Posted by David Kalat on May 28, 2016
Back in my formative years—or my movie watching formative years at least—there was a local independent TV station in Raleigh, NC called Channel 22. It was my constant friend and companion, the venue by which I discovered and/or cemented my passion for such a wide range of movie genres, filmmakers, and specific oddball pictures.
As I remember it, all they did was show movies (if they ran any other kind of programming, I never watched it). Their selections were a curious mix of seemingly arbitrary choices, with the occasionally carefully curated selections.
For example, I remember how sometime in the early 1980s they made this big deal about showing Creature From the Black Lagoon in 3-D. This was pretty cool.
Mind you, on its original run, Creature From the Black Lagoon achieved its 3-D effects using polarized light, and so viewers without the polarized lenses would just see a flat image. But for the TV broadcast, an anaglyph print was used—so you either needed to get your blue and red 3-D glasses from somewhere ahead of time or consign yourself to watching the thing with weird overlapping colors.
You had to go to a local convenience store (ours was a place called Fast Fare) to pick up your 3-D glasses. When you did, they gave out a line drawing of the Creature you were supposed to color and return as part of the promotional coloring contest. Well, I took it on myself to study how 3-D worked, and I painstakingly colored my entry in only blue and red to produce a proper 3-D effect. If you looked at it using the very glasses they handed out at Fast Fare, you’d see the monster popping out of the page at you.
The winner of the contest got a tour of the TV station. I got “Runner Up,” which came with a bumper sticker. “Runner Up” indeed, the haven for cowards and scoundrels. Bah!
Anyway, Channel 22 ran a wild variety of films. I remember my parents being dismayed/confused when I insisted on shaping our vacation plans to make sure I was home to see The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze. Why? Because it was so clearly going to be a train wreck and who wouldn’t want to see that? Channel 22’s loving primetime treatment of Godzilla 1985 was a defining moment in the development of my enduring love of Godzilla movies. They did a cycle of 70s disaster movies including the gloriously ludicrous and ludicrously glorious Towering Inferno. I was first introduced to Alfred Hitchcock by Channel 22, although their screenings of Vertigo, Rear Window, and Dial M For Murder led me to believe all three films were B&W shown with a red tint for some mysterious reason.
And this gets at the other, and most memorable, aspect of Channel 22’s movie lineup—the complete incompetence and/or indifference shown to quality of presentation. I wish I had won that tour, because it would have been so fascinatingly disappointing to discover the sad truth behind the veneer. This TV station certainly consisted of nothing more than a second-hand 16mm filmchain machine and a warehouse full of decaying prints.
The filmchain was just a projector with a camera attached to it, so the projectionist could run a 16mm print and relay the results out on TV. The damaged prints and shoddy mechanics of the device often conspired to cause sprockets to tear, the image to jump and roll, and highlights to blow out like a miniature nuclear explosion on the screen. Colors were never reliable or even marginally acceptable. My friends and I took to calling Channel 22 “Scratchy Movie Theater,” or alternately “Yellow Movie Theater.”
This was the early 1980s, so terms like “letterbox” and “pan and scan” were not yet in the lexicon. We didn’t have a framework to understand why so many movies looked so wrong on this channel, but somehow Channel 22 made that situation worse than anywhere else did. Most of the time when a widescreen movie was shown on TV, a pan-and-scan broadcast master would have been prepared ahead of time by a professional telecine operator who did his or her best to capture the best possible version of any given shot, on a shot by shot basis. Sure, some especially widescreen ‘scope pictures might prove too challenging to even the best telecine jock, but by and large TV audiences didn’t really notice that they were only ever seeing a fraction of the screen.
Not so at ole’ Channel 22, where apparently they let teenage interns run the filmchain. Why work out the pan and scan ahead of time when you can randomly jerk the camera around while the thing is being broadcast?
I remember their screening of Return of the Pink Panther, in which numerous scenes in their version contain no visible action at all because the camera is focused on the wrong side of the frame. There were several moments where all that was visible was Inspector Clouseau’s nose.
The weird thing, though, was that these gross errors in presentation didn’t impede my enjoyment. I recognized Return of the Pink Panther as the best of the Pink Panther cycle even despite not being able to see some of it. I became an instant Hitchcock convert on the strength of Rear Window alone, still my favorite Hitchcock, despite thinking it was black and white and red all over.
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