Saturday, August 23, 2008

Back to basic(s)

Honest to my grandma, this post started out to be a positive assessment of my cable television service—known here on the blog as CharredHer—because as Sam Johnson, convalescing blogger and feuding partner of your humble narrator, once complained in a post that all I ever do is complain about the cable service. Allow me to elucidate:

I’ve got one of those digital cable boxes, and every time there’s a red light on it means I’ve got some mail I need to peruse. Usually it’s some promo announcement for a Pay-Per-View boxing match, but a few days ago it was actually something of interest: a heads-up that the FLIX channel was going to be made available gratis to expanded basic subscribers.

Now, in all actuality, most of what I would like to see on FLIX—a Showtime-owned channel that contains a mixture of empty-calorie movie hits and art house classics—is already offered on the On Demand channel, free of charge. Sometimes the selection is pretty spotty but other times they offer an interesting lineup. Currently, I can watch an array of movies that include Bad Boys (1983), Beautiful Girls (1996), Being John Malkovich (1999), Foxes (1980), Hester Street (1975), Smithereens (1982) and The Landlord (1970). Some of these I’ve already seen (Boys, Girls, Malkovich) and some I have wanted to catch (Hester, Landlord) and, again, the great thing about it is I don’t have to pay extra for them. There are also a few movies available from TCM (Captains Courageous, Gilda), IFC, Sundance, etc.

Last Saturday, I watched John Schlesinger’s Billy Liar (1963) on FLIX On Demand, a movie that I enjoyed very much. Tom Courtenay plays the title character, a young Northern lad who copes with his mundane existence by living in his own fantasy world—one that requires him to “stretch the truth” from time to time, hence his nickname. I’d previously only been aware of the film because I’ve got the TV series (telecast on ITV from 1973-74) on DVD, which goes mainly for comic situations and avoids much of the bitter sweetness of the movie. (The same material was used for a short-lived CBS sitcom in the 1970s called Billy, which starred Steve Guttenberg. Of this, I will say no more.)

I’m not sure I would call myself a huge fan of Courtenay’s, though I’ve seen a few of his films and have always been impressed as a result—including The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), King & Country (1964) and Let Him Have It (1991). I really did like his portrayal of Billy, a decent sort who you can’t help but root for even though his talent for “expedient exaggeration” lands him in hot water time and time again. He’s aided and abetted by a first-cast in Liar as well: Wilfred Pickles and Mona Washbourne as his long-suffering parents; Ethel Griffies; Finlay Currie; Gwendolyn Watts; Helen Frasier…and the ever-delightful Julie Christie in one of her earliest performances. I was tickled to see several future Britcom stars in Liar: Ernest Clark (Dr. Geoffrey Loftus in Doctor in the House and its related sequels and spin-offs) has a bit part in one of Billy’s daydreams as a prison warden, Rodney Bewes (one of The Likely Lads) plays Billy’s best friend and Leonard Rossiter (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) is Billy’s boss. (I suppose I could include Pickles on this list as well, seeing as he co-starred in the long-running For the Love of Ada.)

So, I turn the TV on this morning to see if they’ve instituted the changes with FLIX, and I’m doomed to disappointment…all I get on the screen is a message saying I don’t receive this channel because I haven’t paid for it. I e-mailed CharredHer about this, and received a reply stating that I can get FLIX…providing I cough up an additional sawbuck.

Since you and I know what the outcome of this is going to be, I guess this is as good a time as any to close the subject. (Rat bastards…)

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