S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. I’m Stephen Becker from the city state culture gap, those ten rings, 12 minutes and 20 years tradition. It’s Wednesday, September eight, 2021. On today’s show, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Marvel movie to feature an Asian hero and a predominantly Asian cast. It’s a it’s only in theaters, it’s not streaming, and it made a ton of money domestic and global box office over the weekend. We will discuss both aspects of it. And then Spike Lee has a new HBO docu series. It’s called NYC Epicenters nine 11 to twenty one and a half runs to about seven and a half hours. We discuss both the epic love letter to his home city and the controversy surrounding its original edit, which give credence to 911 conspiracy theories. We’ll be doing that with Slate’s own Jeremy Stahl, who played an instrumental role in having the documentary be edited. And finally, 12 Minutes is a wild time, loopy video game voiced by Hollywood stars. We will discuss, in part because Allegra Frank is on the show Allegra, your senior editor for culture at Slate. And unlike the rest of us, you know a lot about video games.
S2: I sure do. Steve Toomuch arguably
S1: never too much, but we have to exploit that because we’re fogies and we don’t. By that, I mean. Dana Stevens, Slate’s film critic.
S3: Hey, Dana. Hello, Steven. Wait, I have to reclaim in addition to being a fogey. Or perhaps I mean, it was actually true before I was a fogey. I’m also a non-gaming person, as everyone who listens knows, like, not only do I not play video games, I don’t play board games or card games or hopscotch or any competitive game.
S1: But my next you play mind games.
S3: I always, always do. Especially. Yes. Yeah.
S1: All right. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens with not one, but two captivating setups and one the sinister head of a shadowy criminal organization. He’s part mastermind part. Martial arts wizard in part kind of vampire. He appears to have achieved immortality thanks to the ten rings. Anyway, he falls in love improbably, and before our eyes, he is humanized and turns into a loving and devoted dad. The other set up features Shaun and his buddy. There are two slackers happily underachieving as parking valets in San Francisco, but as we find out, Shaun is secretly Shang-Chi. He is the son of the mystical, dastardly wizard figure raised practically from birth by his father to be a fighter, an assassin, a role that he declined in adolescence. Then the two storylines converge. Sean must reawaken his dormant powers, return to the world of Oedipal rivalry and intrigue. Meanwhile, Katie has to turn into a sidekick. The movie stars seem to live in the title role. Awkwafina as the eventual sidekick Katie and Tony Liang Shang-Chi is sinister, but also possibly a loving father. Let’s listen to a clip.
S3: OK, I think the clip we’re going to hear is a scene between Awkwafina as Katie and Somolu Lu as Shang-Chi, or Sean as he’s going by the beginning of the movie. And specifically, this conversation is about him. Having taken Sean is a pseudonym, as he’s revealing his very dramatic backstory to her.
S4: My name’s not technically Sean.
S5: What? What is it?
S4: It’s Shang-Chi. Shang-Chi Shang-Chi Shang-Chi Shang-Chi Shun Sun shone as HMG Xiang Xiang. Yeah, you changed your name from Xiang to Sean. Yeah, I don’t. I wonder. Yeah, I wonder how your father found you. I was 15 years old, right? What is what is your name? Change logic? You’re going into hiding and your name is Michael. You wanting to dump high school? That’s that’s not what happened. Is you? It’s like, Hi, my name is Gina, I’m going to go into hiding. My new name is China.
S1: Then I love that clip. I think it conveys what’s nimble and fun about the best parts of the movie. The rapport between two of the leads writing is really crisp. The performances are tart and funny. Would you? Would you make of the movie?
S3: I mean, there’s so much to say about this movie that goes beyond the movie itself, which I really liked, really enjoyed this movie, even though I was going to with a sense of, you know, here we go again back into the Marvel treadmill, you know, generation to whatever. You know, we’ve gone through this entire 20 years cycle of Marvel heroes and right. I mean, now we’re being given this new pack of Marvel heroes are going to have various adventures together. And honestly, I’m approaching the entire event with some exhaustion. But that said, I would say that as a kind of standalone individual chapter Marvel movie, this is one of the best ones in years. The movie that it reminds me of the most in terms of its sort of standalone power and also the degree to which it’s a character movie woven into an action movie and not merely an action movie that has some characters thrown in to give it, you know, some some little color is, is Black Panther. I mean, I think similarly to Black Panther, it is this story of a father and son, right? It’s kind of an almost Shakespearean style passing of the crown kind of story and that that family story is really woven in, as is the friendship story between the Aquafina character and the Shang-Chi character into the action. So, you know, we don’t just have a sense that, you know, there’s a vague battle for the future of the universe, and then there’s some vague people having family issues over to the side. It’s really those two stories feed into each other, and it’s really well done. I think it’s about 20 minutes too long as most of these kind of movies are and has a little bit too much Kabam capacity. But given that the Koblin Kapow is really elegant martial arts, much of which was choreographed by Brad Allen, the late Brad Allen, who was a Jackie Chan collaborator and a stunt man with Jackie Chan’s group for many years. I mean, the action is really, really beautifully done and beautifully shot and is not at all just, you know, vague punches in the background. You really are able to follow the action in the different styles of fighting that each character has and how they develop his fighters. So that’s all good. But then just to pull the lens out for a second and we can get to this later in our conversation. I’m just fascinated by the the the business story behind this movie because it smashed the box office this weekend, right? I mean, in the midst of the Delta variant in the midst of this summer, where movies like Black Widow have been real disappointments at the box office and where you know, these big corporations can’t decide, are we going to do simultaneous streaming? Are we going to stream only? Are we going to show in theaters? Only nobody has been able to solve this riddle of how to bring people back to the box office. And suddenly there’s this movie with a completely, almost completely Asian-American cast, right? There’s very few characters in this movie who are not either Asian or Asian-American. The first Marvel movie that that’s been true for one of the first movies, period. I mean, Crazy Rich Asians is another. There have been a few more, but really one of the first blockbuster movies that’s been an all Asian cast, and it absolutely kills at the box office. And that’s domestically. Of course, internationally it will. It will do well as well for the same reason. So I’m really, really interested in that part of the movie as well, and I hope we can talk about that a bit.
S1: Oh yeah, if you’re here Allegra before we get there, just tell me what you thought of it as a movie,
S2: I’ve really enjoyed it. Especially coming in with lower expectations of this is a new character I’ve no familiarity with. I, you know, it’s not like I’ve tapped out of Marvel. I enjoyed Black Widow, enjoyed Endgame, but it’s it’s been a minute and there’s reasons to not be as be as stoked for this one. But I think the humor is there. The storytelling is really smart and as Steve has said, the haves I’ll meet up and the threads are tied up nicely and it does a good job of connecting itself back to the MCU with while also being a real standalone. And I think it’s it was just a lot of fun. The action was great and I really appreciated that it was a predominantly Asian cast. So, yeah, I had a whole blast with it. And I think, you know, the good reviews it got and the excitement of it being such a unique property in the MCU generated interest and this also being a very slow weekend in the theatrical release schedule being quite empty, I was really happy. To see that this movie in particular, has done so well because I think it’s great, I had a great time I was lucky to and as we all were, we were able to go safely to theater. And for those who have the same privilege, I am glad they were able to, even though I feel dumb feeding into Marvel’s capitalistic schemes here. But this is a movie that really benefits on the big benefits from the big screen.
