Culture Gabfest “Jolly Green Lawyer” Edition

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Speaker 1: This Ad Free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. You know.

Julia Turner: I’m Julia Turner and this is the Slate culture. Gabfest Jolly Green Lawyer Edition. It’s Wednesday, September 21st, 2002. On today’s show, She-Hulk, attorney at Law. The new Disney Plus show that crosses the Marvel televisual universe with my favorite genre, the legal procedural. And then Moonage Daydream a trippy new documentary about the beauty of being David Bowie. And finally, Hollywood’s documentary, Cash Grab, a new story from The Hollywood Reporter about the changing economics and culture of nonfiction filmmaking. Joining me today is Dana Stevens, Slate’s film critic. Hi, Dana. Hey. Hey, Julia. And alas, Steve, our fearless captain, is out sick. Wish him well. He’s on the mend. But we will be joined by a panoply of wonderful co-hosts for each of our segments. So I will introduce them segment by segment. All right, Dana, you ready to make a show?

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: I’m ready if you are.

Julia Turner: First up, we’re joined by Slate business and technology editor and in my view, chief comics correspondent John Fisher to discuss She-Hulk, attorney at law. Hi, John.

Speaker 4: Hey, how’s it going?

Julia Turner: Good. This new Marvel TV show on Disney plus stars Tatiana maslany, formerly the star of Orphan Black, as an up and coming lawyer who accidentally gets hooked in a car accident with her cousin, Bruce Banner. But who then decides superhero Adam is not what she wants? He just wants to go back to her life as a lawyer.

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Julia Turner: Before we dig into our conversation with John, let’s listen to a clip here. We’ll hear Jennifer Walters, a.k.a. She-Hulk, chatting with her cousin Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk.

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Speaker 1: Listen, I know you didn’t ask for this, but whether you like it or not, you’re now a superhero. And who’s going to protect the world if it isn’t people like us? Are you quoting a comic book right now? Yeah. I’m sorry. The idea of being a superhero is not appealing to me. I’m not you, and I’m not going to become you. I don’t need to join some.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Secret government contractor squad and have my.

Speaker 1: Entire life taken away from me. My life wasn’t taken away. Really? Oh, so you didn’t wind up alone. Hiding away on some remote beach with no friends, no relationships, never seeing your family, and definitely not dealing with a decade’s worth of trauma. Why would you want that for me, Bruce? You’re your cautionary tale. That’s a price you had to pay for keeping the world safe. It’s not wrong that I am choosing to help people in the way that I’ve always. But I spent a lifetime running from this aspect of myself. Denying half of your being is no way to live. Trust me.

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Julia Turner: Very angsty. And the angsty ness of that conversation, which takes place in the pilot, perhaps belies the tone of the show, which fairly quickly pivots into a frisky half hour legal procedural, a.k.a. my favorite television genre. And tonally, the project is pretty different from certainly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even some of the more formally inventive pieces of the Marvel televisual universe.

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Julia Turner: Jon, let’s start with you. Can you tell us a little bit about She-Hulk history in the comics and what you made of this television adaptation of the character?

Speaker 4: Sure. She-Hulk is obviously the female Hulk. That’s sort of the very basic concept. But I think the most important thing about the character is that she is where she is in the comic book. The character was created in 1984, you know, somewhat cynical reasons, which is that at the time the Hulk TV show with Lou Ferrigno was was a big hit. Marvel feared that the creators of that show would themselves create a female Hulk character. So they wanted to get ahead of it and own the rights. So they yeah, they they created She-Hulk.

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Speaker 4: You know, the first issue in 1980 was actually written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Buscemi, who one of the great Silver Age Marvel artists. It’s a very, you know, solid and interesting issue. And it’s one of the last characters that we would create for a very long time for Marvel. You know, but then from there, it goes to a different creative team, and it’s not the most distinct comic book, and it only lasts 25 issues. From there, She-Hulk bounces around. She’s in The Avengers, she’s in the Fantastic Four. The character gets very interesting in 1989 when Marvel hires John Byrne, who, you know, it was a very popular creator at Marvel who did Fantastic Four and had worked on the X-Men to revamp She-Hulk. And his approach is he wanted a version of the character that was highly self-referential. You know, my theory of She-Hulk is that while the idea of the character who is aware of her genre’s tropes is itself a trope, this is a very, very good version of that trope.

