Sunday, July 17, 2011

Should TCM Air More Foreign Films?

Turner Classic Movies is the best place on TV to see classic, uncut movies. But seeing as there aren't any channels--at least in the US of A--dedicated to foreign and/or art films, why couldn't TCM expand the definition of classic film to include more foreign films in their schedule? TCM would be the best hope for this, since the Independent Film Channel (IFC) is crap, what with it being chock full of manipulative pharmaceutical ads that advocate self-medication, as well as decidedly UN-independent films like the Three Stooges (though I love Curly Howard)!

The other oasis is the Sundance Channel, which largely sticks to contemporary indie stuff, would anyone besides me like it if TCM dedicated more time to classic foreign films by the likes of Kurosawa, Bergman, and Fellini (to name a few)? What about 1930s movies from other countries? There are only so many airings of the usual English-language fare that the classic film maven can watch and I think a widening of the classic film niche would make TCM all the better. Keep in mind this is all coming froma culture-starved yank who'd love to expand his horizons and be better informed on what the non-Hollywood film world was like.

Learning that the international geniuses of film looked to Hollywood for inspiration has also increased my own personal interest in movies made outside of Hollywood. I owe it to myself to watch Akira Kurosawa's work, seeing as he was quite an admirer of the John Ford-John Wayne collaborations.

If increasing its foreign film output doesn't float your boat, what about a separate "Turner Classics International" channel? I don't agree with the parochial attitude regarding TCM, even if it was launched and made its reputation as a Hollywood-oriented channel. TCM has introduced me to dozens of American movies--as did the late and lamented American Movie Classics--and TCM would no doubt do the same for international films, but seeing as a separate channel ("Turner Classic International") isn't in the works, I'd be more than happy with, say, a Wednesday night showcase of foreign films each week.

In this age of seemingly unlimited channels, we have surprisingly few choices. How sad that in an age of so many channels, that so much sameness still dominates TV. Of course, barring any move on TCM's part, I could just join Netflix and subscribe to foreign fare to my heart's content, but it's a different thing altogether to see TCM use its influence to expand the movie buff's interests as well as seeing that there is more to classic film than what comes from Hollywood.

Thoughts? I've also added a handy-dandy poll to "scientifically" determine if more foreign film on TCM is a popular idea.


  1. I am seriously deficient in foreign fare, including works by international masters you mention. I'd definitely subscribe to a one-eve-a-week series on TCM! Aside from the worthy reasons you note, TCM should consider the current global marketplace, which will only grow more so as technology barriers continue to disintegrate. I'm with you!


  2. I love foreign classics just as much as Hollywood Classics. Actually I think TCM does a pretty good job as showing foreign classics, just usually they are on too late at night which is disappointing. But every once and while they do something especially cool for foreign films: the month dedicated to Akira Kurosawa, Jean Gabin getting a SUTS day this, etc.

    I also want to keep foreign films on regular TCM. For one thing a separate foreign channel would most likely cost more (at least at first) and I don't understand if people don't like them just change the channel. I certainly don't enjoy every film that TCM shows but I understand other people do. I love TCM because it shows many different types of classic films for many different types of classic film fans.

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  4. Personally I don't like dubbed films. Once I listened to the various languages John Wayne has been dubbed to in El Dorado. In one of those he sounded like kind of pale office clerk -- it wasn't Wayne anymore.

    But why not watch a French movie, with English subtitles, and improve my rotten French by the way?

  5. Clariſse:

    I'm strictly a subtitles kind of guy, and am turned off by overdubbed actors. Why anyone would want to lose the vocal styles of James Stewart or Katharine Hepburn is beyond me. I guess lots of people don't like to read subtitles, but I don't mind. An instance of a performer's voice "selling" the performance is Bibi Andersson in Persona. Her monologue and tremendous range still comes through despite the fact that she's speaking in Swedish. Reading the subtitles in no way detracts from the experience and I can still hear the emotion in her voice long after the movie's ended. Dubbing by someone else destroys the actor's performance, IMO.

  6. I'd prefer a separate channel if anything but I have a feeling the crapification of IFC that you mentioned is due to there not being enough of a market to sustain that. If I recall correctly they used to show a lot of exactly what you're asking for.

    I already feel like TCM should be showing more American made classics, but that's mostly because their programmer seems a little too in love with oldies from the U.K. for my own tastes. That's personal preference speaking, of course.

    You mentioned being culture-starved, I prefer using TCM as my time machine back to circa 1930's and 40's America and looking to vacation out of the country via DVD.

  7. Cliff: Other people I've discussed this with are of the opnion that even TCM is headed towards crapification (heh heh), with the increased presence of 1970s and on films. That's probably a different argument, but it could open the door for the AMC-like inclusion of Steven Seagal movies as "classics." Perhaps they're only a Robert Osborne retirement away from being just that...(kidding, sort of).

