Big-screen classics in a small-screen world


I received my college education in film studies by going to the repertory houses in town. Well before cable and online services made it easy to see anything you desired at any time, the only way to see a vintage movie was to go where they were being shown. As a result, I haunted the River Oaks Theater with its schedule of double-bill classics that switched out every two days. I spent hours at the Rice University Media Center and the Museum of Fine Arts Brown Auditorium. Through them, I discovered the greatness of Bergman and Fellini, Bogart and Cagney, Woody Allen, Hitchcock, Ford, Kurosawa, silents and pre-code talkies, MGM musicals, and the glorious insanity that is the Marx Brothers. I saw the full 1966 Russian version of War and Peace over two nights—all 422 minutes. I adored the unique pairings of Flash Gordon with the X-rated Flesh Gordon and Casablanca with Play it Again, Sam. Somewhere in the mix were multiple viewings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with full audience participation.

That was then. Now we have the ability to see any of those movies whenever we want. Access is easy in the modern computer age. If not through Amazon or Netflix, you will probably find it on YouTube. What I miss is being able to see those films with an audience on the big screen the way they were originally intended. The irony is that as availability has expanded, the auditorium options have shrunk. For the movie addict, this is a sad thing.

I am therefore thankful to Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events for partnering and bringing a select few of these titles into theaters under the banner of Big Screen Classics. The lineup for 2019 includes Ben-Hur, My Fair Lady, Field of Dreams, True Grit, When Harry Met Sally, and Alien, to name a few.  In a few instances, I’ve not seen them on the large screen since their original release. To say I’m thrilled is an understatement.

Lawrence of Arabia
No better example of the importance of these screening can be found than Lawrence of Arabia. Simply put, the Lawrence on a massive screen is an entirely different film than what might be seen on the TV screen (and shame on you if you dare watch it on a phone). The scope and detail are diminished to such a degree that it is the equivalent of seeing the genuine Mona Lisa at the Louvre as opposed to a reproduction in a book. Yes, the substance is the same, yet there is no comparison.

There was a time when older films were generally unavailable to watch when you had the whim. Instead, you had to wait until it showed up as a late-night TV showing, or in a rare instance as a rerelease in the theater. Now the tables are turned. Seeing them is not the problem, but in the way they are presented. TCM should be commended for their efforts in keeping Classic movies alive, not just on cable where they have lived for the last twenty-five years, but now as a return to their rightful home. I only hope TCM and Fathom continue their efforts.

That means, dear reader, please support their efforts. Go to the movies and support the theater that shows it. See a classic movie you may have never seen before. Grab some popcorn while you are at it.


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Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website,

David Welling is a Houston-based writer, artist, and graphic designer. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.

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