The “Bogus Journey” Edition
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S2: I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest Bogus Journey edition. It’s Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020. On today’s most excellent show, Bill and Ted Face the Music. It’s the belated sequel to the wonderfully inane movies of the 80s and early 90s, starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. They return as their most egregiously non bogus middle aged selves, Bill and Ted. And then Chadwick Boseman has died at the age of 43. We’re joined by Wesley Morris of The New York Times to discuss the legacy of a great actor and movie star lost before his time. And finally, Dana had what appears to be maybe our final comfort pick, at least for now. She chose Days of Heaven.
S3: But Terrence Malick movie from the late 1970s, it stars Richard Gere, Sam Shepard, Brooke Adams and Linda Mann to herself has just passed away. We will discuss. Joining me today is Julia Turner, who’s the deputy managing editor of the L.A. Times. Hey, Julia. Hello. Hello. And of course, Dana Stephens, the film critic for Slate Dotcom. Hey, Dana. Hey, Steve. OK, before we dig in, Dana, we do have some good news.
S4: Yes, we have some very good news for us. And I hope for for our listeners, too, which is that the Slate Culture Gabfest is going weekly again with the coming of fall and the crisping of the leaves and the somewhat adjusting of the economy to our new pandemic circumstances, we can now afford to make our show every week once more. So in the grand tradition as like Culture Gabfest, you will be hearing from us every week going forward. Yes. Thank you all so much for hanging in through our hour fortnight attitude. And thanks, of course, to anyone who helped it happen by joining Slate plus during this interregnum period of bi weekly news.
S3: But this is not an excuse to keep signing up for. We still need you. We definitely do. I got car payments. All right. Shall we dig in? Let’s. Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure came out at the end of the 1980s, a decade not especially well known for its kindness, played by Keanu Reeves and Alex Winters, overgrown human puppy dogs, Bill and Ted seemed to promise that a fallen world might yet be saved by a pair of disarmingly naive kids from San Dimas, California, if only they could pass their history exam. That was the sort of tepid MacGuffin of the first one. To that end, they traveled through time in an enchanted phone booth meeting the Polian and as they called them, Sócrates and Frood, a.k.a. Socrates and Freud. The new movie returns. The two actors, Bill and Ted, are now middle aged, but still living as wannabes. In a world that is still falen, they may yet save it and their marriages. But first, they must write a song so beautiful it brings about the promised utopia. Let’s listen to a clip.
S5: OK, all’s we got to do is write the greatest song ever written. It brings the entire world into rhythm and harmony, perceives reality as we know it all through. Did we’ve spent our whole life trying to write the song that will unite the world, what makes us think we can write it in like 75 minutes had we had to have written that song the people in the future told us we did. Yeah, I guess. Which means we have it in us, dude. We just haven’t written it yet. We were still gunna well if we haven’t written it yet but we know we’re going to at some point, why can’t we just go to the future when we have written. Take it from ourselves. Yeah, Ted, you have had many counterintuitive ideas over the years, but this is by far the counterintuitive most of them all do.
S6: All right. I see our producer laughing in his room window. Therefore, I am objectively correct in my opinion that the bill and Ted Universe is is a boon for the world. But Julia is about to shower down her robot cruelty upon it.
S3: Oh, my God. Well, listen, before we get there, I should say the film also stars Samarrah Weaving and Bridget Lendee Payne is the two daughters of the respective Bill and Ted, and they have to help their hapless fathers out by assembling the world’s greatest band and featuring Louis Armstrong, Hendricks and Mozart and others. But, Dana, other than that, what is the very, most, most excellent fact about this movie?
S6: I don’t know. I think you’re going to have to tell me.
S3: I’m going to give you a hint. It was directed by Dean Perso, who is also known for Galaxy Quest.
S7: There we go.
S3: Yes, I knew that was going to come at the all the all time most excellent comforting movie ever made. But anyway, Dana, go ahead. Defend this. Your turns out you’re Bill and Ted completist. I did not would not have guessed this about you.
S6: Yes. Well, I mean, part of why this new volunteer chapter is dear to me is that it’s sort of part of my rehabilitation into the Slate universe, because during the same interregnum time that we were going biweekly, I was also not writing film criticism for Slate for various reasons. I mean, because of budget cuts, because of my own book deadlines, because there aren’t any movies opening in theaters. So this was my triumphant return and I insisted on it when I saw this movie was coming out way at the beginning of the year before the pandemic was even a, you know, threat on the horizon. I said, I want that movie because, I mean, this is completely the movie of my demographic, right? I’m almost exactly the age of Keanu Reeves, maybe a couple of years younger. And I sort of feel like, you know, everybody’s in love with Keanu now, but I’m grandfathered in there because I fell in love with Keanu in real time, not even in this movie, but several years before, I think it River’s edge, which is the first thing I had ever seen him in. And to some degree, I think it’s Keanu that carries this. I will agree. Very slight franchise. But Alex Winter is really excellent, too, and excellent. Most excellent. And the chemistry between them, I think, is what makes these movies so fun. And it’s been really great in the in the run up to this movie, seeing all the coverage, like the joint interview that the two of them did with David’s scoffer for The Times and, you know, other places, I think they did a variety podcast together and their friends in real life, like not just guys who are friendly on a movie set, but like they take vacations together, their families know each other. And that really shows, I think, in in these three movies, which really do show, you know, sort of a friendship growing through time. And ultimately, I think what I love about these movies is, as you said, Steve, just their innocence and naiveté and kindness and the fact that the catchphrase of Bill and Ted that, you know, saves reality as we know it is be excellent to each other and party on dudes. But I will just say that to me, these three movies occupy a very specific and loveable niche.
S3: I have waited so long to just sit back and watch Julia Turner crap all over something you said, Dana, all over your hopes and dreams. And I’m just going to do that right now.
S8: Julia, I OK, I first of all, I watched the original Bill and Ted, which I watched like probably in a theater when it came out, or maybe on a VHS from video to go shortly thereafter and loved. And that movie holds up. There are a couple out of step gay jokes and, you know, dated bits to it. But it is.
S7: Completely charming, so I still love the first one, I’m pro Bill and Ted in general, but I, I this this this thing, this recent one is terrible. It’s a terrible movie.
S8: Like it has some bits of charm in it. I really think the performances by the daughters are charming. The way that the plot unfolds to give the daughters interesting things to do feels decade appropriate. But. The whole sequence where they are gathering musicians from throughout history to play this epic song is just dreadful. Like they the actor who plays Louis Armstrong is terrible. The kind of bone drummer is like racist and stupid. There’s also no Latin music in a movie that seems to be taking great pains to put together a diverse set of world music. There’s no Latin music greats of any kind, which is sort of embarrassing and stupid. And then I also and this is going to cut closer to the bone. I don’t think Keanu is very good in this movie. I think that Alex Winter plays like a really great aged version of Bill. But I think that piano’s. I don’t know the way in which his like melancholy Lochness expresses itself through the like floppy, dopey ness of the character just seemed kind of it just wasn’t very fun. And I get that it’s maybe not fun to have a midlife crisis, but I mean, Carreno is such a funny actor, such a great actor. And he just seemed. I don’t know, stuck. It was not and it was not a super enjoyable performance.
