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The Essentials 2019

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LOS ANGELES — To say filmmaker Ava DuVernay is a busy woman is an understatement, but when Turner Classic Movies called and asked her to curate the channel's "The Essentials" series, she knew she had to make it work.

Usually "The Essentials" is filmed across two or three days. But the only way it would fit in with DuVernay's schedule — which included editing her "Central Park Five" Netflix miniseries and prepping the DC film "New Gods," among other projects — was if she and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz ruminated about 17 films in one marathon day.

The new season, which launches Saturday, May 4, will include widely known films like "Marty," "West Side Story," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Gandhi" as well as films that may not be as familiar, like "Losing Ground." The Associated Press got a front-row seat to the conversations between DuVernay and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz at the taping last month in Los Angeles.

It was a film lover’s dream tuning into the in-depth dialogues between the two cinema fiends. Their talking continued even after the cameras stopped rolling, from the pronunciation of actor John Cazale's name to Queen Latifah's attempt to make a film about singer Ethel Waters and whether or not it was appropriate to discuss Lena Horne's personal affairs. The two didn't shy away from talking about films that may be problematic now but were important at the time either, like Vincent Minnelli's "Cabin in the Sky," which was the first musical to feature a cast of all African Americans.

There's no denying it was a long day, with a wardrobe change and everything, but it was worth it for both.

"It's like we’re going on a second date," DuVernay said as she walked onto the iconic living room set — where the fire is fake but the books are real — in her second outfit of the day. "I've changed my clothes. You have, too."

"And I didn't even wait three days to call you," Mankiewicz said.

Some of the films Mankiewicz had never seen before DuVernay put them on her list, like Haile Gerima's "Ashes and Embers," about a Vietnam veteran returning home, and Kathleen Collins' semiautobiographical "Losing Ground," both from 1982. Others he had seen before, but said he appreciates in a different way after his talks with DuVernay, like "Dog Day Afternoon," "Harlan County U.S.A." and "The Battle of Algiers," which he now counts among his top 10 or 15 favourite films.

Indeed, part of the reason for having a filmmaker like DuVernay collaborate for the series is because of the unique perspective she'd bring as a black woman filmmaker. And she did not disappoint.

DuVernay programmed documentaries, first features and important films by black filmmakers like Julie Dash, who directed and produced the groundbreaking film "Daughters of the Dust." She also included works from female directors like the late Agnes Varda’s first film "La Point Courte" and Chantal Akerman's "The Meetings of Anna"; international films that had a profound effect on her, like Satyajit Ray’s debut "Pather Panchali"; and important landmarks in representation, like "Sounder” and “Claudine."

"People who love movies benefit from thinking globally about film — globally literally and globally figuratively," Mankiewicz said. "In America, we had a class system that kept more than half the people out of being the leading voice in making this art form, and Ava is proving to be a conduit for helping us unlock that."

In fact, in making her selections, DuVernay chose a number of films that weren't in the TCM library at all, including both "Losing Ground" and "Ashes and Embers."

DuVernay said there wasn't a deep bench of black filmmakers in the catalogue, but that TCM was "really responsive in going out and getting those licenses" in order to air the films for a wide audience.

DuVernay still recalls the first movie that inspired her to her eventual path in filmmaking — "West Side Story." It was her aunt that introduced it to her, and she can barely contain her infectious giddiness while discussing.

"It was such a seminal moment for me," DuVernay said.

She’s hoping the films that she chose for "The Essentials" might have that same effect on someone else.

"To think that you could, hopefully, attract new audiences to TCM to watch some of this and to think that it could change people in the way it changed me was really exciting," she said.

DuVernay is looking forward to audiences discovering 1982's "Losing Ground" and Kathleen Collins in particular, who she considers on par with any of the white male contemporaries of the time, like, "a Woody Allen, per se." The film was never released beyond screenings at film festivals and Collins died in 1988 at the young age of 46.

"It was just a slice of life from her perspective and yet because she was a woman and because she was black it went nowhere," DuVernay said. "And now that film has been forgotten by so many — not even forgotten, it’s never been known."