S3: Yeah. Well, I mean, another part of my media experience of seeing this movie is that it’s not the first movie I’ve seen commercially in a theater since, you know, the Delta variant or since the pandemic. But it was the first packed one, and I really appreciate the theater I saw it at, which was an Alamo Drafthouse theater, required proof of vaccination to get in and really checked it and checked your ID against it to make sure it was really you. And so you felt really confident that even if you were sitting right next to someone, that person was masked, that person had been vaccinated. And, you know, it made the experience much more relaxing and made me think about how theaters could address this problem in some way that didn’t make us feel like we were just bait. You know that that Marvel was trying to to pull in regardless of any concern for our health?
S1: Yeah, I like this movie. I I’m inclined more to the one off, you know, oddball properties of Marvel like Guardians of the Galaxy, where some much larger kind of ponderous mythology and gigantic acts of world building really are less necessary that there’s something at least a little self-contained in there for, you know, more elegantly craft driven. I thought in this one, they did strike a very good balance, though I will say for the first hour of the movie, I thought I was watching a very good movie movie. I thought it was it was crisp. It was nimble. It’s character driven. It was genuinely funny. The two stars, I really love them. Simu Liu has gotten kind of mixed reviews as the lead. I actually thought he was terrific. I thought the feeling of kind of slightly recessed ambivalence to his self-presentation I found actually quite believable. You know, his ambivalent relationship to his own astonishing machismo and whether he should unveil it or not. You know, his relationship with a father he wants to both honor, but he also wants to murder him for being intrinsically corrupt. I thought all that was really nicely done, but of course, is the rapport with Awkwafina. This is terrific is very funny. There are quickly drawn but nicely drawn scenes of them in a bar with tears that made them seem real to me and in a kind of contemporary comedy of slacker manners that was that was nicely done, very well done for a Marvel movie. It brought me into an asset that the kind of mythic and highly ostracized aspect of the relationship between the parent figures was marvelous. You know, all of that really got me, and you know, it’s just the accordion starts getting pulled out, right? We can’t have this. Be we being marvel? We can’t have this be a 90 minute movie. It just doesn’t support the enormous apparatus of self-importance around this whole enterprise. It’s got to be. I don’t know what was this. How many minutes was this movie? The one hundred and forty? I mean, it felt to me like a three hour movie is probably about two and a half. It just didn’t feel like it had to be that. And then it began to lose me a little bit. But there were many, many, many set pieces where the character driven movie movie was integrated with the imperatives of the Marvel movie. And my bottom line is this is this is a huge success. I mean, maybe not quite Black Panther in bringing together these commercial and artistic imperatives, and maybe not quite as funny as guard and fresh as Guardians of the Galaxy, but in the in the upper reaches. In my estimation of the Marvel pantheon,
S3: someone we haven’t mentioned yet is Tony Leung, who is the villain, really complex villain, the father of Stahl, whose character you know, who, as you said, has this whole kind of vampiric legendary backstory going back a thousand years that this explained at the beginning? I mean, he’s just a wonderful villain, a huge part. It, of course, is because Tony Leung is just a legend and absolutely impossible to tear your eyes off kind of actor. But also, I just feel like compared to most Marvel villains, he he has motivations that are that are deep and complex and emotional, and that anyone who has loved someone can relate to, right? I mean, essentially, it’s because of his grief for his lost wife that he’s pursuing all of these evil ends and and he’s sort of always switching back and forth between a man who’s trying to be a good father, trying to come back from a thousand years of evil doing and, you know, kind of being sucked back into it again. And there are many moments when you know, the final fate of a villain in a Marvel movie really matters to me. And and I really did care about that character at the end and wanted to know what happened to him and to the relationship between him and his children. And yeah, just bravo on everything about the Tony Leon character writing and acting wise.
S2: I’m glad that Marvel made that smarter choice to invite such a veteran venerated actor into the MCU family. It’s I really appreciate when they have that. Sort of smart, thoughtful casting as they are occasionally want to do, and even having someone like Awkwafina, who seems like a very obvious kind of choice like that worked out well to, I think the casting overall in this film was just really great and really contributed to like the charm of it overall.
S3: I mean, the last thing I would say before we sign off, I think all of us would say, Yeah, if you’re in the mood and you feel safe going to see a big blockbuster in the theaters, it is only unfortunately right now playing in theaters then, then this would be a fun when to do it. And in terms of what role this character and this this new universe it’s been introduced is going to weave into the marvel that we know. I just think it’s worth mentioning that there is one of those mid-credits stinger is it’s not so standalone that it’s not trying to get you into another movie in the future. And in that mid-credits stinger, you start to see how some of the characters from this new kind of Asian-American wing of the Marvel world are going to be incorporated with the Avengers. We know so. Mark Ruffalo, as a holographic version of Bruce Banner, appears in this little Stinger two to interact with some of these characters and sort of imply with their next mission is going to be so, you know, just in case you thought that you were out of the water of Marvel, this movie does try to pull you back in again.
S1: OK, well, since you feel like Marvel pretty much hit the nail, you know, pretty much on the head with this one. So check it out. Let us know what you thought and. All right, now, at the moment in the podcast, we talk business, Dana, what do we have?
S3: Stephen, the only business this week is to flag our Slate Plus segment, which comes from a listener this week. A really good question from a listener named Asher who wrote asking us about big swings and big misses, as he put it, works of art that were failures in their time at maybe the box office and also critically, but that we, for whatever reason, continue to champion. It’s a great question. We take it down some interesting roads, I think, in our in our plus segment. As always, if you’re a Slate Plus member and you want to ask us such weird questions, you can write us at Culture Fest at Slate.com. We read our emails, we keep them all in a file and we go back to them every week as we look for plus ideas, so we would love to hear from you. And of course, if you don’t belong to Slate Plus, you can always sign up at Slate.com slash culture. Plus, it only costs a dollar for your first month, and in exchange for that dollar, you get ad free podcasts. You don’t have to listen to me. Read any ad copy if you don’t love doing that. You also get a lot of bonus content like the segment I just described, and this is the case on many other slate podcasts as well. And of course, as a Slate Plus member, you get unlimited access to all the great writing that appears on Slate. You will never hit a paywall if you belong to Slate Plus, so you can do that by signing up at Slate.com slash culture plus. All right, business done. Back to the show.
