[Opinion] Saturday Night At The Movies


Courtesy of TVO
If you aren't Canadian, this post might mean nothing to you. In fact, if you aren't from Ontario, you probably won't even know what I'm going on about. But it means a great deal to me. TVO, the public television broadcaster in Ontario, has decided to cancel mainstay program Saturday Night At The Movies after 38 years.

I wasn't into sports when I was a kid. Nor were my parents. So while others would come together on a Saturday night to watch the hockey game on CBC, my family turned the UHF dial to 38, and watched Saturday Night At The Movies. For my entire childhood, Elwy Yost (father to Speed writer and Justifed creator Graham Yost) came into our homes each week, and in a gentle, almost grandfatherly way, opened my eyes to film. Nearly every first viewing of films I now cherish, I saw on Saturday Night At The Movies. The first time I saw The French Connection, it was on TVO. The first time I saw Charlton Heston shake his fists at the Statue of Liberty, it was with Elwy. I fell in love with Alfred Hitchcock, and admired John Wayne during the weekly double features. I was mesmerised by Bela Legosi, and felt sorrow for Boris Karloff during a Halloween special. And I'm fairly certain the first time I encountered James Bond, it was on a Saturday night. One of my clearest memories was watching The Fearless Vampire Killers with my father, not wanting to admit I didn't like it, because I thought he was enjoying it. Turns out, he didn't like it either, but thought I was. So we both watched the entire film, thinking the other was having fun, while we were both miserable.

Elwy Yost introduced the idea of film to me. Until then, movies were cartoons made by Disney that my folks would take me to see once a summer. Elwy introduced me to legends. His interview archive (boasting over one thousand long format sit downs), which still plays to this day between features, is one of the best in the world. He spoke to actors, directors, screenwriters (probably my earliest interaction with the concept of being a writer), cinematographers, set designers, and other technical behind the scenes people whose names you rarely hear, let along see interviewed. He didn't care about the sexiness, he cared about film. He wanted to understand and share the love these people had for what they created.

Elwy retired in 1999. He showed Jaws and Speed as his final movies: his favourite film, and his son's first film. At that point, I think Speed was the most recent film the programme had ever shown. Since Elwy left, the show has changed formats slightly, adding a third feature in the dead of the night, and showing more and more current films. But it resisted turning into an art house show. The programme was never pompous or smug. It didn't think that film was a singular art form. It was, and remains to this day, a celebration of the simply joy of movies. It was a cinephile's love letter to the object of his affection. And turned so many of us into the same.

According to Lisa de Wilde, CEO of TVO, the network needs to cut $2 million, which includes firing 40 employees, as well as cutting programming. The cuts come mostly because of the boondoggle that is the Ontario Government, so if we're suffering the loss of a cultural cornerstone in this part of the world because of Dalton McGuinty's ineptitude, then it's just another reason I'm glad to see the back end of him. The network is apparently retooling, to focus on the children's education and political science aspects. However, I would say that their children's block is doing just fine, and that they might want to try to keep some of their adult viewers. I remember a time when I looked forward to the weekends, to National Geographic on Saturdays at 7, before the films started, and some British comedy on Sundays at 9. If I may, might you save some of the money you spend on licensing and repeating the latest British celebrity hanging out with their favourite animal, or gallivanting across some barren waste land? While TVO was also my introduction to Black Adder, Father Ted, and Fawlty Towers, there are only so many times you can watch Joanne Lumley hang out with cats.

What can we do? First, go here, and sign the petition, to try and convince TVO to change its mind. Second, with hockey on lockout, turn the dial over to TVO and watch the films. Show TVO that the program ratings are more the just stable. Show them that we still want to watch. Third, donate. If the problem is money, then lets give them money. There are few causes I actually support, but this is one of them.

Fourth, and this applies to TVO directly, show better films. Show films of relevance, and of legacy, and of entertainment. This Saturday, the first show is Changing Lanes, with Ben Affleck. It is not a good film. It certainly isn't a film that Elwy would have shown, and while that shouldn't be the metric by which you choose your programming, it should at least be a consideration. Last week was The Great Escape, The Train and the Quiet American. A terrific lineup, a blend of old and new, of classic and current. No child is going to be inspired by Changing Lanes, unless it inspires them to mediocrity. But a whole world view can be altered by watching a really good film for the first time.

I know.

So sign the petition. Donate to the network, specifying that the contribution is for Saturday Night At The Movies. Use Save #SNAM on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing. And watch. Just watch. Because, as it stands, it won't be around for much longer.

Via The Toronto Star.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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