  8. Ooh, now that scares me!

    Probably because I absolutely agree. And during Oscar month it gets a lot worse than just the 70's!

  9. I would be in favor of this as someone who desperately needs to expand my outreach! Though whether or not there is a market for it is a different matter.

    Also re: comments about dubbing vs. subtitling it's an interesting debate, and one where I generally fall on the side of subtitling. Awhile ago I had to read an essay (believe it was called Speaking Tongues by Antje Ascheid) which argues the reverse, that for films screened outside the US it is actually a way for other cultures to make their own mark on a film and alter the text to fit the specific culture. For Americans hearing John Wayne dubbed may sound weird, for others in different parts of the world hearing the voice of John Wayne is in fact not the "real" John Wayne, as they associate him with the dubbed voice!

  10. I love foreign films, anything with subtitles. We dont have netflix and they closed the only rental place in town so it would be swell if at least one channel showed them

    Did catch the stooges marathon and immediately thought of you. Lol

  11. I dared only once to listen to Jean Arthur's overdubbing. What shall I really-really hurt me, and I couldn't believe they added such pale babbling to Jean. Imagine, one of your beloved friends or family members suddenly starts to talk with an utterly strange voice you don't even like. What a nightmare!

  12. first let me say great blog...

    second let me tell you i feel sorry for you....i figure i was a child about 15-20 years beofre you and when i was a kid, the big 3 networks played old black and white movies from the 30/40/50's late at night. i grew up on the classics. also when i was a kid, on saturday mornings they played the old silent pictures comedians and stuff like the dead end kids and our looks like you were a kid when the networks switched over to 'made-for-tv-movies' and dropped the classics til turner started you really missed out!

    now as far as foreign movies....i love foreign films but there are literally thousands of films that turner is NOT showing to try and sell dvd's later. i wish TCM would stop repeating so much. they have run horsefeathers several times now....but that is how the make money by selling dvd's of movies they are not going to broadcast.

  13. formax:

    You're right about my missing out on the good stuff, even though there were still independent channels airing B&W films late at night when I was a little kid.

    First there were the "Creature Features" on Saturdays at noon, and I remember a late night local TV host named "Big Wilson" on WCIX Channel Six in the late '70s and early '80s who'd play piano and chat just before commerical breaks. However, my interest in old movies was limited to Universal monsters and westerns back then, but I do recall the tail end of the long-since-gone era.

    As for the paucity of foreign films on TCM, yes they are airing a lot of repeats and that's part of what made me want to see something different; hold the Wyler, pass the Kurosawa!

    Thanks for commenting!

  14. TCM actually does do a "classic foreign film of the week" on Sunday nights following Silent Sundays--the problems are that it airs at 2 A.M., and that they don't advertise it at all, and that it regularly gets bumped for other programming (and, of course, that it's still only one film a week--which is better than nothing, though). Tomorrow's offering is a Kurosawa film, for those who are interested! For those of us with DVRs, its late-night air time doesn't pose a major problem, but for those without, it makes it tough to catch (especially with a lack of advertising dedicated to it!).

    I'm guessing that the late-night time slot means that there isn't a lot of interest in foreign classics outside of the big names, and TCM tends to save the big names for special programming. It's unfortunate--I've seen some really good films on there, including ones that aren't widely available on Netflix.

  15. Dubbing should be prohibited; it destroys half of the actor's work. In Europe digital TV allows the viewers to switch it off with optional subtitles.
    Indeed, most people in the Anglophone world miss out on masterpieces of European cinema (and culture in general): French film noir, French comedy (Louis de Funès movies, for example); Italian classic films by Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Antonioni, Visconti etc. Nor do the names like Gerard Fillip, Lino Ventura (one of my favourite actors, made a hair-raising movie with Richard Barton), Anna Magniani (btw, you might remember her co-starring in Sydney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind with Marlon Brando – both at the top of their form) , Toto, Raf Vallone, Jeanne Moro, Jean Gabin, to name but few, ring a bell.
    In Europe there’re channels dedicated to classic movies that mainly show American classics, although they do stick in European classics from time to time. On the other hand even free DTV channels in Europe squeeze in all sorts of classics. Probably few people across the pond are aware that many American classics are actually remakes of European classics, for instance the best known example is The Magnificent Seven based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. (By the way I’d recommend his Rachomon).
    Anyway, it’s always rewarding to discover old treasures.

  16. I think if you open the door more and more, you make it hard for TCM to get good. It's like if I said to a professor of American History that he'd have to start putting Russia, Germany, and France into his curriculum. Where does it end? You'd lose quality.

    I think TCM's hosts and programmers have a certain mastery of what they're doing already and are knowledgable on American film history.

    They should have a foreign film channel, or you should push for IFC to start putting more foreign films.


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