Mr. Cinema

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B.J. Wexler, host of OETA’s Movie Club, has served up classic films for 24 seasons. Wexler’s insightful and playful commentary brings new relevance to older films ranging from All About Eve to Treasure of the Sierra Madre. His behind-the-scenes looks at films such as Hotel Rwanda and Batman give viewers a whole new take on more current gems. In 2009 he won an Emmy for “Best Host” of a regional television program. He takes no credit for it, insisting that the films are always the stars of his show.

Oklahoma Magazine: You name among some of your favorite movies The Bishop’s Wife. It’s a wonderful movie, and the story still holds up today. But the pacing is different, slower. The characters seem richer than what we’re used to these days. That’s true of many older movies that you show. What has happened between then and now that changed storytelling in film so much?
B.J. Wexler: Here’s the difference. In the old days we bought our tickets and got in the seats, and we didn’t have remotes in our hands. So the film could evolve like a novel, like a regular story, and move an audience through from beginning to end. We’re showing All About Eve soon. Great example. It’s a long, long story. Modern filmmaking is about the aftermarket. Filmmakers are thinking when they’re shooting a film, “Will I get this on television?” So they’ve got to have a car crash, a murder, quick character development, explosions and so on. The things that stop viewers from using their remotes. That’s the difference. In the old days, you sat in your seat and you knew you were going to be watching one show for the whole evening.

OM: Everybody’s got their own criteria for greatest movies. What’s yours?
BW: The test that I apply for my favorite movies is simple. A movie like Gone With the Wind, let’s say, is a classic. Everybody knows it. But I can’t take watching that more than once every 10 years. It’s a classic, but it wears me out. I have some simple movies that I literally can watch every night. The Bishop’s Wife is one. The test that I apply to my favorite movies is, “How often can I enjoy them?”

OM: What’s your role as the show’s host?
BW: Right. Here’s a clue. In 24 years of hosting the show, there’s one word some critics use that I’ve never used.

OM: “Blockbuster.”
BW: Nope. It’s “genre.” That word is not me. It’s not Oklahoma. Actually, I don’t care if it’s Oklahoma or not, it’s just not me. I’m an average Joe sharing my enthusiasm for movies with other average Joes. I can’t do that by coming off as a know-it-all. I’m not a film historian. I try to share in the opening a little bit about what this movie is without sounding like I know it all. I just want to get people excited about these great films.

OM: In a world of Netflix and Video On Demand, Movie Club’s audience is still growing.
BW: Yep. The reason, I think, is simple and important. There is a need, a desire and an appreciation for classic movies out there.

OM: You’re well known for offering interesting trivia and behind-the-scenes stuff about the films you show. But you just claimed not to be a film historian.
BW: Right, and it’s true. I’m just a regular guy who knows how to research and look things up. Obviously, today it’s much easier with the internet. It’s work to pick and choose the stuff that fits in the time allotted and find the right way to talk about it.

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