For the past 20 years, Robert Osborne has been my teacher at film school. It’s a school I’ve attended wearing pajamas with messy hair, a school that has seen me transition from braces and bad fashion. I’ve seen it change too. The school has gone from SD to HD from a big box antenna tv to a slick flatscreen. This school that I call home is always viewed from inside my own home. Fans of TCM know what I’m talking about. The connection we have with this network is so much more than a television channel. TCM has made us think, cry, laugh, and seek out new ideas.
When I was growing up, watching classic movies was not a cool thing. Let’s be honest, when my friends were watching Sailor Moon and listening to the Spice Girls, it was hard to find someone who wanted to watch Bringing up Baby.
When you watch Robert Osborne on screen, he always makes you feel welcomed. But it also fed into a terrible stereotype. I hate to say this but for some classic films are for old people. People are even disgusted by black and white cinematography. This isn’t TCM’s fault and I don’t fault the network by any means. In fact, TCM is continuing to change minds as it grows with the current times. They’ve shown time and again their commitment to growth with innovative and in-depth themes. When Ben Mankiewicz was brought in as the second host, there was a shift because he was completely different from Osborne in his approach to classic film. I love that variety. I love that TCM is and has always been open-minded.
Two years ago when the network celebrated its 20th anniversary, they hosted a contest where a fan could land the ultimate dream of presenting a film with Robert Osborne. The winner selected was a millennial Latina named Tiffany Vazquez. I am not being dramatic when I say seeing her onscreen with Robert Osborne made me well up a bit. It was a game changer. I didn’t even know her but when you see someone who is like you doing something you never thought would be possible is a powerful thing. It strengthened my belief that this artform that I love so much is accessible to all, including me, a Latina. Now, Vazquez has joined the team full time as the Saturday afternoon host. Even if I have always felt this, to see TCM, a major network and the leading force for all things classic film, is a big deal. It goes to show that they are indeed the best. TCM understands what’s happening, they see the fanbase, and this is why they are a leader.
Millennials love the classics. While we’re seeing the big wave of 90’s nostalgia, millennials have also grown up with classic films. Millennials are attending TCMFF in droves. For those of us who can’t make the Hollywood trip, TCM responds to this with their big screen classics series giving us the chance to see films like The Maltese Falcon on the big screen. But they’re not the only ones. There’s a craving for these stories. We’re seeing independent movie houses do this too and even though box office attendance has been an issue, I’m attending these special screenings and seeing packed houses. Sometimes I can’t because they’re sold out. Not only that, we have streaming! And Netflix and other properties have classic film sections making them more accessible than ever.
I had the opportunity to talk to Vazquez about this in a brief interview over the phone earlier this week. The 29-year-old Puerto Rican has two Masters degrees in film from NYU. Since her debut on the channel during the contest, she’s had opportunities to introduce a film at TCMFF, host a TCM Spotlight, and be a roving reporter at the most recent TCMFF. Her warmth, knowledge and passion make her a perfect choice for her new role. Fans can connect with her on a deeper level because she’s a fan of the network just like us no matter if you’re young or a Latina like myself.
“TCM has always had a special bond with fans and they’ve always listened. I think that TCM has always been embracing of reflecting the whole fan base in honorable levels and that’s an amazing thing. I’m really excited about this and it’s just in combination of things like Filmstruck and Backlot. It’s really, really awesome to know that there’s this network that’s not like any other network. This network is actually listening to you. In time where it seems like people are drifting away from tv, TCM is the one standout ahead of all the others,” Vazquez told me.
Vazquez is the third host in the channel’s history. She is the first woman and person of color to hold this position. When I asked her about the responsibility that comes with this, she told me it’s something she doesn’t take lightly.
“At first, I thought this was great for diversity in general, I wasn’t really thinking this would exactly impact someone watching that could relate to me. Although if it was happening to someone else and I was watching, I myself would definitely be inspired,” she explained. “It’s incredibly humbling. It reminds me that this job, as fun as it is and awesome as it is, it’s got a lot of importance for people like us and I don’t take that lightly and I’m always going to want to be very connected with anyone who feels this way. I don’t know how to put it other than to say it’s much more bigger than me.”
Vazquez will debut in her new position at 12 P.M. EST, June 4th with the film, Rebel Without a Cause. Nicholas Ray is one of her favorite directors and one whose work she has studied closely over the years. When she was going to school, being in front of the camera wasn’t one of her goals but now that’s she’s filmed her intros, she’s at ease and hopes to continue to grow.
“It was very nerve-racking the first time when I won the contest and all the fans where on the network. After the fact, it’s way easier to be onair with Robert Osborne because he is the best possible person to be on air with but it’s also nerve-racking if you’re a TCM fan because you have so much respect for him. Now, it’s much easier especially now that I know the TCM crew and I see how amazing they are. It’s such a great collaborative process. It was definitely something to get used to having this background in film studies, I was used to just writing papers, I wasn’t thinking about being in front of the camera at that time.”
Vazquez is active on Twitter. You can follow her on her account, @filmiliarface. She will be live tweeting Rebel Without a Cause on the TCM account. She and I met through Twitter and bonded over our love of Rita Moreno and Marlon Brando. When I asked her if she could spend a day with any classic film star, she picked Terry Malloy himself.
“He’s someone who a lot was going on. He goes down in history as the best actor to ever live but as far as activism goes, and all of his political beliefs and everything like that, there’s so much there. It seems like there would have been a lot to talk to him about it, if he were to ever open up to me. If we could hang out, eat pizza and drive around the city or go to Tahiti, I’d probably like that,” she said with a laugh.
When it comes to introducing people to classic film, The Night of the Hunter and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes are two of many she’d recommend.
“For someone who I know would like a tense, more dramatic film who would really appreciate cinematography and darkness, I’d go with The Night of the Hunter. I feel like that’s always going to surprise people, I think it’s not what people expect when they think of classic film. For someone who really likes humor and the glamour of things, I feel like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is such a good one to reel people in. First of all, the beauty that’s on the screen with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell and there are so many great, quippy, funny lines. It’s very enjoyable and not very long so I think that’s a good one for a different type of person.”
I’m excited for Vazquez but I’m also excited for the next generation of classic film fans. It’s nice to see a millennial spread the love of these works of art. Her passion and enthusiasm for these films will no doubt inspire a new crop of film buffs and find the person to fill her shoes in the many, many years to come.