Friday, 10 July 2009

Film talk for the (i)Podern era

Here is list of all the film-based Podcasts I listen to on a regular basis. These are all made with a great deal of love, care and attention and have more than once, saved me from throwing myself under the path of an oncoming tube train during my journey to work on another wet and dreary London morning. The fact that they’re all free to download only adds to the whole beautifulness of it all.

A magazine-style podcast, this is made for Chicago Public Radio by two extremely erudite and intelligent cineastes, Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson. These guys have got great chemistry together, Kempenaar coming off as the more restrained family man and Robinson being the single, more flamboyant of the two, not afraid to gently rib his co-host, particularly when clashing over preferred film choices. A weekly section of film-centric topics is rounded off by a ‘top 5 list’ (surely a must for all geeks).

The biggest compliment I can give this weekly podcast is it feels like being at the local pub, chatting with a bunch of my fellow geeks (if they adopted American accents) for an hour. Hosted by David Chen and his two moderators, Adam Quigley and Devindra Hardawar, this is an extension of the /Film website and usually includes a weekly guest (some unknown by the name of Kevin Smith recently). These guys chat about TV and film stuff they’ve watched that week, followed by movie news they’ve read, followed by the big film release they’ve all seen that week. Simple yet thoroughly entertaining and engrossing.

If you enjoy these guys chatting, there’s an added bonus of an after hours edition recorded after the main podcast, which in the words of Dave Chen is a “pretty much free-for-all” with everyone riffing on anything film-related they feel like.

Mondo Movie
A rare good one from the UK. This is very customary British with a slightly ramshackle feel, which only adds to the charm as two old friends (Ben Howard and Dan Auty) chat mostly about genre/exploitation films.

The Hollywood Saloon
These two guys are incredible. Put them in a room together and they could probably talk film for eternity. One podcast has run for 3 hours but don’t let that put you off, these guys are so easy to listen to that by the end, you won’t want them to finish. They started charging for their shows recently but seem to have started to post them for free again, although the amount of pleasure you get from hearing these two talk film is probably worth an admission charge.

Creative Screenwriting Magazine
This is created from the recording of a post-screening Q&A with the film’s screenwriter (director sometimes included) and is moderated by the jolly and appropriately reverential Texas-born editor of the Creative Screenwriting Magazine, Jeff Goldsworthy. Again, this is a fascinating listen with Goldsworthy gently probing the guests to give up all their knowledge of this under-appreciated art form. Topics include history/writing habits/breaking-in stories and writers block.

I still love you Mann

My (remaining) friends can attest to how much I used to bang on about Michael Mann’s 1996 crime epic Heat, when it was first released. I saw it as a wide-eyed 19-year-old and proceeded to proclaim it to be the greatest piece of cinema ever. Being a little older and wiser now, although still guilty of the occasion bout of hyperbole, I think 1999’s The Insider is probably the best of his films.

Mann’s attention to detail has always been something to behold. His films manage to have a striking, otherworldly look about them - from Francis Dolarhyde’s minimal, trippy lair in Manhunter to a smoggy, neon Los Angeles at night in Heat. This was probably the initially drew me to his films but at the same time, I’ve never felt it was a case of style over substance in Mann’s work. The realistic, hard-boiled quality of his dialogue has always played nicely against the visuals. I think his genius and what sets him aside from other film-makers is his ability to maintain an understated atmosphere amongst the stunning aesthetics. Just watch Will Graham’s prison meeting with Dr Leckter in Manhunter – a far superior film to any of the later Thomas Harris adaptations. It’s an incredibly eerie and powerful scene, yet the performances and indeed the look are very muted and ordinary. The opportunity and temptation to embellish the style here would have been too easy in the hands of a lesser film-maker, but Mann does the opposite and reins it in. The same could be said about the now famous ‘coffee house’ scene in Heat - although all the good work Al and Bobby achieved here sounds like it has been undone from what I’ve heard about Rig(s)h(i)teous Kill.

After seeing Collateral for the first (and only) time, it felt like he had lost a little of his magic touch. It resembled someone doing an interpretation of what a ‘Michael Mann’ film should look like. After an interesting premise, there just wasn’t enough of the director’s usual craftsmanship to sustain it. I did like the opening however, with Jamie Foxx’s down-at-the-heels taxi driver, lamenting his life, while making his way around downtown LA , a soulful Groove Armada song on the soundtrack. Miami Vice was an even further step down and was pretty flat and empty really, with the exception of a couple of imaginatively staged action sequences.

This brings me to Public Enemies. I must admit, probably due to the other two disappointments, I wasn’t really excited before seeing this. Thankfully I was proven wrong. It’s not a perfect film (more of that below) but it’s much more reminiscent of his earlier films. The scope and craftsmanship is up there again on screen, as is the strong dialogue and memorable (mostly male) performances. I’m still having mixed feelings about his decision to shoot on digital though. I read an interview with him recently where he spoke about originally planning to shoot on film, but ultimately deciding against it as he wanted to make the viewer “feel like they were in 1933”. It’s an interesting idea that only works intermittently. This technology is fine for a film like Collateral with its contemporary, luminous L.A night-time setting, but period films benefit from that grainy, organic texture that film delivers and which digital can’t quite fully compete with (yet). Regardless of Mann’s intensions, the end results were a little too jarring at times to fully immerse myself in that world. To be honest, I wish he would stick to film with everything he shoots.

Maybe that’s why the last two before Public Enemies haven’t worked for me. Maybe you just can’t cover the same emotion territory through the digital medium in big, meaty Hollywood productions. Imagine if Edward Hopper had the technology at that time to produce his work on Photoshop instead – a justifiable analogy I think, but one I’m sure will be met with the unison of eye-rolls from friends who read this, all of whom are now tired of hearing about my love for the Mann.