January Highlights on TCM
In partnership with The Film Foundation, Turner Classic Movies is proud to bring you this exclusive monthly column by iconic film director and classic movie lover Martin Scorsese.
STARRING W.C. FIELDS (January 2, 8pm)--The '60s and '70s were a great period for the cinema--everyone agrees on that now. And when I think about those days, when my friends and I were learning how to make films and going to see them almost every night, I realize that there was a spirit of discovery and adventure coming from every conceivable direction. The new pictures from Europe and Asia and the independent pictures from this country were redefining film grammar before our eyes, but we were also seeing with retrospective vision, looking at older American films through new eyes. Everything was discovery and re-discovery. And beyond the world of film culture, certain stars from the past became countercultural heroes, their pictures turning up regularly on college campuses at film society screenings of 16mm prints, on late-night television or out on the revival circuit. Humphrey Bogart was almost more famous and current in the '70s than he was when he was alive. The Marx Brothers became superstars all over again and so did W.C. Fields, who died in 1946 at the age of 65. The Bank Dick and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break were a popular double bill that turned up constantly. There were Fields posters for sale everywhere. The screenplays of his most famous pictures, most of which he co-authored or wrote himself, could be found at every bookstore along with Fields "scrapbooks" and his collection of essays, Fields for President. Fields was born in 1880 and he was a star on the vaudeville circuit long before he made his first movie in 1915. His presence, his persona, his uncanny sense of timing, his remarkable gift for wordplay, his relentless satire of middle class aspirations and pretensions--he meant so much to so many different kinds of people, of all ages. At this moment, when the idea and even the belief that we don't need the past is popular and relatively widespread, it's probably more difficult for viewers, younger ones in particular, to connect with Fields for the first time. I'm not sure that he will ever mean as much as he did back then. But...comic genius is a rare thing. So for those of you who have never heard of W.C. Fields, or who have heard of him but never really checked him out, I would urge you to tune into TCM on January 2. The program includes 5 of his very best features, including the double bill I mentioned above and 2 of the shorts he made in the early '30s with Mack Sennett. The movies are essentially a series of extended vaudeville routines strung around an excuse for a storyline, and what routines. From the blind man walking into the grocery store in It's a Gift to the absolute insanity of The Fatal Glass of Beer, you'll be entering a strange and singular comic universe, and an embodiment of an entire history of American entertainment.
by Martin Scorsese