Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: The Auteurcast

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Vital stats:
Format: conversation about auteurs, one movie at a time
Episode duration: 30m-1h30m
Frequency: three or four per week

Does this count as Podthinker bribery? First, these couple of guys go and make a podcast. Hey, I listen to those! Then they go so far as to make it a film podcast, and boy, do I love nothing more than sitting down to a fine film. But wait! Then they decide to talk not about film in general, but about film directors — and not just any old journeyman directors, but auteurs. Know, by way of background, that I possess a consciousness so consumed with thoughts about auteurhood that when TheAuteurs.com changed their name to MUBI, I stopped going.

I really started to suspect premeditation upon finding out the identities of the fellows behind all this: Rudie Obias, formerly of The Criterioncast, and West Anthony, currently of Radio Conelrad. I’ve enjoyed both those shows! If someone’s going to pick up the mantle dropped by the long-defunct Watching the Directors (reviewed by my esteemed predecessor Ian Brill here), it might as well be Obias and Anthony. For the last four months, they’ve fired up Skype (one’s in New York, the other in L.A.) and talked their way, sometimes with a guest, picture-by-picture through the filmographies of Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Sergio Leone, BBS Productions, Tim Robbins, and Cameron Crowe on The Auteurcast [RSS] [iTunes]

Permit me to point out a few unusual qualities of their method. Rather than recording one episode per director, they record one episode per film, moving in chronological order through the director’s career. Obias and Anthony’s journey to the center of Tarantino takes them twenty days and seven episodes; their inquest on Robbins takes them eleven days and four episodes. Obsessive cinephiles should feel a slight tingle, realizing as they do that Tarantino has made only six movies and Robbins as has made only three. Those extra ones represent another of The Auteurcast’s formal innovations: a whole-career recap episode that comes to whatever conclusions can be come to, distilling the thoughts thrown out during the preceding discussions of individual films.

Seems like a can’t-lose combination of concept and procedure for execution, so imagine my surprise when I saw all the harsh, low-star reviews peppering the podcast’s iTunes page: “This is not a good show,” “I’m not sure if I’ll keep listening,” “so disappointing,” “not much here.” Had these reviewers hit the nail on the head, we could call it a day here and now, but the other reviews shoot right over to the five-star end: “each episode is full of insight and relevant movie talk,” “invaluable and highly comprehensive,” “the possibilities are endless,” “download!” Clearly, Obias and Anthony know something about the occult art of generating controversy.

But are either the lovers or the haters right? The Auteurcast remains too new to validate any judgments so extreme, but I hear a great deal of promise in the show. Obias introduces each discussion by rattling off a loose list of questions related to the film or filmmaker at hand (e.g., “Can a movie like Jerry Maguire exist in these cynical times?”), and more directly addressing these and questions like them could help the show steer around the mire of free-floating film-yammer than most movie podcasts cheerfully plunge straight into. Some of Obias and Anthony’s conversations, especially the early ones, lack a focus on driving questions of directions of investigation — they run the risk, in other words, of playing tennis without a net.

And while I rarely recommend this, I get the sense that a more rigid time limit — half an hour per film discussion, say, even if the oeuvre recaps stay unlimited — could improve the show even more by adding a shot of urgency, a feeling that most podcasts, film or otherwise, sorely lack. Without it, even the most stimulating conversations about the most stimulating films ultimately just sort of peter out — like this review.

[Podthinker Colin Marshall also happens to host and produce The Marketplace of Ideas [iTunes], a public radio show and podcast dedicated to in-depth cultural conversation. Please hire him for something.]