Classic Cinema on HBO Max

Most people associate HBO with made-for-television series like Last Week Tonight and Axios. Or maybe even classics like The Wire. But the cable giant also offers a massive collection of classic cinema worth looking at.

The collection goes back to the silent era, all around the world, and contains 21st-century Hollywood flicks. Counting them all is beyond my patience. I started counting their Turner Classic Movies collection – only a part of the whole – in alphabetical order. I counted 65 movies before I got to the letter C. (I should mention that both HBO and TCM belong to Warner Brothers.)

You don’t need cable or satellite to watch HBO Max. You can stream HBO Max over the Internet for $15 a month. And if you’re spending too much money on streaming services, you can suspend your account for a few months and pick it up again later.

There’s one film they’re showing that I want to mention, even if I’m not a fan, and that’s Gone with the Wind. Okay, it’s visually beautiful, using colors in ways that no one else did before. The first part (before the intermission) is rousing and exciting, but the second part (after the intermission) is dull and boring. Worst of all, it’s extremely racist, even by 1939 standards. You can read my essay.

HBO did a great job dealing with the film’s racism, and no, they didn’t censor it. They provided three extras to help viewers put the film in context. First, film historian Jacqueline Stewart (yes, she’s African American) discusses the film’s racism. There’s also a short documentary on actress Hattie McDaniel, who made a career playing maids and won the first Oscar given to an African American. Finally, there’s an hour-long discussion about the film and its racism, and to my surprise, all four of the panelists (three of them black) liked the movie more than I do. I recommend the panel discussion over the movie.

Unfortunately, they don’t offer any such extras for the David Lean version of Oliver Twist. It’s as anti-Semitic as Gone with the Wind is racist. Maybe more so.

But those sorts of extras are rare on HBO. For instance, you can see Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring on either HBO or the Criterion Channel. (It’s very much worth seeing.) But only on Criterion do you have the option to watch it with the commentary track.

Moving to something a bit less serious, HBO Max has a massive selection of Looney Toons cartoons, including What’s Opera Doc?, Duck Amuck, Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century, and To Beep or Not to Beep, but no High Note. They’re also making new Looney Toons cartoons, using hand-drawn animation. They’re pretty good, but they lack the flare of Chuck Jones and his co-workers.

Here are some of the hundreds of movies available currently in the TCM collection: