Category Archives: podcast

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 134 – If Beale Street Could Talk and Moonlight – Second Screening

We return to Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, his sumptuous romantic drama set in 1970s New York, for a deep dive, and take the opportunity to revisit his previous film, 2016’s Best Picture winner Moonlight. It’s an enriching conversation and we’re glad we took the time to engage in it. (The first podcast can be found here.)

We begin with Moonlight, working through our responses to what we experienced differently since having seen it previously (Mike last saw it during its cinema release, while José has seen it a few times on more recent occasions). The film’s final third is given serious thought, José in particular enjoying the opportunity to properly work through his longstanding problems with it, which amount to the film’s fear of the sex in homosexuality, its conscious refusal to openly and honestly depict two gay men being intimate – the film denies them even a kiss at the very end – and the critical establishment’s bad faith in refusing to engage with this particular point. It’s great to have finally discussed this topic, particularly paying close attention to the final few shots, where the problems are condensed and made perfectly clear; as José says, it’s an itch he’s wanted to scratch for a long time.

Moving on to Beale Street, we re-engage with some points we brought up in our first podcast, such as the dissonance between the opening intertitle’s invocation of drums and the soundtrack’s absence of them, and the relative richness of the characters that surround Tish and Fonny to the central couple. And we draw out new observations and thoughts, in particular returning on a few occasions to the conversation between Fonny and Daniel, discussing the lighting that drops them into deep shadow, picking up just the lightest outlines of their features as if to expose their souls instead, and how shot selection, editing and the use of a rack focus develop the drama and bring the characters together but simultaneously isolate Daniel within his own traumatic experiences. Mike picks up on a motif of redness in their eyes, acknowledging that the reading he offers is always going to be a stretch but finding it meaningful nonetheless.

We discuss the use of photo montages to reach for the universality of experience that the title implies and we felt was an issue the first time around, José describing how they thematically focus the film on black male incarceration and the lived experience of black masculinity in the United States. Mike feels that it’s a bit of a hangout movie, wanting to spend time with the characters and in their world, despite – perhaps because of? – the hardships they experience and discuss at times; certainly because of the romantic transparency, the care and love that characters show for each other, and the richness of their conversations. José finds fault with how the Latinx characters are lit and generally visually portrayed to less than their best, arguing that they were excluded from the visual romance that bathes the rest of the film.

And we see direct comparisons between Beale Street and MoonlightBeale Street‘s sex scene is an obvious point of discussion with respect to Moonlight‘s ending, but we also find parallels in the elements that depict or imply betrayal between friends, Moonlight‘s hazing scene and Daniel’s ostensible usefulness as an exculpatory witness for Fonny sharing complexities around whether the betrayals they depict are truly betrayals.

A hugely enriching discussion that we had great fun having, thanks to two intricate, beautiful, thought-provoking films.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 133 – It Happened One Night

It’s Valentine’s weekend and we take a romantic trip to The Electric Cinema to see It Happened One Night, Frank Capra’s 1934 romantic comedy that is one of only three films to win all Big Five Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay). As usual, Mike hasn’t seen it before, while José’s seen it plenty. Does it hold up?

José talks of its democratic appeal, set largely in the American South during the lowest point of the Great Depression and showing people coming together despite hardship, lack of work and even fainting from hunger. We discuss the development of the relationship between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, including the wisdom of sharing a motel room with a man you just met, the propriety depicted (such as forgoing a lucrative reward, instead only claiming your expenses), and of course, the madness of Alan Hale’s singing.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

José Arroyo in Conversation with Tom Seymour

 

Tom Seymour is the writer on art and photography that’s most incited my interest in the last year. His writing on Bill Viola and Michelangelo in Wallpaper* is what got me to the Royal Academy; his article on Don McCullin, also for Wallpaper*, is what occasioned a trip to Tate Britain. He’s how I was introduced to Chernobyl as a rave site, how I first heard of Sian Davey’s show at the National Portrait Gallery and why I was moved to petition for the release of Turkish photographer Çağdaş Erdoğan. I wanted to talk to him about all of this and more. The podcast below is the result.

 

Tom graduated with a degree in Film and Literature from the University of Warwick in 2007 and since then has contributed to The GuardianThe ObserverThe Financial TimesThe TelegraphWallpaper, CNN, BBC and other important newspapers and magazines. He was also the digital editor of The British Journal of Photography for several years and has recently become Senior Writer for Creative Review.

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The conversation ranges from how he got into writing about photography, the experience of going to and writing about Chernobyl, how he pursued the Çağdaş Erdoğan story, and the changing cultural status of photography as well as the current ecosystem of  the medium in London. We end with an extended discussion of the great Don McCullin exhibition currently on at Tate Britain, which we both urge everyone to see.