S1: NYC epicenters nine, 11, two, 2020, one and a half is Spike Lee’s new HBO docu series. From it, I picked out two main themes it runs about eight hours, it sprawls. But I think nonetheless there are two, you know, pretty central guiding themes going on here. The first is that we’ve all lived through a distinct era in American life that spans from 911 to January 6th, and that year has been defined by very public traumas, traumas that play out in the media as public and common spectacles. So nine 11, the Trump presidency, the pandemic, the death of George Floyd and January 6th and second, even though we live in a continentally, sprawling country, we live in a nation that is a continent. New York is still the epicenter of national experiences of trauma, and if we’re lucky of awakening. In effect, Spike Lee decides to tell the story, you’re backwards, we arrive at nine, 11 at the end in the third of the two hour episodes, and I believe the point my takeaway was that, you know, Lee was trying to remind us of the cost of the loss, solidarity in the aftermath of 911. When, you know, I mean, on nine 12, we basically woke up to a world in which all Americans were New Yorkers, and almost every citizen of the Earth felt like an honorary American, which of course, we’ve just grotesquely squandered in the 20 years since. Joining us to discuss not only the documentary, but a rather extraordinary controversy that surrounds it is Jeremy Stahl, senior editor of Slate. Jeremy, welcome back to the show. I see you and thank you for having me here, Jeremy. There’s an extraordinary circumstance of our own, actually a couple of extraordinary circumstances your interaction with HBO and directly with Spike Lee, but also the fact that you’re right now on your honeymoon. Yeah. Well, a long, belated honeymoon. We have an eight month old back home and this is how honeymoons work. I guess when you get married on February 29th, 2020, a week or two before everything shut down because of a global pandemic. But yes, I’ve got my I’ve got my best gal next to me and I’m enjoying Mexico. But taking a brief pause to talk about this really good documentary, but also an important subject about what went on surrounding it. OK? In the clip, we’re about to hear you’re going to hear a variety of voices among the Busta Rhymes and members of Spike Lee Zone family and other people discussing where they were when the first plane hit the first tower on nine 11.
S4: I was at my place. Eighty four West Broadway between chambers in Warren Street. Were you close? I was right there. It knocked a lamp off my side table. I’m Tanya Lewis Lee, producer and filmmaker. The news had been on and I wasn’t paying attention to it. And then all of a sudden there was a shot of the World Trade Center and it was on fire. And for a second I thought some, like I had to accidentally change the channel and it was a movie. And Jackson and I were sort of hanging out in the bedroom, getting ready to get him ready for school. My name is Sacha Lee and I’m an artist and creative. My name is Jackson Lee. I’m a sneaker designer and a filmmaker, and I didn’t really understand what was going on. Obviously, I’m four years old, and she saw that there was flames coming out of a building. And she asked me, What movie am I watching? It looked like a movie like something that of the time, like a movie. It was like a movie, man. But bam, something like out of Bruce Willis die hard movies like it was in a movie.
S1: It’s like. So, Jeremy, they’re, you know, they’re almost two documentaries here and there for two topics of conversation for us. The first is, in my estimation, enormously powerful sort of epic to American poignancy and loss in the aftermath of nine eleven. That’s a seven and a half hour multitude of voices. It’s also a love letter to Spike Lee’s New York. You know, a genuinely diverse city whose beating heart is Brooklyn and specifically black, brown and beige Brooklyn. To me, that was an extraordinary and extraordinarily moving document. And then in the original screener sent to journalists, there was the half an hour at the end giving ridiculous amounts of oxygen to 911 truthers conspiracy theorists overtly and covertly anti-Semitic ideas about who might have been behind 911. What motivated the demolition of the towers was caused by explosives. Jeremy, this is a story that touches directly on reporting and editorializing that you’ve done in the past, going back as far as the 10th anniversary of 911, when this cropped up, then discuss what it was like to see that and follow up on it with HBO. Yeah. So I’ll say that he didn’t get too much into laying motives and describing some of the more dark anti-Semitic ideas of of this movement and of these theories and of these ideas. But that was that wasn’t necessary in order to be sort of giving this the most amount of mainstream attention and the biggest platform that 911 truth as they as they refer to themselves ideas I’ve ever gotten these these conspiracy theories have been relegated to like movies like Loose Change that have become almost jokes now. And what the cut portion of the film did was give 30 minutes of back and forth between the actual scientists who spent years and millions of dollars investigating what happened to those buildings that fell on September 11th and about a dozen or so from this group architects and engineers for nine 11 Truth, whose founder Richard Gage, I had interviewed multiple. Times before, 10 years ago and nine years ago and whose ideas are beyond his notions of what happened to the buildings on nine 11 are just incredible. This incredibly toxic stew of COVID denialism backs anti-vax, saying vaccines are poisoning us and every conspiracy theory in the book, but particularly on the 911 conspiracy theories that ruled that his theory and premise creates is also predicated on these really kind of horrible notions of that Israel was somehow responsible. The owner of the building is Jewish man. Larry Silverstein, who’s actually interviewed in the documentary earlier, is said to be in on the inside job of taking the things down for insurance money. So it buys into these really awful old historic ancient tropes that are just grotesque, even if those elements didn’t appear in Spike Lee’s original version. That’s what this inevitably leads to. And so it was really kind of dispiriting and sad to see that after having watched a very good documentary, and I’m just curious to throw it open to the panel and starting with you, Jeremy. I mean, did people find the first and by far largest portion of the movie as moving? And, you know, hopefully one hopes in a therapeutically retraumatizing in an important way, going back over events that in retrospect seem so surreal you can scarcely believe they happened. There is something important about reminding ourselves. That for how surreal they were, they did happen to us, they happened to us collectively, they happened to real individuals. I mean, that’s Allegra, that’s powerfully moving documentary filmmaking. I thought,
S2: Yeah, I totally agree, especially being that I don’t have the clearest recollection of 911 itself. I was seven. I think this is the first time I’ve watched something that felt so personally connected. You know, like, I’ve watched a lot of documentaries that cobble together citizen footage, but I think Spike Lee even introducing his own story and talking to so many other people about where they were and these collisions of stories and anecdotes all at once, it really did contribute to like, Oh, this was a purely chaotic, apocalyptic moment, unrelenting in how he retold this story. Yeah, I totally agree with. It’s really powerful and incredibly painful like filmmaking. It’s I think retraumatizing is a very good word or like I feel traumatized still more so than I ever have before. With this event, it’s truly, truly harrowing. But in a powerful and important sense, I think
S1: I would just reiterate everything you said, Allegra, but also say that for me, watching the beginning of this series, the parts that specifically addressed New York City being the city in the US that was first hit and hardest hit by the COVID 19 pandemic and just the the brutality of that and and the experience of talking to all of these nurses and hospital workers and the people who and people who lost lost loved ones to that trauma as well, just in a very comprehensive way was incredibly powerful as well. And also with shots of the city at the time laid out in a way that only Spike Lee could, as as Steven said, a love letter to New York. And then at the same time, he acknowledges at some point early in the series that there are a lot of hoaxes and there are a lot of false harmful conspiracy theories. You know, not acknowledges that explicitly in the first part of the series about COVID 19 as any sort of brushes those away. And kind of, you know, with this powerful emotional presentation is able to dismiss that. But at the same time, in the original version, he’s he was drawn back into the exact same types of ideas or this other traumatic event, which was really like. And that’s what I when I confronted Spike Lee in a piece that I wrote about this and in a message to HBO, I specifically tried to point out to him that, you know, you say you don’t want to send your viewers to the wrong people to be have these distorted ideas about COVID foisted upon them, what you’re doing that with the 911 truther stuff. And I was really impressed that the response of removing that material, actually ultimately, in the end, I just want to say briefly what I thought. Lee’s documentary got right in the first seven and a half hours beautifully, which is in addition to allowing people to speak for themselves and sort of not imposing that much of a narrative structure on on people’s own voices, the people who experience these events not on TV, but but in in person and happened to them directly. Is he? Spike Lee has a very intimate and deeply felt sense of how New York City is both powerfully contentious and diverse. On the surface, so many cultures and subcultures, so many ethnicities, races, genders, all social classes. I mean, on the surface, you could say it’s sort of, you know, it’s a it’s a dog eat dog is maybe putting. It’s not Hobbesian, exactly, but it’s a tough, competitive rivalries, rivalries city in some sense at the same time. It’s like this vast steel, concrete and diesel organism that has to function in an integrated way in order to sustain the millions of people living there. And it has that kind of infrastructural guts to it. That’s overwhelmingly, by the way, staffed by a relatively, you know, essentially by working class people of color. And he has a sense of how that’s the guts beneath all of the other shit that goes on in New York and all of the street level conflicts, social conflicts in order for this city to work. You need, you know, the people, just the people who fucking make it run right, like sanitation, transit. You know, there’s even a there’s even a nod to the police, right? He pushes back on defund the police because he knows the city too well to believe that they that you could fully defund the police. You actually have a series of very intelligent and nuanced conversations with black activists and politicians about what that statement means and doesn’t mean it shouldn’t mean. Fascinating. And it’s that that’s it’s the life and the necessary solidarity of that inner city that I think he feels deeply and feels as though is the is the true thing. It’s the truth. And about New York City and could and should be the true thing about the United States, but isn’t thanks to how we got lost after nine. And I just want to emphasize again that. That last half hour is no longer in the film, and I think people should watch what this. You know, the bulk of this movie really is, I think people are. I think people would really do well to ignore the horrible, like, really horrific misstep at the end of it. And that sense, Jeremy, you did an enormous public service. You had the cancerous part of the cut out. And what’s left in some ways was really a genuinely beautiful document.
