An Ear for Film: #OscarsSoWhite and Salo

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

Movies Lists
An Ear for Film: #OscarsSoWhite and Salo

Each week, 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. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Typically, most of January can be a wasteland of worthwhile podcast listening, especially for movie podcasts, wherein the glowing highs of Top 10 season wear off and critics/commentators seem to act like they’re starting from scratch and/or still playing catch-up with the previous year’s lot of critically lauded picks.

Not the case with bad movie podcasts, necessarily. The Flop House is deep into Cagemas—which is secretly everyone’s favorite secular holiday, a celebration of the many faces of Saint Nic Cage—though they’ve as of last week been trotting out “best of” filler, only worthwhile if you’re new to the endless riffing of the Original Peaches. Meanwhile We Hate Movies has enjoyed a pretty seamless run of “worst of 2015” episodes with crapping upon Pixels, Entourage and a film about a wrestling dog who pees into the mouths of children and has a chimpanzee manager, Russell Madness.

Over at Filmspotting: SVU, the return of co-host Matt Singer from a relatively brief paternity leave finds him, though admittedly sleep-deprived, pretty damn well energized and ready to run down everything he watched while sitting in a rocking chair for a month. With Allison Willmore, the latest episode provides a spot-on review of genre-masher Bone Tomahawk (by “spot-on,” I mean they make almost verbatim the same arguments I did in my review; pardon the shameless plug), as well as a cursory preview of Willmore’s picks for what she’s looking forward to at Sundance, which, while far from comprehensive, lends a casual listener a sense of the tenor of the festival this year. Elsewhere, at The Canon, Devin Faraci and Amy Nicholson heap praise upon two Peckinpah picks, pitting The Getaway against The Wild Bunch. It’s an episode worth downloading for their willingness to interrogate their obvious love for the films by spending most of the time discussing misogyny and just how fucked up a guy Peckinpah was. The episode may have a dearth of searing arguments, but sometimes it’s a nice relief to hear Faraci lay off the arrogant schtick for a bit to share in admiration with his co-host.

And yet, the best movie-related podcast episodes of the week are those willing to delve into the (to say the very least) severely dubious issue of representation of people of color in the Academy, what with Oscar nominations still freshly on the minds of the small minority (heh) who actually care (i.e., people in Hollywood).

So with that, here are the three episodes you should hear this week:

Ear-for-Film-Little-Gold-Men.jpgLittle Gold Men
“Explaining the Oscar Nominations”

Vanity Fair’s awards season podcast takes an unflinching look at the politics and shadowy cabals behind how Hollywood doles out its glitziest of onanistic accolades. If it all sounds like gross industry pandering, Little Gold Men, while still very young, has already developed a fine balance between genuine film fandom and talking the exigencies of knowing what it takes to get some recognition in an oversaturated cinematic market these days. Though the episode dawdles through a run-down of how hosts Katey Rich’s and Mike Hogan’s predictions stacked up to the recently revealed Oscar nominations, chatter starts getting good when Mike Hogan talks about how much, as a heterosexual white dude, he adores the best hetero white dude movie of the year, The Revenant. Seeing no irony at all in his dumbass, forehead-forward statement, Hogan spurs the ‘cast to stop tip-toeing around the obvious, that once again the Oscar nominations almost completely ignore any filmmakers of color, instead nominating white people (Sylvester Stallone, for example, or the writers of Straight Outta Compton) in predominantly black films.

The hosts, of course, come to an impasse: With an Academy composed of over 90% white males, and of that 90% the median age falling in the “practically geriatric” range, the whiteness of Oscar nominations isn’t just disappointing, it’s functionally guaranteed. And yet, what Little Gold Men does so saliently is focus on a blatant fact that Hollywood would probably best want hidden, which is that the Academy Awards operate in a vacuum, removed from most audience tastes and box office evidence and critical/artistic merit. This isn’t always the case, as they claim by pointing to “lesser” categories like Best Animated Film or Best Original Screenplay or even Best Foreign Film, but they do seem to intuit, that amongst all of the insider baseball musings and talk of studio politicking, that these supposed merit awards are little more than numbers games bolstered by the most out-of-touch old-fart hetero white dudes in town—or by lunkheads like Hogan who’d rather see Iñárritu get another slob-knobbing than someone like Ryan Coogler receive the praise he deserves for taking a stale franchise and recontextualizing it brilliantly.

Also, the episode ends with a playful interview with actor Domhnall Gleeson, who is in every movie ever released this year and seems like a nice-enough guy.

