When I was about sixteen years old, my rural Ohio home got a small dish satellite and I got access to cable television for the first time. It was a brave new world of media for an audience that had, up to that point, viewed whatever fuzzy signals found their way down from Cleveland. The nearest library was a twenty-minute drive to the next town and our 56k dial-up internet connection was still a few years down the road. And so television became the most reliable way for me to discover the frontier I had recently stumbled upon: capital-Film.
Often in our youth, we have times where the excitement of a new realm of knowledge or experience is stymied by helplessness in the face of its vastness and complexity. If you have no access to formal education on the topic, nor a community whose advice and judgment you can trust, you must set out to explore on your own. But you must also find some sort of a guide.
Robert Osborne, the Turner Classic Movies host who passed away earlier this week, was one of the guides to film I found. TCM was a priceless resource for a beginner cineaste. Their film schedules were lovingly curated, structured so that you could focus on what was important with enough room left to figure out why it was important at your own pace. The warm greeting of, “Hi, I’m Robert Osborne,” was there to welcome you to each new exploration. He opened the door and made you feel at home. He was the opposite of an intimidating gatekeeper who demanded you prove your cinematic credentials before you were allowed to join the party. You were welcome. Everyone was welcome. Osborne, wit his comfortable geniality and infectious passion for movies was a large part of why that was true. You felt he really wanted you to love and appreciate the film you were about discover. It really mattered to him that you love it as much as he did, except in your own way.
I learned a lot from Robert Osborne about film, but I might have learned even more from him about what it is to be an effective educator and community member. I learned to pay attention and respect to what moves you. I learned that individuals are to be treasured for what they are. I learned how to value the larger context of historical significance. I learned that enthusiasm is the most essential component of what makes a strong community, and that to make it stronger, you only look for and encourage more enthusiasm. You don’t keep people out to make yourself more important. You be a friendly gatekeeper, and you bring others in.
A couple of years ago, TCM partnered with Disney to revamp the Great Movie Ride at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. They contributed new pre- and post-ride segments, hosted by Robert Osborne, in addition to his narration of the ride itself. I suppose your appreciation of the ride depends largely on your taste for Disney dark rides and animatronic recreations of classic movie moments. I, for one, adore it. We ride the Great Movie Ride multiple times each Disney World trip. We will again this year. It reminds me of setting out to learn about movies and discover why I love them. And it seems perfectly fitting that Osborne’s voice will continue to lead people through that journey, with warmth and sincerity and companionship, as we continue on, through the dark.