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José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 132 – If Beale Street Could Talk

Achingly romantic and visually rapturous, If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, utterly bowls Mike over, while José expresses some reservations about it, despite also finding it enormously impressive. A love story set in New York City in the late 60s/early 70s, the film follows Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) as they fall in love, begin to build a life together, but are threatened with its destruction by a racist cop and a false accusation of rape.

The title refers to a street in New Orleans that Baldwin, and subsequently Jenkins, use as a metaphor for the black experience across America, and arguably this is overambitious (if not simply impossible). The universality implied by the title is dissonant with what the film offers, which is much more personal and idiosyncratic. José points out the lack of anger in the film, anger that would be absolutely justified to express given both the general institutional racism the characters face in their place and time, and the specific instance of racist behaviour to which they are subjected: the rape accusation. Instead of fury, we see coping, survival, sadness, resistance and love, all communicated with an extraordinary depth of feeling and a camera that finds the beauty and subtlety in everyone’s face. And ultimately this is wonderful, it’s just that the title and opening intertitle that explains it somehow don’t seem to quite understand their own story.

There’s a huge amount we discuss, including the narration; the film’s excursion to Puerto Rico and how its depiction of the experience of Latinx people might or might not offer an interesting comparison to its central interest, the African-American community; how Brian Tyree Henry shows up for a scene and steals the entire film; how the film aims for visual poetry; how Jenkins conveys rich sense of different people’s lives and environments with just a few shots; and how the film chokes you up with its incredibly tactile depth of feeling that is sustained more or less throughout. We also bring up comparisons to Green BookGet Out, and in particular, Moonlight, Jenkins’ previous film – José has issues with how he copped out of giving his story of a gay black boy’s difficulties growing up an honest ending, and takes issue with how viscerally one feels Tish’s desire for Fonny due to the way he’s shot, finding it even more disappointing than before that Jenkins didn’t do the same in Moonlight.

It’s a film we want to see again, infectious and emotionally rich, and if you don’t see it in a cinema you’re missing out. It’s great.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies:130 – Glass

Concluding a trilogy two decades in the making, Glass brings together the characters of 2000’s Unbreakable and 2016’s Split in an unconventional superhero showdown. We both enjoyed it, though it’s a bit of a trifle, but it’s enjoyably oddball and features a particularly brilliant performance from James McAvoy. And we appreciate M. Night Shyamalan’s direction, staging and camerawork, which, while occasionally a little stilted and ‘filmmakery’, for want of a better word, is thoughtful and always strives to create interesting and meaningful imagery.

The film feels significantly affected by the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s influence on comic book movies and their public acceptance; there are things that Glass does, ways it behaves, that are difficult to imagine having made as much sense prior to that series. Indeed, this trilogy is a universe of sorts, with characters from different films being brought together in a shared world.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

A Conversation with Kieron Corless

 

A wide-ranging conversation with Kieron Corless, Deputy Editor of Sight and Sound on the magazine itself and issues that arise from it: What is film criticism? What is good criticism? What is the changing function of criticism? How has the digital turn affected not only what cinema is and how we see it but also what film criticism is and how it is now done? How has the eco system or matrix in which  audio-visual work is produced, distributed and exhibited changed over the years, with galleries and museums displaying moving image work on one end; and perhaps Netflix on the other.

We talk about cinephilia and film culture at home and abroad; and  further discuss the importance of advocacy, particularly in relation to international films that often  get seen only in small film festivals. We agree that the online environment has immeasurably improved criticism and helped create a different way of appreciating and writing about cinema, pushing film criticism in new directions, not least the increasing importance of the video essay. It’s an exciting time.

Because I was so gobby in the podcast, I’v also added some excerpts from a workshop Kieron led at Warwick. The short one below is on Sight and Sound itself.

The longer one below is on writing film criticism in general and writing for Sight and Sound in particular. Kieron’s talk ranges from how to pitch, the writing of a draft, right up to the  submission and editing stages. Top tips from Kieron, rather choppily edited by myself. But bound to be useful and certainly interesting.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 129 – Vice

Adam McKay brings the confrontational, fourth-wall-breaking style he employed in The Big Shortto a story of lust for power, hidden agendas, opportunism, and as near as makes no difference a coup d’état of the American government, engineered from inside the White House. Christian Bale plays Dick Cheney as he transforms from a brainless layabout into the de facto President of the United States, operating with scary, virtually boundless power to do whatever he wishes. It’s energetic, interesting, self-aware, and makes statements and accusations as bold as you’re likely to see in mainstream cinema. But it’s difficult to trust, says only what you’d like to hear, narrates where there are obvious opportunities to dramatise, and, fundamentally, fails to do what a biopic should: develop and convey an understanding of who its subject is and why. We weren’t impressed with much more than the makeup, unfortunately – though it is brilliant makeup.

