15 Reasons to Love Turner Classic Movies

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Turner Classic Movies

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11. The Essentials. Osborne loves to talk movies, even with other people. He invites guest programmers in for an evening; people like director John Landis and author James Ellroy choose four pictures and explain why they did. A fuller version of these conversations are slated each Saturday, when Osborne and a year-long guest co-host movies from the collection in a series called The Essentials. So far his partners have been film historian and glamour gal Molly Haskell, writer-actress Carrie Fisher, actress Rose McGowen and multimedia bad-boy/cool-guy Alec Baldwin. The taping must be an ordeal for the guests — Molly told me that her 31 intros and wrapups were recorded in a day and a half — but it often provides surprising insights into the films.

12. Original productions. TCM sponsors documentaries on some of the top stars in its catalog (Brando, Joan Crawford, John Garfield) and probing issues of bygone days (political messages in '50s genre films). These give context to the programming and serve as valuable extras on TCM DVDs. The policy also means that my long-TIME colleague, Richard Schickel — who's done exemplary studies of Scorsese, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard for TCM — doesn't have to go on food stamps. The channel runs some Schickel doc nearly every month. Tune in for a fun film education. (See Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel's All-TIME 100 Movies.)

13. The graphics. Whoever designs the lead-ins to the various programs deserves a Milton Glazer Award for ingenuity and elegance. Osborne used to be fanfared with a shot of the grand (and imaginary) TCM Building, a Deco marvel. The late-night movies are heralded by glimpses of a counterman at a diner, a woman seen dressing in a high window, a fellow waiting for customers in the ticket booth of a 24-hr. theater. The most elaborate intro assembled nearly 30 musicians on pieces of a bandstand assembled by workmen and coming together to create a sumptuous aural-visual orchestration. It's as if the network wants to re-create the aura of a movie palace in the viewers' home. That they've done.

14. The website. A few years ago, TCM went online, purchasing the database of the American Film Institute, which used to publish huge volumes detailing virtually every Hollywood and off-Hollywood movie. As an evocative hoard of info it's up there with the Internet Movie Database. This snazzy site also encourages readers to suggest films for airing. Of course it sells stuff, including the TCM-related DVDs produced by Warner Home Video. But you'll find recommendations books and new DVD collections that are issued by competitors. Very collegial.

15. The DVDs. Maybe there is a business model: Feltenstein uses the network to promote the classic DVD collection, and vice versa. The video stores and Netflix are groaning with TCM collections, the best being three editions of Forbidden Hollywood, multipacks of Warner and MGM films from the pre-Code era that TCM helped revive. (Must-buy: Vol. 3, with a half-dozen rough diamonds directed by William A. Wellman.) Last month TCM began offering personalized movies: you choose a title from a list of films that haven't yet made it to DVD, pay about $15, and get one of these rare relics sent to you. Now if only your name were inscribed on the label...

Nobody's perfect, not even TCM. We could quibble that, a few times, films (Li'l Abner, Lovers and Lollipops) have been shown in the wrong format, so that the actors look either too fat or too thin. Once in a while a picture doesn't quite fit its time slot; it will start before the designated time, or conclude after it, and if you're recording you miss the beginning or the end.

The biggest complaint about TCM, however, is that it has virtually no competition. Fox Movie Channel also runs its library's films without commercial interruption, and we're grateful for all those gorgeous '40s musicals, but the catalog is severely limited. As for oldies from Paramount and Universal, they're almost impossible to find, except in bootleg editions. The rumor that surfaced last week about Time Warner possibly buying NBC Universal was cheered by FOOFs, because then those two invaluable archives would be under Feltenstein's loving aegis. If the rumor isn't true, couldn't the Paramount-Universal films stock another channel? As TCM has proved, you can make money by showing old movies that shine like new.

For now, fans of the golden-age films can be happy they have TCM — a movie network that itself is a classic.

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The All TIME 100 Movies

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