Reel Reviews | The Power of Film

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

The ultimate television channel for movies and videophiles launches a series that gives the ultimate education in what makes a film great in The Power of Film.

Since the beginning of its existence, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been a channel where lovers of film can dive deeply into a vault of the films that defined greatness, films that were the foundation for an industry that has now existed for over one hundred years. 

In the beginning of its existence, TCM was about showing and sharing films and the education was in the viewing, being able to see the classics, and building a working knowledge of the films, actors, and directors who paved the way for so many others in the field.  

Then there were the hosts.  Who could forget those wonderful vignettes by Robert Osbourne and Ben Mankiewicz, Alicia Malone, and Leonard Maltin?  The hosts would introduce the upcoming film where they would share important information about the creation of the film, the studios, and/or the actors.  It was the best education about the history of cinema.  Until now.

This week TCM concluded a six-part series called The Power of Film.  Based upon his book of the same name, UCLA film professor Howard Suber attempts to answer the big questions about film.  “Why do we love movies so much?”  “What makes a movie resonate with people?”  “What makes a movie a classic that appeals to us over and over again?”  The book and series are the culmination of over 50 years of Professor Suber’s teaching on the subject.

In each episode of the series, Suber examines one (or sometimes two) of the essential elements that make a movie unforgettable.  Whether it is character relationships, paradox, love, or more, the identifications of these elements are the result of years of examination and comparison conducted by Suber. For decades, Suber has shared these characteristics with students at UCLA and across the country.  TCM host Dave Karger and filmmakers Doug Pray and Laura Gabbert, who collaborate with him on the series, are graduates of Suber’s classes. In addition to Pray, Gabbert, and Karger, Suber has inspired generations of great film scholars and filmmakers and now he is bringing his lecture series to the TCM audience.

The Power of Film is much more than a lecture series though.  Because it is on TCM, Suber has access to the extensive library of films and Suber uses the library to its fullest extent.  Each hour-long episode is loaded with video clips from movies in almost every decade, silent and “talkies”, black and white and color, musicals, comedy, and drama to illustrate his point of view about what makes movies great.  With this ability to visually support his arguments, Suber creates a series that is undeniably accessible and relatable to both film lovers and filmmakers.

The result is the ultimate film appreciation, a master class about the greatness of cinema.  After watching this series, every viewer is armed with the knowledge of how to create a movie that will be a lasting success. And somehow the knowledge of how difficult it is to make the magic happen.  Nonetheless, this is a series that embodies everything that TCM has been about since its inception, true appreciation of film through knowledge.

Grade:  A+