Moviedrome

We really are lacking in decent regular TV programmes about cinema. I noticed that Film 2010 has just ended its latest run, and I’m not sure whether it’ll be returning for a final run before Jonathan Ross ends his tenure at the BBC. While I’m sure that someone – Mark Kermode? – will take on that programme’s mantle, we really could do with a proper TV series about films.
There were two great TV series that did more to educate me about films and cinema when I was younger. One was the exceptional Moving Pictures, presented by Howard Schuman in the early nineties. Sometimes episodes would be linked to forthcoming releases – I remember clearly an episode around the time of the release of Pulp Fiction – but more often it would introduce you to thematic ideas. So there’d be items on Ken Adam’s set designs or Saul Bass’s opening title sequences. I remember too, a detailed look at Vertigo.
The other series that came a little earlier was Alex Cox’s series: Moviedrome. Each week, Cox would introduce us to some kind of cult film in the BBC2 series. Sometimes you knew – or at least had heard of the films – but other times you hadn’t. Cox would tell you why what you were about to see was worth watching and then the film would start. The series ran roughly between 1988 and 1993.
I mention this because a week or so ago, I was reading Alex Cox’s website and realised that he has for download copies of the guides that accompanied Moviedrome.
After two or three years’ worth of programmes, the BBC published a printed guide that you could send away for. Possibly somewhere in my loft, I still have one of the guides. But in any case, Cox has placed them online.
These guides make a fascinating list of worthwhile films. In the late eighties and the early nineties, unless you lived near an amazing repetory cinema, Moviedrome was about the only way you could see films like these. Your local video shop probably didn’t have them. Even if you had a really good shop, like Bath’s “On The Videofront”, they couldn’t really help you if it hadn’t been released on VHS. Today, with Amazon and Lovefilm, access to even obscure titles is much better, making this a still invaluable guide.
Cox’s website is great by the way. He has a blog, although it doesn’t have any proper feeds (I use one of those sites that generates feeds automatically). His currant (understandable) bête noire is the forthcoming Repo Men which is not connected with his previous classic film, Repo Man. Cox has, however, made Repo Chick which sounds interesting and will hopefully get some kind of release somewhere (since it’s a BBC Film, it will certainly get an eventual TV screening). Previously Cox kept a blog on the BBC films site which has long since gone. It was a searingly honest examination of how films get made – or don’t.
Cox’s recent more book X-Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker is also really worth a read. I need to return to my copy to see if I’m able to get to a couple of locations he mentions in the book during a forthcoming US trip.
Although some of what he talked about on his old blog makes into this book, I’d pay to read some of the other material again in published form.
I also want to read his Creative Commons licenced book, 10,000 Ways To Die, which is also available to download from his site.
Anyway – go and get those Moviedrome guides. They’ll keep you busy with at least a few titles that you haven’t previously seen.

3 Comments

  1. The recent run of Film 2010 was definitely Ross’ last. I’d hoped when Film4 went free a few years ago that a few serious programmes would follow but sadly that hasn’t been the case.

  2. Some of the problems, as I understand it, with making film programmes are the rights costs surrounding using clips.
    That said, I’m not sure these days whether, as long as you fully credit the clips, you need to actually gain permission. But in the past, even getting copies of the films from the production companies was difficult.
    These things aside, the real reason that Film 4 doesn’t make any programmes is that Channel 4 is lack of cash. In its premium days, Film 4 did have a few documentaries, or at the very least, Mark Kermode intros to certain films (a la Moviedrome). Sadly these days, I’m not aware of anyone doing anything like that.
    Let’s face it, Film 4 itself is a shadow of its former self, as the channel has adopted a much more populist approach to garner an audience. The same is true for the main Channel 4’s film choices, with big-scale Hollywood fare meaning there’s rarely anything specialist (or of public service value) ever shown on the channel. When was the last time you saw a subtitled film that wasn’t in the very small hours?

  3. I think with new releases you should be able to get clips pretty easily, distributors will always want a chance to get their movie out there.
    I agree that Film4 has went in a certain direction but they are still capable of pulling a good season of films out the bag once in a while.
    Going back to a Film4 review show, my thinking was that its relatively cheap to get a film critic and a couple of guests and do a half hour show. But obviously it’s going to be more profitable to just show movies all the time, which is a shame.

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