I’m up late. All the freaking time. Right now, for instance, it’s 4:51 am EST and I’m watching Turner Classic Movies (specifically: “Night of the Living Dead” for the nth time). The channel has become effective half-attention television for me — which, as I’ve discussed before, is a category I take quite seriously — and this has led me to a strangely personal relationship with the network. Take Robert Osborne, the ever present TCM host: Do other people love him as I do, alone in the small hours of the morning half-watching his earnest pre- and post-film presentations? And what exactly are the economics of screening “Night of the Living Dead” for a handful of insomniacs? Since I can’t imagine a very lucrative business model there, I think of even crappy TCM fare — family films about mischievous boys made in the 1940s, say — as a public service to the temporally isolated individuals such as myself.
I don’t know if anyone makes arguments about the best non-HBO channel on television, but I’d name TCM in a flash. The everyday programming, including early-morning zombie classics, is good enough to put it on the short-list of excellent channels. And then they go and put on truly exceptional film packages. On Jan. 21, I just discovered, TCM will screen five Charles Burnett films, starting at 8pm with “Killer of Sheep” (see iconic image above). I saw this film, famous for being very hard to see, on its trumpeted re-release last year and really loved it. There’s a whole bunch of backstory, read J. Hoberman in the Village Voice so I don’t have to pretend I know all that much about it. Plus, there are four other Burnett films on the bill, including “My Brother’s Wedding,” which is appraised by one of the House Next Door crew here. Set your time-shifting devices.