Louis B. Mayer had no idea the DVD was coming. Jack Warner could not envision TiVo, and Cecil B. DeMille, for all his imagination, probably did not shoot “The Ten Commandments” (twice) with an eye toward how it would look on a 19-inch television screen, interrupted by commercials.
We never really know what’s around the bend. The film industry, which reverberated with ominous shudders of fear over the young TV industry as a competitor in the 1950s, would find its old material become gold on the airways. Movies made from the earliest days of the industry through the end of World War II normally would, beyond the occasional college town film festival, never be seen again by most of us were it not for television. The film buff, paradoxically, was created by TV, which not only brought the old forgotten films to us, but allowed us to view them over and over again.
The VHS and DVD recordings have allowed us to watch them over again and again at the drop of hat, whenever we feel like it instead of at the whim of network programmers.
For some older actors, probably for “The Three Stooges” even more than for others, the showing of their old films on television actually revived their stalled careers. Plunk a kid down in front of the TV on a Saturday morning with a bowl of cereal, keep him entertained and he’s yours for life. To point of being able to repeat routines at parties as adults, to the embarrassment of one’s spouse. That “The Wizard of Oz” has become an American icon is due largely to television. TV became the world’s biggest neighborhood movie house.
Thank heavens and three cheers for Turner Classic Movies, which seems to be the culmination of all that dross and gold and the desire for film buffs to watch and study, scrutinize and enjoy, whether the film may be good or mediocre. How really funny that millions of dollars of new technology is keeping alive by turning celluloid to digital, the artistic efforts of a generation that said “swell,” “oh, raspberries!,” and “let’s make whoopee.”