Friday, January 8, 2010

How To Be a Classic Film Fan without TCM

I do not have Turner Classic Movies and extenuating circumstances prevent me from getting the channel. I'm not going to explain why because from the reaction I've been getting from people, it's very unlikely you will understand. I love TCM and the channel played a pivotal role in the early development of my love for classic movies. I hope to have the channel again someday soon, but it's just not in the books right now.

Does this make me any less of a classic film fan? Absolutely not and I resent anyone who implies that. It just forces me to be more creative. It makes me sad that I miss things like The Siren's Shadows of Russia series  (watch it please if you have TCM!). But in the end, I'll survive.

Here are a few ways to be a classic film fan without TCM.

1) Netflix

Althought Netflix gets a bad rap for hurt DVD sales, it's by far the best way of watching classic films on DVD. Their selection is enormous and I like to mix up my queue with classics, indie flicks, contemporary comedy and foreign films. Plus you can watch Documentaries and TV shows on here too. It's relatively inexpensive, with the 1-DVD-at-time monthly cost being only $8.99 or you can even rent 2 DVDs a month for $4.99. Blockbuster does not support classic films like Netflix does and Blockbuster also censors what they will or will not rent, so Netflix is really your best bet for variety.

2) Classicflix

Netflix doesn't have some of the more obscure DVDs and they don't carry the Warner Archive collection like Classicflix does. With rates starting at $9.99 a month for 1-DVD-at-a-time, you can watch as many Warner Archive movies as your heart desires (without having to buy all the DVDs yourself). It's a great deal and a good supplement to Netflix. If you live on the East Coast however, there is a significant delay since the distribution point is in California. But it's a mom-and-pop organization and those are always good to support.

3) DVDs owned/Movies taped

If you take TCM away from a classic film fan for a whole month, I bet you they probably can fill said month with tons of films they haven't seen. Your average classic film enthusiast has tons and tons of movies on DVD or taped on DVR, TiVo, burned DVDs or VHS tapes. What's great about having your own library of films, is the ready access to some great classics and the comfort of knowing you can re-watch your favorites any time you want. Don't take your personal library for granted though. So many unseen films collect dust in our homes and really they deserve to be watched. Take some time out to watch from your own collection!

4) Libraries

You can find lots of great classics through your local library and best of all it's free. Some libraries will let you loan from other libraries from other towns through their sharing networks. If you are a college student and your school has some kind of film program, then you've just hit the jackpot. Chances are your school's library or the film department has lots of films for viewing. Most will let you take them out, others will require youto watch them there or that you be part of their film program. It depends on the school. I could never borrow from my Grad school but I remember watching The Quiet Man (1952) at my Undergrad school in a little booth in their film library.

5) Books on Classic Films

Why not extend the pleasure of watching a great classic by reading about it? Or reading about the life of one of your favorite actors or actresses? It's not enough to just watch the classic films, you need to learn about them too. There are so many great books on classic films and biographies on stars out there and new books are published every year. Peel yourself away from your TV and cuddle up with a good book.

6) Borrow/Share with Friends

Sharing films with friends is a great way to watch movies you wouldn't normally see and to share your favorites with those people that are close to you. Sharing like this is totally free and it widens your film horizons. You have to be open-minded to do this. Don't shun a film just because of some strange excuse you may have (like your distaste for perfectly fine actors such as Edmond O'Brien, you know who you are). If a friend recommends it, try it out!

7) Buy new DVDs

The DVD industry is a faltering business with most people preferring to rent than to buy. If you have a classic that you absolutely love, support it by buying it on DVD. You can get some great deals online. Just don't buy so many that you end up in the poorhouse. Just buy the DVDs that are most important to you. And watch online stores for clearances and sales!

8) Watch movies online

YouTube,, Internet Archive, etc. There are even some not-so-legal movie sharing websites that you can access or be invited to. I don't care for watching movies on my computer but some folks have really come to depend on this for their regular classic film viewing repertoire.

