mean by “forcing”. Now everyone has more and more choices but really they wind up just experiencing the same things anyway.
Never thought of it this way, Jazz. It makes sense, though, that giving more options would possibly be detrimental. If The Crowd is showing on TCM, well, that’s a silent film, it’s a black and white film, it’s old. So why not just catch Sweet Home Alabama again on Oxygen Network?? (Or, at least this is the inner monologue I’m assuming some go through). Whereas, with more limited choices one might be willing to give The Crowd a chance.
I can say that limited television choices did, in fact, help my film education. My parents didn’t get satellite until I was 25 and out of the house, so I grew up with maybe 7 channels total. I remember catching quite a few great films on PBS and the local “Christian” network (I put the quotes because the morning programming often included a local televangelist, and 95% of the commercials were Christian Faith/Church based). Anyway, I remember watching Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte on PBS one evening because there was “nothing else to watch,” and perhaps my best discovery was the time my dad and I took a chance on a little film called The Exterminating Angel which was playing on the Christian network one night.
Back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, WNEW (Channel 5, NYC) used to show movies at 8 PM on Friday night-“uncut, and with limited commercial interruption.” This was my introduction to a lot of movies, from classic Warner Brothers to The Boys In The Band and Midnight Cowboy. I knew off the top of my head whether a movie was directed by Raoul Walsh, Lloyd Bacon or Michael Curtiz.
WCNY in Syracuse used to show movies late on Friday night. Harold Lloyd was popular when I was in high school in the 1970s, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s it introduced me to movies like Alexander Nevsky, Ballad of a Soldier and Shoot the Piano Player.
TCM is great, but I don’t watch as much as I should. DVDs/blu rays permit easy alternatives, but I’ve been thinking lately that I should be taking advantage of TCM’s opportunities, particularly in light of the decline of AMC.
It should be recognized that what is viewed on television is it’s own art form and experience and is worthy of interest and analysis because of its unique presentation.
Although the traditions of the medium are often viewed as problematic and annoying, it allows for an experience that results in it’s own aesthetic that is completely it’s own. Program blocking, commercials and presentational changes as censorship, time allotted and screen size are often considered annoyances, but yield some interesting results:
Often in the 80s and 90s the presentation of theatrical films that were rated PG or higher often integrated scenes that were deleted from theatrical play as a means of extending the runtime or to replace scenes that were considered inappropriate for television airtime play. This was the way in which to view the “Octopus” scene in The Goonies, or the “Robbery” scene in Escape From New York.
While this was dominant, often there were cases in which scenes were shot specifically for the television version, as was the well known instance of Carpenter’s Halloween and Halloween II. Often in the late 80s and early 90s there were cases of motion pictures shooting several versions of a scene on set with the intent of both theatrical and television-safe scenes (particularly with nudity and language). What this has resulted in today are the curious cases of the Coen brother’s redubbing their words in a fashion that illustrates the ridiculous nature of television “safe” language, where in The Big Lebowski the phrase “You see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass” becomes “You see what happens when you meet a stranger in the alps.” Another noted example is the recent Pinapple Express, where “asshole” is replaced with “casserole.”
Changes in aspect ratios also reveal approaches towards comprehending a narrative in a new compositional context. In the 80s and 90s, pan and scan would sometimes be avoided, where makers would frame for 1.33 (4×3) as well as widescreen aspect ratios of 1.85/2.35. It becomes clear when watching a film by John Landis, for example, that the wider frame of Three Amigos! is a more intimate film in the 1.85 composition where there seems to be more emotional involvement between characters and audience, although in the 1.33 frame the film feels more like there is more distance between the characters and the audience, the film becomes more about actions and landscapes. What’s even more interesting is that the film also seems to evoke the films it visually references from the 20s and 30s more effectively in the television 1.33 version (obviously because those films were shot in similar aspect).
In a more modern context, it’s interesting to see works in 2.35 become more intimate when they are rescanned and played back in a 1.78 (16×9) presentation on HD televisions, they become more intimate and intimidating. While this is the case, older films seem to be more formal in their window box presentation of side-black bars. There is the interesting case of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, where because of the nature of the image’s complete fabrication the makers were able to completely create new compositions for both 2.35 frame and 1.33 television frame -both versions were made specifically for this medium, and create very distinct differences in composition and each version basically tells a different version of the story because of how the composition changes the dynamics of relationships in the frame. Those relationships that are not as close in 2.35 literally become closer, and can be read as such in the context of the 1.33 compositions -really fascinating.
While these are few examples of the medium’s interaction with theatrical texts, one should be aware of the changes made to other options:
closed captioning / descriptive service for hearing impaired (Kubric’s 2001 is an incredible descriptive experience in which the descriptive service basically reads the a version of a screenplay that reveals some facts and intentions that are not experienced in any other way)
alternate language dubbing change an experience to a great degree (in fact there are cases were famous international actors do their best to portray some of their colleagues from the countries of the film’s original languages – fascinating interpretations occur!)