S3: Yeah. In relation to that, and maybe this is a place to end, Jeremy, is that you have something that nobody else has certainly no one on this panel and no one who will see the show going forward, which is that you saw that half hour that was cut out. And I’m still trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance of. So by the time this, the show finishes airing on 911, there will have been seven and a half hours missing that mysterious half hour that you saw. And we didn’t. And and I just want to know I’m trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance here. Like if the first seven and a half hours of the documentary take what we’re calling all of this moral or ethical care in presenting, you know these the history of the city, including the COVID 19 rumors, et cetera. And then it just goes completely off the rails in the last half hour. I’m just curious, Jeremy, how how you saw Spike Lee as framing that in that last half hour was was there a huge tonal shift in the documentary? Or did it seem as if he was buying everything that people were saying? In other words, did the whole element of, you know, the narrative framing of what interviewees are saying? Just just go out the window and did the whole thing just sort of end on. And so in short, it was probably a frame up credits roll. I just don’t understand how it could have gone that way.
S1: So not at all, which which I think was is maybe one of the probably more harmful ways of how that was initially presented in that I would say he, you know, he’s got about a dozen of these people who believed this conspiracy theory, who he presents, and they’re presented in a very like formal, rational, even keeled setting. He’s not including the worst, most damaged, most deranged, most harmful stuff, which is what I think was potentially even worse about it because it fit with the rest of the town. So in fitting with the rest of the tone, it gave even more legitimacy to this very illegitimate, illegitimate thing.
S3: That’s very interesting, and that makes me think also, and this would take us down an even deeper rabbit hole. But it makes me think of the way the Jan. six insurrection was presented by right wing media, which is something we talked about on this show at the time, and we all took a week to watch them, you know, Fox and 09 and whatever kind of networks about Truther ism, about that date there were. And the thing that most struck me is how many of them started off with indisputably true assumptions. You know, some spoken in a very objective anchorman like way and then Segway very subtly into things that are clearly bonkers, right? So that there wasn’t a real dividing line of now starts the bonkers part. And to imagine someone like Spike Lee, you know, Spike Lee’s level of, you know, just just craft and intelligence and moral care about these things to have drifted down that same road is very disturbing.
S1: Yeah. Here here. All right. Well, Jeremy, I think I’m going to let you get back to your hunting them. I appreciate it, Steven. Thank you. I’m glad to have been able to talk about this stuff with you all. Yeah, this is terrific, Jeremy. Thanks so much for coming on the show and really taking that time out of your honeymoon to do it. Jeremy Stahl, senior editor at Slate And the man responsible as much as anybody for getting that horrific half hour cut out of Spike Lee’s documentary NYC Epicenters nine 11, the two twenty twenty one and a half. Jeremy, thanks a lot. Thank you. All right, well, we got we got a decent amount of mail on this subject, which is video games that we don’t cover because we’re of a different generation. Even if we played them as I did, I mean, I played everything from Space Invaders to max pain. I kind of like video games. I don’t play them a lot, but but I’m not age where it’s Allegra. Not that easy for me to be brought around to the idea that there are that there’s some analogy to like, you know, the culture snobs of the early 20th century did not believe that something that arose out of the Nickelodeon smutty Nickelodeon’s could possibly turn into a major art form, which of course, it did in some sense, swallowing all others. And in some ways I use cinema and I just it for me. It’s hard for me to think of that sort of arc repeating itself with videogames anyway. Very artful, very beautifully produced, intelligent and produced video game is now out called Twelve Minutes. Walk us through what it is and what it was like to play it. And do you love it?
S2: 12 minutes is very cinematic game. It is from a top down perspective with a very limited cast. It’s a man, his wife and a cop. They don’t have any other names. And the man who is the protagonist, the player character is voiced by James McAvoy.
S4: Look, I’m living the same few minutes over and over and over
S2: while his wife is Daisy Ridley.
S4: I think there’s worse people to be stuck with than your loving wife. She’s pretty hot.
S2: And the cop is Willem Dafoe.
S4: I’m with the police. Turn around, please.
S2: So all of them are quite recognizable, which adds to this cinematic quality of the game itself.
S1: OK, so let me stop you right there. Noob question here. Just same question. How unusual is it for a list this actors to be voice and video games?
