In Praise of the Fox Movie Channel

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 27 2009 12:10 PM

In Praise of the Fox Movie Channel

I’m one of those arrière-garde types who still occasionally flips channels on cable instead of streaming videos on Hulu or YouTube. And being a film-lover, I flip to the Turner Classic Movies channel first. TCM is greater than a cinephile’s wildest dreams. Classics, obscurities, silent films, retrospectives—TCM is like a 24-hour repertory cinema, film school, and archive all under the same unlikely shingle. The awful truth, though, is that I love the idea of TCM more than I love to watch it. Several Thanksgivings ago, TCM devoted an entire day of programming to Andy Hardy films—the white-bread movies that made boy next door Mickey Rooney a top box-office draw during the ’30s and ’40s. I get off on completism as much as the next guy, but an entire day? Ten minutes of Andy Hardy is more than enough. Trust me. So where do I turn? To the obscure heights of Channel 257 on Brooklyn’s Time Warner Cable, where the Fox Movie Channel humbly waits.

If TCM is like a gleaming, impeccably restored movie house, then FMC is a scattershot, haphazardly outfitted video store in a strip mall. The overriding vision of FMC is something like: "Well, we’ve got a lot of time to fill ..." Programming with Fox’s vast back catalog at its disposal, the channel empties the library in gonzo spurts. Bonnie and Clyde goes toe-to-toe with Harvey Keitel and Raquel Welch in Mother, Jugs & Speed ; a Martin Ritt curiosity from 1974 ( Conrack ) leads into Matthew Broderick’s chimp-sympathy weepie, Project X ; John Wayne westerns are followed by Hot Shots! Part Deux . Yes, these are actual examples. If you don’t believe me, tune in Wednesday, when FMC will show three rarely screened, vintage ’60s comedies in the daytime, capped by Weekend at Bernie’s during prime time.

In a too-manicured, micro-managed advertising-dominated television landscape, such slipshod programming is positively thrilling. FMC may be the anti-TCM, but it’s also anti anything else on basic cable. It doesn’t show what my demographic, or any demographic, expects. It just sets up shop and lets you wander around inside. There’s no real design or quality control. The word "classic" isn’t invoked in the channel’s name or mission. Fox is just movies, all day long, commercial- and pretension-free.

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Eric Hynes is a New York-based journalist and film critic.

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