She continued, "That's one that especially as a black woman filmmaker, I feel so connected to wanting to make sure people know her, know that she existed, know what she said and what she put out in the world and to really appreciate that she just was."

And Mankiewicz was more than happy to sit and listen and learn.

"She was very eager to talk about these movies which were very important to her," he said. "But the real beneficiaries are TCM fans. We win in this deal."

--Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press

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So, The Essentials is no longer The Essentials but more like, The Messages. Fine. But don't count on me watching.

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On 4/25/2019 at 8:14 AM, Brrrcold said:

So, The Essentials is no longer The Essentials but more like, The Messages. Fine. But don't count on me watching.

Yes, it seems a bit more message-y than it was before. But I'm sure people will still enjoy watching.

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May 2019:

4th of May: Starring Ernest Borgnine
11th of May: African directors
18th of May: Starring Lena Horne
25th of May: Directed by Satyajit Ray

Here's the article:

http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/1484285|0/The-Essentials-Saturdays-in-May.html

***

June 2019:

1st of June: Street gangs
8th of June: 1976 documentaries (though one is technically from 1975)
15th of June: Directed by Agnes Varda
22nd of June: Starring Al Pacino
29th of June: African American families

***

July 2019:

6th of July: A night in Algiers
13th of July: Let's go to India
20th of July: Extracurricular activities
27th of July: Starring James Earl Jones

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I somehow missed the first new episode of The Essentials last night. I’ve seen Marty numerous times but wanted to see the intro. I caught a 30 second clip on Twitter but hoped to see it posted online somewhere. Unlike many, I like the host introductions and will often tune in for those when I can. If anyone finds a link to these introductions I’d love to have it. 

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What a great start to this brand new season of The Essentials.  Ben and Ava did a really great and really wonderful job.  Didn’t they and I think I thought for a while that Ben Mainkawitz would be a perfect new host for The Essentials and here he is with filmmaker Ava Duvernay and Marty is a really wonderful classic movie.  Isn’t it and Ernest Bordinine was a really wonderful actor.  Wasn’t he?  I also remember when Robert Osbourne and Drew Barrymore showed Marty as part of The Essentials too.

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TCMVerified account @tcm

 
 
.@BenMank77 and @Ava discuss pursuing progress for diversity in Hollywood. The conversation continues  tonight at 8pm ET with Haile Gerima's ASHES AND EMBERS ('82). #TCMEssentials

=============================

Ben MankiewiczVerified account @BenMank77 6m6 minutes ago

 

Tonight on @tcm, many of you will be exposed to Ashes & Embers for the first time - as I was - by @ava DuVernay.

And let me tell you, there is no better entry into this film than she provides. The movie expanded my world. I suspect it will yours. #TheEssentials

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They should just let The Essentials go.  It is my understanding that the purpose of The Essentials was to introduce viewers to the “most” classic of classic films.  Mission accomplished.  The films in this go around are not classics nor are they essentials.  They are political statements.  If TCM wants to air them, fine, but don’t call them essentials.  And don’t expect me to tune in.  I know they can’t  show Gone with the Wind every night, but I miss the days when I could snuggle in for the night with a reasonably good movie.  Sorry,  but I want the MGM gang from back in the 30s & 40s, not foreign or obscure actors & films.  If that is not PC, then so be it.

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13 hours ago, sme1492 said:

...  The films in this go around are not classics nor are they essentials.  They are political statements.  If TCM wants to air them, fine, but don’t call them essentials.  And don’t expect me to tune in.  ...

This was my reaction when the schedule was announced, though I tuned in at first - but my instinct was correct.

Ben M.'s politics are no secret. AD is as much an activist as she is a filmmaker. I don't think anyone objects to either or both of them selecting films - but calling that The Essentials is a sham.  It's also somewhat contrary to what is purported to be the concept offered by Ted Turner (himself no stranger to outspoken politics...) when TCM launched.

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Absolutely agree with you and others!

The film on right now is definitely NOT an ‘Essential’.   “Losing Ground” seems like a nice low budget independent film, but there is NO ONE that would consider it an ‘essential’.  I can see why this host likes it, it’s very personal to her and her experience, but it is NOT essential viewing for someone unfamiliar with classic film.

