Thursday, July 25, 2013


Back in the late early-'70s, several lifetimes ago, I worked at a public TV station.  By that point I'd changed jobs from TV crew to copywriter/announcer.  Whatever distributor that had Warner Bros. and MGM movies made the Program Director a deal he couldn't refuse...really, really cheap prices on black-and-white movies from the 1930s and '40s.  One of the public affairs producers became the host for Movies B.T, which meant "Before Television."  In the early late-'70s the producer moved on to a better offer and, because I was an absolute '30s and '40s movies freak, I was offered the host job...except that I wouldn't be on-camera.  I had to do two-minute intros with slides of stills I found from that particular movie.

I'm not hideous-looking, but I wasn't what the money-raiser considered acceptable to the membership.  I was a stoner and pretty much looked the part.  But damn!  I knew my movies!  So...voice over slides.  That wasn't even high-tech then.

I had to preview the movies before they aired.  The prints were 16mm and frequently were spliced beyond recognition, so we'd have to order another print.  Other stations removed scenes so the movie would fit the time slot and then splice them back in.  Or not...sometimes entire scenes were missing.  I timed the reels so we'd have accurate lengths.  Our film department cleaned the films when I was finished.

Back then, public TV shows were as long (or short) as were necessary.  Content ruled.  That was fine, but it meant the breaks between shows were never the same length.  One might be a minute, the next 15 seconds, the next two minutes and thirty seconds.  That meant that each break had to be prepared individually and the copy, because this was pre-computer and thus pre-copy-and-paste, had to be custom written (or at least re-typed) for every break.  This was time-consuming and it was my job.  It left little time to preview the movies at the station.

After a convincing conversation with Those In Charge, I was allowed to take a 16mm projector home and watch the movies at home.  Not only was this before DVDs, this was before VHS.  This was before even thinking about watching movies at home that weren't on TV.  I was in hog heaven.  I set the projector as far from the white wall as I could.  The projector had a detachable speaker, so I placed the speaker against the wall.  I had my notepad, wine, weed, munchies and stopwatch at my side and -- voila -- instant home theater.

Fortunately, Jack liked old movies too, so I'd save the Bette Davis or Joan Crawford or Busby Berkeley movies for his weekend visits.

Old movies are now movies from my youth.  I now understand how irritating I must have been asking my elders about things that took place "back then" in the '30s and '40s when people ask me about the '50s and '60s.  One of the hardest things to deal with is that Bette and Kathrine and Judy are no longer understood.  It stands to reason...nobody lasts forever.  I was struck speechless a few years ago when I was talking to some young film majors who'd never heard of Busby Berkeley.  Not just that they'd never seen any of his movies or any of his visual extravaganzas, but they'd never heard of him.  And these were film majors.  Maybe it's time for Movies B. T. to stage a come back.  Or at least Movies B. CG.

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