Maybe I never got to experience Los Angeles' legendary Z Channel first-hand, but a contender is about to make its bid for being the best-programmed movie channel now or ever: Turner Classic Movies.
For the next three months, starting Labor Day, TCM is devoting a lavish block of its programming to Mark Cousins' excellent 15-part series The Story of Film. That in itself is momentous: Cousins' artfully arranged attempt to survey the entirety of cinema, across continents, genres and disciplines, left audiences thunderstruck when The Belcourt showed the whole thing last year. If that's all TCM were doing, the channel would still be doing movie lovers a favor (as usual).
But it's not. From TCM's website:
Beginning this month and continuing through early December, one new episode will be introduced each Monday on TCM, with a lineup of feature films and shorts related to that episode. Tuesday evenings the thematic programming continues, and includes a re-airing of the previous night's episode. By December, the entire festival will include 119 movies from 29 countries, many of them TCM premieres.
Monday's programming already joins an amazing block devoted to the Telluride Film Festival — e.g., Les Blank's brilliant Werner Herzog doc Burden of Dreams (4:45 p.m.) followed by Blank's famous self-explanatory short "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe." Then ... let's just say if you've ever wanted to catch up on the first 20 years of cinema, from the Lumieres and Thomas Alva Edison to pioneering female director Alice Guy-Blaché, here's your chance.
We've been sneaking peeks at the lineup well into November, goggle-eyed. How about a two-day ’70s salute featuring Mean Streets, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Cabaret, Chinatown, Killer of Sheep and The Last Picture Show? Kid stuff, you say, stifling a yawn.
OK — how about one November night consisting of Wim Wenders' Alice in the Cities, Ousmane Sembene's Xala and Patricio Guzman's The Battle of Chile, Part 1 (Nov. 4)? Or Prakash Mehra's Amitabh Bachchan actioner Zanjeer followed by Enter the Dragon (Nov. 11)? There are movies in this lineup I'll admit I've never even heard of, such as Tengiz Abuladze's 1984 Soviet film Repentance.
I leave you with Monday, Nov. 25: Wong Kar-Wai's Days of Being Wild, Abbas Kiarostami's Where Is the Friend's House?, Claire Denis' Beau travail, Michael Haneke's Funny Games — the German-language original (need you ask?) — and Djibril Diop Mambety's Touki-Bouki. And the clincher? That same month, the awesome Saturday cult-movie block TCM Underground is showing the memorable ’70s drive-in roughie The Candy Snatchers and Rudy Ray Moore as Disco Godfather.
It's enough to make you not want to storm Comcast with pitchforks.