Ear-for-Film-Denzel.jpgDenzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period
The Bone Collector: Redux (w/ Alice Wong)”

With co-host Kevin Avery busy on the other side of the country readying the next season of Last Week Tonight, the heavy lifting in continuing to cater to their Denzealots falls to W. Kamau Bell, who’s found some choice guests lately to break down Denzel’s more “problematic” roles. So it goes with The Bone Collector, in which Denzel plays quadriplegic ex-homicide detective Lincoln Rhyme, a man brought back into the fold to capture a serial killer who collects bones or something. Bell invites Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, to the podcast to hear what she has to say about an able-bodied, Hollywood movie star playing yet another Oscar-baiting disabled role, a discussion which flows pretty smoothly from Bell and Avery’s (phone) conversation regarding Jada Pinkett Smith’s Oscars boycott, Stacey Dash’s idiotic response and whether or not your Average Black Joe actually cares about the Oscars anyway.

The duo reaches much of the same conclusions as anyone who’s attempted to explain the stupid reality of the Academy Awards: We’re just going to have to wait for the old, white Academy to die off before actual fair representation of minorities occurs. Bell’s insight is trenchant, in that he admits that the case probably isn’t that the Academy is racist, just that in their positions, as the old white men they are, they probably simply do not think about films made by people of color, let alone try to see them. With that, the hosts muse that a boycott will affect practically nothing, because the only people who will boycott the Oscars are people without any real say in the machinations of the Academy system, and Chris Rock, who hosts this year, would—even if he obviously sympathizes with the reasons behind Smith’s boycott—rather be in the thick of it, and enact change from the inside out. Then Bell suggests that the best way to boycott the Oscars is to program something at the same time to destroy it in the ratings, like a concert featuring Jay-Z, Drake, Beyonce, J. Cole, Kanye—black performers who almost definitely weren’t invited to the Oscars anyway. It’s a genius idea.

The rest of the ‘cast gives plenty of room to Wong to go beat-by-beat through The Bone Collector to talk about what is so wrong about the film—as well as what’s surprisingly right—in its portrayal of a disabled lead. But the episode’s most important discussion revolves around Bell’s confession that too often he focuses only on the lack of representation of black people in cinema, and that diversity in general is an institutional oversight we’re very far from viably confronting, especially when it comes to there being a near-complete absence of opportunities for disabled people in the film industry. Rightfully, Bell chastises himself for being ignorant of the phrase “disability culture”—to which Wong understandably tells him it’s okay.

Ear-for-Film-Someone-Else.jpgSomeone Else’s Movie
“Maxwell McCabe-Lokos on Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom

Host Norm Wilner knows his shit—and that’s never been so literal a virtue as in this (ineluctably graphic) episode of Someone Else’s Movie. This week he welcomes actor-director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos (who, among a long filmography, is in this year’s Antibirth at Sundance), a man more than capable of matching intellects with Wilner when it comes to discussing the difficult (to put it mildly) last film from a notoriously controversial auteur.

Full disclosure: I’ve seen Salo once, and, like Wilner prefaces, sitting through Pier Paolo Pasolini’s two hours is more an “experience” than a viewing. But, like McCabe-Lokos describes of his own introduction to the film, I was originally drawn to it on reputation alone, and immediately after I seriously wondered if I’d made a mistake.

One can’t unsee Salo—it’s grotesque images are burned forever into my brain—which is why Wilner and his guest go to great lengths to pick apart the artistry and metaphor of Pasolini’s film in order to implicitly lead it away from the realm of the obscene. Based on the work of the Marquis de Sade, but transposed to Fascist-occupied Italy in 1944, Salo is the “story” of four men representing different pillars of power who kidnap a group of youths, whisking them away to a remote castle to perform deplorable rituals of sadism, humiliation, torture and murder. Pasolini, of course, faced immense difficulty in distributing his film, but he was murdered only days before it finally came out, and so was unable to see how his final opus was received. All of this Wilner and McCabe-Lokos go to great pains to relate, making sure that the context in which the film was made is clear to those who haven’t seen it.

It’s fascinating, discussing the intersection of obscenity and art, and these two men take to that challenge with rigor. But it’s McCabe-Lokos who offers the best insight into Pasolini’s intent, discussing how, when dealing with such ambitious and problematic metaphor, Pasolini—through unspeakable depictions of cruelty—knew no better way to convey the hopelessness and rage inherent in living in a post-Fascist Italian society still racked with the horrors of World War II. The podcasters’ discussion continues to encompass ideas about power structures in general, detouring into a few choice critiques of David Cronenberg regarding the perspective of characters immersed in such surreal hellishness, but they can’t escape an overwhelming pall of sadness, which all the more drives home the deep affect the film can have, leaving them with unanswered questions about what, if anything, rage can do in the face of our world’s most profligate structures of power.

[Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that, in Little Gold Men, Joe Reid loved The Revenant. This has been corrected.]

Dom Sinacola is Assistant Movies Editor at Paste and 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 follow him on Twitter.

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