Festive film watching….The Great Escape?
Much like binge drinking and over-eating, plonking yourself down on the sofa to indulge in some classic films is a time honoured Christmas tradition that I for one are more than happy to maintain.
In years gone by, before the heady days of sky+ and freeview, most of us were forced to make do with the four or five terrestrial channels at our disposal. Rarely was there any films on TV to shout about. The best it got was the occasional crap blockbuster which had flopped at the cinema five years previously but is still only just making its way onto the small screen. “This Saturday evening, ITV brings you Will Smith’s box office smash hit Wild Wild West. It may have been universally panned, but now it’s edited to sh*t and chock full of commercial breaks too…..how can you resist?”
At Christmas however, much like the bank holiday weekends that precede it, those of us without the joys of Sky were treated to an onslaught of cinematic favourites. Every year, journalists may bemoan the vast quantity of repeats clogging up the television schedules, but they are completely missing the point. Yes we’ve seen the Great Escape many time before, sure we’ve seen Indiana Jones take on the Nazi’s countless times, and yes, Mary Poppins is yet again tricking children into taking medicine……….but that is secretly what we all want. Proper classics.
It may be that the same stable of classic movies are paraded out every festive season, but this 2 week period comes round but once a year, and we spent the other 50 weeks of the year avoiding Columbo films and making do with the more cringe worthy Roger Moore Bond’s. Let us have our classics! the Christmas TV schedules were always an oasis in the arid desert that was terrestrial TV listings. Granted, it’s the same oasis you passed by nearly a year ago, but it’s a sight for sore eyes nonetheless.
Back in this long forgotten era, when the idea of pausing live TV was a shocking and confusing concept that would have had us choking on our marathon bars, the Christmas period was also a time for vigorous video recording. I remember that we had a video at home with all three Indiana Jones films on, each one bookended with decade old BBC logo’s and trailers for their early nineties Christmas offerings.Likewise a battered old video had a double bill of the Maltese Falcon and Casablanca on it, while another had It’s A Wonderful Life in all it’s grainy glory.
I for one get a strange sense of enjoyment from watching these movies back many years later, reminiscing over long forgotten adverts for products that no longer exist and trailers for TV programmes that nobody watched.”Haha, Choco Crispies, what were they thinking?!” This forgotten little pleasure has fell by the wayside with the advent of recordable TV, but these intriguing little glimpses into Christmas past will remain on dusty shelves across the country for a few years yet. I do fear however that VHS will inevitably go the way of the cassette tape soon, rather than the far more coveted vinyl LP. Nobody’s going to hark back to halcyon days of film watching where everything was nice and fuzzy and white lines began to appear where you’d rewound it too many times. It is unfortuantely a dead medium now. These televisual memories will soon be lost forever.
Nevertheless, even with the unavoidable march of technology, the principle remains the same and Christmas remains a time of quality TV viewing. For me, the excitement would really start to build a few weeks before Christmas with the arrival of the legendary Christmas Radio Times. The Christmas Radio Times is a fine festive tradition, and one which my family indulges in every year. Whilst the rest of the year we were content with perfectly good TV guides given away free by Newspapers, at Christmas, the zenith of televisual entertainment, only the best would do. Every year I’d peruse through the listings, picking out the films I would shortly be wiling away the hours of my holiday afternoon’s watching. “The Longest Day is on again this year! Oh look, so is Ben-Hur, and Spartacus!!!………What do you mean we have to leave the house to visit family?….Bridge On the River Kwai is on!.”
Nowadays, the novelty of having these quality films suddenly available to watch is lost slightly. Now many of us have the dazzling array of digital channels, and can record the films we love throughout the year, we are able to be much more picky in terms of what films we choose to sit down and watch. Whereas before you watched Jason and the Argonauts simply because it was on and you didn’t know when a vintage film like this would be on again, now, you can either flick through and find a preferred film on another channel, or delve into your sky+’d recordings for a more desired choice.
Never the less, the tradition of imbibing as many classic films at Christmas as possible has, for me at least, not faded, it has merely changed with the times. Much like with our televisual habits in general, we may now have a greater choice and be spoiled by the programmers far more often, but that doesn’t change the fact that at a time when many of us find ourselves full of food and booze and dutifully visiting family members, there’s never a better time to sit down and watch Steve McQueen get on his motorbike and try and jump that boarder fence one more time.