THIS week marks the 50th anniversary of Bill Collins’s debut as a television movie presenter, and he’s celebrating the occasion with a season of his favourite films. By happy coincidence, these include many of my own, and I can think of no better tribute to him than to list as many as I can. For decades he has been delighting us with his unapologetic love of films, his extravagant enthusiasms, his encyclopedic knowledge. Along with Bob Rogers, still reminiscing on Saturday night radio at the age of 86, I rate him among our national cultural treasures.
His favourite movies (all to be seen on Fox Classics) include Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (Thursday, 10.55pm), regularly lauded in this column; All About Eve (Thursday, 8.35pm), Hollywood’s most engrossing study of backstage Broadway bitchery; Goodbye, Mr Chips (Saturday, 8.30pm), perhaps the cinema’s most accomplished and moving tearjerker; Brief Encounter (Tuesday, 8.35pm), David Lean’s masterly study of unconsummated love in a world of genteel British austerity; The Wizard of Oz (Friday, 8.35pm), everyone’s favourite fairytale; and The Picture of Dorian Gray (Tuesday, 10.05pm), a wonderfully unsettling account of Oscar Wilde’s supernatural morality tale and one of the supreme products of the old Hollywood studio system. The golden years of Hollywood have never looked more golden than they do today, mired as the studios are in a surfeit of violent action and vulgar extravagance.
The studio system that yielded the treasures listed above is caught with ironic and affectionate insight in Barton Fink (Tuesday, 8.35pm, M Drama/Romance), Joel and Ethan Coen’s brilliant homage to Tinseltown set in the framework of an unnerving psychological thriller. Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a promising New York playwright who sets out to make it big in Hollywood, only to find himself holed up in a creepy hotel room stricken with writer’s block and plagued by hallucinatory visions. Turturro’s character is said to be based on playwright Clifford Odets and dipsomaniac writer WP Mayhew (John Mahoney) on William Faulkner. But the scene stealers are John Goodman’s amiable psycho and a manic studio boss in the Louis B. Mayer tradition played by Jack Lipnick.
Lars and the Real Girl (Saturday, 8.30pm, M Drama/Romance), directed by Australian-born Craig Gillespie, has acquired a certain cult status since its release in 2007. Lars (Ryan Gosling) works in an office in a small midwestern town and is desperately shy. One day he surprises everyone by acquiring a life-size sex doll from an internet source and falls in love with it. Bianca, as he calls her, becomes his close companion. Can this ill-matched pair make a happy couple? With ideas as bizarre as these, one desperately wants this brave little film to succeed, and for much of the time it does.
(M) ★★★★✩ Tuesday, 8.35pm, M Drama/Romance
(PG) ★★★★★ Thursday, 8.35pm, Fox Classics
(PG) ★★★ ✩ Saturday, 8.30pm, M Drama/Romance
Veteran movie presenter Bill Collins