Some of you will know about Talking Pictures TV and some of you will not. I do. So I will tell those of you who don’t know a little something about it. How does that sound for starters?
If you have Sky and you go to TCM on Channel 315 or TCM+1 on Channel 316 and then start flicking upwards, you will pass through a strange little selection of movie channels. There’s the 'Horror Channel' and there's 'Great Movies' and one that seems to show Steven Seagal flicks every other night and one that alternates between showing Christmas movies in August and showing silly romantic films that seem to have been made last week and that all look and sound exactly the same. Then, right at the end of the movie channel lineup, you come to Talking Pictures TV. It’s Channel 328 on Sky, apparently, I just looked it up. So, you can forget all that flicking I mentioned earlier… unless you fancy some Steven Seagal some evening.
I’ve just decided that I'm not going to give you a history of 'Talking Pictures TV' after all. What am I? Wikipedia? Go and look it up yourself, if you’re bothered. It’s been there for some years, and it shows very old movies and very old TV shows and what else can I tell you? That’s about all I know. Except for the strange, strange gift it gives to me. Except for that.
Let me explain. Sit back down. Come on. I’m only getting warmed up here.
I started going to the cinema when I was quite young. In our town we had the Gaiety and the Savoy. The Gaiety was the posher option, but more fun was often had in the Savoy, which had a sort of a Wild West vibe about it. As I used to queue to go into the Saturday matinees every week, I used to study the posters that littered every wall. Those wonderful UK Quads that promised all the great cinematic things to come in the subsequent weeks and months.
These posters, for me, were all-too-often a taunting display of the completely unattainable. The vast majority of the films they promised were too ‘grown up’ for ten-year-old me to be allowed to see and they would never turn up in a matinee anyway. They were therefore an unfulfilled promise that made me hunger and thirst for fulfilment. Not so much to see things I shouldn’t see. More to be able to see all of the movies in the world, for I loved them even then.
Many of those memorable posters went on to become favourite films of mine when I became an adult and finally got to see them on video or TV or in retrospective cinema places in London. Films like, ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’, 'Klute' (I couldn’t ever begin to guess what a ‘Klute’ was), or 'Chinatown'. It is a source of much pride to me that I now own the beautiful original Chinatown poster that hung in the Gaiety Cinema when I was eleven years old. And I don’t mean I own one that looks like it. I have the actual poster that was displayed there. It’s a story for another day.
These were the posters for films that went on to be famous, lasting, and great.
But there was a whole other section of posters. The films that came and got shown and then vanished without a trace. The films I never got to see but the posters of which still continued to haunt my dreams for years afterward.
This, then, is the strange, strange gift of Talking Pictures TV up on Sky Channel 328. Regularly, often, and inordinately late at night, the channel resurrects the films that were foyer posters from my 1973-1976 matinee-going days and shows them in all their glory. On this wonderful channel, I have now filled in many of these gaps in my movie life with wonders such as ‘Frogs,’ ‘House of Whipcord,’ and ‘To the Devil, a Daughter’. I have also reminded myself of gems such as ‘Burnt Offerings’ (‘loved that book), ‘Juggernaut, ‘Hennessy’ and ‘Squirm’ which I did manage to see, back in the day, but never thought I would see again.
All very well, Ken. In fact, it’s quite lovely in its own peculiar way. But ‘strange,’ really? How strange is it, the simple re-running of old movies and, even if it is a bit strange, does it really justify the use of the word twice? Strange, strange? I think it does. It is strange and, more than that, it is strange in two different ways. Hence the doubling up.
The first reason it is strange is this; of all the movies that I now see on Talking Pictures TV, the ones that I burned to see as a child… well… some of them are actually pretty bad. I suppose this is not surprising. The best of the films that I couldn’t see naturally have lived on and are now seen regularly here and there. The vanished ones have often vanished for a reason. There is an undeniable ‘archival’ quality to the reappearance of these old movies, but they sometimes aren’t all that great. Having said that, There are great movies to be had on this channel and you should certainly go there for a look-around.
And the second, contradictory, reason is this; it doesn’t really matter one little bit if some of movies I burned to see have turned out to be a little bit poor, slightly low budget, somewhat badly acted or occasionally woefully dated. They are still all quite wonderful to behold. This is going to sound cheesy, I know, but it’s the best way I can describe the feeling and perhaps it is apt if I use a somewhat contentious film to do it.
You see, it’s like the end of Titanic. When one of those old, crap movie films from the posters of my youth comes to life on Talking Pictures TV, it’s really just like that.
It’s as if the long dark halls of those boyhood movie parlours of my youth spring to life once again, all bright and renewed. The original Gaiety may now be lost as part of a shopping centre, and The Savoy may still sit at the top of High Street as a rotting old husk, but it really doesn’t matter. When one of those old poster-movies plays, no matter how poor it is, it’s like the ticket-man draws the curtained door open for me and nods me inside. And I get to stand once again in that carpeted foyer and smell the chocolate and the popcorn. And, finally, at long last, I get to enter into the darkness beyond to sit with the forbidden movies themselves and the infinite mysteries they are about to unfold.