Bright Lights Film Journal

Podcast Pleasures

There are all kinds, types, brands, bits and pieces of chit-chatter to plug one’s ear into should one wish to plumb the misty myths and mysteries of movies and all things filmlike. I thought it’d be fun discussing a couple which delight me personally as a person. The first, a Blogtalk Radio original, Movie Geeks United (www.blogtalkradio.com/moviegeeksunited), is a bi-weekly show I discovered a little over two years ago. Its main hosts, Jamey Duvall and Jerry Dennis, along with pinch hitter Dean Treadway, are a passionate trio of flick-fans who can be found on other podcasts as well; Dean Treadway maintains a vast blog, Filmicability, filled to the brim with lists, opinion pieces and wide ranging movie reviews. If and when you check Movie Geeks out, I suggest digging deep into its archives to sample a few early episodes which feature their fourth host, Chris Whetton, a sardonic filthmongering comedian who blends sensible opinions with blunt politically incorrect oneliners that keep one in stitches, since the show began in 2007, alas, he’s acquired a daughter, works an intense day job and can’t be on much anymore.

Movie Geeks manages a satisfying mixture of tones, part ragtag group of guys shooting the shit about movies, movie news and movie gossip, no matter the results; part skillfully run talk show; part critical meditation on the state of the medium. Amusingly, the show never loses its prankish amateur charm. For instance Mr. Duvall’s crappy computer has over the years become a character in its own right, freezing up, dropping calls, occasionally cuing the wrong music, reminding one all this is coming from somebody’s living room. A couple times there have been patches of dead silence. Occasionally the geeks wander way off topic into the weeds of strange subjects, where they get to is often more entertaining than the matter at hand. But this dedicated show’s the real deal. Week after week you hear Jamey’s relaxed, well conducted in-depth interviews with just an amazing variety of people, from great directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma (William Friedkin’s coming up this July), to new talents like Tanya Hamilton, whose nice little film Night Catches Us I would not have discovered otherwise. He has spoken to countless editors, cinematographers, film composers, screenwriters, as well as iconic character actors such as M. Emmett Walsh, Robert Forester, Michael Madsen, and Crispin Glover (refreshingly sane); not to mention charismatic niche players like the enchanting horror actress Danielle Harris. There have been special tribute shows to McCabe and Mrs. Miller; the work of Hal Ashby; five episodes devoted to Brian De Palma’s thrillers; several shows telling one everything one could ever possibly wish to know about the Friday the 13th movies. And Jamey has occasionally gotten some truly great unguarded stuff out of once big stars like Kelly McGillis, Nancy Allen, and Elizabeth Shue.

The towering capper, though, has been a wonderful opus called the Kubrick Series, which over the last year and a half has been analyzing all of Stanley Kubrick’s films. So far they’re up to The Shining, a more than two hour extravaganza looking into the movie’s sources, making of and meaning, including forty minutes poring through weirdo interpretations. Some of these academic divinations claim it’s a haunted allegory about the genocide of Native Americans, though the most entertaining concerns a deliciously delirious theory that the whole thing is actually Kubrick’s coded admission of having helped the government fake the moon landing! Some critics mix and match elements, pick different genocides or focus on sexual peculiarities, all of which seem abstract and unlikely to me but are fascinating in that they reveal what the film has meant to so many with its creepy hypnotic strangeness, all texture, atmosphere and innuendo. These Kubrickisodes, unlike the show’s usual format, have been done in a smooth, meticulously exacting style, mixing interviews (more than sixty critics and actors, such as Malcolm McDowell, Mathew Modine, various technicians who worked on the films; even Kubrick’s biographer Vincent Lo Brutto) with soundclips and music artfully, suggestively layered, especially in The Shining show, which I urge everyone to listen to here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/moviegeeksunited/2011/11/13/the-kubrick-series-5-redrum. These, contrasted with the show’s more typical shaggy approach, make it plain that Movie Geeks has made its easygoing amateurism work as a comedy style in its own right.