S2: It’s not. It’s not totally uncommon. I think having in this game like 100 percent of your cast, be celebrities is not the most normal thing. Of course, there’s only three characters and three actors in the cast, so it does change it a bit. But I think what makes this particularly intriguing is that this game is the first release from Luis Antonio, an independent game designer. He’s never released a game before, so the fact that he was able to accumulate such a buzzy cast is quite cool. It’s because he was able to partner. His publisher is Annapurna Interactive, which is the gaming spin off of Annapurna Pictures, which is run by Megan Ellison and obviously has a lot of clout in a lot of fields. They’re very, very well-known and very highly respected in the gaming world. So 12 Minutes is the latest release from them, and that’s why they were able to get this high, high quality cast. I will say so. The game itself is quite small. It takes place in the man and his wife’s apartment. The premise is that the man comes home from work one day, just chilling with his wife. And within about five minutes, there’s a real time clock that appears every five minutes. And within five minutes, a cop bangs on their door and says that the wife is under arrest for the murder of her father eight years ago, and she insists that she didn’t kill him. He, the man, has no idea what’s going on. So the overall objective is to figure out the truth. But within the five minute intervals, depending on how far you get, the game resets you back to the beginning of that timer. But the man has all the information. Still, he knows everything that’s happened. He knows that this will happen within five minutes. And so he the pressure is on you of the player to solve this mystery. So you’re limited to everything that’s within your apartment in order to either subdue the cop or investigate further for clues or get more information from your wife. It’s sort of a puzzle game in that way where you find different items throughout the apartment, collect them, inspect them all to beat the clock. So in that sense, it sounds quite gamey, but it does have this interesting sort of contained setting, and everything is drawn out in this very painterly, sort of less painterly, bit more like cinematographic look to it. Combined with the the acting chops, it makes it quite a unique title. All that said, playing it is a really fricking annoying experience. It’s like a point and click. You might remember those Steve from the old days and you just take your pointer and click on different things. It’s pretty basic, pretty basic gameplay structure, but the way it works is because it’s like still in 3D. It’s really hard to maneuver, like the pointing. So I was like trying to point on things and click on them, and it just wouldn’t. The game would just always be like, Oh, you didn’t do it, like, you kind of missed hitting it. Exactly. I’d be like, Can you just click on this thing? I can’t. What happens? I started to click on this link. This is so fricking annoying. Sticking through with it is similarly not the most pleasant experience, because as you go through this sort of normal conceit of solve, the murder mystery gives way to you. Well, why is he resetting? What is the truth? Fine. Turns out that everyone is not who they say they are. And I sort of primes you guys on the endings because the main thing here is that there are multiple endings. And Dana, I think you said that you kind of skimmed through them. Did you did you notice anything about these endings now that you have a little more context for the story itself?
S3: Yeah, this was very useful to me. Allegra, you knows that I’m not a big gaming person and that when I tried to do Fortnite for us to talk about Fortnite on the show, I got stuck in the intro and just parachuted onto the island and did a dance about 20 times. I never got to the meat of the actual gameplay, so Allegra provided us this this YouTube link where somebody who is really into this game apparently had had compiled all the possible endings. And so you can see all the different ways it plays out if you make different choices along the way. So in spite of the fact of the fact that I have not really played through the game, I do have some kind of sense of how it works. The thing that made me it made me think of was, was it a physical, real time game that people play, which is an escape room. If you’ve ever been to an escape room with people, it’s a very similar kind of claustrophobic circumstance with a certain set of rules, and you’re gathering information and clues from the room to kind of figure out how to solve the mystery. So if you combined kind of escape room group psychology, you know, and learning curves with with a video game murder mystery, right? That’s that’s sort of how you would it would arrive at what this game feels like. And I can see how if you’re a person who enjoys escape rooms and, you know, mystery games, how this would be a fascinating one to play out. I’m not going to spoil any of these endings, especially some of the more dramatic ones, because we don’t like to spoil movies or TV shows. I presume we don’t want to spoil video games either. But I do think that we have to talk about the fact that the way this game goes. Basically, if you’re playing it right, if you’re playing it smartly, it goes to some very, very dark places in the narrative. You know, in the in the relationships among these three characters and what their backstory is. And I’ve seen some really harsh criticism of this game, just just based on that, you know, nothing to do with it as a playing experience, but to do with it as a narrative and particularly a narrative about gender relations, right? I mean, you are the husband. You are playing the role of the husband in this game. Whatever your gender identification or character identification may be in real life, you’re him. And some of the things that you have to do to your own wife and to to this cop in the course of finding out the information you need to know or trying to escape or trying to solve the mystery are really, really grim. And I wonder Allegra having played the game how you feel about that. I know some players sort of liked that because it means that you have to be pushing the limits of your own psychology and your own kind of propensity for dangerous behavior. And so in a sense, it’s a game that makes you take these kind of risks. But but I think other people, especially a woman critic that I read as a game, was saying, You know this, this just ends in this kind of misogynistic mess. And, you know, and that this game is a real moral hazard. So I don’t know what the two of you felt about that.
S2: Yeah. I mean, as someone playing it who is a woman, I was and also is playing like someone who plays a lot of video games and has played her whole life as men doing abhorrent things like at first, I was not totally taken aback by this. I mean, I did mention there was a round where I just bluntly killed my wife in the hopes that this would end my life. Sarah Spike, please
S3: start off with this choice.
S2: One Reuter wife. There is a knife on the counter like, OK, maybe I’ll just be done here. But then as it goes on and on, you know, the game took me maybe eight hours to play. And there are parts where you do. You cannot avoid subduing your wife. She is not a woman with much agency here at all. It does feel frustrating and disturbing, especially as this game. I mean, the narrative is the biggest selling point. Here it is. About a story, because as I mentioned, the gameplay itself is a little bit frustrating, it is. It was not the most fun playing experience, so I was really compelled by the story. But as the story goes on. Indeed, the wife has minimal agency is sort of a plot device. She is more useful when she is unconscious. It definitely did not sit right with me. And again, as you said, there is this great piece about the ending. Of course, if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read it when until you are done playing the game. But there’s a wonderful piece on the ending that discusses its Freudian failures. I think this game dives from just being a simple murder mystery into something that’s psychologically probing, but feels kind of gross.
S1: I mean, they’re building on an architecture that I’m not familiar with from games like Max Payne, where you have to. You essentially have to complete a task or solve a problem in order to move on to the next level. And if you fail, if you die or run out of ammo in that, you know that particular level, you’re going to go back to the beginning. And of course, that, you know, if you introduce less overt violence, more psychological reality. And more character driven nuance to it, you’re going in the direction of, you know, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, which a lot of people have pointed to as another precedent along with escape rooms. I think that’s tremendously promising this one. I just thought it’s it’s visual look was so strangely off-putting. And then as the plot began to unfold, I watched various people playing it on YouTube because you knew that Xbox or Windows to play it. And I have neither. But I mean, you know, the kind of. Vicki, you know, this sort of icky feeling surrounding the plot revelations was a real turnoff. I couldn’t imagine spending eight hours in this highly claustrophobic, time constrained universe.
S2: Yeah, I mean, I have to be honest to someone who’s been a game critic for her whole career. I mean, I never mince words. I did not particularly enjoy this game. I will say that its attempts to seem artful are not unique to this game at all, and there are so many others that are more successful in doing so. Like you know, one of my all time favorite game series is called Metal Gear Solid, which is a game about, you know, an agent and he shoots people, although he mostly just shoots them with a tranquilizer, to be clear, so you don’t have to kill people. But it’s just like completely laden with references to Hollywood filmmaking styles and storytelling and really well drawn, intriguing, long cut scenes so that it in ways it does even feel like a film. You were at times playing and at times watching. So 12 minutes not the most successful, but a great reminder that there are a lot of more successful attempts at movies made gaming.
S1: All right. Well, we will discuss a better game in the future. I promise. I promise. But for those of you who actually like this one email, it’s close by. All right. Moving on. OK, now is the moment in our podcast we endorse Dana, what do you have?
