In our regular feature Podthoughts, freelance journalist Ian Brill helps you navigate your way through the thousands of podcasts available on the internet. This week, he looks at the film criticism podcast Filmspotting.
When regular Filmspotting co-host Sam Van Hallgreen was out for a week it was The Onion AV Club’s Scott Tobias that sat in to discuss films with the podcast’s other host Adam Kempenaar. This choice for a substitute should inform you of the tone of this podcast. The hosts of Filmspotting have that same knack that the writers for the AV Club have for taking their knowledge and passion for pop culture and turning it into informative and typically entertaining content.
Van Hallgreen and Kempenaar’s discussions often reach the best type of criticism. The two aren’t giving “liked it/didn’t like it” reviews. Their analyses compliment a viewing of the film itself. A recent argument on Ocean’s 13 involved determining the film’s place in not just the “Ocean’s” series but in director Steven Soderbergh’s entire career. The critics paid careful attention to the acting styles and screenwriting of the film. The talk is always calm and intelligent, never colored by bias. One of the reasons to keep coming back to Filmspotting is to hear how Van Hallgreen and Kempenaar can be both in-depth and brief about a film. They can provide a review and still have time for plenty of other segments in each roughly hour long podcast.
Filmspotting is a rigidly structured podcast. Every entry for an episode on the website has it down to the time codes. There are one or two reviews, a look at new DVDs and gratitude for donations, Massacre Theatre (not a weekly tribute to Tobe Hooper but instead a segment where the hosts butcher a beloved screenplay), Polls and listener feedback, and then the Top 5 lists. They’ve also recently added “The Noir Marathon,” in which Von Hallgreen and Kempenaar dissect a classic like The Killers or Out of the Past. Occasionally a show will feature an interview with a filmmaker, such as a recent talk with A Might Heart director Michael Winterbottom. I was impressed how later in that same show one of the hosts talked about having a Filmspotting meet-up with fans. The podcast does a good job of straddling the line between journalistic professionalism and the looser, more fun feel of podcasting.
What keeps the show fresh is that, thanks to the hosts’ endless familiarity with film, these dependable segments can touch on virtually any subject. One episode can feature the hosts’ top five best films on music, then next week it can be top five best films on journalism. The fun of these lists is telling the other party how wrong they are, which is where the listener feedback comes in. These are the segment that best illustrate the main appeal of Filmspotting: the joy of being a movie geek.