9) Obscure Films at Online DVD Stores

Again, another venue I'm not all that familiar with but lots of people have come to depend on these sites. Two examples are Yammering Magpie and Vintage Classic Movies . eBay is also a great source. Contact your favorite classic film blogger if you want to find more! I know for a fact that Katie of Obscure Classics , Jonas of All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!, Kate from Silents and Taklies and Elizabeth from Oh By Jingo! Oh By Gee! are all experts on finding some really rare gems online. Kate just posted her personal library of films online and you can buy copies from her at $8 a piece or $5 per for 15 or more. Great deal!

10) Repertory Theatres and Other Venues

I've seen classic films at my local repertory theatre, a local university, an art museum and even at a park and an armory. Watching films in these venues gets you out of the house and out with friends (or strangers). You get to watch the film on the big screen which is always a treat and it's a surprise to see how the audience reacts. Sometimes it's negative but for the most part the people who go to these venues genuinely want to be there. I'm lucky that I live in a metropolitan area like Boston and that this community fully supports history and the arts so it's easy to watch classic films in my area. However, if you don't have these options available to you have a regular movie night at your place (or someone else's place) with friends. Don't delegate all your classic film watching to isolated and private consumption in your own home. Get out! Share!



  1. Great post! We also no longer have TCM--in our case, it's a matter of economics--living where we do, we could only get TCM on satellite & it doesn't come with either the basic package or the next package up on either Dish or DirectTV, so it finally was beyond our budget. We do have a large personal collection of taped movies, & we get NetFlix--& I need to sign up with ClassicFlix for sure! Thanks for the reminder on that.

  2. I don't have TCM either, so I've definately used a lot of these alternatives. I utilize YouTube and the good ol' library a lot, but would love to start getting Netflix or Classicflix. Cool post!

  3. Very nice post, Raquelle! You've got good ideas for the people who have TCM, too.

    Best wishes,

  4. John - Same kind of thing happened to me. It just got too expensive and to out of my reach. There is a local cable company that offers the channel in a cheap basic package but my building is wired for another company! Argh. Good luck with Classicflix!

    Francy - Netflix and Classicflix are at the top for a reason. They are godsends. Constant stream of great movies in my mailbox.

    Laura- Good point. These apply to everyone.

  5. Really great post! It's hard sometimes to be a classic film fan without TCM. And thank you for listing me as a reference! :)

  6. This is a great post - while I do have TCM (we had to go up an extra tier on our Dish Network in order to get it!) I find that the majority of the classic films I watch are from the sources you list - namely Netflix, my own DVDs and borrowing from family/friends.

    I love TCM, and do get a lot of movie ideas from them even if I don't watch them at that moment on the channel, but I do find that they will have large blocks of time when I am just not interested (like today's Elvis day) and I retreat to my own resources. You don't have to have TCM subscriber to be a classic movie fan - if anything, you're a more loyal fan for going the extra mile to seek the material out without the benefit of a 24 hour channel!


  7. I don't know what I would do without TCM. If my cable package didn't have it, I would probably have to move, I love it that much.

    Just this past week or so I've watched several films that have never been available on video in any form. Not even on VHS.

    It is a great channel. I'm sorry you don't get it there.

    That said, a very good list of other resources.

  8. Great post! I don't have TCM either (I can't get it where I live)! So, I rely heavily on my library and the internet! And my family's films collection.

    Anyway, I'm glad to know there are others out there without it! I thought I was the only one!!

  9. A very much appreciated post! I'm also don't get TCM -- not because I don't want to (I'd have that station on constantly if I did), but because a cable package is not affordable any longer. I use most of the resources you mention, along with avidly tuning into TCM when I visit family or friends and the opportunity presents itself!

  10. Thanks for this nice post - people seem shocked that we don't all have TCM as our primary source of classic movies, but you do a great job pointing out all the other ways we can enjoy and learn about classic films.

  11. It bums me out that I can't order just TCM--because I could care less about most of the cable channels. I don't know if I'll ever be able to justify the cost for just one channel. However, I am totally overwhelmed with viewing choices as it is: Netflix, Classicflix, the library--and then there's all that stuff on YouTube. The day I realized how many classic movies were at the library was one of the best of my life! I mean, a lot of that stuff never made it to DVD. Anyway, blah blah--great post.