S3: I am going to endorse something really quick that’s related to one of our topics. And then I’m going to tell a little story has a little bit more like a cocktail chatter from the political Gabfest than than an endorsement, but just a little personal story. So my quick endorsement is a movie by Destin Daniel Cretton, who we didn’t talk about much, but who was the director for Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings Legend of the Ten Rings. He had a wonderful movie, not his first movie, but sort of his breakthrough. I believe his second feature film that was called Short Term 12, and I don’t think we ever talked about it on the podcast, but I remember this movie very clearly because it was the first time I had seen Lakeith Stanfield in anything. The first time I saw Caitlin Dever in anything, not the first time I saw Brie Larson, who plays the protagonist of the movie, but sort of the first main role that she’d had where she wasn’t, you know, somebody’s kid or something. And and it’s a really interesting movie. Have either of you seen short term 12?
S2: I love that movie. So.
S3: Yes, right? I mean, it just has a very, very special feeling. So short term 12 is about this. I don’t know. I guess you’d call it sort of a halfway house for teenagers. It’s a place for kids who have been in trouble. Maybe some of them have been in detention, but they’re they’re kind of getting used to the world again and they’re living together in this facility that’s called short term 12 because they’re only there in the short term. And Brie Larson plays one of the young counselors who’s who’s they’re sort of trying to help them sort out through their problems, but who’s very young and has a lot of emotional problems herself. And so it really is a movie about kind of slightly older, messed up kids helping younger, messed up kids with their lives. It has a very sort of casual I don’t know how to describe it, but a very almost improvised feeling relationship among the characters where you really feel that the actors had a lot of a freedom to help create their roles and and collaborate together on making the movie. It’s from 2013. It’s called Short Term 12. I am sure it’s out there screening in the world, and I hope people will give that movie a chance. And then my other little personal story I wanted to tell that I was talking about a little bit off Mike earlier is just that. I was mainly affected by the flood last week or our household was in that. My basement office, where I’m talking to you from right now got flooded because it’s basement and more water was pouring into, you know, the yard than had ever poured in before. And so it got into my office. It’s soaked a bunch of my books. It probably ruined about 20 books. It worked on my album covers. It was, you know, it was not a tragic event by any means is just stuff. And it wasn’t even necessarily my most precious stuff. But but it was a sort of a wake up call that climate change is going to affect us all in small ways, and we’re not going to know how that’s going to happen and that, you know, we’re just heading into a different time and therefore a different relationship with our homes and our property. So I guess my endorsement, to some degree, is that you suss out what your situation is with floods and make sure that the things you love are slightly off the ground. And, you know, kind of tailor your space in such a way that your things won’t be ruined. But it also just made me think because we have we’re a culture podcast, and I know we have a lot of listeners whose books and records are very important to them. Just that it was a it was sort of a profound experience of of physical media to to deal with those things, you know, and to realize that your books, in addition to being part of your mental history in ways you put facts into your brain, are these masses of pop that can absorb water and get very heavy and warped, and that you have to dry in the sun and that your your records are the same thing and this is sort of trailing off into nowhere. But I think I just felt like sharing that story because when I shared on social media, a bunch of people were asking, Oh, what did you lose? I’m so sorry, or I had a similar experience. And and I just wanted to get it out there and say, You know, climate change is coming, so protect your books
S1: and Allegra, what do you do?
S2: I have a lot of thoughts this week. My first recommendation is not exactly the new Drake album, which came out last Friday Certified Lover Boy, which is actually his first really good album in a while. It’s his first new album in three years and very, very hotly anticipated. It’s doing quite well on the charts. But the thing is, ever since his previous album, three years ago, Scorpion was released and was awful and very long. I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands and curate a playlist of the good Drake songs because he has a lot of songs and not all of them are good. So I highly recommend this playlist. It’s public on Spotify. It’s called Drake songs that don’t suck, so if you search for it, you’ll find it. Currently, there’s 70 tracks on it, which again, is just a percentage of his catalog. I’m currently I have to update it with the best tracks on Certified Lover Boy. But there’s great, great hits from every previous album, even the ones where there are much fewer hits. Highly recommend listening to the whole run of Take Care. His big breakthrough album. There was a bunch of great songs on this playlist from that nothing was the same as a lot of representation, but even on Scorpion, my much maligned Drake album, there’s some goodness to be found. So even though he’s, you know, not, he’s a controversial figure whom I have despite all this loved since Degrassi days. There’s some good stuff out there, so definitely look up my playlist. Follow me on Spotify, you know? But I also want to sneak in another quick recommendation just because I don’t know. I don’t get to be here all the time. Well, yesterday I had a very lazy day. Yesterday was Labor Day, so I hope everyone else got to be lazy. To some extent and I decided to watch, we decided to watch. It’s always sunny in Philadelphia show that I have not watched in a minute, but is becoming. I think it now is the longest running sitcom of all time. I’m sure you guys have discussed it on the show before. It’s not anything new, but I always am aghast to remind myself of the fact that it’s been on since 2005. But any time I watch it, I’m like, OK, I understand why this is like been on forever. It is such a it’s just so funny and mean, and every character is so good and well-defined. And we were watching an episode from the most recent season, season 14, where the gang it’s called the gang texts, and it’s just like an episode that feels like it would have been made in, like 2007, when the iPhone is new. And I think this is just like a testament to the show’s longevity is that they can still make a show about people. An episode about people not understanding how to text properly feel very new and funny. And it’s just like these for these five idiots trying to text each other. You know, Charlie Day’s character does not even know how to read the text. A. Very funny. They all just set each other emoji. Mac is sending really long soliloquies to his beloved best friend, Dennis, where he’s like Dear Dennis, like basically letters. And then Dennis immediately sends back like so many little relatable jokes in there to like, Oh yeah, that’s how texting works. So I’m just like, Man, I always forget how much I love this show. There’s an infinite amount of episodes. It’s like The Simpsons in that way. So I’m just sneaking that one in because it was a bright spot in my day to watch such a dumb, silly show like that one that I love so much.
S3: Yeah, it’s always sunny is Simpsons is a good comparison, because it’s sort of that it has that like tap water, right? It’s just it’s always running somewhere, and you can catch an out-of-context episode of it. But I was just googling your assertion that it was the longest running sitcom because it’s so fascinating. And you’re right, except for The Simpsons, it’s the longest one is non animated sitcom, but ride with, of all shows, Ozzie and Harriet, which is the most A. It’s always sunny show. You could possibly think of a very, you know, feel good, happy couple kind of 50s domestic comedy sitcom. So I love that that’s the neck and neck tie for longest running sitcom, right?
