Letter of Recommendation: Turner Classic Movies
By LEON WIESELTIERFEB. 27, 2015
The New York Times
Some people turn to psychopharmacology when they are blue. I prefer Turner Classic Movies.
When disappointment has brought you low, or sadness has colonized you, or fear has conquered your imagination, you experience a contraction of your horizon. Your sense of possibility is damaged and even abolished. Pain is a monopolist. The most urgent thing, therefore, is to restore a more various understanding of what life holds, of its true abundance, so that the bleakness in which you find yourself is not all you know. The way to break the grip of sorrow and dread is to introduce another claimant on consciousness, to crowd it out with other stimulations from the world. Sadness can never be retired completely, because there is always a basis in reality for it. But you can impede its progress by diversifying your mind.
Nothing performs this charitable expansion of awareness more immediately for me than TCM. Movies are quick corrections for the fact that we exist in only one place at only one time. (Of course there are circumstances in which being only in one place only at one time is a definition of bliss.) I switch on TCM and find swift transit beyond the confines of my position. Alongside my reality there appears another reality — the world out there and not in here. One objective of melancholy is to block the evidence of a more variegated existence, but a film quickly removes the blockage. It sneaks past the feelings that act as walls.
I recall an evening when my mother was ill in bed and very fragile. The room was lit by only the flickering luminosities of a black-and-white movie that TCM was running. All of a sudden my mother recognized, and quickened to, the sound of Eve Arden’s voice. She gently smiled. It was a small cognitive resurrection. Never mind that I myself have little patience for Eve Arden and her compulsive wisecracking, her tedious insistence upon the last word. The sound of that mondaine voice restored my mother to the rich world in which there were Eve Arden movies. For a few moments, her memory successfully challenged the tyranny of her condition. Her horizon was cinematically extended. She was, however inarticulately, delighted.
When I watch the older movies on TCM, I am struck by the beauty of gray, which makes up the bulk of black and white. How can the absence of color be so gorgeous? Black and white is so tonally unified, so tone-poetic. Shadows seem more natural, like structural elements of the composition. The dated look of the films is itself an image of time, like the varnish on old paintings that becomes inextricable from their visual resonance. There is also a special pleasure in having had someone else choose the film. Netflix, with its plenitude of options, asks for a decision, for an accounting of tastes; but TCM unburdens you of choice and asks for only curiosity and an appetite for surprise. The freedom to choose is like the freedom to speak: There is never too much of it, but there is sometimes too much of its consequences. Education proceeds by means of other people’s choices. Otherwise it is just customization, or electronically facilitated narcissism. Let Mr. Osborne decide!
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