  12. I wonder how libraries do it sometimes. My own in Albany NY has a pretty stupendous selection with a generous helping of foreign films, some quite obscure. When the doors open there's always a queue outside. I'd say half are there to use the computers, half to grab the New Arrival DVDs. I have TCM but the library is if anything a greater resource because of the greater diversity of content. Racquelle, I hope yours is at least as good as mine.

  13. A very consumer friendly post indeed! Good work! I have never had TCM or any other classic film channel. I live in Sweden, a country where classic film generally is avoided.

    I totally depend on swapping films with friends all over the world and buying nice releases of the ones I really love (if there is a nice release that is).

    One thing with buying non official releases of impossibly rare films from different net sites; Sometimes the quality of the prints used are hilariously bad. Most of them are not worth paying for.

    Thanks for mentioning me in your post. You are all welcome to contact me if you need a particular rare silent or early talkie, I may know where to get it or might even have it.

  14. Try being a classic film fan who lives in Australia, doesn't have pay TV and has very limited downloads, so can't watch movies online and doesn't have access to online DVD libraries. ;]
    -Andi x

  15. I applaud your mature attitude. You have some great ideas for watching the movies you love without resorting to cable.

  16. Hi Raquelle- just stopping by to tell you that you have been awarded the Kreativ Blogger award. Details here.

  17. Thank you for this great post! It's good, for one thing, to see someone advocate for a) going to the library and b) going out into the city to experience culture (and classic films along with it) instead of staying at home and watching TCM. I honestly think if you rely upon TCM or AMC (though they've become much less about classic films and more about Mad Men/the same 5 movies over and over) you miss a lot of interaction with fellow classic film enthusiasts. Not to mention, as I stated above, a lot of these channels have a tendency to play the same movies many times, whereas Netflix and the other sources give your recommendation you might not necessarily otherwise think to find.

    Anyway, thank you for the myriad suggestions! I'll have to try out various venues where I live and jump outside of my TV bubble to perhaps watch these movies with my friends and family!

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  19. I have not looked for many classics, but Fancast is a pretty good site.

  20. Thank God I'm not the only one! Well, I do have TCM but sadly most of the day Cartoon Network preoccupy the channel and it's only around 9 o'clock in the evening that TCM appears *hmph!* ... This happened not so long ago due to some local TV aerial change, and I was really hacked off (to say the least). Until now I've only had YouTube and my own humble DVD collection to rely on... So, thanks for the suggestions! ;)

  21. I'm in the same boat as you, and these are all really helpful tips. I know this is an old post, but I thought you'd like to know that I've just started a new monthly feature on my blog wherein I list all the classic films coming to and expiring from Netflix Instant. I call it Instant Classics.

  22. Great post! While it is a wonderful channel, TCM is not the be-all and end-all of classic movies. Some of our local movie theatres play classic movies once a month - a great chance to see them on the big screen.

  23. I'm one of those people who has TCM on from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to bed and it's been that was since its inception minus one year when I was out of work and had to trim my expenses. What a painful year it was. TCM is like my comfort food of household sight and sound. Having said all that, I agree with the author of this post. TCM is only part of a balanced education in classic film and reading is a rich way to supplement that education. I have an insatiable thirst for books on any aspect of filming and actors from the silent era through maybe the sixties and my kindle has now become as indispensable as TCM. I like reading the ebooks because I have hundreds stored inside that don't require dusting.

    Our cable bill is spiraling out of control and it's all because I want this one channel. For the greater good of our household purse even I have to concede that it might be time to trim the expenses by sacrificing my beloved TCM and saving about $1400.00 year. It's killing me, but it's insane that I must pay for other premier channels when I only watch one.

    I came here to find out if there's anyway to have my cake and eat it too. Wish there was a way to only pay for TCM. Wish Turner Broadcasting was less interested in taking advantage of consumers by only offering it as part of an expensive bundle. Surely, they're rich enough by now.

  24. I Love TCM and have recorded 100's of movies on dvd uncut.
    Sometimes I make copies for friends that cant find these chestnuts - dvd blanks are 22 cent each in bulk.
    I may be facing a time where we cant afford cable since I am out of work and considered disabled by most, so I agree with your article on alternative sources.


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