Some really fascinating things to think about, as they tend to re-contextualize the experience, many times rewarding, and sometimes even enhancing it. The case of 2001 is certainly rewarding, it’s an amazing experience that must not be overlooked, and in the case of Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the timing of jokes are actually enhanced by the commercial breaks, where as in a theatrical (or original play) the film suddenly becomes overbearing and indulgent -it seems to be made for television.
Are you really saying that giving viewers control is a bad thing, because you don’t agree with the choices they make?
I’m sorry Jazz, that argument is just plain absurd.
“Control” is a relative thing, though. When I was young, I didn’t have control of what was broadcast, but I could see Hitchcock and Bergman and Truffaut films on public television without having to pay for them. Now I have greater control . . . as long as I can afford cable . . . and Netflix . . . and internet access . . . and $10 for ticket the the local theater.
I’m not sure even this is completely true,…
When I say that “people can find what they want,” I mean this in a broad way. I still can’t see Chelsea Girls, but if I wanted to watch a basketball game, there’s a good chance I could.
If The Crowd is showing on TCM, well, that’s a silent film, it’s a black and white film, it’s old. So why not just catch Sweet Home Alabama again on Oxygen Network?? (Or, at least this is the inner monologue I’m assuming some go through). Whereas, with more limited choices one might be willing to give The Crowd a chance.
Exactly. Your story of seeing Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, reminds of the time I saw Auntie Mame. I slept over my friend’s house and that’s what everyone was watching, so I had no choice. (I must have been about 10, but I ended up liking the film.) Today, the adults would probably find some children’s movie and pop it in the dvd or stream it from device, while the adults go do something else.
Back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, WNEW (Channel 5, NYC) used to show movies at 8 PM on Friday night-“uncut, and with limited commercial interruption.” This was my introduction to a lot of movies, from classic Warner Brothers to The Boys In The Band and Midnight Cowboy
I marvel at these stories I hear about mainland TV stations, because I don’t remember these types of movies being shown in Hawai’i.
No, I’m saying that there are drawbacks to having more options as well as benefits to having less. Do you disagree with that?
The other day a friend called me and read the film listings of a Puerto Rico TV Guide from September 1971 and we laughed because we could still remember watching some of the titles he mentioned!
Back in the 70s the stations here (Four) showed as many as three films a day.That averaged up to about nine films a day. I used to watch at least one of those daily, so between 1970 (age 9) to 1981 (age 20) I must have watched about 3,000 films on TV. Too bad I did not keep a journal.
I dont think people watching films online watch as many films because there is too much other stuff on the web competing for attention. Back then there were only those four channels so I had to watch films that maybe I should not have watched if I had other options.
Plus films on Tv were free, all you needed was a tv set. To warch TCM or Netflix you have to pay as you go.
And not all persons have net access or cable.
Very thorough and thoughtful analysis. I was in the video business in its earliest days, and I had two friends who worked for a local independent station that showed an astonishing array of motion pictures
(especially on weekends).
Talk about multiple versions of a given picture:
ALIEN is a good example: between the two versions
that the station screened at various times and the two VHS versions and one video disc version,
well, we didn’t know which end was up half the time.
So while I understand on a technical level your points, today I remain baffled that
HBO, Cinemax, and other cable movie channels don’t observe original aspect ratios.
I can appreciate the distinctions you carefully point out, and I agree that as a
mere point of interest all of that is worth acknowledging.
But my message to the TV folks is really quite straightforward:
Please stop fucking up the movies.
I was a ravenous student of film in my college days (nearly 20 years ago), constantly raiding video stores and backrooms of libraries, searching for anything to increase my grasp of film history. AMC was certainly a haven; I spent many days watching film after film, consuming whatever they put on the plate. That was when AMC still programmed classic films, commercial-free. (I have fond memories of skipping an entire day’s worth of classes just to see AMC’s 24-hour Buster Keaton marathon.)
Another channel was Bravo (yes, there was a time they showed a lot of foreign movies, commercial-free; I saw DERSU UZALA that way). They were often presented pan-and-scan, but twenty years ago we were just happy to have access to ANY version of the films we read about in books.
For many years I would record TCM’s films on VHS, and later DVDR, often ten a week. I don’t do that anymore. These days, I only occasionally turn on TCM. Otherwise, it’s strictly Internet.
I have great nostalgia for the “hunting” process of my early days of cinephilia. There was something weighty about the experience of working hard to locate a great film. Still, I prefer the easier access (and greater respect for aspect ratios, etc.) that marks today’s hunt. Someday, I suppose, we’ll feel nostalgic about the early days of Netflix streaming.
Eric Beltman, re: “There was something weighty about the experience of working hard to locate a great film.”
Well said, and by the way that sounds like the title for a great thread of its own.
Today I discovered a new channel on regular network television. The addition of THIS-TV is very interesting because it has a schedule based around themes for each day. For example, today (Monday) Amerian Gigolo and Mother Dearest have been playing as part of today’s theme, and for Friday they plan an “anything goes” day. I’m curious.