The Golden Age of Hollywood

Being Fan of Classic Movies in the United Kingdom [WARNING: U.K. spellings alert!]

Hello!  This is my first blog and - who knows? - it may be my last.  We'll have to see how it goes with this site.  

I became a fan of the 'Classic Movie' (for the purposes of my interest, this is any film made before 1967) back in 1978 when we first got a colour television in our house.  When we switched it on, the first thing we found to watch was the definitive Robin Hood, Errol Flynn in the 1938 Technicolor swashbuckler The Adventures of Robin Hood.  It became my favourite movie at that moment and has remained so ever since.  

Back then, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s, our TV schedules were littered with classic movies, and I watched thousands upon thousands.  Don't forget, this was when the UK only had three main TV channels, and later (after 1982) four.  The BBC would show all sorts of delights that I was forever grateful for.  By the end of the millennium, cable and satellite began to take off, and we had channels dedicated to movies spring up; which, you would think, would mean that the number of classic movies for a nerd like me would shoot up, right?

Wrong.

For some reason, TCM never supported its UK channel.  For a short while, the schedule over here matched the US one, but in October 2000, for a reason that I have never been able to get them to admit, they stopped screening about 98% of their classic movies.  This literally happened overnight.  It was a Friday morning, and I switched on with great anticipation to see what I needed to record that day, only to discover that all scheduled films had been dropped, in favour of crud such as Jerry Stiller's A Fish in the Bathtub.  I kid you not. On Christmas Day you might get a screening of Gone With the WindCasablanca or Ben-Hur (1959), but that was about it.  Worse, they would repeat the previous night's schedule in the mornings, so you would only really get half a day's programming at best, and that's if you wanted to watch A Fish in the Bathtub or Gunsmoke reruns (out of sequence).  Worse even than that, they introduced COMMERCIALS.  Yes, folks, the network that prided itself on commercial-free programming did the dirty on us and broke up A Fish in the Bathtub every 15 minutes to try and sell us stuff.  

It seems almost incomprehensible to me, but the Hollywood studios seem intent on preventing their great films of yesteryear being screened outside the US.  With luck, however, at around the same time as the TCM meltdown, some clever dick invented the internet, which meant movies could either be bought, sold, swapped or downloaded all over the world.  Then eBay sprung up, and all was right with the world.  I bought hundreds of VHS and later DVD copies of all my favourite films.  Someone would record a film off TCM and then sell it online.  Later, of course, eBay tightened their rules to prevent 'copyright' being breached (on films where every single person involved in its production were now dead).  

Now, of course, the studios, following Warner Bros.' lead, all sell their films online, and most now have an 'Archive Collection' or similar, which are on-demand DVDs produced independently each time an order comes in.  This is where it gets really silly.  The studios won't sell their DVDs to me directly because I'm in the UK and it would breach copyright.  But they don't mind if you go to a site such as Oldies.com and buy them there.  Indeed, Warner Bros. even recommended it to me.  So that is what I do.  It's expensive, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.  

It's a bit lonely in the UK being a classic movie fan, I'll be honest.  There are not that many people around that share my interest.  Maybe that's why the studios won't have anything to do with Britain.  Not enough money in it to sort out the copyright issues, which were created decades ago by short-sighted moguls with no thought for their own legacy.  So I communicate a great deal with like-minded souls in the US, the place where it all began.  I spent a total of six happy months (and all of my savings) in Hollywood, digging through archives of paperwork from the many productions of the 1930s and 1940s.  I also went through the music scores made by the greats: Steiner, Korngold, Deutsch, Stothart, Newman, Rozsa, Tiomkin, and many others. I hope, in future blogs, to write reviews and other vignettes about the movies and my experiences with them.  

Happy days. x

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Comment by Stephen Butler on July 15, 2017 at 2:27am

I'm sure that, for action movie fans, it's a great action movie.  So put it on an Action Movie Channel (AMC!) instead!  There should be no place for it on TCM - and even if there were, not on a Sunday evening at peak time!  How about Thursdays at 3 am?  I'm sure most of us here on this site could program a better TCM schedule without even breaking a sweat.  I appreciate the idea of attracting a younger audience, I'm all for that, but you don't get kids interested in classical music by playing them Metallica.  I think you can get kids into classic movies by playing them classic movies.  Can you get The Adventures of Robin Hood on Netflix?  I'm just about to check because a friend who is just 14 years old wants film titles to recommend to them, and guess what I'm going to recommend?  Cheers! x

Comment by Ktrek on July 14, 2017 at 10:36am

I remember seeing "Sudden Death" many years ago and although it's not a bad action film I would not consider it "classic", and thus Turner does injustice to the name Turner "Classic" Movie Channel. I'm also pretty sure that "Sudden Death" even fifty years from now would not be considered a "classic" in the way that something like The Adventures of Robin Hood is a "classic". It's all an attempt to draw in a younger audience. I can hardly blame them but for those of us who love the real classic films, it is disheartening.

