My youngest son and I have always talked about one day going to the Turner Classic Film Festival. As yet we haven’t been able to fulfill that dream (we are both avid movie enthusiasts and students of cinema from its very beginnings to its modern incarnation) so for my birthday he sent me author and film historian Jeremy Arnold’s two volumes on TCM: the Essentials – Must See Movies and Why They Matter.
Launched in 2001, Turner Classic Movies has broadcast 318 movies over eighteen seasons “that define what it means to be a film classic.” There have been a myriad of hosts, but most readers and television viewers will associate the Saturday night 8:00 p.m. time slot with either Robert Osborne who passed away in 2017, or with the current host Ben Mankiewicz. Both contributed commentary on the selection of films included in these two books; there are 52 entries in each.
It’s important to note that this is not a ranking of films but a sampling by the author. “Every film may not be to everyone’s taste, but each is important to the history of Hollywood or world cinema, whether for content, visual technique, acting, directing, cultural impact, or myriad other reasons.”
The structure in both volumes is the same. Arnold writes about why he considers the film to be essential viewing and what to especially look for in each movie. The narrative is accompanied by original marquees, film posters and photos, as well as commentary by actors, directors and producers that are “critical to a full understanding of the power of cinematic storytelling.”
Movies provide entertainment like no other medium and they are also a window into history. That is why I chose to include a review of these two books on my blog. The site was always intended as a forum to look at life in previous eras and learn from it either through the books that I’ve written or the works of countless authors and their thoughts on history.
For the movie enthusiast, the Essentials (Volumes I&II) are a necessary and welcome addition to your library. You’ll note that I’ve not listed the specific movies included in this compilation. That decision was deliberate. Discovering those titles is something each reader needs experience and only by doing so will you discover the answer to the question –
“What Constitutes an Essential Film?”