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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The more I do this weekly column, the further I descend into the dankest nether-regions of the film podcast corpus, and what I’m realizing—besides that there are a, for lack of a better word, shit-ton of movie podcasts out there—is that in many cases, once you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all.
This isn’t due to quality, really, because even time-tested stalwarts of the form, like the original Filmspotting for example, are well-made by intelligent people who almost always have a lot to talk about buttressed by a lifetime of well-informed opinions and spiced by a minute’s worth of sizzling hot takes. Nor is my claim bent on jealousy, because regardless of whether or not my own podcast or my own writing has found similar accessibility and acclaim, the people behind all of these movies podcasts have proven the meddle of their opinions, and no shade shall ever color that from my corner of the universe.
But really, if you’ve heard one film podcast, you’ve heard most film podcasts, because, like most content of the quotidian on the Internet, film podcasts obligatorily address pretty much all of the same films every other film podcast obligatorily addresses. If your feed, as mine so dutifully does, lines your phone’s podcast app with movie podcast after movie podcast, then prepare for a week of Super-and-Bat-man-related opinions, as well as 10 Cloverfield Lane stragglers, Zootopia hold-overs (those emerging to say that they liked it too now that it’s safe to say so) and maybe some Knight of Cups apologists, all pretty much saying the same thing in slightly different ways.
I mean, I get it: Obligation is a function of survival, and survival means developing a voice of authority in practically everything that falls under one’s critical auspices, which in this case means movies. Talking about Zootopia doesn’t mean just saying whether it was enjoyed or not, it means inculcating the “popular” ideas about racial identity within the Disney film, and then having an original—or acting like you have an original—opinion about that. Talking about 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t mean just saying whether it works as a thriller, it means contextualizing its box office success within its surprise marketing strategy.
Which Fighting in the War Room did this week, which proves to be both engaging and totally alienating. Featuring such notable critics as David Ehrlich and Katey Rich (who also co-runs Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men), the podcast is a new discovery for me, featuring both intelligent discussions on all of the above-mentioned films and the pretension that comes with pretty much every podcast led by a career critic, focusing too often on the machinations and exigencies of working within the industry rather than being a reflection of the experience of a regular person who pays to go see whatever movies they’re lucky enough to have show up in their town.
On the other hand, two “new” podcasts which have been a delight to discover are The Poster Boys and Best Movie Never, the former a monthly, three-hour-plus discussion of movie posters and graphic design care of Brandon Schaefer and Sam Smith (who’s worked on plenty of Criterion covers), and the latter a podcast by Brad Vassar and Matt Watkins wherein screenwriting friends come on to unearth failed pitches and scripts to have their ideas mocked and/or “fixed,” usually to useless but hilarious results. The Poster Boys, especially, isn’t a casual listen; you’ll need to have their Tumblr page handy to make full sense of their commentary, which could be a disastrous way to run a podcast, but the guys pull it off through the sheer power of their research. Also because they take academic design principles and boil them down to a matter of taste and ineffable preference.
Meanwhile this week, The Canon had a worthwhile talk about Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist with festival programmer Michael Lerman, providing a welcome way in to a notoriously divisive film, and KCRW’s The Treatment featured Elvis Mitchell mostly just listening to Illeana Douglas tell one captivating story after another about her lifetime acting (and also being one of Martin Scorsese’s long-term loves). Worst podcast episode of the week goes to Pre-Review, who in their “review” of Batman v Superman continue to make me ashamed of being Italian. If GamerGate has taught us anything, it’s that nerdy milquetoasts can be shitty people too.
So together let’s question the morals of mankind as we delve into my picks for the three best podcast episodes of the week.
“Aladdin with Gilbert Gottfried”
Don’t tune in for any revelatory details about the making of Aladdin—instead, sit in silent awe of the mind of Gilbert Gottfried and those that must mitigate it. Here, host Matt Gourley nobly attempts to save each moment from total ruin, seemingly laughing at both the audacity of Gottfried’s many tasteless comments and at the fact that this is exactly the kind of interview he signed up for. Their episode together, as Gourley intros it, doesn’t even really get into the subject of Gottfried’s role as the voice of Iago the parrot until ten minutes or so in, mostly because Gottfried takes a cast-away comment of Gourley’s about having a stroke (inspired by Gottfried royally fumbled Danny DeVito’s name) to a near-intolerable extreme. Gottfried mimics a person with a stroke for almost five minutes straight, going from offensive to weird to boring to offensive to really funny to weird with inhuman grace, making Gourley so obviously uncomfortable the episode almost goes instantly metaphysical as some sort of critique about the “art” of interviewing itself. From there, the conversation follows its own internal logic, really not touching on Aladdin so much as providing a subtextual examination for why someone like Gilbert Gottfried has such a difficult relationship with movies—and with the industry in general. Is it because he’s a hard person to work with, or because he refuses to play by the simplest of their rules? This episode makes a claim for both.
“The Sexy Sexy Sinema of Radley Metzger”
Justin Decloux and Will Sloan’s weekly look at “important” film through a regular-schlub lens reaches perhaps the shark over which it must inevitably jump in this episode about the thin line between art and obscenity. Everyone watches pornography, but rarely do people talk about it with the depth of knowledge they ultimately should have for such an obligatory medium, which makes this week’s discussion about hardcore/art house director Radley Metzger all that more fascinating. In muttering over Metzger, who has arguably made the “best” Golden Age porn film ever with The Opening of Misty Beethoven, the two hosts dig into the foundation of pornography’s claim to the rights and privileges of every other type of film—namely: the self-serious validation of academic discussion. Such treatment exists, of course, but that treatment belies, or at least unintentionally ignores, the purpose behind pornography. In other words, if you aren’t aroused, is pornography doing what it’s supposed to? Can pornography be “well-made” if it isn’t fulfilling its most fundamental intent? Is porn without the sex just exceptionally boring? Talking about porn is always a weird thing, because you eventually have to reveal some deeply personal preferences in order to convey any perspective whatsoever, but that’s exactly why Decloux’s and Sloan’s candid words are so refreshing.
“Johnnie Keyes: The Man Behind The Green Door”
Though Decloux and Sloan mention The Rialto Report in their conversation about Radley Metzger, it should be noted that I’ve paired the two podcasts before, admittedly without making such a clear meta-textual linkage. In this episode, Ashley West interviews Johnnie Keyes, known for being the first African American to have an on-screen interracial sex scene in the Mitchell brothers’ Behind the Green Door. Like practically every episode of The Rialto Report, an interview of an iconic porn star becomes an endlessly riveting story of a life lasciviously lived—covering Keyes’ time touring with the musical Hair, rubbing elbows with such luminaries as Miles Davis and Bob Fosse, traveling all over the world as a title-winning lightweight boxer, and of course living in the pre-civil rights South—as well as a detailed, comprehensive snapshot of twentieth century American history, of a country seemingly always in violent flux. When West asks Keyes to talk about his time in Vietnam, the otherwise boisterous man goes absolutely silent, politely requesting his interviewer move on. In that brief moment of pause, The Rialto Report confirms why it’s such a vital podcast—not because it wrings compelling content from exploited tragedy, but because it proves, almost always effortlessly, that the perspectives most worth exploring are those “normal” society deems worthless.
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.