I love a podcast I do, and I love a movie podcast the mostest. See after the jump for a selection of personal favourites.
The recent passing of film critic Barry Norman got me to reflect on how we now consume film criticism. Norman is probably the only film critic to become a household name in the UK (for readers in the US, he was basically our Ebert). As host of the BBC Film Programme from 1972 to 1998, he had an elevated status as a critic that no one has really come close to since. Norman’s singular and often infuriating opinions were broadcast to a nationwide audience on a scale that can only be dreamed of now.
As a formative film fan TV was extremely important to me, and I think my generation of movie geeks. Not only did we have Norman’s Film Programme, we had BBC2’s Moving Pictures, Jonathan Ross’ Incredibly Strange Film Show on Channel 4, and the hugely influential BBC2 cult movie strand Moviedrome presented first by director Alex Cox, then by critic (now filmmaker) Mark Cousins.
We also had a bewildering range of movie magazines and zines to choose from. Empire, Neon (my favorite), Premiere, and Movieline at the glossy end, Sight and Sound catering to the art-house, Film Threat and a multitude of zines covering genre and cult weirdness.
The rise of the internet pretty much brought all of this to an end. From the magazine’s listed only Empire and Sight and Sound remain in print. Studios are more controlling than ever, ensuring that film magazines have largely become just another wing of their marketing machine. Actual film journalism is only found (occasionally) in the wider mainstream press and well funded magazines like The New Yorker who do not depend upon studio ad budgets to survive.
Zines have moved online, but in gaining the broad reach of the internet where previously they were niche interest affairs has led to an obsession with hits above all else. This has been ruthlessly exploited by the studios to turn alt film culture away from bizarre midnight movies and Grindhouse fare, towards a relentless and all consuming diet of tent poles, comic book films, Star Wars and box office analysis. BOOOOOOOOORING!
But off of the great digital Mississippi river of ever flowing online ‘content’ there are tributaries that lead to stranger shores of singular opinions and offbeat discussions in the form of podcasts. The formerly parched fallow fields of movie culture can receive welcome irrigation from podcasts. However, to continue a torturous metaphor, how can you tell if you will plug into a plentiful supply of fresh water, or a sewage pipe?
There are more podcasts than ever before, and listening to some it’s clear that any idiot can plug a USB mic into a laptop and produce something. DIY culture is great, but the worst podcasts are badly edited, rambling bores that can drone on for hours. If like me, you plug a podcast directly into your ears commuting or walking the dog, then badly recorded podcasts hosted in a crowded Starbucks next to an espresso machine, or in a pub next to the gents are painful to listen to. I’ve even heard presenters jacked up on beer or diet coke belch into the microphone. Instant unsubscribe.
With that in mind, here is a selection of my favourite podcasts. A few of these are long running shows, and a few are relatively fresh. Some are productions of vast media organisations. Some are done in a bedroom. All are a pleasure listen to.
Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review
Available on BBC iPlayer Radio and iTunes
Not a dedicated podcast, Kermode and Mayo’s film review show (or Wittertainment to only occasionally obsessive fans) has been a regular Friday afternoon show on BBC Radio 5 since 2001. The podcast version first went online in 2005 and I have not missed an episode since. Ostensibly a film review show with Mark Kermode (the closest thing to a household name in UK film criticism since Norman retired his knitwear) providing the reviews, Simon Mayo presenting and conducting the celebrity interview at the top of the show. Over the years, the bonhomie between the two men has organically developed into numerous in-jokes, countless weird conventions, and a barrage of arcane terminology so extensive the show has its own fan-made wiki page. The podcast has grown as well, top and tailing the radio show (with interruptions for cricket scores seamlessly edited into the ether) adding value for the downloader.
The benefit of listening to, or reading a critic week in week out is that you can get a real feel for their taste. Noam Chomsky explained that his favourite newspapers were the Wall Street Journal and the FT because their bias was towards financial markets only rather than political ideologies. That makes if easy to calibrate for a fairly unbiased opinion. Regular Barry Norman viewers knew he didn’t care much for eighties horror films and Demi Moore. Kermode claims to have a ‘tin ear for comedy’ and detests Micheal Bay (although in my book that’s called a rational position). Get to know a critic and even a negative review can encourage you to see a movie.
The show’s claim to be the BBC’s ‘flagship movie show’ is completely justified, unlike the desiccated husk the Norman-less Film 2000-and-wotsit show has become, Wittertainment is there all year round and reaches a far greater international audience, helped in no small part by being available in podcast form.
The Bret Easton Ellis podcast
Available on iTunes
An interview show in which the never knowingly opinion free novelist opens each episode with a 15 to 30 min diatribe that may cover anything from on the state of American film industry, the atrophy of film culture, virtue signalling, and political correctness on American College campuses. Bret Easton Ellis has always been a divisive figure, author of one of the late twentieth century’s most controversial novels in American Psycho, increasingly his criticism of the millennial generation’s angst stumbles into ‘gerrorfmylawn’ territory, but Ellis is a highly entertaining ranter.
