An Ear for Film: I Am Not Your Guru

The three best movie-related podcast episodes of the week.

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An Ear for Film: I Am Not Your Guru

Each week or so, Dom plumbs the depths of podcast nation to bring you the best in cinema-related chats and programs. If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then writing about movie podcasts is like listening to someone describe someone dancing about architecture.

Have a suggestion for a good movie podcast? Slide into Dom’s DMs on Twitter.

Had I written a column last week, I’d have luxuriated in all the Matt Damon talk. As I’ve mentioned recently, I fancy myself a Matt Damon Expert of sorts, mostly because I used to have a blog called Dear Matt Damon, and then co-founded a website which featured almost 50 pieces of Damon Art, as well as a Damon-inspired section of Matt Libs. I more than respect the actor’s dependability and effortless face-having, I resign myself to it as a standard of all that to which should be aspired, but which is inevitably unattainable. If anyone wants to start up a Matt Damon podcast with me, let me know—I’m not really doing shit anyway, and hosting a podcast about Pretty Little Liars when you kinda hate the show now doesn’t exactly draw in many new listeners. (Also: Are you dead, Hanks for the Memories?)

Had I written a column last week, I’d have high-five’d David Sims and Griffin Newman for their excellent discussion of Matt Damon’s integral charm in Cameron Crowe’s We Bought A Zoo—though “we” didn’t buy a zoo; it’s not like Matt Damon’s character’s kids pitched in for closing costs—and then encouraged you to read Sam Fragoso’s Listing of All of Damon’s Film Roles after hearing his fascinating Talk Easy conversation with Melanie Lynskey, who co-starred with Damon in The Informant!. But I didn’t write a column last week.

This week, I am writing a column (hey), so here are my picks for the three best movie-related podcast episodes of the week.


ear-film-cinemtatic-sound.jpg Cinematic Sound Radio
Pete’s Dragon, The Light Between Oceans, Sausage Party and More Soundtracks”

Typically, whether you dig the films featured on Erik Woods’ show or not, the real pleasure of Cinematic Sound Radio is in its regular recontextualization of what engaging with a movie score can and should be. Divorced from their visual elements, and from their whole reason in most cases to exist, can scores be appreciated as successful pieces of music on their own? Woods doesn’t need to answer (he’d obviously say, “yes”), but throughout the two-hour-plus runtime of every episode (the only movie podcast I can listen to at work), the host’s opinions about what does or does not make for a good score are often fascinatingly ripe with a bunch of critical quandaries. To kick off this episode, for example, Woods has nothing but lavish praise for Daniel Hart’s Pete’s Dragon score, employing a “wears his h[e]art on his sleeve” pun with so much sincerity that you can’t help but fall in love with the program and host immediately, but to listen to choice moments from the soundtrack is more a visceral rather than intellectual act of figuring out what exactly Woods hears so wonderfully without help from the film’s lovely visuals and dramatic dynamism to help us understand whether or not Hart actually did his job as he was hired to do it.

The episode careens away from its easy-going tone once Woods introduces some selections care of the much-beloved Stranger Things soundtrack—because Woods hates it. His reasoning, though, is totally valid, and probably the only argument against the show (which he otherwise praises) I’ve heard that doesn’t reek of contrarianism or pretentious Barb-bashing: Woods just doesn’t think that a John Carpenter-y soundtrack works in this context. And I can’t say I disagree, because if Stranger Things is going to hoover up all of these popular ‘80s touchstones, then they better be on-point and in debt to the elements of the story itself, lest the whole show drown under obligatory nostalgia rather than provide something more than just a grab-bag of early-‘80s stuff you can feel good about identifying. Woods points to kids adventure classics like Stand By Me, The Goonies and E.T. as inspiration for the show, but then claims that each of those films had scores that were polar opposites of what Stranger Things flaunts: They were big, orchestral, endearingly thematic opuses, not simmering, pulsing synth suites. For that, Woods can’t help but resent the Stranger Things soundtrack, because it’s one more ‘80s allusion that has no purpose but to point back to the decade with a pointless wink.