Comment by Stephen Butler on July 9, 2017 at 6:17am

OK, this is precisely the kind of nonsense I'm talking/writing about.  This morning I received a tweet from TCM UK announcing its big movie for Sunday night at 9 pm - SUDDEN DEATH (1995) with Jean-Claude Van Damme!  Sunday night peak viewing when TCM US used to do a Sunday Silent season!  This is awful and makes me want to hang my head and cry.  They're proud of it!  How do you 'dislike' a tweet? x

TCM UK Announces its Big Movie For Sunday Night - Sudden Death (199...

Comment by Stephen Butler on July 7, 2017 at 7:48am

Dear Rosie & Kevin:

Thank you both so much for your kind words about my first attempt at classic film writing.  It's very difficult at times, because of my health condition and because of living in the UK to be able to get to any decent festival screening classic films.  I happen to live near the city of Bristol which as a silent film festival every January, and I have thought about starting a fan club myself, but I get put off by the number of administrative hoops they make you jump through just to start screening films to an audience or using materials for a talk, etc.  I'm not even allowed to sell tea or coffee without some sort of permit for it. 

I used to live in Borehamwood, where most of the major studios' British films were made.  I had a friend, Paul Welsh, who brought people such as Dame Olivia de Havilland, Luis Rainer, Christopher Lee and many other legends to film festivals there, and those were great days.  But even he struggled with the local council and the studios themselves over public screenings of the films they made.  Happy times.

YouTube is a vital resource for film fans.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of films there and I have downloaded a great many - not just the films themselves, but documentaries such as Kevin Brownlow's magnificent 13-part Hollywood: A Celebration of the Silent Film which I downloaded using Free YouTube Downloader.  Yes, we do appear to have come full circle, I agree with both of you there.  I refuse to pay good money for a film which would be illegal for me to watch even if I owned it.  That's where the studios shoot themselves in the foot. 

What I would dearly love to be able to do - and I'm sure both of you have thought of this too - is to start a 'Golden Age of Hollywood' channel, screening wall-to-wall pre-1960 films, classics and rare, regardless of the studio.  But that costs money, and I don't know where in the UK you would be able to get funding for a business like that when it seems no-one is interested.  I'm glad to be able to have the opportunity to chat to you both, and I will make darn sure that this site gets used more. x

Comment by Rosie Sayer on July 5, 2017 at 12:09pm

Stephen, your post makes it clear that classic film fans will go to almost any lengths to get the movies they crave. I am one of those, and I've also struggled with getting access to those treasures under various limiting conditions.

I agree with Kevin that we seem to have come full circle, and we must once again become collectors, like the High Lama in Lost Horizon, preserving this precious culture against the dark days to come (an interesting film to cite, as Lost Horizon was itself partially lost, and various collections were raided for its restoration).

Now that I live in the US again, I do have access to much more than I did in the Netherlands. It sounds like the UK situation is even worse. If I can be of any help to you, let me know.

Incidentally, there are programs that will save YouTube videos as movie files, so you can store them and watch them offline. My head is spinning now, thinking about how I could expand my collection this way. Last night, for example, I watched Irene Dunne's final film on YouTube, a comedy called It Grows on Trees. It was there in its entirety. YouTube suggested I might also like Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid starring William Powell. They know me almost better than I know myself, because this is a movie I've always wanted to see, and it will probably be the next one I watch on YouTube. I know that some YouTube videos won't let you watch them from another country, even from Canada. But where there's a will there's a way.

Keep blogging!

Comment by Ktrek on July 5, 2017 at 11:37am

Very good post, Stephen! I think many classic movie fans have had a similar experience as far as the loneliness aspect of being a fan of classic films. I have yet to know anyone outside of the Internet that loves classic movies. They just are too far and few between. 

I think UK fans have been disappointed in TCM for a long time and I'm not sure why the scheduling of films should be so different. Sadly, our TCM today is not the same TCM of a decade ago here in the U.S. either. I hardly ever find any of the rare films they used to show on anymore and if they do play something I want to see it's often in the wee hours of the morning. My feeling is that classic film lovers are going to have to resort to private collectors again in order to obtain the films they want as TCM modernizes their programming to contemporary audiences.

Kevin

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