This film not to be copied

Yes, I’m sad about Saturday Night at the Movies being canceled. If pressed to name the most objectively disappointing thing about TVO’s cuts, that might not be it; it is true, after all, that movies on TV are no longer as necessary as they once were. (Though there has never been a show that has TVO’s interview vault or the ability to put movies into any real context; even TCM often doesn’t have the interview archives to really tell us much about a movie beyond what we can read on Wikipedia.) But the most disappointing thing overall is the disappearance of a local (or in this case, provincial) identity for television, and a show like Saturday Night at the Movies was one of the things that gave a sense of local identity to what would otherwise have been another night of American movies.

The specifically Canadian, Ontarian identity of TVO’s programming came not so much from any specifically Canadian references – most of them didn’t even have any. It came from the simple fact that they were produced in and for Ontario by the public broadcaster, using people from (mostly) Toronto, and that in itself provided a slightly different feel than you’d get from watching a show aimed at a national or international audience. Even in a media centre like Toronto or Vancouver or New York, the shows produced for local or regional consumption can feel very different from the ones that are generically aimed at everyone. And I think Saturday Night at the Movies was one of those shows that didn’t feel like a big international project, even though it was almost entirely about movies and people from Hollywood. The question going forward – not just for TVO, but for TV in general – is how to preserve TV that feels like it couldn’t have been made anywhere else, whatever the genre and subject matter.

My first memory of Saturday Night at the Movies was a VHS tape my dad made of a show that included two Marx Brothers movies (their first two MGM movies, so I was introduced to their softer MGM personas before their sociopathic Paramount identities) and lots of interviews with anyone the producers could find who had worked with them – including a man who had worked on Duck Soup and went on and on about what was wrong with the film, apparently convinced it deserved to flop. I was too young to understand what most of the old men were saying in the interviews, but the parts I understood at least gave me some context for the movies.

And yes, having a VHS tape of the show meant I was in violation of the big warning label on every film: “THIS FILM NOT TO BE COPIED.” I think it was quixotic of them to try to hold back the tide of people with VCRs – or, as they’re now called, “big PVRs.”