S3: It’s a weird performance. I don’t disagree. I will say I really like the movie. I wondered at the Bone drummer, you know, that they retrieve from our earliest history or prehistory. I wondered whether that was was racist. I mean, I understand that it was an attempt to not be racist, to say that the origin of all human civilization is from here, including obviously music. But they just handled that. I agree very poorly. So bracketing that for one second I did watch the first one with my kids. It was sort of a double revelation. The first is that they just had no idea what fucking planet this movie had dropped from. I mean, the Zygi state of which it came, the kinds of performances, the silliness of it, the lightness of it. They don’t nothing like it exists in their universe. And I think that they were flummoxed by it completely. But the other revelation is in watching the movie is Reeves, who’s so incredibly disarming as Ted. I mean, they’re both wonderful. And it’s a comedic, great comedic turn by very at the time, probably green young actors. But there’s there’s something extra that Keanu brings to to Ted. And it’s both the puppyish ness. Like, you can’t stop sort of bouncing in the screen. He’s just kind of bouncing. And there’s this beaming to him. And there’s it’s as if there’s a bag full of puppies inside of him trying to get out of him. And it’s infectious. I mean, there’s and and since the essence of the movie is, can the perhaps the worst quality of Americans is that we’re historical amnesiacs and we have no appreciation for the fact that civilization preceded us, but perhaps our best quality is bound up in that, which is that out of that forgetfulness comes of very simple goodwill that might possibly redeem at least us, if not maybe others as well. I mean, one hopes. And so the whole movie lacked a sour note. It was not a very knowing. It’s a completely unknowing movie in some ways. It wasn’t very sharply written. It wasn’t satirical. It was just weirdly. Excellent. Right, it sort of embodied its own theory of excellence in its naiveté and simplicity. And so my question approaching this new one was, could you sharpen it and bring it into the present without also bringing in the knowingness of comedic writing today, that kind of slightly shitty irony. With which Bill and Ted wouldn’t be Bill intended, I actually thought they did a pretty good job and I thought that, Dana, I thought that kind of mind, the middle aged thing, oddly. Well, in a way, weirdly, the whole thing kind of worked for me, though I have a lot to say about Kiyono, but more of that later. What do you think?
S6: Well, what you say. But the writing doesn’t really ring with me because I think what makes this whole trilogy in a way is the writing. And the writing isn’t just by the same guys, Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson all through the series. Right. This isn’t a writer’s room being brought in by some studio. This is two guys who are also friend, you know, who are their own Bill and Ted in real life, aging along with their characters. And I think that that really is what holds the series together for me. Is that as Bill and Ted age and we haven’t talked about the middle movie Bill Ted’s Bogus Journey, which I think maybe my favorite of the three where they go down to the hill together and play Twister with death, among other things. But the second movie already starts to be a movie about how do you grow up. Right. How do you how do you leave behind the kid in the garage in San Dimas who wants to play with Eddie Van Halen but doesn’t know how to play his guitar. Right, and start to mature into someone who could have a marriage and children and all the things they acquire over the course of the movies. That seems quite sharp in the writing to me. I mean, really, this last movie is about underachievement. Right. And what do you do when you’re a 50 something underachiever? They can now play their instruments really well, but they still can’t write this magical song. And there are some jokes at the end about whether, you know, the song that may or may not finally emerge to save the world is really going to be all that good. And I mean, maybe a part of a part of me just identified, you know, I mean, I feel like I am built into it. I know what it is to be that person who’s wondering, you know, is my moment ever going to come? Am I ever going to save the world? And that seems like where Generation X has been and always will be stuck. And maybe a part of me just felt a kind of melancholy allegiance with that. And I don’t know, the special effects are endearingly bogus. There’s just something about this universe that I love.
S7: OK, but can I ask can I tell you about something else that I find bogus, please?
S8: So, oh, there’s so much female empowerment. They have these really cool daughters. The daughters are even more musically astute than Bill and Ted and much more Catholic in their tastes. And wow, they have such power and, you know, they sort of make as a joke. The movie opens with this wedding where Missy, the kind of high school hottie who’s a couple of years out of high school, who in the first movie is Bill Step Mom. And then we later learned, in fact, we also became Ted Stepmom and is now marrying Ted’s brother, is played by the same actress who who played her in the first film. And, you know, so we get to see this this hottie of 31 years ago as like a middle aged bride. But do the actresses who played the princesses saved from the Middle Ages get to play Bill and Ted’s wives? No, they do not. They are replaced with younger models. So the original actress who played Joanna is now 52 and is replaced with James, who is 41. And then Aaron Hayes, who plays the other one, is now 44. And I couldn’t even find the age of it. And Ascoli, who played the original one. Now, maybe they offered those roles to those two actresses who didn’t want them, but I’m going to guess no.
S7: And that’s fucking fucked up.
S8: How come women don’t get to have their own middle aged? We like just this. Rora This movie is not worthy of the Bill and Ted ethos.
S6: Yeah, no, I mean, I agree. I think and I thought about that watching these movies and about my own internalized sexism. I mean I really did have an internal focus journey of my own watching these and thinking about both of those things, the youth of the actresses who replaced them and the non-existence of those characters in both the first two movies. They’re just, you know, girls that you win and then become sort of your pretty bride.
S3: Mm hmm. I’d love to jump in with just one comment about the Kiyono performance, which is, you know, the funny thing about Keanu is that he is and I say this advisedly, I know that Dana Stevens babe, babe, make clap back on this, but he’s he is as close to a non actor as you can get in a major movie star. I mean, his his range is tiny. He’s very wooden. He’s gained control over his instrument by toning it down, down, down, by never trying to stretch beyond what he’s capable of in some way. And it’s funny to see him as this kind of stiffened, melancholic, middle aged. Near Lugg, in a way, I mean, just, you know, the puppy is really gone in this subsequent performance in this in this recent performance, and I found myself going back and forth between wondering, is he consciously? Making it this way, this different melancholic, is a comment on what it’s like to grow older, or is he just older and actually thought that that.
S6: Cognitive dissonance made watching it that much more effective in a weird, but he’s but he’s acting I mean, I guess I, I can’t the small range observation I can’t really refute. But you could say the same thing about Humphrey Bogart, right? I mean, there are so many movie stars that have that project themselves very powerfully and themselves is the commodity that we want and that, you know, the movie casts them. Right. But but I would say I mean, we just talked about the John Wick, the third John Wick movie. Right. In which Keanu was an action star. And he moves in a completely different way. I talk about this in my review of the bill and TED three movie that he’s an incredibly physical actor. His comedy is physical. And you write that, you know, the puppy like physicality of the first bill. And Ted is a huge part of its charm, but he still does that puppy like walk in this movie, but in a different way. I mean, I actually have notes for my review about his walk and how much I love it that he’s got, you know, that that balance that the actors playing his daughter imitate so well. But of course, the balance loses its balance when you’re in your 50s to some degree. But I don’t think it’s at all Keanu trying and failing to summon the old Ted.