The loose informality might not play as well as it does if it weren’t for the oddball chemistry of the hosts. Somehow Jamey Duvall’s genial normality balances out the lizardly geekiness so it’s not sad the way it might be; even if you’re not totally movie-besotted you can still find a way in. Co-host Jerry Dennis has a goofy self-deprecating manner that’s irresistible. He always surprises one with the wide range of his interests, political and literary. He loves everything from Don DeLillo to great art films to crap-comedies. Sensitive, sweet-natured and down to earth, he makes a passionate hater like me feel a fool getting in such a huff every other movie, though if you’re lucky you’ll hear him bust out now and then, whence a bellicose streak erupts and all hell breaks loose, it…is…awesome! By the way, lest I’ve made it seem the show’s title is not accurately self-descriptive, there was one episode in which two of its hosts (not Jamey Duvall) vigorously debated the cultural resonance of Planet of the Apes in an exchange that, I assure you, descended a rung or two on the evolutionary ladder; another in which was discussed some fifteen minutes favorite DVD commentary tracks. They’ve also had on several times a couple charming film composers who battle one another in a game of “Who Can Guess The Soundtrack”, which, oddly, are some of Movie Geeks‘ most fun and absorbing shows. The other guest host, Dean Treadway, who’s filled the slot left by Chris Whetton, knows more stuff about more movies than should be legal, and will tell you all about them. He’s quirky, expansive, yet discriminating (not that one always agrees with his assessments), and he has a cackle of self-delighted glee which makes me happy every time I hear it. Also deserving of honorable mention is their Home Entertainment Correspondent Aaron Aradillas, who sometimes conducts interviews and has his own interesting show Back By Midnight. He has a sly, drawling, nerdy humor that often catches one off guard. Anyway, Movie Geeks has alleviated so many hours of boredom at my numbing day job, where I seem to be always moving through a freezer, I can’t say enough. And full Disclosure: they kindly let me promote my deluxious, recently published book analyzing in every way possible Brian De Palma’s Carrie [buy one now!] the research for which was what brought me to the show in the first place. If you’re interested, here I am: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/moviegeeksunited/2012/04/05/carrie-inside-the-making-of-a-classic

My other great pleasure along these lines is BBC Radio 5 Live’s movie critic Mark Kermode, has anybody else out there heard of him? First of all he’s probably the gayest straight guy ever. He has a puffed up retro-greaser-fifties hairdo, plays in something he calls a “skiffle band,” regularly compares things to Eraserhead, brings up Carol J. Clover’s oddly popular academic study of horror, Men Women and Chain Saws every few months, wrote a nice BFI Film Classic monograph on The Exorcist, an inexplicable one (to me) about Shawshank Redemption, as well as a chatty if ultimately withholding memoir covering his career as a professional moviegoer, It’s Only a Movie (he has a new one out but I haven’t gotten around to that). His peculiar tastes, ranging from gory satanic visionary hell-spectacles to corny Spielbergian treacle, which he explicitly defends, strikes me as odd since he’s always slapping his socialist, feminist political correctness on top of everything; in fact is so prissy, despite his love of “video nasties” he never ever sexually objectifies women, even in passing, even in his memoir when discussing how he developed his passion for film, the sexiest of artistic mediums. Quite frequently he does objectify male performers, praising male full-frontal nudity, doting on the sleek, oil-torsoed screenwork of action star Jason Statham, which is cool. Also, he prefers the ludicrous remake of Breathless to Godard’s classic because of its eighties-fifties look, its music, and especially Richard Gere, whatever one makes of that, believe it or not this actually comes up a lot on the show. He’s probably best known these days for disliking 3D to the point of vehemence, a lame hobbyhorse he flogs just about every movie review. The cherry on top of this marvelous banana split is something devotees of Kermode call The Kermodian Rant. A rant is a kind of frothy fit he works himself into over films which particularly annoy him, such as the Transformer movies, anything by Michael Bay really; the best I’ve heard yet was for Sex and The City 2, which he started off claiming was so bad he couldn’t even work himself up to a rant then had a ten minute melt down! Watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHeQeHstrsc

As with Movie Geeks, what makes it all work so wonderfully is the chemistry, or better say anti-chemistry he has with co-host Simon Mayo, whose dry humor tethers Kermode to the earth somewhat. Whenever Mark goes over the top, which is frequent, or if he makes references to films nobody’s seen or technical terms he’s learned from film criticism classes, Mayo pulls him up short asking strings of simple-minded questions, needling and baiting him, as frequently Kermode skips well off the beaten path of a review to score points he’s already made a thousand times before and which don’t always apply to the movies at hand. When Kermode starts carping about how terrible and pointless 3D is you can actually hear Simon Mayo’s weary sigh in the background before he says, “Yes, you’ve never mentioned that before.” As observers of the duo have noted, they’re like an old married couple become slightly sour with familiarity. The other thing is that Kermode has an amazing audience: his emailers are frequently better, tougher and funnier than those of professional critics. He has a real rapport with them too (when he’s not pedantically, and grotesquely, correcting their grammar), allowing inside gags to keep on running for years, to the point of silly surrreality. Just one of the show’s many ongoing pleasures. Kermode also has an uncut video film blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/markkermode/) which while frequently amusing doesn’t have quite the punch of the podcast show.

Anyway, those are a couple of my petty pleasures. Does anyone else have anything they love to listen to? What are they? Obviously all of us need more stuff cluttering up our mental lives.