We also have a browse through the Oscar nominations, why not.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 128 – Colette

Gender-bending in turn-of-the-century France, with the true story of Colette, probably the most famous female writer in French history and author, although they were published under her husband’s name, of the Claudine stories. With representational interests that give voice and presence to people and lifestyles one might not expect in a period film, and two very good central performances, one sensitive and complex, from Keira Knightley, and the other fabulously charming, Dominic West’s, there are things we like. But our overall response is disappointed, the positives dulled by a poor script, some badly developed characters, and direction that allows no metaphor to pass unvocalised.

Mike considers it a potentially smart film destroyed by a pointless fear of its audience not getting it; José sees it as the middle-of-the-road cinema it is, for better and worse. It’s worth a look in some respects, but we can’t claim it’s a good film.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 126 – The Passenger

A remarkably lean Jack Nicholson steals a man’s identity in an attempt to leave his life behind in The Passenger, Michelangelo Antonioni’s existentialist thriller from 1975. Though the film contains many of the raw ingredients of a Bond film or Graham Greene novel – a charismatic leading man, a beautiful European love interest, criminal activity, subterfuge and globetrotting – Antonioni cooks up a deeply atmospheric, contemplative work about identity, dispossession and escape.

In the four days between seeing the film at the BFI Southbank and recording the podcast, the film grew in José’s estimation, while Mike was captivated by it immediately, commenting on the lucid, imaginative camerawork that brings past and present together in single takes and seems to give the camera a physical presence in the film’s world, and considering the displacement of Nicholson’s character, a man living between countries and cultures. José, having watched and written on a number of Antonioni’s films back in June (links below), expounds on why he loves them and what he sees as the connective tissue of his oeuvre.

Mike describes Maria Schneider’s unnamed companion character’s similarities to the modern trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, José talks about the joy of seeing Spain in 1975, when he was but a wee nipper, and, of course, we give a few words to that penultimate shot, an extraordinary, brilliantly orchestrated long take that speaks of isolation and finality.

José’s posts on Antonioni:

L’Avventura

La signora senza camelie

La notte

Blow-up

Cronaca di un amore

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

José Arroyo in Conversation with Josh Schulze on ‘Alternate Takes’

Joshua Schulze is the new editor of Alternate Takes. James MacDowell one of the original founders of the digital site devoted to film and television criticism tells me that,

‘The aim of Alternate Takes is to provide analysis of cinema that is informed by academic debates, but also walks a line between the journalistic review and the critical essay. It publishes long-form essays that embody this ethos, but the most obvious way the site has achieved this compromise position between reviewing and scholarly criticism is by writing about new films twice. First there is a short, evaluative piece that ‘spoils’ as little as possible about a film, but still grants a sense of the sorts of experience it offers; the idea is that this is a review to read before you see a film. Then, after you’ve watched it, you can read our Alternate Take – a longer, more in-depth critical piece, which usually digs more deeply into a particular critical issue that the movie raises. While over the years this dual-review format has become less rigidly enforced, the overall approach it fostered has remained the same, and the site has continued to publish film criticism that is in-depth, critical, mindful of social and artistic contexts, but also accessible and enjoyable.’

 

The impetus for this conversation with Josh Schulze was merely to find out if there was a new direction he, along with co-editors Matt Denny, Patrick Pilkington and Leanne Weston, wanted for the now celebrated digital platform and what that might be.

In the podcast Josh and I discuss Pauline Kael, cinephilia, the pressures of writing quickly and its effects on film reviewing, the nuances of film criticism and how Alternate Takes is devoted at looking at films and television in depth. We also discuss our admiration for the video essays of Adrian Martin, Catherine Grant and Kogonada, and how contributing to Alternate Takes is a great way for early career people and students to explore their ideas and take new approaches to film.

You can find the website here: www.alternatetakes.co.uk/

James MacDowell’s thought provoking piece on the raison d’être and purpose of the platform can be found here: www.alternatetakes.co.uk/?2011,3,240

José Arroyo

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 89 – Searching

 

You wait all day for a new type of film and then two turn up at once. Hot on the heels of Unfriended: Dark Web, which we discussed a few weeks ago, is Searching, another desktop film (as we’re calling them). John Cho plays a father whose teenage daughter goes missing and conducts a search for her using her laptop and an old family PC.

