So what do people do when they get home from the pub these days?

I’ll tell you what I did, a lot of the time and for a long period right through from later school days pretty much up to birth of first child:  turned on the television, BBC2 for well over ten years and then increasingly Channel 4 as well, and watched late-night European art-house films.

Jules et Jim , Last Year At Marienbad, Rome Open City, La Dolce Vita, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Claire’s Knee, The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty, Fitzcarraldo, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Day For Night, Closely Observed Trains, Spirit of the Beehive, Breathless, God, now that I’ve got started on this list there’s no stopping me. 

And I can do the same with the directors, more or less matching to the above:  Truffaut, Resnais, Rossellini, Fellini, Bunuel, Rohmer, Herzog, Wenders, Fassbinder, Menzel, Erice, Godard, yes, OK, I’m turning into Nick Hornby.

Anyway, the thing is:  brilliant films, fantastic to watch after four or five pints of Guinness, and a really important part of several generations’ learning about popular culture (key message:  Hollywood doesn’t call all the shots).  But where are they now?  Sky alone has ten movie channels;  there are probably half a dozen other equally-dedicated channels of one sort or another;  and up to another 30 or 40 channels showing between one and four movies a day.  But as far as I can see, there isn’t a single one regularly showing this kind of material

In the short term, this must result in a distressing gap in the lives of millions of students and others coming home late in the evening from licensed premises, who presumably can find little else to do except go to bed with each other and role-play some of the more involving scenes from some of the films they’re not watching.

But in the longer term, the gap in people’s cultural understanding will be more problematic.  It’s ironic, for example, that Stella Artois, which does so much to promote and sponsor modern (and largely Hollywood) films on television, has based its advertising for many years on lovingly-made parodies of films that most of its target market have now never seen.  (Who aged under, say, 25 now knows anything about the films where Stella’s “reassuringly expensive” parodies campaign began, Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources?) 

Call him a ghastly misogynistic old fascist (he’d probably take it as a compliment), but Kingsley Amis expressed one of the great truths of modern life when he said – on the subject, I think, of the increasing number of places at universities – that “more means worse.”

It seems almost impossible to believe that this principle could apply to movies on TV, over a period in which we’ve moved from a mere three or four channels showing a couple of films a day to fifty or sixty showing several hundred.

But if you hanker after a touch of Mastroianni, Ekberg, Belmondo, Deneuve, Delon, Hauer, Bergman (Ingrid or Ingmar), Schygulla, Seberg, Auteuil, Seyrig, that’s enough foreign names (ed), then I think you’ll find Kingsley’s quote applies just as well to the boom in the number of TV channels as it does to, well, everything else really.

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