Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyberlink Monday (3 links for the price of 1!)

I'm bursting with excitement over three articles I read online this holiday weekend, and despite the fact that I have posted links to them on Twitter (follow me @cwblog!), I want to recommend them in a more proper ramble.

1) Department Store Movies: A $ign Of Our Times is a timely post-Black Friday article written by suzidoll [at TCM's Movie Morlocks blog]. It explores the depiction and symbolism of the department store ("a landmark of urban life") in twentieth-century cinema. Department stores are seen as "an ideologically rich setting in our pop culture for understanding attitudes, issues, and problems related to our economy and the differences among the classes." I've always been attracted to old movies that are set in department stores because, even on a subconscious level, they come across as emblematic of a less stylized view of daily life. You get a better sense for what it was like to live in a certain place at a certain time.

2) Sweet Emulsion: Why The (Near) Death Of Film Matters is a fantastic article by Scott Tobias about how the film industry is forcing 35mm prints into obsolescence and the effects that will have on repertory film houses, the fate of our film heritage, and, ultimately, the future of film preservation (a topic that I find worrisome). I hope the AV Club's readers take heed because it's rare to see younger writers expressing the urgency for cultural and media preservation using formats that are mistakenly considered outmoded by audiences who are more comfortable with cutting-edge technologies. What especially concerns me is, since the concensus has been that digital formats cannot replace the original film source in preservation, what will happen if studios start to destroy the vast archives they have of irreplaceable reels stored in warehouses, if they cut funding to preservationists, and, eventually bypass backing up movies to film at all? To quote author Scott Tobias, "there's a warmth and vitality to film prints that's lost in the transfer to ones and zeroes." Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin have been especially vocal about issues of film preservation, but it's refreshing to read such an insightful article on such a popular website. I also appreciated Tobias' phrasing about the "numbing automization of society," which perfectly describes a troubling feeling that has been gnawing at me for some time.

3) Another AV Club article I found to be very admirable (actually, 'overly exciting' might be more apt) is We Need A TCM For Television by Noel Murray. Frankly, I wish I wrote this article because it's everything I've ever thought as I click robotically from channel to channel searching for something to watch on cable. I will now quote from the article liberally. Once again, the article is by Noel Murray, and he is a genius, apparently.

"Let's take a little trip through time, back to the bygone days of the late '90s and early '00s [when] TV Land was still showing top television shows of the '50s-'70s, and regularly airing special programming blocks like 'Box Set,' which dug up TV obscurities. Local stations and basic-cable [filled] afternoons and late nights with the best of '80s and '90s sitcoms, while Trio had its 'Brilliant But Cancelled' series, in conjunction with a daily schedule of television curios. Game Show Network was staying true to its name, almost exclusively showing beloved old game shows, along with packages of rarities. And the major studios had just figured out that fans would rather buy complete seasons of TV series on DVD than slim 'best of' collections."
[I can't believe I missed this golden age of cable!]

The article goes on to lament cable's move away from classic television: "As someone who fervently believes that television is...a vital art form, I worry that a major part of our pop-culture heritage is being consigned to the archives and going unseen by the younger generations." His proposed solution is to have a TCM for television. I LOVE this idea and mentioned a similar notion in my many posts regarding the HUB channel, 90s Nickelodeon programming, and Cartoon Network's Boomerang off-shoot. I recall pointing out that there should be a package of channels that run specially selected vintage comedies, dramas/sci-fis, cartoons, and children's programming, including PBS. Murray's article made me long for a better treatment of the golden age of television that has been passed over for sub-par junk.

And his article made me extremely proud of everything TCM represents. It's no wonder that TCM has so many misty-eyed fans. It is nothing short of a cinephile's paradise and, the endearing thing is that, unlike other channels, TCM programmers clearly have respect and affection for both the movies that they show and their audience. The movies are not just commodities and their audience is not just numbers. TCM takes pride in presenting the movies the way that they deserve to be shown. It's a channel for movie lovers run by movie lovers. It's the only channel I watch that I feel actually cares about how it presents itself, how it presents and treats the movies, and how it treats its audience. The painstaking attention goes beyond the channel itself to its vast web community; live events (including movie festivals, screening events, and vacation packages); its connection to Movies Unlimited (a wise choice!) and its own online store; magazine and book publications; and its special DVD box sets. Their mission has been to provide the best possible experience for their fans and to give the films the sort of presentation and exposure that they deserve, and their success is commendable.

Anyway, back to applying the TCM model to classic and retro television:
"What we don't have is a channel that treats television with the respect that TCM affords to cinema. The programmers at TCM have access to an impressive library of movies to begin with, and they work to make deals with other media conglomerates so that they can air an ever-changing variety of quality films, arranged into little mini-festivals, frequently introduced by people who are knowledgeable and passionate about movie history...No one's ever done a classic television channel the way I think it should be done. The emphasis...has been on nostalgia as an end in itself, where I'd rather see the 'fun' side of TV integrated more closely with the 'quality' side."

On programming:
"My ideal would de-emphasize completism in favor of highlights. Not 100 percent, because some shows really do play better if they're watched from start to finish, and some shows have such a high batting average that it'd be silly to reduce them to their best...episodes. But I'd dispense with the mindset that says we have to air every episode of Bewitched at the same time every day until we complete the series (at which point we start all over again); and I'd definitely ditch the newer variation on this, which has TBS showing three hours of Family Guy on Monday nights, three hours of The Big Bang Theory on Tuesday nights, and so on, ad infinitum. What's wrong with showing WKRP In Cincinnati, The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi, The Slap Maxwell Story and Lou Grant in prime-time one night and then Green Acres, Police Squad, Mannix and Homicide: Life On The Street the next? And what’s wrong with changing that lineup every month or two?"
Nothing at all! He also suggests that tv movies, talk shows, one-off specials, game shows, documentaries, variety shows, Saturday morning tv, and the like should also receive special attention.

Finally, Murray discusses recent television snobbery stemming from the popularity and accolades of such shows (mostly cable-only fare) as The Sopranos. Comparing the mindset of these tv elitists to the broader sentiments of TCM fans: "On any given week of TCM, viewers see masterpieces of world cinema side-by-side with goofy short subjects, weird cult films, forgotten silent movies, matinee serials, and recurring series featuring the likes of Dr. Kildare and Andy Hardy. Movie buffs are encouraged to go mining for gold...Frankly, there's so much gold gathering dust in the vaults of the TV networks and production companies that it wouldn't take that much mining to fill 24 hours a day. And it's not like the veins are tapped either. There's so much good television...that it's hard to keep up sometimes. They just keep making more of this stuff, even though they haven't yet figured out where to put it all."

[Besides its reference to TCM, I also liked the article's shout out to Shout! Factory, which, when combined with Rhino Records, Taschen, and Chronicle Books equals pop culture heaven.]

4) On a far less serious note, the full 1978 movie of The Star Wars Holiday Special with the original commercials is on YouTube!

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