S1: All right. Well, building on our Spike Lee segment, obviously we’re approaching the 20th anniversary of 911, and there’s a definitive piece of it reads to me like a definitive piece of journalism about what went wrong in Afghanistan, the fact that the 20th anniversary of this horrific event on American soil. Has coincided with our epic and humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, in which the Taliban retook over the country in no time flat against the predictions of American policymakers and generals. And there is a long, deeply considered autopsy on the American and general Western presence in Afghanistan over the last 20 years post-9 11. The invasion was justified by a 911 Taliban harboring Osama bin Laden. On and on and on. And then regardless of how you feel about whether we ought to have done anything there. Subsequently, we just completely screwed it up. And a journalist named Christopher Reuter, who’s a foreign correspondent for Spiegel, the legendary German magazine, has done a deep, deep deep dive on this failure. And it just begins with this, you know, it turns out completely chimerical infrastructure that we supposedly built with trillions of dollars over the past 20 years, just folding like a house of cards in the face of the Taliban or insurgency. And it explains why that happened and what our errors were of judgment, where along the way, it’s beautifully researched and reported and presented. So I highly recommend it. It’s called the entirely predictable failure of the West’s mission in Afghanistan. It’s one of the better things I’ve read in a long time. I know it’s a serious and a very sober subject, but as part of the legacy of 9-11, in addition to all of the highly emotional reconsiderations of what that statement I lived in Lower Manhattan, I saw the towers come down with my own two eyes. You know, there should be this other aspect of our remembrance, which is, you know, how we completely, completely screwed up in Iraq and Afghanistan, which sadly binds us, you know, our remembrance with, you know, our fatuous ness. Anyway, check it out. We’ll link to it on the show page Allegra. Thank you so much.
S2: Thanks for having me, Dana.
S1: As always, a total pleasure.
S3: Yeah. Good show this week.
S1: You will find links to some of the things we talked about on our show page, that’s Slate.com’s culture. First, you can email us at Culture Fest at Slate.com. Our intro music is by the wonderful composer MC Patel. Our production assistant is Nadira Goss. Our producer is Cameron Dru’s for Allegra Frank and Dana Stevens. I’m Stephen Becker. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see
S5: so. Welcome to this
S3: light plus segment of the slate culture gabfest here is where we talk about a bonus topic for those of you who are kind enough to be Slate Plus members. This week we’re going to talk about a listener question, a really excellent one. I’m going to read the whole question because it’s it’s not only a great idea, but I feel like it’s really well-written. It got me thinking about about all this stuff and wanting us to to discuss it. So a listener named Asher writes in to say, Apropos of your recent conversation about the devil’s candy that was the podcast about the making of Bonfire of the Vanities we covered a couple of weeks ago. I would love to hear a slate plus segment on some of your favorite works of art that are big swings and big misses, not necessarily just movies like Heaven’s Gate or Southland Tales, but records like Tusk, any wounded beasts you hold in high regard. Thanks, as always, for the recommendations. OK, I love these these suggestions and titles, and this went off in all kinds of interesting directions, and we were talking about it because there are the big swings and big misses like Ishtar, Elaine May’s Ishtar that later get picked up in sort of reevaluate it and start to get the love that they never got at the time. Then there are things that really are just white elephant sitting out there that nobody loves, and you know that you, as a critic sometimes want to rescue from that, that oblivion. So I guess we could take this various different ways, but I’m going to start with you, Allegra what? What have you got in the wounded beasts category that you still you still love as a cultural object?
S2: After Godzilla vs. Kong came out earlier this year, which I hated found it so boring, my partner, who is a huge Godzilla head, I suppose he was like, OK, well, if you want a good Godzilla movie, we got to watch Godzilla in 1998 by Roland Emmerich. A movie he loves so much. He has a giant poster of it above his toilet. And yet I had never seen it. So I was like, OK, whatever. It’s very long. Roland Emmerich career is just speckled with disasters and disaster movies, and this one is considered one of his absolute worst. I had a great time. It was so much better than Godzilla vs. Kong. That movie sucks. This movie was fun. Matthew Broderick as the nebbish who is like helping to save the world. And then there’s this plucky young woman who I don’t think ever acted again as his love interest, and she just wants to get a big scoop as a reporter. Highly relatable stuff. It’s all over New York, so you get to see some nice old school New York shots. I mean, the big climax takes place in Madison Square Garden. That’s a lot of fun. It’s a very long movie which, you know, takes some time, really gather steam. I’m sure many viewers would argue it never does. I enjoyed it immensely. And the Godzilla canon, I think, has a lot of bombs in it, perhaps. But you know, there’s been some recent acclaimed ones. I’m thinking, you know, Godzilla vs. Kong had some good reviews, and the one prior to that Godzilla King of the Monsters, I think, had some fans. There’s, though excellent Destin Godzilla by one of my favorite Sidiqi Schiano that came out a little bit earlier in the decade. Over the last decade or so, Godzilla has gone through some, you know, reappraisal himself, but Godzilla 1998 certainly was not helping his reputation at all probably did some real damage. They didn’t make another American Godzilla film for a long time after that, but I don’t know. I had a really fun time streaming somewhere. I think we watched it on Hulu or something, but I would say, check it out again. I don’t know. It’s silly, it’s dumb. The monster doesn’t look great by today’s CGI standards, but I had a good time with it.
S3: I mean, Roland Emmerich, when it comes to big, gargantuan, ridiculous spectacles, nobody does it better. In my opinion, if you like a good dose of dumbness in your your large disaster blockbuster, Roland Emmerich is your guy, and this would not be my choice. But just coming off of your choice, I have an abiding affection for 2012, which is that Roland Emmerich disaster movie released in 2012 about the Mayan, you know, legend that the world was going to end in 2012, which was sort of in the air that year. People were talking a lot about this numerological kind of rumor that, you know, the the end of the world had been prophesied from Mayan times for that year. And Roland Emmerich just takes that utterly silly idea and runs with it to an absurd degree that all I can say is that by the end of the movie, giraffes and various other large game animals are being airlifted into a huge arc that’s, you know, a high tech arc that’s been built by the survivalists who realized that 2012 is coming. LED by John Cusack, who is this kind of crank book writer who everyone thinks is just a conspiracy theorist, but who actually has the key to figuring out how to solve the great flood of 2012. It is an utterly, utterly ridiculous movie, but I remember just collapsing in laughter watching it. It was really one of those movies that delivered on both the kind of adventure blockbuster level and on the camp silliness level at once. And maybe that’s the case with, you know, the Roland Emmerich, the Godzilla that you love as well. Steve, what about you? What’s your what’s your big swing? Big miss?
