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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In my last column, I teased the emergence of my own Ear for Film Universe (the EFF-U) as a personal corollary to the many cinematic universes becoming the norm for any major film studio lately, and the more I think about it the more obvious it becomes a very real possibility. Either that, or so-called “cinephiles” and film-world cognoscenti and the like are all keyed into some sort of Jungian mental vein when it comes to what’s worth yammering on about, and so all talk about all the same stuff.
For example: This week on The Canon, Devin and Amy debate the merits of John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, making for one more excellent episode fueled by the two hosts’ complete disagreement over whether or not the movie is actually any good. Devin thinks it’s an ineptly made piece of garbage, while Amy finds its energy—its necessity to tell its story—endearing, inspiring even. I haven’t seen the film in over a decade, so I won’t weigh in on where I fall (though Devin’s arguments seem more concrete, especially when Amy’s unable to respond to any of his criticisms with anything other than the aforementioned burning “urge” to tell a yet untold American story), but Amy, in the throes of near malicious frustration, brings up Dope, a movie she really likes and one Devin hates.
Devin rehashes his reasons for why he dislikes Dope so much, an argument which, I realized, echoed the sentiments made by Wesley Morris on Sam Fragoso’s Talk Easy podcast a few weeks ago—that is, until Devin cites Morris’s initial review. Amy’s conceit, too, that their divide over Boyz n the Hood mirrors their extreme discord regarding Dope: That dynamic itself mirrors the dissent I mentioned last week in alluding to how much the guys of Black Men Can’t Jump (In Hollywood) admire Dope, almost for the exact same reasons (nostalgia, the representation of Black America for white audiences, etc.) that Morris hates Dope so much. The things that Amy loves about Boyz n the Hood are the things Devin can’t stand, so either every film-related podcast I listen to is tangled inextricably in a web of zeitgeist-friendly opinions and conversations, or having an opinion about film is just, and only, a matter of subjectivity.
Instead: EFF-U. It’s what I believe in.
This week, due to no finagling whatsoever on my part, a thick through line draws each of my picks together in ways that can only possibly be preordained. Here’s another example: After listening to Bret Easton Ellis’s interview with John Carpenter (discussed below), I checked out the new Blumhouse-based horror podcast, Shock Waves, to hear them talk about the interview because, coincidentally, John Carpenter just made an agreement with Blumhouse to serve as a consultant on the company’s new acquiring of the rights to the Halloween franchise. It was a listening experience followed soon after by I Was There Too’s interview with Peter Jason, who played Gilbert in They Live, which was directed by John Carpenter.
It’s like I’m Jim Carrey in The Number 23 over here.
So make sure to look for connections in all things, no matter how adversely it affects your home life, and then check out my picks for the three best movie-related podcasts of the week:
“BONUS: A Conversation with Mel Brooks”
The Orson Welles of Bad Movie Podcasts features a bonus interview this week, care of Blake Harris from /Film. The episode decides to ask its titular question literally by calling up Mel Brooks, whose company Brooksfilms produced and nearly died under the financial strain of a little sci-fi film called Solarbabies. While Harris stays almost wholly out of the way to allow Brooks the floor—admittedly there were times when I would have liked Harris to chide Brooks into adding a bit more detail, such as when Brooks describes flying to Spain to yell at the film crew because director Alan Johnson was whining to Brooks about the crew not listening to him—the story moves along so compellingly you never once stop to think about how the story is pretty much just about a bad movie that lost a small studio a lot of money. And while the episode is a testament to Brooks’ Herculean storytelling powers (as well as a minefield of opinions, like: Brooks thought that Life Is Beautiful was bullshit), it’s also a fascinating glimpse at how the film industry can become so completely cut off from the realities of the people for whom these films are supposed to be made. Brooks talks about $5 million like it’s peanuts, then continues to relay the many vague ways in which the film’s budget ballooned to, eventually, something like $23 million before all was said and done, at one point even casually mentioning he came up with $500,000 but not remembering how. It’s all so weird and offputting and sad, but as we learn from the Bret Easton Ellis episode below, it’s worth it for the movie-going public to always keep in mind that Hollywood is operating on a completely different plane of reality.
“They Live with Peter Jason”
Actor Peter Jason regales host Matt Gourley with an incessant barrage of anecdotes, from what it was like to work on David Milch’s incomprehensible John from Cincinnati (apparently, according to Milch, there are 100 Levels of God, and Jason’s used-care-salesman character was on Level 38, while John was only on Level 1) to the path that brought Jason to meet his estranged daughter, a reuniting brought to Gourley’s attention by John Flansburgh from They Might be Giants, who also happens to be Jason’s daughter’s husband. Jason is just as gratuitous and gracious a storyteller as Mel Brooks, with much more of a willingness to follow one tangent after another, especially if it has to do with his experience working for John Carpenter. Carpenter, as Jason describes, is an incredibly intuitive filmmaker, a guy who knows how to get precisely what he needs from actors while never guarding his stories so close that he isn’t open to interpretations he never considered. When Jason clued Carpenter into the fact that the seven zombies in Prince of Darkness could represent the seven deadly sins, Jason thought the director had intentionally set it up that way. Nope, Carpenter admitted—he’d never actually counted them.
Bret Easton Ellis begins his first episode since last year by berating the Hollywood Industrial Complex as a broken behemoth totally tuned out of the social conversations shared by the billions of Americans not involved in giving, campaigning for, or boycotting the Academy Awards. He’s got a lot of good points about where the actual lack of diversity in Hollywood comes from (echoed in any number of conversations with such Academy members as Whoopi Goldberg), and he states them plainly: There shouldn’t be any doubt that the Oscars are the way they are—the problem is on a studio level, on a personal level, in an environment where actors vote for actors, directors for directors, not in the Academy itself, which is only a reflection, an indistinct shadow, of the much more endemic, systemic inequality occurring in the Hollywood system itself. Plus, where was all the outrage over the lack of openly gay nominees?
BEE’s cynical, somewhat haughty view toward practically everything finds a wonderful cohort in his guest John Carpenter, and the two share a bond over their distaste, and battles with, the Hollywood system—a system which has somehow forgotten how to tell the difference between aesthetics (art) and ideology (the message). Carpenter is a refreshingly candid guest, a guy who respects the professionalism of someone like Kurt Russell while bemoaning how jaded he became working too deeply in the same industry that made Russell so dependable. He seems to understand the slight contradiction in that, which is why he’s willing to detail his departure from movie-making after Ghosts of Mars. The brutal truth is that he simply fell out of love with being a filmmaker. It may have given him a lot more time to play video games with his son, but one can still hear the romance in his voice, so when Ellis comments that he believes horror films are all about the catharsis of both the victim and the victimizer, about playing with that dynamic, Carpenter excitedly cuts him off, fucking jazzed that another cinephile had come to the same conclusion. In that excitement hibernates the filmmaker who made Halloween, who was fired from the studio for making The Thing, who irrevocably influenced both his industry and legions of filmmakers to come. Thank god that guy is still around in some form or another.
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.