S3: No, that’s totally fair. I mean, this is kind of amazing rigor mortis that is added to this character. And it’s really it’s got a kind of existential heaviness to it.
S8: OK, what can I tell you one thing I really liked about this movie. Yes, please. It delivered Dana Stephens’s movie reviewing prose unto me, honestly.
S6: Well, I had a great time reviewing it. I will say that it was a complete pleasure to just be able to dive into the universe where you watch the first two movies and just kind of, you know, have a think about what Bill and Ted has meant to me.
S3: All right. It’s Bill and Ted face the music. It’s streaming. I watched it on Amazon Prime. Sure. Its various outlets. But check it out. We’d love to hear what you think of Dana Stevens adoring Bill and Ted. So email us or hit us up on Twitter. OK, moving on.
S1: All right, before we go any further, this is where we usually talk business. Dana, what do we have?
S9: Yes, Steve, all I have to say for business is that in Slate plus today, in keeping with our all movie theme for this episode, we’re going to talk about the future of theatrical movie screenings with Sam Adams, our frequent guest and Slate senior editor who actually went to a movie this week. He got to see a small screening of Tenet, the new Christopher Nolan movie in Philadelphia. He’s going to tell us about that experience. And we’ll just talk and speculate a bit about what the future of theatrical screenings may be in our age of quarantine. To hear segments like that, of course, you can sign up for Slate plus Slate’s membership program. And while we’re talking about that, we wanted to extend our very sincere thanks to anyone who has signed up for Slate. Plus recently, because of you all, we are getting to go back to a weekly schedule, which we are thrilled about. And you also helped to contribute to the health of the whole magazine at a time when the whole publishing industry has really been taking a big hit. All of that to say that membership’s really do make a big difference for us. And if you hadn’t signed up, we would not be able to be talking to you every week if you have not yet signed up for Slate. Plus, we can still really use your support, as we have spoken about before. When you become a member, you’ll get ad free podcasts, exclusive, plus only content like our conversation about the future of movie screenings this week and lots of other benefits is only thirty five dollars for your first year and you can sign up at Slate Dotcom Culture Plus. So again, to all of you who have signed up. We really appreciate you.
S3: OK, for the next segment, we’re joined by Wesley Morris, the Pulitzer Prize winning critic at large for The New York Times. He’s here to discuss the loss of Chadwick Boseman, the great actor, to colon cancer at the age of 43 Wesley. Welcome back to the show.
S10: Nice to be with you guys. I missed you.
S3: We miss you all the time. It is great to have you back. So as you point out in your really beautiful elegy to Boseman, he was Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and of course, Black Panther. And and as you put it, had any actor spent more time in such enormous shoes and so brief a span? And you go on to make the very brilliant, very Wesley Morris point that he didn’t look like the men he played, that that was somehow essential to what he was doing.
S10: Can you explain that when he played Jackie Robinson and that was the first to these of this stretch of his of his acting career, and he didn’t really start acting with any prominence until a little bit before that. I mean, Jackie, you’re playing Jackie Robinson in 2014, I believe was his 2013 2014. That was his first major part in a movie. And it just was you know, I will confess before I even finished this thought that, like, I think Jackie Robinson is one of the most handsome human beings. Airborne period, and Chadwick Boseman is handsome in a different way, and I just thought, like, well, this just seems like strange casting. I mean, even watching the movie are just like Chadwick Boseman is finding something in Jackie Robinson that has nothing to do with with how he looks. And I think that one of the problems with the with the movie biography is that the people who make these things get so hung up on the the verisimilitude and resemblance of circumstances and the people playing the people, the movies that are about. And I just found that finding different ways to play these people that didn’t he had to do something to convince us he was these people because he knew he didn’t look like any of them. Right. And seizing upon this, you know, the electricity of James Brown, the sort of the rectitude of Thurgood Marshall and the just cocky certitude that is also extremely understated in Jackie Robinson. I mean, those are three different very, very different people. And the through line for each of them, for me, was just a kind of pride. And I don’t know, it’s just a fascinating thing to to observe. And one actor like four years of an actor’s career.
S3: Right. And then Marvel goes and spends hundreds of millions of dollars to make a tentpole movie kind of about black dignity. Right. And then they put him at the center of it and he carries that. He carries it to a billion dollar plus franchise. And you use that word dignity. But you say something quite interesting about it, which is that the problem with dignity, and I’m quoting you now, is that there’s not much an actor can do with it. But he kind of did, right? I mean, he was just a tremendous actor, but also a tremendous movie star in the world of Black Panther.
S10: The thing that Charles Chadwick Boseman, it’s easy to overlook him because you’ve got Dinni Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan doing seemingly more and having more to do. But he is the center of of all kinds of gravity in that movie. I mean, he is he has gravitas and he is the moral center of the film. And like the vision for what whatever ideology exists in this movie, I mean, is what Michael B. Jordan represents, obviously. Then there’s what Tischler represents in the way that the sort of humor, which is easy to overlook that the Chadwick Boseman brings to that part. And it’s not quite righteousness. It’s he’s playing royalty and he plays a royal character with with an understanding of how how a certain kind of royalty would comport itself.
S4: Wesley, one thing you mention in your in your tribute is you call him a kind of historian, which I think kind of comports with what you were saying earlier about his interpretation of those characters. You know, these these huge legendary figures. He played in biopics, as I read about his life in these few days since he so unexpectedly died. I have been thinking of him as a more cerebral kind of figure. Then then you might have thought from, you know, the guy who who played Black Panther, right? I mean, he those years that he wasn’t yet making it in Hollywood. As you say, he was 35 when he played Jackie Robinson. Right. And but it’s not as if he was sending in head shots in L.A. that whole time he was living in New York. He was writing plays. He taught acting at the Schomburg Center in Harlem. I believe that he was having this sort of life as a as a more indie, you know, alternative kind of actor and not really looking for those kind of roles at all. And then going a little bit further back into his past. When he was at Howard University, he apparently worked at an African themed bookstore. Right. Which which then informed the way that he played to Cholla and the way that he kind of advised other actors on the set, like, let’s try to use African accents and, you know, we can’t use European accents. He really had a sense of that character as a historical figure. Right. In this alternate history, the history of of the comic book superhero.