S1: All right. Well, this is a tough category because everything can be reassessed on command now. And so anything that has any value or can find any kind of an audience has been pored over, picked over, cultivated and been sanctified or whatever redeemed in some way. But I’ve always really liked the 1996 movie The Cable Guy. You know, it came in with a lot of fanfare. Jim Carrey was on a win streak. It was a, you know, maybe directorial debut by Ben Stiller, who was very funny and a bit part of the movie it has. Matthew Broderick is the straight man, a lot of talent on screen and behind the camera, and it just it didn’t work for people at all. They didn’t find it was a dark. Is it funny? It’s so weird. What the like? He’s kind of Stahl like Jim Carrey’s kind of stalking him. What’s what? Know it was way darker than people were ready to have Jim Carrey go back in the mid-90s. I thought it was just it was the only thing to that day that Jim Carrey had done that I really admired and found funny, and it just got it has this off energy to it that for me, hit some weird mark. I really like it. You know, another movie I really liked that got a lot of flak from. Both sides, right, like I think certain portions of the Jewish audience felt that it had been equating the Mossad with terrorists and certain other audiences said that it really glorified this vengeful aspect of Israeli foreign policy. The movie Munich, which is the Spielberg movie written by Tony Kushner that’s just been forgotten. It just it just sort of seemed to rub everyone the wrong way politically. But it’s this attempt to agonize over what to do and in one’s response to terrorism. I just thought it was a kind of gripping movie. I think another problem with is it it was based on one account that’s widely disputed. It’s the essentially it’s the most you know this this crack team of Mossad agents going out and going after the people who perpetrated the Munich Olympic 1972 Munich Olympic kidnapping of Israeli athletes and killing of Israeli athletes? And I just, you know, it’s Spielberg and Kushner. It’s Eric Bana. Just as I thought was terrific, I thought it was going to break out as a huge American star after that movie, and it just went absolutely nowhere. And then the other one I would just add really quickly, Dana, is, you know, it’s not quite in this category. But the album Nebraska by Springsteen fell just stillborn from the vinyl presses like people did not understand what Bruce was up to. The bottom line is this sort of big time arena filling rock star. And he really wanted to mix it up and make the darkest, simplest, most home recorded album possible. Didn’t sell and it it’s now it’s now talk about something that’s been sanctified retroactively at the time. It scarcely made a ripple, even among diehards. I mean, especially the die hards were like, This isn’t Bruce, and now it’s the Essential Bruce album. I mean, if you tried to sell someone on Bruce, you couldn’t basically stand like the sound of glory days, like three three seconds into the glory days they just shut down. Who could blame them? You’d have them this record. So those are some thoughts.
S3: I’m going to claim some hipster cred there because I love that Nebraska album from the moment it came out. As we’ve talked about before in this show, I’m not a hardcore Springsteen person. I mean, I kind of mostly appreciate him as a kind of, you know, car anthem. You know, it’s good music to kind of feel American, too, but not something that I normally just put on to kind of jam out to. But something about, yeah, I mean, there’s something very novelistic about Nebraska, right? It almost feels like it’s telling a specific story of a specific kind of loner driving through a specific landscape. And I just think of that, Mr. State Trooper Song, which I think would be one of the bleakest songs on it, just just gorgeous. Anyway, it because it was a change of pace for him and because I was a little burned out at that point on fist pumping. Courteney Cox dancing VIDEO Bruce, it was it was a welcome change and I still love that record. OK, the one I’m going to do since I’ve already had my little Roland Emmerich moment with with Allegra is actually a movie that the original writer assure the listener wrote about in his email. He said Not nuts, not just necessarily Heaven’s Gate, but I do want to talk about Heaven’s Gate because I actually when the Criterion Disc of Heaven’s Gate came out in 2013, you know, that was huge. That had, you know, the director’s cut and various cuts and lots of extras about the whole, you know, Steve, you know, tons about it, right? The whole drama that happened backstage with that movie, which essentially almost broke the studio United artists, right? With the incredible cost overruns.
S1: Yeah, it did. I mean, there were maybe a couple of intermediate steps, but it did seem that United Artists? Right?
S3: Yeah. I mean, I was not totally safe saying that myself because I don’t know the history as well as you. But yes, as the wonderful book Final Cut, which is also made into a documentary details. You know, that was kind of the end in a way of the the independent director movement, the kind of new Hollywood moment when you know, these genius directors were able to get all this money to make these crazy, over-the-top epics. This sort of killed that because it was so crazy and so over-the-top, and Michael Cimino just went so far down whatever crazy roads he was taking the movie down that he kind of ruined his own career and the studio, all of which would sort of point to, oh, of the movie is a horrible, embarrassing, indulgent disaster. But I actually think although you do have to allow for some serious cushion, you know, for some, some longer is in that movie that you might maybe want to cut out as the editor. It is also just glorious to watch. I mean, it’s so visually beautiful, sonically beautiful. You know, the casting is really extraordinary Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Walken, and just people from that time that were really young and just starting out their careers, making a mark in these extraordinary roles. And I mean, just to name a few of the sequences that you have to see, some of which were cut out in the cut that eventually got out of theaters. There’s an absolutely gorgeous dance sequence. Near the beginning is sort of a graduation dance scene almost completely from above. And this very. Normal, just establishing this very, very formal world that the movie begins in, right, a kind of elite world that then as the characters move west and move into this very gritty and violent frontier landscape disappears almost completely. So those elegant scenes at the beginning, almost all of which were cut out because they didn’t advance the story, really advance the mood and, you know, create create this kind of old world elegance that then slowly gets destroyed over the course of the movie. And in the other scenes that I would mention to just it’s worth sticking around through the movie for are the roller skating sequence. You remember this, Stephen? Just absolutely sensational. Yes.
S1: Yes. That may be the most beautiful sequence in the movie.
S3: Yes. Just so unexpected. Just incredible choreography. And the idea of the scene is that in this really remote frontier town, you know, in the 19th century, the big novelty is that there’s a roller skating rink. And so all of these characters are just learning to skate for the first time. And so, you know, to see every member of the cast plus all these extras, there’s probably a couple hundred people in this scene, all just, you know, on these vintage roller skates to this extraordinary music. That scene, again, is something that doesn’t necessarily advance the story. But the just is such a moment of pure visual and kinetic joy. And then on a darker note, there’s a long war sequence that ends this movie that’s, you know, kind of a shootout. I won’t get into all the details of why there’s this frontier war happening, but it’s one of the most realistic and horrifying war sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie. Because, you know, it’s not exactly a war. I mean, it’s it’s it’s some frontiers people, you know, shooting it out with a combination of other frontiers, people and Native Americans, and it just feels like it has all the disorganization, the terror, the chaos of a real war, and it’s really hard to watch. So I feel like the high points of this movie are so high that if there are some moments that go on for too long or they’re sort of indulgent or did this whole storyline need to be in there? It’s so immaterial. I mean, to watch that movie is to watch a great cinematic imagination. Michael Términos Explore, you know, every possible permutation of this world he’s created that he can. And it’s also to to witness. I mean, in a sort of business sense, you’re witnessing new Hollywood and its very last dinosaur gasps. So if you’re interested at all in film history from that period, you got to watch Heaven’s Gate and, if possible, also the Final Cut documentary or read the book Final Cut about Heaven’s Gate because it helps you understand so much about Hollywood and. And it just brings you a lot of pleasure. All right, well, I’m not completely sure we fulfill the mandate of is really excellent a plus request, but we kind of took it down. Whatever rose, it made us think of listeners. If you have some some candidates for the big swing, big miss cultural category, something that you know, just over-the-top, ambitious craziness failed commercially. Maybe it failed critically, but you still think it has something to offer, right? As a culture fest at Slate.com and tell us about them, maybe we’ll end up doing a slate plus segment or just watching them for fun at some point. So, Asher, thank you very much for that recommendation. I hope we’ll get more from other listeners. Thanks to all of you, so much for being Slate Plus subscribers. We really, really appreciate your support and everything you do for the show. For Allegra Frank and Stephen Metcalf, I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks so much for listening, and we will talk to you next week.