TCM cinephilia

Self-Styled Siren has a fun list of 10 Things she loves about old movies. She does not specifically mention this, but I wonder if her list could serve as the start of a list of tenets for TCM Cinephilia. Many of us know folks who watch TCM nonstop - and in the process may be amassing more raw film historical scope than your never-hard-working-enough film scholar. What's remarkable is that the network markets "old movies" (generally classical Hollywood films) to cinephiles who have criteria for appreciating cinema that's neither formalist nor popular. This cinephilia, like other cinephilia, latches onto the detail, but it's often detail that signals nostalgia for the aesthetics of a historical period. 

I both share and don't share TCM cinephilia. If my top films list did not tip my hand already, my cinephilia is one part 60s auteurism-art cinema cinephilia, one part academic-driven film selection. But if I could take Campaspe's exercise in the spirit it was written (well, sorta... she specifies no "big artistic stuff"), I'd offer a few things I like about old movies:

1. Tracking shots. I'm a sucker for the well executed tracking shot. Particularly on a large screen, but even on video, they give me a visceral sensation that's part perceptual and part emotional. That's why I gravitate to directors like Fuller. The steadicamed and handheld following shots in vogue in postclassical cinema do not nearly have the same effect.

2. Sonic hiss. 1930s Hollywood for me gains a surprising lyrical quality because silence is never silent. This matter (to me at least) because the best classical directors used silence so deliberately. The placement of silence in Only Angels Have Wings, for instance, punctuates the moments of emotional intensity in the narrative.

3. No credits at the end. Call me anti-union, but as a viewer I prefer the simple finality of "The End."

4. Songs and poems. This is more academic interest and historical curiosity on my part, but it's remarkable to see how the communal song and the poem was central to so many film and the kind of community they imagined.

5. Presentational acting. Brando may well represent the greatest divide in American cinema. The dominance of Method and naturalist acting in postclassical cinema has led many viewers to see classical cinema as immediately stilted and artificial. People don't act that way, after all! Well, the more presentational acting style of classicism is merely a convention that as soon as one gets used to is a useful blank canvass for a range of expressive possibilities. I wouldn't say it's superior to what followed it, but it's undervalued today.


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