S10: Yeah. I mean, I feel like it’s funny because when a person dies, you do you attribute qualities to them as though they’re unique and they’re the only people who have them. But what he in lots of people have lots of actors have what I’m about to say he had. But I really, really felt it with him because. It’s rare, which is that he didn’t seem to he didn’t seem desperate ever, right? He didn’t seem to ever like have an actor Lee moment. He only was ever serving the parts. And I think, you know, obviously playing James Brown, James Brown being this electric, you know, historically important figure who understood his blackness to function in a particular way, but also was incredibly contradictory as a human being. And I there’s something about the way I get on up works where you don’t feel that the actor playing the part is there’s anything vain in the actor playing the part. He has tapped into this narcissism and this sort of explosive, performative quality in the person he’s playing. And I would contrast that with, you know, with somebody like Gourami Malik in in in Bohemian Rhapsody who where I feel like I’m watching an actor give a performance as a person who might be Freddie Mercury at some point. Right. And I the the the actor keeps getting in the way of of the person they’re playing. You don’t feel that with Chadwick Boseman? I mean, I don’t know anything about I didn’t know anything about that man watching him play these parts, but I also didn’t feel like. He was using James Brown as a stepping stone for some other thing, i.e. winning an Oscar, and that kind of made the exploration of James Brown as a person more interesting to me.
S8: There is something about his performances that I’ve been trying to articulate to myself that just feels like it’s on this. Distinct plane that they and I think that sense that they are so deeply centered in themselves, I mean, I guess it’s a cliche to say that actors disappear into parts and it’s different even to disappear into parts where we have some sense of who the who the historical figure is. But there was something that seemed. Directed from his his inner self, rather than like mugging for the hypothetical audience and yet also someone who is just really supremely conscious of the impact of the roles he chose and how he chose to portray them. And I don’t think it’s an accident that he that his career was playing all of these legends and and greats. I mean, he seemed he seemed drawn toward it.
S10: Even Takala I mean, you know, I’m not many, many people have written about, like the the political alignment of Black Panther with various, you know, political leaders and and activist heroes. But I mean, he it wasn’t like it’s easy to just think of that part as a comic book part and as a Black Panther and Takala as as comic book figures. But there are real world corollaries for for that part and for that for that man. And, you know, just by extension, I mean, he in addition to playing Thurgood Marshall, James Brown and and Jackie Robinson, he also was basically playing Martin Luther King or Barack Obama or something, someone along those lines who is a sort of universally respected figure, not even in the world of the comic books. But there’s something about the power of that movie that turned Chadwick Boseman and that character into those things.
S8: I think there’s also a way in which even though his performances seem very. INOR, he was aware of the import of his career, you know, a friend of mine pointed me to the speech that he gave when the Black Panther cast won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble. Oh, yeah. In which he quotes, you know, Simmen about being young, gifted and black to be young, gifted and black.
S11: We all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured yet. You are young, gifted and black. We know what it’s like to be told to say there’s not a screen for you to be featured on a stage and for you to be featured on. We know what it’s like to be detailed and not the head. We know what it’s like to be Bonifant above.
S8: And that is what we went to work with every day, because we knew there’s not an ounce of being self-conscious in the performances, but in the selection of the career, there is an incredible amount of care and craft about what his how he’s using his talent and what it’s supposed to signal to whom. It’s just it’s just so many of our big actors, even the ones whose talent we most admire, seems so buffeted about by Hollywood, even if they’re not even if they don’t have to face the systemic racism of Hollywood, even if they’re just like talented people who, you know, get a bad break and sign on with the director, it turns out, you know, to be able to offer a career in the way that he did seems rare for any person in Hollywood, much less for a talented young black actor in Hollywood. So there’s something that just feels miraculous, looking back at the span of it.
S10: I wonder, like the other two things I would like. I had two thoughts in thinking about, like what, what, what, what his career and his death were like. So career wise, in terms of the way he approached his part, I really think that, you know, his acting style is much closer to a person like Sidney Poitier than than maybe anybody. I mean, you know, we don’t give Sidney Poitier enough credit for like like like teaching an entire generation of people how to act in movies. I mean, Brando took up a lot of space with inventing a screen acting, but party a while, not entirely a method actor was certainly he had these expressionist qualities to him. There were also deeply rooted in like in rectitude. And I feel like that. So when he explodes in a movie, I mean, it really something really must have gone wrong for him to lose it. And I feel like Chadwick Boseman had a little bit of that. And the other thing that came to mind for me, and I don’t know if this happened for you guys, but I feel like this is the first. Celebrity death, and that could be wrong about this, at least in the movies since since Heath Ledger, where you just felt like something really important was lost very, very soon or too soon. Yeah, the film Philip Seymour Hoffman, maybe. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But even see, Philip Seymour Hoffman is different, right? Like because there is there just was so much more work that needs to than those two. Good point.
S3: Yeah, well it’s true. So Wesley, I think, you know, you said it so beautifully right at the end of your piece. I think I’ll just quote you said, No one approximates this much greatness without a considerable reserve of greatness himself. And that just seems to sum it up.
S4: Hmm, yeah, it’s true, Wesley, I feel CRAs bringing in an industry question into this conversation about how about this this man who in many ways was sort of outside and on the fringes of an industry, even as he was succeeding within it. But there was a huge online flap over the weekend about the question of whether Marvel would recast the role of T’Challa. Now, that type of Bozeman is gone and, you know, with obviously many people saying, you know, just just leave it as it is, don’t retire that hero, essentially. But looking at the fact that Black Panther was one of the highest grossing movies, I believe, of all time, certainly of the Marvel Universe, it’s really hard to imagine that they would just leave the prospect of future Black Panthers on the table. So I wonder how you personally feel about that and also just what you think industry wise will happen?
S10: I mean, can’t they just make Daniel Kaluuya, like, take over? I mean, Black Panther is anybody who can play that. It’s the cholla that’s the concern. Right? Like the somebody else is going to be T’Challa. You know, Lupita Nyong’o could be black.
S7: You guys. It’s hiding in plain sight. He dies in the movie and then Suri becomes Black Panther. Right. Exactly right. You’re right. I mean, she takes on the mantle. Then it’s like a woman thing to.
S10: Yeah. I mean, I think that solution is very, very simple. They can spend the first hour of the movie honoring him in like a very elaborate sort of morning ritual or something. And then, you know, the plot kicks in and. Exactly. Julius Suri is Black Panther.
S3: All right. Well, we settled it here. I hope we all get our, you know, appropriate to on the story by credit.
S7: But that’s definitely good luck with that. Yeah.
S3: Yeah. Bye bye. Lawyers on it right away. But Wesley, as always, just a complete pleasure to have you on the show on the way to your second Pulitzer Prize.
S10: Thank you, Stephen. It’s nice to see you guys are talk to you guys. I can’t I mean, I could see you briefly, but now we’re just talking.
S7: Always a pleasure. All right. Hang in there, man. Talk to you guys later. Bye. When I say.
S3: Terrence Malick 1978 film Days of Heaven unfolds with the simplicity of a fable or maybe even a biblical tale that tells the story of a young couple played by Richard Gere and Brooke Adams, who arrived as itinerant farm workers on a magnificent agricultural estate in the Texas panhandle to make their lives easier. They told people that their brother and sister, their lovers, and they have a young girl with them whose Geer’s character’s younger sister. This all takes place early on in the 20th century, just at the dawn of mechanization, their automobiles and tractors. But they are a novel part of the landscape, the work that they have to do on this farm as pitilessly hard.