I absolutely DREAD Saturday night movie viewing now.  I groan when I turn on TCM and go, “WAIT! It’s Saturday!  That means two (usually) newer boring films that aren’t ‘classic’.  

Oh well, it’ll be 11:00 soon and I can watch “Noir Alley”.  Until then, I’ll watch TCM “On Demand”.

Ugh!!!  Stop it Ben Mankiewicz!  I’m not here to be preached at, I want to watch classic movies again!  

I just resubbed cable last month for TCM...looms like it may be time to cancel again.

 

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The Movies! channel seems to have recognized the frustration of fans of the The Essentials. On August 2 that channel will replace its 'Saturday Night Love' programming with a series it calls 'Definitive Movies': "They can be powerful and personal. They shaped us and defined us. They broke new ground and the box office. They are Definitive Movies!, Saturdays starting at 8PM."

http://moviestvnetwork.com/definitive

It seems two movies will be scheduled each week. First up, August 2, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and EAST OF EDEN.

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What must be done to show this lady the door? Robert Osborne must be turning over in his grave. The Essentials used to stand for the exhibition of films that were landmarks in their genre. The films being shown today are amateurish at best. One film she screened, you could hear the wind noise picked up by the microphone.

TCM used to mean classic movies, but today they pick someone who studied film by a correspondence and picks 8MM movies, she calls classics.

My criticism is solely based on the experience of viewing the present day Essentials. Anyone who tries to twist sex or race into this is crazy!

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17 minutes ago, joesap1 said:

What must be done to show this lady the door? Robert Osborne must be turning over in his grave. The Essentials used to stand for the exhibition of films that were landmarks in their genre. The films being shown today are amateurish at best. One film she screened, you could hear the wind noise picked up by the microphone.

TCM used to mean classic movies, but today they pick someone who studied film by a correspondence and picks 8MM movies, she calls classics.

My criticism is solely based on the experience of viewing the present day Essentials. Anyone who tries to twist sex or race into this is crazy!

My opinion: they didn't even consider the films selected. They wanted some controversy, some 'word of mouth' via TV Critics, 'influencers,' etc. Her activism is a feature, not a bug. But, also, they wanted a celebrity as the co-host, and she was available at least in part because she was under some control by the Turner, in connection to the miniseries she directed that airs on FX.

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1 minute ago, Brrrcold said:

But, also, they wanted a celebrity as the co-host, and she was available at least in part because she was under some control by the Turner, in connection to the miniseries she directed that airs on FX.

I'm not sure what you mean by this part. What mini-series? The only one I see in her credits is When They See Us, which is on Netflix, and wasn't produced by either Turner or Fox/FX. And anyway, what connection exists between Turner and FX? 

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TCM should have just used Alec Baldwin dress up as a current historical figure.

Now that would really bring TCM attention!

 

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16 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

TCM should have just used Alec Baldwin dress up as a current historical figure.

Now that would really bring TCM attention!

 

"Sad!"

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8 minutes ago, LawrenceA said:

I'm not sure what you mean by this part. What mini-series? The only one I see in her credits is When They See Us, which is on Netflix, and wasn't produced by either Turner or Fox/FX. And anyway, what connection exists between Turner and FX? 

My error. I thought I'd watched it on FX ... The allegation is invalid. But I think the nature of her celebrity was nevertheless a factor.

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1 minute ago, Brrrcold said:

My error. I thought I'd watched it on FX ... The allegation is invalid. But I think the nature of her celebrity was nevertheless a factor.

Yes, I'm sure she was chosen for inclusivity and perhaps to appeal to a different demographic. Many of the movies chosen for her Essentials have been on TCM previously. Maybe they should have picked a different filmmaker every month and had them choose their own personal Essentials, sort of like an extended Guest Programmer series. 

Personally it doesn't matter much to me, as if there is something on that I don't want to see again or don't care about, I have other channels and hundreds of movies available on disc/tape/streaming/etc.

