Monday, 15 August 2005

American Movie Classics Not Classic Enough

It seems that it is official. American Movie Classics is not showing enough movies that are "classics." For those of you who may not have heard, Justice Bernard Fried of State Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled last month that American Movie Classics had in fact violated its contract with cable giant Time Warner in showing more recent films. According to AMC's contract with Time Warner from September 1993, which was extended in 2000, the cable channel was restricted to showing films from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In October 2002, however, AMC changed its format from a channel which shows classic films to one which shows more contemporary movies, largely in an effort to appeal to young people.

AMC is expected to appeal the ruling. Rather than cancelling their contract with AMC, some expect Time Waner to simply negotiate a lower fee to carry the cable channel. It should be pointed out that earlier in this year AMC obtained the rights to show 22 Warner Brothers movies from Time Warner, including Batman Begins and Million Dollar Baby. The film rights from that deal are not affected by the outcome of this ruling.

Personally, I would prefer that Time Warner simply drop AMC. For that matter, I would appreciate it if other cable companies followed suit. When American Movie Classics first started years ago, it was a channel that showed older movies. Granted many of those older movies were not what I would consider "classics," but at least they were older movies. The sad truth is that beyond Turner Classic Movies only a few channels (cable or otherwise) show any films made before 1980. While it is true that AMC still shows older films (last week they showed Dr. No and High Noon among others, they also show a lot more recent films. Of course, this cuts down on the number of older films they show. For anyone who loves old movies, this is not exactly a desirable situation.

Here I should point out that I am not biased against younger movies. I love movies both old and recent. Indeed, my DVD collection not only boasts Hitchcock's 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much and that old Danny Kaye film The Court Jester, but such recent films as Hellboy and Hero. That having been said, I do wish the various television outlets would show older films more often.

Of course, much of the reason AMC changed its format was a perception that Turner Classic Movies was simply doing the same thing they were doing and being more successful at it. Personally, I don't think this is a valid reason for AMC to have changed their format. Given how rarely movies made before 1980 are shown on most channels, it seems to me that there was enough room for at least two classic movie channels.

I suppose that one could bring up the fact that what constitutes a "classic" is largely subjective. For some people The President's Analyst is a classic comedy from the Sixties. For others it may just be an old movie. Too, I suppose that even how old a movie must be before it can be considered a "classic" probably varies from person to person. Some might a movie released only ten years ago a classic, while others might maintain that a movie must be at least twenty to thirty years old before it can attain "classic" status.

As for myself, I believe a movie can be considered a "classic" only if it has stood the test of time and is generally considered a great film by most people. Using this as a standard, much of what American Movie Classics now shows could not be called classics. Chain Reaction was made in 1996, yet AMC was showing it just a few years ago. Even if it hadn't received horrible reviews, I don't think Chain Reaction could be considered a classic because it hasn't been around long enough. Friday the 13th was released in 1980, twenty five years ago. I would say that is probably old enough for a film to be called a "classic." Unfortunately, most people would not consider Friday the 13th a great film by any means. I would then say it is not a "classic." Sadly, these sorts of films--movies made less than twenty years ago or films that are, well, just plain bad--occupy as much time on AMC as true classics do, sometimes more.

There was a time when I watched AMC a good deal. Here was a channel where I could see everything from classic Hitchcock films to classic John Wayne Westerns to the classic comedies of the Marx Brothers. Since 2002 I have watched AMC much less than I once did. In fact, I can often go months without tuning it in. For me it is simply a case of not liking what they are showing much of the time. I really have no desire to watch Fatal Attraction or Missing in Action--films I could probably see on TNT, TBS, and USA as well. While AMC may have altered their programming so that it differs a good deal from that of Turner Classic Movies, they have also made themselves more like every other cable channel out there. I won't even start on the commercials. At any rate, I would be very happy if the various cable companies would take a stand and let AMC know they should switch back to showing classic movies, or else.

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