Ellis seemingly interviews whoever he wants, and regardless of the fact that there is a smattering of musicians among his subjects, this is more or less a movie podcast. True, it’s a relentlessly downbeat one, but even when he is playing up to his rabble-rouser persona, Ellis scores points. His withering compliments directed at LA LA Land in his Oscar reaction ramblings were hilarious. I find him often utterly infuriating but he is also talking about culture with a seriousness that is at a premium in an irony marinaded culture that often seems obsessed with mass market populist ephemera to the exclusion of all else.
Even if the diatribes drive you crazy, Ellis has quizzed a fantastic selection of guests, including a terrific run of horror directors (his Eli Roth interview made me grind my teeth so hard I should send him my dental bills). Because he seems only interested in his own agenda rather than pursuing PR puff, even when Ellis has a guest on who has been ‘doing the rounds’ such as his recent interview with Walter Hill, the topics and discussion feel fresh.
Classic Hollywood and top acting anecdotes
I Blame Dennis Hopper podcast
Available on iTunes
This podcast hosted by actress and writer Illeana Douglas with co-presenter Tamara Berg feels like the polar opposite of Bret Easton Ellis’. Douglas is in love with classic Hollywood and movies in general, and her guests are more frequently character actors than directors. Again the conversations steer away from guests peddling their latest wares and are more about each individual’s career as a whole and their relationship to cinema. Much less of a sausage festival than movie podcasts often are, Douglas has frequent female guests and some of the anecdotes they share about sexism in the industry are depressing. However, the overall tone of the podcast is light, frothy and frequently hilarious.
Recent guests have included Chris Noth, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Fisher, Joe Dante, Allison Anders and Michael Tolkin. Expect a lot of Marlon Brando anecdotes, and those never get old.
Available from the Streampunk site and iTunes
Rising from the ashes of the much loved Mondo Movie podcast (still available here) Streampunk looks at cult movies available across streaming and on demand services. Hosted by Ben Howard and Dan Auty, two champions among men who are now personal friends after I met them as a fan at 2008’s London Frightfest, this podcast takes ‘cult’ seriously. While new films are discussed, there will always be a host of older movies recommended and for a semi-professional podcast Dan and Ben (I know them, so I can call them that) put most of the offerings from established film site brands to shame.
Although Howard is now based in San Francisco and Auty in London, you would not know this from the technical quality of the show. In fact the time difference may help them by keeping the recordings compact. Far too many movie podcasts drone on and on for hours when they would be much better being with 40 edited minutes or just chucked in the bin.
This is among my favorite podcasts. Howard and Auty are genuinely enthusiastic. Their love of offbeat movies is both obvious and infectious, and they really know their Tarantino from their Castellari. If you are watching the new Twin Peaks, the recent Streampunk cast discussing the first five episodes is a great place to start.
Available from iTunes
Patreon page https://www.patreon.com/purecinemapod/posts
A newish US podcast, but presenters Brian Saur and Elric Kane have form in this area. Among other activities Saur runs the Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog, and Kane is a presenter on the Blumhouse presented Shockwaves horror movie podcast.
Like Streampunk this is a cult movie podcast, but more focussed on older movies. Each episode is themed with Saur and Kane offering a list of ‘5 films because…’ not a top 5, but choices of bizarre movies you may not have heard of that fit the show topic.
This podcast cuts further through the overgrown cult movie jungle than others, and is such as to fill your watch list with a selection of impossibly obscure movies as much as it highlights more celebrated gems. Episode themes have ranged across Noir, dysfunctional families, and revenge movies to name a few. Shows occasionally focus on the wares of specific boutique DVD labels, and despite the fact that not an interview show per se, a recent highlight was their crime themed show with screenwriter Josh Olsen of A History of Violence fame. That one is an EPIC show.
The Sound of Fear
Available on iTunes
Patreon page https://www.patreon.com/soundfearpod
If you love film scores, and especially if you love horror film scores, then this podcast series is a must. Most of the podcasts discussed above are conversational in format. Either two presenters discussing movies, or interview based. The Sound of Fear is different, a multi part series on the development and history of horror film scores written by film journalist and soundtrack expert Charlie Brigden and narrated by his wife Lisa Brigden (who has a disarmingly sweet voice for the discussion of often dark and horrifying movies).
This is a great primer for new horror fans, and a wallow in familiar favourites for die-hards. Each episode is themed and roughly chronological beginning with Nosferatu and King Kong, and currently up to the slasher movies of the eighties.
Brigden (and Brigden) contextualise the scores and their history, gives some notes on how they work, and features snippets of music sure to send you scouring the internet for rare vinyl.