Friday, May 22, 2009

When I first learned about Turner Classic Movies it seemed too good to be true. Great old movies, surely many of them in black and white, commercial-free and around the clock — classics, as the title says. Bergman, Antonioni, Buñuel, Cocteau ... finally I might get to see Il Posto.
Two years went by and I avoided contemporary TV all but completely. I fell into the habit of not even watching the news. Gradually I sensed that "classic" was just another word that the Turner people were confusing with "old." Who would ever describe a Doris Day movie as a classic? They like "themes" at TCM and it seems she was one, for a whole wretched month. Read Dwight Macdonald on her if you want a great laugh — it's better than John Simon on Barbra Streisand because it's less acidically personal. But I owe my Il Posto fixation to Simon, who wrote about it unforgettably.
1930s shorts with dogs standing in for human scenarios. Double Indemnity twice within two weeks, Yuk-shorts featuring Robert Benchley, Giant with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor: so static and "epic" in a near-Kabuki way that I turned it off. I should have made notes on my TCM experience. There were many times I thought, how low can you go in the name of greatness? Of course, running 24/7 the pantheon would have to run dry eventually, but maybe pick a new name.
But then you see Rules of the Game or Rashomon and suddenly you forget how suddenly "refreshing" you found Corner Gas or The Office.
Maybe old movies are best appreciated as seen through the eyes of an expert who was there. Like Graham Greene's immensely witty The Pleasure Dome, reviews of films from 1935 to 1940.
I've hated Shirley Temple, or her studio, ever since they shut him down. Shirley was only 9 at the time but as sexually knowing as Mae West, which is more or less what he said. Wasn't it true?
— Lloyd Dykk

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