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6 minutes ago, LawrenceA said:

Yes, I'm sure she was chosen for inclusivity and perhaps to appeal to a different demographic. Many of the movies chosen for her Essentials have been on TCM previously. Maybe they should have picked a different filmmaker every month and had them choose their own personal Essentials, sort of like an extended Guest Programmer series. 

Personally it doesn't matter much to me, as if there is something on that I don't want to see again or don't care about, I have other channels and hundreds of movies available on disc/tape/streaming/etc.

That would be interesting. But I think the films they select do matter. The premise (and title) of the series invites viewers to share in experiencing (or experiencing again) the films and performances that shaped a cultural legacy. This new incarnation is suggesting a different cultural legacy - and I'm open to that proposition. But these films are not 'essentials', and a celebrity activist claiming that they are is simply insulting.

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It is the majority opinion of the TCM members that this person hosting the present incarnation of The Essentials is prejudiced and clearly ignorant of film history and film techniques. The films she has chosen are poorly made, heavy handed in message, and therefore, impossible to watch.

How long must TCM management continue in this blunder?

Today, TCM aired Intruders In The Dust, a film made at MGM in 1949. This film is 4 Star. As a white boy, I was captured by how this film illustrated prejudice. This is the kind of film that person should have shown on her Essentials, but, unfortunately, she was probably, due to her lack of education, ignorant of the film's existence.

Like the rest of those vocal here, we would like to have a film to watch Saturday night, but we will have to search elsewhere until TCM cancels this experiment.

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32 minutes ago, joesap1 said:

It is the majority opinion of the TCM members that this person hosting the present incarnation of The Essentials is prejudiced and clearly ignorant of film history and film techniques. The films she has chosen are poorly made, heavy handed in message, and therefore, impossible to watch.

How long must TCM management continue in this blunder?

Today, TCM aired Intruders In The Dust, a film made at MGM in 1949. This film is 4 Star. As a white boy, I was captured by how this film illustrated prejudice. This is the kind of film that person should have shown on her Essentials, but, unfortunately, she was probably, due to her lack of education, ignorant of the film's existence.

Like the rest of those vocal here, we would like to have a film to watch Saturday night, but we will have to search elsewhere until TCM cancels this experiment.

In fact, there are a lot of films from the silent era into the studio era that can be cited as making a positive - even "progressive" - statement about race relations, but I don't think that was specifically the host's objective. I think the objective is to present an alternative version of history and art, and ultimately to displace the established understanding of what is "essential". .... I don't think that effort will succeed.

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I believe Brrrcold has hit upon a truth when he or she states that the present concoction of The Essentials is trying to present “an alternate version of history.”

This is a noble cause, but first we must have films made with technical expertise, so that poor production values don’t obscure the message.

Finally, we must have an host educated in the language of the films they are presenting.

That is my point, we have neither the films, nor the presenter.

Not that they don’t exist, but TCM has chosen to leave us wanting.

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I can understand that TCM would like to attract new viewers, especially minorities and/or younger hip viewers who see themselves as making a political statement by watching the kind of movies BM & AD are waxing poetic over, but to what end?  They can't keep the "old" viewers with this type of programming, and they can't retain "new" ones who tune in solely for this type of programming. Perhaps BM/AD/TCM think they are righting a wrong by including such films in The Essentials, but facts are facts.  The facts are that generally, minorities were marginalized in classic films (not all the films, but the majority) and were not the stars or the focus of the movie.  Is it fair? No! But it's the way it was.  I'm not sure what the answer is...Trotting out Cabin in the Sky again?  Giving up the effort to be PC? Is it unPC to merely show the movies of the era without attaching them to some cause? No more Minority night? Gay night? And now, Disabled night?  If the movies AD picked must be shown, then it shouldn't be under The Essentials brand.  And selfishly for me, not on a Friday or Saturday night when I have time to put my feet up and relax with a movie without worrying about having to get up early the next morning.

Classic movies, at least in the way most classic movie fans define them are extinct. They are no more. We can't go back to the 1930s and make more films or make them in a different way.  PC or not, they are what they are.

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