An Ear for Film: Ride or Die
The three best movie-related podcast episodes of the week.Movies Lists
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.
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If you’ve ever experienced the niche cyber space known as “Film Twitter” (and I’m nearly positive most of you haven’t, so just bear with me), then chances are your reaction encompasses one of two binary possibilities: 1) You became irrevocably infuriated by the shameless ego-boosting on full display while simultaneously jealous of people who have (or act like they have, convincingly) opinions that are widely considered well-reasoned and important; or 2) You chuckled mightily, staring at your impressive girth of followers, knowing that you must really be something special. See also: How you feel when you look at yourself naked in the mirror. Which also, coincidentally, is supposedly how Prince wrote “Cream.”
This dynamic isn’t, of course, unique to the social media landscape of movie critics/writers. “Music Twitter” is just as apt to champion hot takes and namedropping as its cinematic counterpart, and the differences/reasons regarding why each is stupid and annoying in its own way are legion. But what many of us forget—those of us who spend much of our time within this particular corner of the Internet—is that 99% of the human race has no idea and gives absolutely zero fucks about what’s happening amongst such incestuous, weirdly angry brow-beating.
I often forget this. I wonder where Devin Faraci gets 35,000 followers, jealously, as much as I become unjustifiably offended that he blocked me on Twitter—because I have no idea why. (Or maybe I do: I once said he looked exactly like a Malheur occupier, but he totally does, so that doesn’t seem to be it. I wasn’t saying he is or holds the same beliefs as a Malheur occupier, but: I get why that could be offensive. I don’t know: I’m still a fan of his regardless, and he’s way better at this stuff than I am. Also: tweet at me if you want incontrovertible evidence.) I then realize that many of you have no idea who he is, and that’s fine. Many more of you have no idea who I am. There should be no contest, or comparison. It is what it is. We both love movies and we want to talk about them. The spiral of shame and bitterness twists tighter and tighter in on itself.
I bring this all up though, because there is a growing tendency amongst film-related podcasts, or amongst any critically-based film commentary spanning a number of media, to ignore or at least become ignorant of the fact that movie-going is a popular pastime. Literally: movie-going, for the most part, should be something available and accessible to the populous at large. And so should the opinions and discussions that surround these films.
Which is why, as I listen to hours upon hours of film podcasts each week, I’m finding myself drawn more and more to those podcasts which always keep in mind an essential, empirical truth: Authority is derived from the masses. Movies most people can’t see, events most people can’t attend, theories most people can’t be bothered to inculcate—alienation is the greatest barrier to success. Trust me, I know. I co-host a podcast about Pretty Little Liars.
So this week, hat’s off as always to Norm Wilner and Someone Else’s Movie for tackling Holy Motors, never once trying to contain or define it so much as to celebrate its energy and boundless creativity, as well as to Caroline Fulford’s Loose Canon podcast, wherein Slate’s Jamelle Bouie stops by to talk about why Pacific Rim is the kind of action movie the world needs now. All welcome listens, as is this week’s Black Men Can’t Jump (In Hollywood), which features a pretty damn funny primer on Purple Rain, a tenuous subject given the glut of Prince commentary at the moment, but one the guys absolutely nail by simply admitting that the film isn’t a classic because it’s necessarily a good film, but because Prince’s appeal lies wholly and inexplicably in his mystery. We love this not-really-a-movie movie because we love the icon of Prince, a notion which applies to his music sometimes as much as to his public persona. We can’t really define what it is, but we know it when we see it.
Speaking of, The Important Cinema Club takes the same tact with “Canadian cinema,” and as any regular readers of this column know (hi, five people), I ride or die for the affable smarts of Decloux and Sloan. As I do for Griffin and David at Blank Check, where this week I was reminded I had a very similar experience to the hosts when The Matrix: Reloaded came out, and felt similarly, as I was a similar age, and so should revisit with the clearer eyes of Adult Dom, which is how I refer to myself.
