Last year, I named my favorite political pundits, both as a matter of transparency (so that you would know a little bit about who shapes my opinions on American politics), and as a way to endorse their work. Now, I feel like the time has come to do the same for the pop cultural sphere. I listen to a number of culture podcasts every week, and ideas, provocations, news and views from them inform much of what I write on this blog, and often more than I remember to give them credit for. Maybe this list of five absolutely brilliant podcasts could be a start a first down-payment on my debt of gratitude. Neither of the podcasts mentioned are obscure, and you should be able to enjoy them thoroughly without prior knowledge of their dynamics, but in each case I certainly encourage you to check out their archives. They’re all golden.
Slate probably was my first love of American web magazines, and John Dickerson, a regular on the Slate Political Gabfest, actually got a mention when I did the pundit piece, but nothing has done more to deepen my love for Slate than this weekly podcast. Since its humble beginnings as a bi-weekly show back in 2008, the podcast hosted by Slate’s critic-at-large Stephen Metcalf, with the magazine’s deputy editor Julia Turner and movie critic Dana Stevens as co-panelists, it has established itself as appointment listening every Wednesday. The banter and personal chemistry between the panelists is great fun in and of itself, but the greatest thing about it is how fearlessly they dive into a wide variety of subjects, from science and academia to the future of media, family relations, identity politics, music, movies, philosphy, politics or literature, without ever doing anything half-way. A whimsical, quick description made out of love might characterize Metcalf as the middle-aged, rockist, cultural pessimist; Turner as the younger poptimist who is especially insightful on media stories, and serves as the panelist who speaks for listeners who don’t have children ; and Stevens rounds it all out as a keen observer of movies and television from her past endeavours as a TV critic, whose pet cause is to turn people onto film scores. I’m not even close to doing the show justice, but take this final recommendation from someone who is using his summer listening to previous Culturefests: When you locate an episode with an appearance by either June Thomas, Slate’s foreign editor and go-to girl on television and identity politics, or music critic Jody Rosen, drop whatever you’re doing and download it. Like, now.
The Business is a weekly radio show about the entertainment industry, airing on the KCRW radio station in New York. It’s hosted by Kim Masters, writes for The Hollywood, and who has blogged for both Slate and The Daily Beast in the past. One of many strengths of The Business is Masters’ unique access to the movers and shakers of the film and television industries, and her ability to get them to talk about things you didn’t even know you wanted to know more about, or things you may not even knew existed. Ever wondered what the scriptwriter on Battlefield Earth thought of his awful movie ten years hence, or how American Idol was actually put together, or what it means when newspapers say The Beaver was on The Blacklist for unproduced scripts, or… Answers are all there in the archive. Every episode opens with a news roundup of the previous week, with either Jon Horn of the Los Angeles Times, or the show’s executive producer. It’s very similar to another short segment on a separate podcast, The Hollywood Breakdown, where Masters give a quick take on the most important story of the entertainment industry at the moment.
Filmspotting, hosted by Chicago-based critics Adam Kempenaar and Matty ‘Ballgame’ Robinson, is a true veteran of the podcasting format, from back in the mid-aughts when it was still called CineCast and hosted by Kempenaar with the show’s current producer Sam Van Hallgren. I actually discovered Filmspotting through the insistent prodding of the aforementioned Culture Gabfest, but even though I have only listened for something like six months, I’ve already listened my zig-zaggy way back through at least 50 episodes from the archive. Like the Culture Gabfest, it helps if you’ve heard a couple of shows before, but the enthusiasm, wit and occasional warmth of the duo who self-deprecatingly call themselves Mainstream Matty and Art-house Adam (to give you a not-terribly precise inkling of their respective preferences), is likely to win you over immediately anyway. One of the things I love about the show is that not only is it kinda choosy about what new movies to review; it even takes on older releases and classics, be it through segments like Overlooked DVDs or multi-episode Movie Marathons devoted to a particular genre or director. They also have a consistently enteraining contest, Massacre Theater, in which the act out a scene from a screenplay and invite you to guess which it’s from, and every week they do a Top 5 segment. Over the last couple of months, Filmspotting has in fact started influencing what movies I watch, because I want to be able to listen to Adam and Matty’s discussion afterwards. It’s thanks to their marathon of the Swedish master that I’ve spend much of the summer plowing through Ingmar Bergman movies.
It’s almost feels a little early to include The Q & A. It’s an excellent podcast in which Goldsmith, formerly the editor of Creative Screenwriting Magazine, hosts screening of movies old and new and invites filmmakers and screenwriters up on stage for a talk about the craft of filmmaking. However, the podcast hasn’t worked up an extensive back-catalog of episodes yet, which makes me yearn for the archive of the Creative Screenwriting Podcast, which Goldsmith until he broke out to start The Q & A earlier this year. Unfortunately, the archives for that podcast seems to have been taken off Itunes. But enough with the past. What initially hooked me to his podcast was that it centered around screenwriting, a vital part of the filmmaking process that I felt that I didn’t really know anything about. In his new podcast he blends that specific expertise and interest with a truly inspiring and refreshingly indiscriminate love of cinema. I didn’t know I wanted to learn of making Limitless when I’d seen it, but when I downloaded the episode, it turned to be way more interesting than the movie itself. And that’s the thing about Goldsmith. Apart from his remarkable access to the talent, in the manner of a less self-indulgent version of Inside the Actor’s Studio, he has the ability to dig out the interesting pieces from an otherwise bland movie experience. In the process, you might learn a thing or two about filmmaking, and if you’re like me, you get to test your movie biases.
This show (pronounced The Slashfilmcast) is podcast of the slightly geeky movie site slashfilm.com, hosted by Dave Chen with co-hosts Devindra Hardawar and Adam Quigley. If that sounds geeky and self-absorbed, fear not; these semi-professional critics have the critical acumen and good humor to surprise you with their takes on the latest blockbuster offerings. The show itself is great fun, though with a running often bordering on two hours it can be a little long, but the real treat to me has been the After Dark episodes. Like the After Hours episodes of Filmspotting, they are bonus episodes designed to absorb the things that didn’t make it into the show, loosely built around listener feedback. Here, they often end up talking about things that are on the margins of the movie experience, like what makes a good movie commentary, or when it’s okay to applaud after movies, or spoiler etiquette on social media. The regular dissection of movie trailers is also hilarious. I only discovered the /Filmcast a couple of weeks ago, but already the hosts are starting to feel like friends of mine.
If you’ve got any recommendations you’d like to share, the comments section is always open.