S1: And when the master of the house played by Sam Sheppard falls for Brooke Adams, the Brooke Adams character, Geer’s character hatches a scheme, I think you can probably guess what it is. What follows is a richly ambiguous love triangle. The movie was Malik’s second after the masterful Badlands. Let’s listen to a clip.
S4: And maybe to set up this clip, we should say that the voice you’re going to hear is Linda Man’s voice. She her voice over, as we’ll talk about, provides most of the sound that you hear during the movie, along with the musical soundtrack. So this is her character who’s also named Linda, ruminating during the course of their their trip from Chicago down to Texas.
S12: I met this guy named Ding-Dong. She told me the whole look going up in flames will come out of here and then I’ll just rise up. The mountains are going to go up in big flames. The water is going to rise and plane. There’s going to be creatures running every which way, some of them won’t have their wings and people are going to be screaming and hollering for help. The people that have been good, they’re going to go to heaven in exchange for that fire on shoppers. But if you’ve been dead, God don’t even hear you. You don’t even hear you talking.
S3: Well, Dana, you picked it. I’d love to hear why.
S4: I mean, I knew that we were going weekly. I knew that our quarantine comfort movie series was going to come to an end. But I think we’re going to take it maybe once a month or something. And I wanted to pick I don’t know, I just wanted to go out with a bang and talk about a movie that has meant something to me. Really, as long as I can remember. I can’t remember when I first saw this movie, but that I’ve never gotten a chance to have to write or talk about anywhere professionally. This came out in 1978. It was Terrence Malick second movie. His first was was Badlands, which is widely regarded, I think, as one of the great sort of first movies, one of the great directing debuts of all time. And but that was already six years before Badlands was and and after this movie, he would not make another movie for 20 years. His next movie after this was the Thin Red Line in 1998. So to me, growing up watching this movie and again, I don’t remember when I first saw it, but it would have been somewhere in my adolescence, like just as I was becoming a cinephile, basically. I’m sure it was on the big screen because that’s just that would have been the only place to see it probably in those days. And and Terrence Malick at the time was shrouded in this kind of mystery, this guy who had made two incredible movies and then essentially become a recluse and it was not known whether he would ever make one again. Then after a thin red line in 1998, he started to become somewhat prolific by his standards and has made a bunch of movies in recent years, which that’s going down another whole path. And we’ve talked about Tree of Life on this show, which has its defenders and its detractors and is a strange, more of a shaggy mess, but I think a beautiful shaggy mess. This movie is the opposite of a shaggy mess, even though the history of its making is, which is extremely interesting to read about, was a huge, big, shaggy process that Steve could easily have become a heaven’s gate kind of situation. MALICK Way over time, he went way over budget. You know, various members of the crew had to leave because he was taking so long to finish. It was actually shot almost completely by the legendary cinematographer Nestor Almendras, who had worked with Rohmer and Truffaut and European directors before this. It was his first Hollywood movie, but he had to leave before it was over. And then Haskell Wexler, another legendary cinematographer, came in and finished the movie. There were all kinds of stories like that behind the scenes. You know, the producers being furious that Malick was taking so long, he was keeping helicopters waiting, you know, while he tried to get a perfect shot of a locust on a stock of grain or something. And and in that process, which extended to the post-production period where, you know, he edited it for years and it was like it was never going to come out. And he actually decided to scrap huge amounts of the dialogue that had been recorded and bring in that Lindeman’s voice over that we heard in the clip to be almost the entire, you know, machine that narrates the movie. But given all of that, it’s somehow coheres into this perfect gem like thing, right? I mean, there’s not a single frame of this film that I would change. There’s not any performance or image that doesn’t seem to just somehow be magically right. And to me, knowing some of that history behind it makes that even more amazing, because Malick has this very lyrical, contemplative filmmaking style that seems like it would it would be a disaster on screen. And it has at times been a disaster on screen in subsequent years. But that just achieved that kind of gem like perfection this one time.
S3: Julio, had you seen it before?
S8: No, I never saw it and I loved it. If you’re going to make a lyrical. Nearly dialogue, less film, make it 90 minutes and make it great. That’s my that’s my takeaway from this movie. Like it it the combination of feeling open, curious, expansive in a kind of American pioneer way and feeling unorthodox in its storytelling with being an incredibly. Compact and considered. Story that actually has a lot of kind of action and plot in it is so striking and and really satisfying and also just the faces in it are incredible. I don’t know. I haven’t tracked Brooke Adams’s career particularly, but the set of her mouth, she had this amazing, like lush frown is the set of her face and sort of watching her act. You know, the Lindemans performance is also extraordinary. And the movie is also just heartbreaking, like the conclusion of it, which I don’t think we should spoil here, even though it’s 40 odd year old movie, I was blown away. This is a great, great, great film that I’m so glad to have watched.
S3: Yeah, it’s my second time around. I saw it in the movie. I thought I in the theater on a revival in the 90s, I think. And I liked it then. I loved it this time. Something about it really, really got to me. This time I think I went in with too much hype. I think Malick hadn’t made the third film yet. So there was this Salinger esque shroud of, you know, mystery around around him as the as the Hollywood exile. And it’s also it has a reputation of being the most beautiful cinema to GraphicLy, you know, beautiful movie maybe an American director has ever made. I think it lives up to that. It is that beautiful. I found its beauty overburden the film the first time I saw it. But this time I understood it so much better that exactly as Julia says, there’s the story of compactness, of elemental simplicity at the center of it that does have the force of a fable. But for all of that simplicity, it actually is quite richly ambiguous as well, because neither man really knows if he’s in a love triangle. Like once you get into the plot of the movie and she’s I don’t think it gives anything away to say she’s entrapped within what is supposed to be a sham marriage. You know, just the Sam Sheppard is beginning to suspect it might be a sham marriage. Richard Gere is beginning to suspect it might have turned into a real one and he may have outthought himself as a would be con man. And he’s going to lose the love of his life to this rich person. And at that at that moment, all of the significance of the movie rests, as you say, Julia, on this. Remarkable face, you know, and remarkable performance by a great actress, it’s not just that she looks extraordinary, but it’s you know, it’s it’s really a great performance by Brooke Adams. And and it’s true. The lush brown is what a wonderful phrase. You know, Florence Pugh often performs with a lush frown as well.
S7: That’s a good echo. Yeah.
S3: Nice comp, right? I mean, it just doesn’t it’s not it’s not a very common thing to see in movies. And they both pull it, you know, pull it off really beautifully. The one thing I will say is that for an itinerant farm worker, gear has a closet full of really beautiful crisp outerwear and and a really great haircut.
S8: I mean, I love also what this movie is doing just with the idea of the West. Like the scene when. Gear finally gets inside the house, so the whole the whole movie, which was actually shot in Alberta but is supposed to be the Texas panhandle, we’re just outside for almost almost all of it. There’s sort of one. Or two interiors before in the middle of the film, the Sam Shepard character takes away his new bride and says, oh, why don’t you why don’t you hang out in the big house, which is this very upright vertical in contrast to all of the horizontals of the horizon in the film, little box on this plane and gear walks inside and it’s as though furnishings are from Mars, like just the idea of a couch is so alien. And, you know, watching it from, you know, my couch that I dialed up from CB2 or whatever, just thinking about the kind of roughness of the landscape. I just loved that scene when my camera, which has been so often turned on herons and wind, tossed wheat and rippling troughs and steely eyed basen, it’s just like, check out that decanter.
