A Certain Madness…

No one cares about old movies.  I was horrified recently to read the introduction to Leonard Maltin’s book 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen.  He focuses on movies from the last 15 years!  Leonard Maltin!  The mind reels.  That kind of limitation is like hiring Bill Clinton to write a book called 100 Sexiest People and then telling him he’s only allowed to write about men.

I understand why Leonard did it, though.  I don’t want to trash him: he’s a great guy, and he’s a great friend of old films and preservation.  Leonard is really one of the top film people in the world. Importantly, though, Leonard is not crazy, and he knows that people won’t buy a book about films made in the 1920s.

But, you see, I am crazy.

I am not crazy because I love old movies.

I am not crazy because I collect and preserve film prints of movies that no one cares about, just so I can see them.

I am not even crazy because I share my collection with audiences.

I am crazy because I think you should at least give old films a chance.

It seems to me that no one cares about old movies anymore because no one ever sees them.  A friend of mine said that when cable TV came, they took all the old movies and put them on one channel.  Then they filled the rest with junk.

Let me tell you, folks, about the days BC (before cable).  Infomercials were illegal by rule of the FCC.  At 11:30pm, after the news, only one station had a talk show.  That was Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.  He murdered the competition, so the local stations left him alone.  If Carson had bad guests on a particular night, the you could just flip channels and see a great movie on any of the 5 or 6 other channels you might get.

In the summer, when my parents used to annoy me (which was most of the time), I would stay up until 3am most nights watching movies on TV.  One station had a show called Summer Film Festival with a host who introduced a different film five nights a week!  Another station had a festival called When Movies Were Movies with another host.  There was even a great monster movie host every Friday night, and a Science Fiction movie every Saturday night.

The era of hosted movies died with cable.  It used to be that nearly every station had one, then one or two stations held out, and finally, all movies were hosted on Turner Classic Movies by Robert Osborne.  And again, I’m not here to trash Mr. Osborne, because he does a great job.  Osborne is unlike the movie hosts of old.. he’s all classy and slick.  Most local hosts were shot on a shoestring, and some of them were deliberately silly and over the top.

The single holdout movie host, who does it like it was done in the old days, is Elvira, also known as Cassandra Peterson.  God bless her for sticking in there. But Elvira is one of the hosts who always runs bad movies and snickers at them.  That’s fine, and an outgrowth of her stuff is the guys of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is where I come in.

Or rather, where I don’t come in.

Not only do I miss the old days of movie hosts, but I also think that we don’t do them anymore because no one watches old movies.  And I think that no one watches old movies because they don’t see them on every station anymore.  And, because no one sees old movies, no one understands them.

I’m just crazy enough to invent my own show, patterned after the shows of the old days.  It’s called Dr. Film, which is the subject of this web site.  It’s intended to be just the same as the hosted shows used to be: a little educational, but silly enough to appeal to a broad audience.

The trailer for Dr. Film (see the home page of the site) says that the title character is an eccentric genius with a plan to change the world–by showing old movies.  I do hope to change the world by showing old movies.

I hope to get a few more people interested in films that were made in black and white.  I hope to show people that editing styles have changed, not that older movies are slow.  I hope to show people that the majority of a film doesn’t have to come from a computer in order for it to be worth seeing.

I encourage you to check out the Dr. Film site.  We’re still hoping to sell the show to some network.  But first, we have to get enough people to care about the project so that a network is convinced it’s worthwhile.

I know the project is worthwhile, but then I’m crazy.  Come be crazy with me.  Let’s change the world by showing old movies.


13 thoughts on “A Certain Madness…”

  1. Dr. Film, I for one will follow you anywhere. I LOVE old films and mourn for those days when it was easy to see a great many of them. I hope you succeed in your quest.

  2. Most excellent blog, Dr. Film, lead on! Old films are one of the great joys in this world, and having someone who can entice us into exploring them is a big deal to me. Looking forward to more marvelous insights into old film, thanks for caring!

  3. These days old films are the only ones worth watching.
    I believe if you watch enough Marx Brothers movies they can cure you of anything.
    If they don’t cure you, then you can at least die laughing!
    Keep up the good work, Dr. Film.

  4. Hey, Dr. Film – I hear around 700 people, similaerly affected/afflicted(?) with oldfilmomania will be gathering in Columbus, Ohio in a couple of weeks. Hope you can make it out, even if you might be preaching to the choir (so to speak.)

    1. I have only missed on Cinevent since 2004, and that was the day after I lost my job. I wouldn’t miss it. Great stuff, Steve.

    1. I know Victor Varconi, too! Bug someone about it and we’ll put The Dancing Pirate (1936) in a show sometime. Then you can see him in color…

  5. Leonard Maltin is a film entrepreneur. His Movie Guides cover contemporary films while his Classic Movie Guide takes in the films we love. I don’t even hold a lot of stock in the reviews from his Movie Guide series since he has an overflow of writers giving their opinions of those films. At least when I read Maltin’s Movie Crazy I can be pretty sure I am hearing his voice.

  6. Sadly, were Maltin to focus on classic film these days, he’d probably lose his TV soapbox; for him, this is a necessary evil. (Someday, when TCM needs a successor to Robert Osborne — and I hope that won’t come for a long time — Maltin would be an ideal choice.)

    1. It may be true that Leonard would lose his soapbox, but I would hope not! Leonard is a good guy, despite his many detractors. He does live and breathe classic film. I see him a couple of times a year at classic film shows. I understand that Leonard is trying to eat, and that’s fine. I appreciate that. But the idea that somehow classic films will poison his public image is just weird to me. I hope we live in a world where it’s OK to say that the latest Transformers movie is no good… and be able to back it up with why that is so.

  7. Rock ON, Dr. Film! I watched old films as a kid with my brother, and we would laugh at the “special effects”. Now I understand the challenges they had, and I’m glad there’s someone out there to carry the torch for old movies (providing you don’t get it too close to the nitrate). -Z

  8. YES! There are so many incredible stories out there. Just because they may be in the silent era or in black and white, doesn’t mean they’re completely old fashioned. Keep up the good work.

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