For someone whose radio show is invested in removing a film’s music from its whole purpose, that’s an odd criticism to have toward an otherwise great soundtrack. But I get it: I write about movie podcasts.


ear-film-close-up.jpg The Close-Up
“Tony Robbins + Joe Berlinger”

Joe Berlinger’s umpteenth documentary premiered on Netflix last month, and like any Berlinger film (even the Metallica one), it’s more than worth checking out. Also, like any Berlinger film, some blandly traditional by-the-numbers documentary beats fail to detract from the film’s ability to make me cry, which is why Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru feels like a quintessential Berlinger joint: It’s everything he does so well, and every indulgence he can’t help but exploit.

That conundrum is laid bare, whether Berlinger intended that to be the case or not, during his recent Q&A at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, captured in the organization’s most recent podcast episode. Berlinger talks about the long process of getting Robbins on board, and what the film means to the greater thematic occupations of his oeuvre, especially his urge to “explode” stereotypes. The film follows Robbins’ intensive six-day “Date With Destiny” seminar, an event Berlinger explains he attended in Palm Springs and, after some coercing by his wife, lured him into a transformational experience once he got past his many, many reservations. Berlinger states that he wanted his film to take viewers on the same journey, from skepticism to a kind of evangelical belief in Robbins’ motivational powers, and for the most part, he succeeds: I Am Not Your Guru is far from bereft of cheesy music cues and blatant pandering, but it does offer some emotionally astounding moments in watching Robbins talk people into one heart-wringing epiphany after another.

Berlinger, of course, is not without some seriously schmoozy diatribes, so when Tony Robbins joins him on stage, Robbins’ inability to do anything but be wincingly forward with every word—not to mention his imposing presence, which you can hear on the recording much like you can “hear” a TV being on in another room: the air pressure in the place bends to his will—pushes Berlinger to the back of the conversation. If you’re unfamiliar with Robbins or what he does, then only listen to this episode to hear countless audience members get up, not to ask Robbins or Berlinger a question, but to just tell the anti-guru how much he means to them.


ear-film-comment.jpg The Film Comment Podcast
“VHS, RIP”

The Film Society of Lincoln Center brand was on a roll this week. On its Film Comment-based podcast, editors Nicolas Rapold and Violet Lucca reveal their ages alongside Center Editorial Director Michael Koresky and New York Film Festival Director Kent Jones, both of whom worked in (sometimes literally) underground video stores back when that was still a thing. As such, the four cinephiles tell plenty of stories about their days recommending obscure films to New York celebrities and shut-ins alike, offering such anecdotes about Woody Allen’s rental habits (he had tapes delivered to his apartment, and never rented his own films) or James Woods’s solipsism (who unsurprisingly was into renting his own films), before neatly tying that nostalgia into the role video stores played in nurturing their cinephilia in the first place. No real conclusions are met, only thought experiments conjured up regarding the evolution of film from event to object, and the ways in which streaming access has nearly eradicated the idea of browsing and cultism while engendering a growing fervor amongst the most hard-nosed film-lovers in holding up 16, 35 and 70 mm prints as the sacred gateways to true film experience.

It’s all fascinating to consider, especially if your formative years of movie buff-dom happened in a pre-DVD, pre-flat-screen world—that is, if you know intuitively what it means for a film to be “letterbox’d” or you’ve argued with a sibling about how important it was not to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in full-screen. Still, a pall hangs over the episode, as the hosts do everything but openly admit that the forces which brought them to such a devotion to film have functionally gone instinct, the once great edifices of Blockbuster and Hollywood video nothing more than recognizable shells that are today (if you live in Portland) a DMV location or a bourgeois grocery store. The idea of browsing is now a purely digital enterprise carried out from your couch.

Video stores still exist, of course. Mike Clarke’s Movie Madness, here in Portland, may have given up 90% of its parking lot to the County for storage of their government vehicles, but there’s really no threat of it ever completely going away. Maybe this is because Clarke’s filled his store with memorabilia—some of which I recently sent photos of to Norm Wilner, whose latest episode of Someone Else’s Movie (by the way) is a delightful conversation about Serenity, a film whose got some fake money hanging in the store alongside a Mugwump from Naked Lunch and a xenomorph head from Aliens—but maybe too because there is nothing (seriously: nothing) you cannot find at Movie Madness. Unbelievably, certain films still only exist on VHS; Movie Madness has them. There is always hope.


Dom Sinacola is Assistant Movies Editor and Resident Matt Damon Expert at Paste, as well as a Portland-based writer. Like everyone on this planet, he co-hosts his own podcast, Pretty Little Grown Men, which is sometimes about movies but mostly about Pretty Little Liars. You can find it on Twitter.

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