S4: Whoa, I want that house and everything in it. I think it’s worth mentioning that that house, which is so it has this remarkable shape. Right. It looks like something out of a painting. It’s a very painterly movie in general. But that it looks like Christina’s world. Yeah. Like a wide painting, which I’m sure was one of the visual influences. But that house was built entirely for the movie. When I was watching, I was thinking, where did they find such a perfect condition? Right. This this old wood framed house. And in fact, that house was built from top to toe by Jack Fisk, the production designer, who’s another kind of legendary figure in movies and has collaborated with Malick throughout his career. So, again, there’s that deliberateness, right? I mean, the decanter and the velvet couch were very carefully chosen and or built to create exactly that feeling in that moment.
S1: At another thing I love about this movie is that, you know, it’s the late 1970s where movie directors were given blank checks in order to write socially introspective, you know, in order to make socially introspective movies about America. It’s just such an anachronism, really, to think about it. And this movie’s politics are, I think, Julia, as you say, there’s sort of about this contrast between the people out in the field doing the work and this, you know, indoor space of bourgeois refinery and who gets to be inside, who never gets to come inside. But there are all these shots that are, you know, the shots of nature like a Wyeth painting of the house. And, you know, Wheatfields are like a Wyeth painting, but the shots of the faces are like Walker Percy almost. Right. It’s sort of these movie seems to be saying these are our ancestors. Right. These are the circumstances out of which many of our ancestors, American ancestors arose.
S4: Yeah, Steve, that’s very true. And you see it in the credit sequence very clearly, that idea of the film being this kind of fictional genealogy of of America, because the opening credits with a beautiful, beautiful Ennio Morricone theme that as soon as you hear this movie, you will forever associate with it, show these images that may actually be old photographs by Jacob Reese or something like that, photographs of, you know, people in the inner city and children in tenements around the turn of the century. I’m not sure whether some of those are original or some of them were, you know, created to look old. But the very last one, you see, the last image is not just a generic face that seems historic, but Linda Mann’s the girl who will wind up being our narrator and in a way that the movie’s protagonist. Right. And so there’s this this moment when history kind of converges on this one person who will be the voice that guides us. And I love the way that the credit sequence in this movie becomes part of the story.
S8: I mean, one thing I love about the movie is that it does not feel like it’s moralizing, like the story of, you know, the couple seeking security. Migrant couples seeking security in America pulls a con on a sick, rich farmer and gets their comeuppance. Could could feel pedantic, but it really doesn’t. I think because of Geer’s performance, because of Shepperd’s performance, because of Adams’s performance, like the. The encounters there seem much more complicated and less simplistic than that, and then I think I don’t feel that the film or that Malick is judging Brooke Adams for enjoying life as the lady of the house and not at all wearing nice things and and returning to her dreams of being a dancer and and learning some dance steps on the porch. You know, like the movie does not condemn her. She’s not she’s not seen as less for having enjoying her escape from incredibly difficult toil. But it it is capacious enough to allow for for both. I mean, and this is a bit spoiler, but in the final scene of the film, I’ll try to say this without spending too much. But she she believes that a certain kind of domesticity that that leaves room for art and dance is is the happiest possible resting place to find. But the Lindemans character disagrees and thinks the kind of adventure and uncertainty and exploration is the is what home is for her as a as an American girl. And I just love that the movie seems so nonjudgmental about those twin threads.
S4: Yeah. I mean, to take to pull out the perspective even further, it’s one of those films that manages to be about this particular story, the love triangle, the con. You know, what’s going to happen with these four people who are almost the only people that we really get to know or see speak in the movie. But because, as you say, Julia, the camera is always turning away to contemplate rippling wheat or, you know, huge skies over fake Texas, actually, Alberta, Canada. And and to to look at nature, the nature surrounding them in this on this vast scale. It feels, as Steve said, is it’s about as if it’s about history as well. And it achieves all of that with with so little I think that something that was discussed in the the preproduction conversations with the cinematographer and other crew members was that this should be filmed like a silent film, which for Malick meant in part that it would use almost all natural light, which it does to an extraordinary degree. Another part of the reason it went so far over budget is that they always wanted to shoot during magic hour, right during this little period, the cinematographer said it was 20 minutes a day or so, you know, that the light was just golden, but, you know, not not dark yet. The other thing I would mention, and it’s only because she passed so recently, is that Linda in this movie is just a complete revelation. And it would not have been remotely the same movie without her. I mean, even to the degree that I think she made up and riffed a lot of the things that she’s saying. That crazy clip we heard about a guy named Ding-Dong who told her that, you know, heaven and hell would be bursting and people bursting into flames. That whole thing was essentially stream of consciousness that she said into a microphone in post-production when Terrence Malick brought her in and said, you know, do your Lindemans thing. And there are some beautiful pieces written about her since her death where you can learn a little bit about her. But she was a very unusual outlier figure who, you know, did not at all fit into the Hollywood mode or auditioned for this in any sort of normal way. She was really sort of a find of Terence Malik’s and the two of them really created that voice over together. It’s quite extraordinary. Hmm.
S3: All right. Well, the movie is Days of Heaven. We all really enjoyed watching and watching it. Check it out. It’s streaming various places. Let us know what you thought. All right. Moving on. All right, now is the moment in the podcast we endorse Dana.
S4: What do you have, Stephen, in keeping with our all movie theme, I want to endorse something that has to do with one of the movies that we talked about. So Alex Winter, the co-star with Keanu Reeves of the Bill and Ted trilogy, has spent most of the intervening years since the first Bill and TED movies, being a director rather than an actor. He’s acted some, but mainly he’s directed a lot of TV, some documentaries. He’s stayed on on that side of the camera. And he just happens to have a new documentary that came out just recently, pretty shortly before the bill and TED three movie that has has to do with his own career in a way. And even Keanu, as it’s called showbiz kids. And it’s about the history of child performers on film in which he sits down. He himself a former child performer. Actually, I thought of this to you when you said during our Bill and Ted segment that they were both green when the first movie came out, which especially for Alex Winter was not true at all. They had both been child actors. I mean, Keanu more like a teen actor. You know, I think he’d been acting since maybe 14, 16 years old. But Alex Winter had been acting since he was eight. So so he got interested as a filmmaker in in this this question of what it is to be a Hollywood child actor and what your future is like, and interviews a whole bunch of well-known former juvenile stars, including Diane Asseri Carey, who was Baby Peggy, a silent film fame and who just just died, I believe, earlier this year. But he got some of the last interviews with her. She’s a huge personality and really fun to listen to, but so are many other stories in this documentary. So it’s on HBO. It’s called SHOWBIZ Kids, directed by Alex Winter. And it’s really, really worth watching.