It’s formally a little different from Unfriended, and we consider that even more formal difference might have suited the story. But the form does allow the film to cleverly and subtly address themes of generational difference and familial disconnection, and the drama the film builds is deeply involving.

We also remark upon the film’s surprisingly unique and welcome depiction of an Asian-American family, and Mike misremembers the origin of the term “woman in the fridge”.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies The Party – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 14 – 25th October 2017

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Mike describes it best:

Sally Potter’s all-too-brief comedy drama polarises us, which makes a nice change to the agreements we’ve been having recently. Is it smug or knowing? Is its range of incongruous acting styles engaging or distancing? Who knows. But Sally Potter is very very very important in British cinema and feminism and queer representation, says Jose, who then has the nerve to criticise The Party for having its right-on cake and eating it.

Includes a reminiscence of seeing a man stand up in a screening of I, Daniel Blake and a magic trick where Mike convinces Jose he has an extraordinary memory.

Recorded on 22nd October 2017.

 

 

With Michael Glass of Writing About Film

José Arroyo interviews Lawrence Napper on ‘Silent Cinema: Before the Pictures Got Small’

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The first of a series of interviews of books on cinema. The intention is to expand and disseminate our understanding of cinema and its diverse histories and various cultures by bringing attention to recently published books in the field in order to enhance understanding of and access to the knowledge the books provide. This first one is an interview with Lawrence Napper — author of ‘British Cinema and Middlebrow Culture in the Interwar Years’ (2009) and ‘The Great War in British PopularCinema of the 1920s: Before Journey’s End’ (2015) — on his contribution to Wallflower Press’ Short Cut series, an excellent introduction to silent cinema, ‘Silent Cinema: Before The Pictures Got Small,’ (2017).

You can listen to it here:

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José Arroyo

Blade Runner 2049 – Second Screening – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 11 – 11th October 2017

 

 

We couldn’t stay away. And with a second viewing, time to percolate, and responses from friends informing us, Eavesdropping once again delves into Blade Runner 2049.

What to make of the film’s representation of women? How does the film use names? Why did Mike have a little weep at the end this time? Do gay women have cottages? Does the film function as a story about slavery? What about criticisms of its lack of diversity in casting?

Why do people think this film is dull? Is it the film’s fault? Television’s? Humanity’s? Why don’t we care to engage visually any more?

Most importantly, what do the bees mean?

Recorded on 10th October 2017.

 

José Arroyo and Michael Glass from Writing About Film

Flatliners – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 9 – 7th October 2017

 

With a weary sigh, we get to Flatliners. Ellen Page, James Norton, Diego Luna and Kiersey Clemons expand their minds and run around shitting themselves in fear. Questions abound: Why did they call this Flatliners when the obviously correct title is Hot Doctors? Was Kiefer Sutherland wasted? Is it wise to be wasted while appearing in a film? In precisely how many millions of ways is the film inconsistent? Just how stupid and blind is its attitude towards the very real problems it presents? Does it make sense as a horror flick? Just how obsessed are Mike and Jose with the cast’s attractiveness? Who’s hotter, the ginger guy or the hot girl? All this and Catholic guilt too.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film

IT – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 6 – 22nd September 2017

 

What is IT? Is IT any good? Is IT scary? How much of IT did Mike watch through his fingers? Why would he agree to see IT in LieMAX? Was he right about the bit with the sink? (Spoiler: He has googled it and discovered that he was wrong.)

Recorded on 17th September 2017.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film

mother! – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 5 – 18th September 2017

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What is Darren Aronofsky’s latest fever dream all about? How is it allegorical? What does it mean?  How good is Jennifer Lawrence? Why we both loved it. Is the audience reaction fair and what might that mean?

Recorded on 17th September 2017.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film

 

PS. You might be even more interested in this lively discussion between Aronofsky and William Friedkin:

 

Detroit – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 4 – 3rd September 2017

Why Detroit is the best film currently on release. Is John Boyega a star? Does Kathryn Bigelow get the respect she deserves? Is race the political unconscious of American cinema? Why hasn’t a great film on such a timely subject found an audience?

Recorded on 28th August 2017

Michael Glass of Writing About Film  and José Arroyo

American Made – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 3 – 2017.09.01

Is it possible for a film about drug smuggling, weapon dealing, CIA-sponsored militias and getting ludicrously rich to be in any way immoral? Tom Cruise helps destroy several Latin American governments and cultures, oblivious to everything except money and a sense of adventure. Do we empathise? Find out as we tolerate American Made so you don’t have to.

https://soundcloud.com/michael-glass-782430335/american-made-eavesdropping-at-the-movies-ep-3-20170901/s-GprfI

 

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film (In Very Long Sentences)

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