Join me in choosing between riding and death with the following three best film-related podcasts of the week, all of which feature soothingly monochromatic logos:
Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso
Listening to recently-named New York Times “Critic-at-Large” (and Pulitzer Prize winning) Wesley Morris talk about film criticism is much like watching the final speech from food critic Anton Ego at the end of Ratatouille: It inspires a genuine reverence for a form—let alone a calling—based purely around the act of engaging with another form on a visceral, even child-like level. Is that engagement art itself? It can be, and Morris is a genius at (not necessarily overtly, but intuitively) expressing how he has honed his sense of critical distance to be able to both intimately personalize and safely objectify his experience so that he can be not just an effective critic, but an effective lover of art. Host Sam Fragoso, who is quickly assembling an impressive podcast of immersively down-to-earth talks with cool people, is forever patient with Morris, who sometimes has trouble admitting just what a vaunted position he holds amongst the critical community, and in that patience is able to wrench out the cold truth about good writing, at least as far as Morris sees it. His admission is refreshing to hear as a so-called writer: Every time you sit down, all you can do is hope and pray that something good comes out. Forget criticism, I can’t think of any better way to describe the anxiety-riddled risk of the elusive process of making art—all art, no matter what it turns out to be. Plus, Morris’s anecdote about “befriending” Roger Ebert only, perhaps counter to Morris’s attitude toward the great cinephile, further affirms the thumbs-up stalwart’s greatness, impressing his iconography into the firmament of popular opinion, forever and ever, amen.
Maltin on Movies
There may be little more sub-dermally pleasing in this life than hearing Leonard Maltin punctuate a question, discussion, or diatribe with “Oh dear”—especially after talking about something he admits makes him seem like an old fogey, such as the obsolescence of Technicolor processing or the time in human existence before the dawn of the Betamax and home video (back when you actually had to leave your house to watch a movie, or were at the mercy of a very limited amount of television channels). Frankly, Maltin is as much a legend to people my age as Roger Ebert—like Ebert, his populist omni-knowledge of film appealed preternaturally to Young Dom, who watched Entertainment Tonight religiously—and so hearing him wax nostalgic with another industry buff-turned-mainstay, director Joe Dante (Gremlins, The ’Burbs), is a distinct pleasure reserved for those of us who probably just have it plain too good nowadays, what with our Netflixes and our blu-rays and the such.
Dante’s stories about watching grindhouse films in New York shitholes are worth tuning in to just to marvel at the amount of stories that inevitably involved someone getting peed on, but so much more amazing is how Dante found himself at the crossroads of “high” and “low” art in the early ’70s while cutting trailers for Roger Corman. It was Corman who saw the untapped potential in bringing movies by such European masters as Bergman and Fellini to American audiences, making a surprising amount of money to boot, all the while allowing his employees the access and experience required to matriculate into the ever-changing Hollywood industry. In fact, Dante, consummate film geek who paints himself as more of a film fan than a film director, was the person who put together the American trailer for Amarcord, which ended up being the very last thing ever produced in America using the Technicolor process. Maltin’s stoked to find that out, his enthusiasm marking one highlight in an episode of many, full of cinematic trivia care of the people who have lived to see an industry now barely identifiable compared to the one with which they fell in love.
The Talkhouse Film Podcast
“Amber Tamblyn with Aisha Tyler”
I’m not sure if this episode would be a surprise to anyone—it mostly depends on how indelibly one is aware of the systemic gender inequality in the film industry (both “independent” and not, however one defines any of that), and how much one can endure the hustling and self-aggrandizing inherent to surviving in that industry. I don’t mean that in so much of a derogatory manner as I do bluntly: To be a woman who directs films—as Amber Tamblyn and Aisha Tyler do, both well experienced in the machinations of their sexist industry—you have to assert your ideas and your passion, which also means pushing everything (ego, agenda, connections) really, really hard. And so, this episode of The Talkhouse Film Podcast is an important one in that Tyler and Tamblyn, both in the throes of finishing their first feature-length films (Tamblyn about to premiere hers and Tyler on the verge of funding her Axis under the auspices of a truly unique shooting schedule), simultaneously talk about and represent the attitude necessary to be a woman overcoming the prejudices and obstacles of a filmmaking system seemingly built from its foundations to be inaccessible to anyone but men. And yet, they are both on, and it takes a lot of conversation before it feels (as a listener) like they’re able to let their guards down, which in and of itself is dispiriting, because you rarely get that kind of insistence to always prove oneself from conversations between men in the industry, regardless of age. It’s a fascinating dynamic to behold between two insanely intelligent people, and by the time Tyler starts describing her plan for her shoot, not long after Tamblyn describes some important advice she received from Neil LaBute (yup), the detail and the enthusiasm in their stories quickly overtake any pretension the listener may be struggling to stomach. Chances are, anyway, that struggle is your fault.
Adult 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 find it on Twitter.