S3: Oh, cool. Julia, what do you have?
S8: I also have a film to round out our very film centric show. It is worth watching the romantic comedy plus one which came out in a proper theatrical release in 2019, a pretty teeny tiny indie that premiered at Tribeca last year. It stars Maya Erskin, who’s one of the stars of 10-15, and Jack Quaid, who is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid as a lovelorn people in in the wedding season of their lives who agreed to be each other’s plus ones for a year of wedding going, you will never guess what happens to them. But Myerson’s performance in particular is just completely stunning. And the movie is like solid. Like, I’m not going to tell you it’s the best romantic comedy you’ve ever seen. It does anything particularly wild with the form, but it’s just a good time. And the thing I loved most about it is that a recurring gambit in the film, which takes place mostly at weddings, is that each new wedding is opened with a toast. And the way the toasts are written is just so I know, Dana, you spoiled Palm Springs and I saw it, too, like there are there are toasts in movies. And Palm Springs is a movie where you return to a toast in the movie several times because of the part of movie that feel like they’re sort of about the couple, but they’re enforcing the themes of the movie, like they feel like pieces of screenwriting. The toasts and the performances of the toasts in this film really feel like awkward documentaries excised from actual weddings you’ve been to. And they’re great. Hmm.
S1: All right. This week I’m going to just endorse I hate to bring down the room, but I just want to endorse, too. I think sadly opposite essays on fashion fascism. The first is they’re both in the New York Review of Books. One is recent. It’s by Sarah Churchwell, who’s an American Lit professor in London. It’s called American Fascism. It has happened here. And it’s just a salutary reminder that, in fact, we have a long history of flirting with far right politics in this country in ways that are very dark, very violent, and that the idea that Trump is somehow sui generis or came out of nowhere is a total surprise or somehow doesn’t have roots in something. Essentially, American is just completely ahistorical and false. And she argues that I think quite elegantly on the second, which I mentioned on the show before, is a 1995 essay by Umberto Eco, famous, of course, for the novel The Name of the Rose. But he wrote an essay called Earth Fascism. You are Fascism, which is just it is just the perfect essay. It’s autobiographical. It’s historically informed it. You know, essentially what it does is just lay out what the essence of fascistic thinking and would be governments are. And there’s a fourteen point list. And it just is unfortunately, it’s just a timely essay now. And I hate to have to recommend it, but. But I do. All right. Well, we’ll have links to all of that on our show page.
S2: Dana, thank you so much. Thanks, Steve. Thanks, Julia. Thank you. You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page, that slate dotcom culture. First, you can email us at culturists later. We love it when you do, you can hit us up on Twitter like Cult Fest. Our producers, Cameron Drewes, our production assistant, is Rachel Allen for Dana Stevens and Julia Turner. I’m Steve Inskeep. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon.
S7: Hello and welcome to the Slate news segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Thank you so much for supporting Slate and our work and listening to this bonus segment of our show on which we will be discussing moviegoing. Will it ever happen again?
S8: Sam Adams is here to report on his recent experience sitting in a dark room with some other strangers for a protracted period of time in order to watch Tenet. The entire movie industry is essentially betting that we all want to see Christopher Nolan’s tenet so much that we will risk our health and lives to do so. And we’re going to talk a little bit about the tipping point that the film industry is at right now with the potential future of theatrical moviegoing and what we can glean about it from our very weird present moment. But first, Sam, just what was it like to be in a movie theater? How did it feel? You describe in your piece on the subject, which is sort of a review of Tenent and sort of a review of going to the movies at all and having had a mild panic attack in the parking lot afterwards. So describe being in the room and describe the panic attack.
S13: Okay, well, the first thing I have to say for transparency sake is, first of all, I’ve now done this twice. And second is that both times it was in an extremely kind of controlled, atypical environment. I was in a regular multiplex both times, but they were sort of, you know, press screenings in one case, 10 in the morning before the theater opened. The other case at one o’clock on a weekday afternoon when there was nobody there. You know, I went back and forth with the people who are putting the screening on about like how many how big the audience was going to be, which is, you know, five or six people in rooms that hold between 250 and 400 people. So this is those are kind of the conditions under which I was willing to take the risk under those circumstances. And after sort of household discussion, because you’re not actually taking these risks just for yourself, you’re taking them for everyone that you’re in close contact with. We decided as a household it would be OK for me to go and I, you know, put a filter and my mask and brought my hand sanitizer and, you know, swap the seat with Lysol wipes and, you know, felt pretty OK while watching the movie. And then I got out in the parking lot saying, my car is like, what the hell did I just do? But it is I mean, it feels good to be back in a movie theater to a certain extent. The second time I saw the Ten and it was on about a big, you know, IMAX screen and film or whatever, and it’s just added over many multiples bigger than anything I’ve seen in a movie since March. And that’s really lovely. It’s big and loud and clear and pretty. It’s not the best movie I’ve ever seen. But that’s, you know, not really the issue here. It’s also very eerie and weird. Even with five other people in the theater, it’s still there. Still that tension of like is someone else in the room taking their mask off or, you know, did they feel a little warm this morning? But maybe they decided they were going to chance it. And it also kind of made me think about how much of going to the movies is not just kind of being in the room as much as Christopher Nolan. And we film critics like to talk about sort of the magic of the big screen. You know, it’s not just the size of the room and the sound system and the screen and the projection and everything else. It is the feeling of being with other people, which now is, you know, takes away from the experience rather than adding to it. And it is also the feeling of kind of being able to relax and lose yourself in something. And that’s just maybe for people with lower kind of ambient anxiety levels than I have. It is possible. But, you know, it’s not for me. And there’s no circumstances under which I’m going to, you know, turn my phone off for two and a half hours at this point. And when I’m sitting there watching this movie and also getting texts from my wife about, you know, the covid pod that my daughter is going to be in when she goes back to school next week, you know, my mind is never going to be 100 percent on the movie. So I apologize to Christopher Nolan for, you know, whatever I’ve written about the film, that he did not have a hundred percent of my attention. But I don’t think I don’t know if a hundred percent of my attention has been on anything since March.
S4: That’s such a good point, Sam. It’s true. It’s true that this pandemic and the horrible handling of it by our government has robbed us of that experience anywhere. Right. That experience of being lost in a moment, whether it’s taking a bath or watching a movie or walking down the street, I mean, our minds have been permanently invaded by anxiety in a way that movies used to be able to see you then probably can’t do now on any size of screen.
S7: Can I ask a question, Sam? Were you mad at Christopher Nolan? Like, just as a cultural figure? I understand he’s Mr. Big Screen and, you know, IMAX camera and see my thing in a Colossus temple of movie going or bust.
S8: I don’t know, I just this whole thing of like you have to risk your life to see my movie, it’s so important is such a shitty look in my view, just like this to him.
S7: I’m like totally a stupid movie. I totally agree.
S6: And that was part of why I didn’t mind that Sam got to sit and write about it before I did, although I am very curious to see that movie because it’s a film going event. A part of me does think, screw you, Christopher Nolan, for you.
S7: So yeah, I thought so. Were you mad at him or not? Were you were you admiring of his, like, high badness?
S13: I mean, I certainly don’t admire it. I’m not mad at him specifically because I think, you know, as much as he has been painted and allowed himself to play into this idea of being himself is kind of the savior or the last, you know, kind of stalwart defender of the theatrical exhibition. It strains credulity, in my opinion, to think that Christopher Nolan is the only person deciding what Warner Brothers its doing with its 250 million dollar movie they really want. And in theaters, they are taking an almost unprecedented percentage of the first weekend revenue. Of the 63 percent, they have made theater sign contracts saying that they will give it their biggest screen, that they will spend the most money on advertising it on that if they have to book it for, you know, two, three, four weeks. So they’re clearly like a major force behind this. And part of why it’s hard for me to sort of give a simple answer to that question is because we live in, you know, one of the worst, if not the worst countries in the world to go into a movie theater. But this decision is kind of being made worldwide. And I don’t know really enough to say definitively one way or the other, if it’s irresponsible to release the movie in theaters in South Korea, for example. So pushing for it in the U.S. seems really not like a good idea. I’m not really satisfied with a lot of the stuff that movie theaters have been doing. My my colleague, Jason Bailey has been writing a bunch of articles about theatrical safety, interviewing epidemiologists, all of whom eventually conclude that it is a very bad idea to go back to the movies right now. And the theater chains are kind of really doing this very squishy back and forth where AMC, for example, is saying that they’re going to put in Murf 13 air filters, which filter out virus particles in the HVAC systems in their theaters whenever possible, and then they refuse to define whatever possible or say how many theaters that is, which is just useless. Like I don’t even know what that means.
S8: You can just say I can’t afford it. So it’s impossible. And what movie theater can afford it right now? AMC is like hemorrhaging money and had to restructure all their debt. They’re not like, oh, let’s make a massive capital investment in a set of buildings that may have no use in five years, you know?
S13: Exactly right. So one of the things I did before deciding to go see a movie theater in any circumstances, I was like researching the chains, covid protocols and the ones around where I live, or mostly Regal’s. And Regal is saying that they are increasing the fresh air flow in their theaters between 50 and 100 percent. And that is, you know, 50 percent of the minimum. Assuming that’s actually true, which I don’t know that there’s any way to independently verify like that seemed a little more safe and reliable. I may have just been kind of making an excuse because I wanted to go see a movie in a theater again, but that felt OK ish. And I feel like, OK, this is the best that you can do right now.
S7: I mean, what does that even mean? Do they, like, prop the exit to the parking lot and like put a fan there like a setting in the back? I don’t even know. I guess it is. I mean, I don’t really know. All right.
S13: But again, I mean, for me, the really important thing was just there not being that many people in the theater. And I mean, the other thing that theaters have done is they’ve basically all taken this. The party line is, you know, you have to wear masks and theaters. And that is part of the contract that Warner Brothers made theaters signed to book Tenet is they have to enforce mask wearing, but that also you can take your mask off if you were eating or drinking or in the middle of eating or drinking. And it’s that means if you buy a bucket of popcorn, you have a license to leave your mask off for the entire movie in the theaters. Know that. And especially because they’re not making that much money on ticket sales, because Warner Brothers is taking so much in no way they’re giving up concessions, which is where they made most of their money anyway. So that’s just like kind of nonsense.
S3: Mm hmm. So it seems to me this conversation is conversation is an excuse to think about, to separate, but now very related subject, which is, of course, the response of the United States and private businesses to the pandemic, public safety, et cetera, et cetera. And then. An issue that was arising anyway, which was the future of the movie theater, which seems sort of doomed at least to be kind of an artsy anachronism, you know, for cinephiles, almost, regardless of whether we got hit by coronavirus, it’s such a funny medium, right? Because obviously live theater, the the performers share space and time with the audience. And so the relationship between the live audience and the live performers is actually quite an active and electric one. You know, movies are so weird in that in that audience is sharing space and time only with itself. Right. And the movie was made at a huge distance and time and space from the people watching it. There’s nothing reciprocal about it at all. And so you could say, what does it matter? What does it matter that you’re sitting at home watching it alone? But I kind of agree with that. I think that what you’re saying is that some of the most meaningful like shaping. Art consuming experiences of my entire life where we’re sharing an audience is excitement with, you know, I mean, I just grew up that generation like I saw Jaws, The Exorcist, Close Encounters, Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones do the right thing. I saw all those in the movie theater on first release. I had to, you know, for Etai to stand in a, you know, half a mile long line and, you know, City Street like. Isn’t there something that Julia Turner will never recognize as a common loss?
S7: You know, isn’t there something little did I just because I stand with the future that I don’t love going to the movies. I just I don’t know.
S8: It’s just the tragedy of this moment. Like, we we actually can get near each other, like as as I’ve gotten like a little more unfrozen in my quarantine bubble. And, you know, I went into the local shop with a mask to buy some fresh produce. And I, you know, gotten takeout from a couple of local restaurants that I want to not that I you can get near strangers. You just can’t do it indoors and you can’t stay near them. Like you can have this kind of glancing contact with humanity, even with friends and loved ones. You know, you can you can have a backyard sit with them far apart. But like it it’s it just took so for granted you could just sit in a room with a bunch of windows.
S7: And it was frightening because for the first time in 13 years on the show, you actually took my bed one time before we all retired.
S13: I mean, I think one thing that’s worth noting is, is that tenant has it hasn’t opened in the U.S. and China. Yeah, they both opened on September 4th. But, you know, it’s out in much of the rest of the world, I think 41 countries. And it made 53 million dollars in its opening weekend. So people are ready to go back to the movies, you know, to a significant extent in other countries in the world, largely countries that have not screwed up their coronavirus response the way we have. But there’s definitely a hunger for this. And it’s going to be, you know, really interesting. Slash white knuckle dreading to see how many Americans are going to do it.
S8: All right. As we wrap up in moviegoing, will it survive the pandemic?
S13: I believe I think axiomatically, which is to say not necessarily realistically, that moviegoing in some form will survive. I don’t know if that’s going to be something that we figure out in six months or five years or somewhere in between there. So it’s very hard to say what that’s going to mean. But just on a financial level, I mean, the release of a movie like Troll’s over the summer, which did you know pretty well in VOD, but nowhere near well enough to actually finance something like that. You cannot make a two hundred million dollar like Tennet or a 400 million dollar Marvel blockbuster based on what people are willing to pay at home. So either the movie studios are going to get out of the business of making blockbusters, which seems very unlikely, or they’re going to find a way for a theatrical movie going to continue because it’s the only model that allows them to make those movies.
S3: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You can’t not have an opening weekend or else your risk is just off the charts.
S8: All right, Sam, thank you so much for joining us and thank you, sleepless listeners, for listening to this bonus segment of our show also. Sam, thank you for risking your life and health to bring Slate readers news of how good it is or isn’t. And we will talk to you soon.
S13: All right. Thank you.