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Speaker 4: The the original run is very, very funny and and holds up on the first issue. And there’s some wearables on the cover, which is rare. And she says, okay, this is your second chance. If you don’t buy my book this time, I’m going to come to your house and rip up all your X-Men. It’s just a very, very funny book. And, you know, Burn Himself is a creator with some baggage. And the book also, you know, repeatedly engineer situations in which She-Hulk, you know, ends up wearing almost no clothing. But beyond that, actually, I think the run is is really fun and it really holds up.

Julia Turner: That’s so interesting. All right. So then what do you make? And I think it explains some of the pieces of the show that feel a little unusual, maybe to a novice viewer like me. How do you think this adaptation does?

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Speaker 4: Basically, I’m vibing with it. I, I think it’s fun. It’s an easy watch. I’ve never any issues with it. I don’t think it’s amazing, but I don’t think She-Hulk was ever, you know, meant to be amazing, you know, even if, like, you find, you know, this sort of gender critique that the show is making in a kind of funny, maybe a little bit too on the nose way, you know, even if you find that, you know, edifying coming from Marvel, I don’t think the show is like, you know, trying too hard to do anything too ambitious. It’s really just having fun and I think it succeeds.

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Julia Turner: All right, Dana, tell us your views on She-Hulk based on your early exposure to this character.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: I mean, I will say that when we floated the idea of doing this, my initial thought was, oh, another Marvel TV show that’s going to be just okay. And why do why are we talking about every single one of these? And then I heard the name Tatiana maslany that she played the She-Hulk and, you know, Jennifer Walters, I think her name is, who is the lawyer version of the She-Hulk and immediately wanted to see it because when we talked about Orphan Black back in, I believe that was in our live show in Canada years ago that we talked about the great Canadian TV show Orphan Black. She just struck me as such a shapeshifter to use a superhero term and somebody who I would want to see in any role. And and I do think that she is the animating spirit of the show. Otherwise, almost nothing about this show works for me. And maybe that’s just because I’m not as not. Neither am I, a huge episodic TV person nor a huge Marvel person. So the combination really didn’t do much for me.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: Also, the director dressed to the camera not knowing any of the background of the fact that that happened in the original comic. But just at this moment in pop culture history, that’s such an overdone trope. And I’m so sick of people addressing the camera from Kevin Spacey in that whatever it was House of Cards show on, there’s just been this rampant rage for four characters addressing the camera and just recently reviewing that new Austin adaptation, Emma with Dakota Johnson. I was decrying her awful direct to camera address. It’s only when somebody like. Phoebe Waller-bridge in the second season of Fleabag really disrupts that and does something interesting with it that I can even stand to see it anymore. So when Tatiana turned to the camera in the very first, I believe the very first shot of the show and started giving us the setup, I was immediately suspicious. But yeah, I would agree with you.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: The show is pretty fun. I appreciate it. It’s half an hour long, it’s light hearted, and it does a pretty good job of not feeling too branded as it ties together all of these familiar characters. Tim Roth, who played a villain in the Avengers series of movies, reappears as his character, who is now the client of of the She-Hulk lawyer. And that is funny. But to me, this this show doesn’t get that much further than the joke of the title. I mean, She-Hulk, attorney at law, it’s a very funny title, sort of the equivalent of Doogie Howser, MD The title does all the work for you, and the show doesn’t really get super far beyond just the funny paradox of having a big green superhero who is also, you know, a crack defense attorney. But that in itself is a funny enough premise that I think if this appeals to you, you should give it a watch.

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Julia Turner: I was fascinated to watch this because I have found kind of diminishing returns in the Marvel television universe. And Dana, we have skipped so many of the shows. You’re right.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: We didn’t even do Moon Night with my boyfriend, Oscar Isaac.

Julia Turner: Yeah, we didn’t do Moon Night. We skipped a bunch of them. But in any event. I love. Bye bye. The Ghost of June Thomas. There is nothing I love more on television than a legal procedural. Like I just love lawyer shows and the things that are best about this show, you know? It has the legal procedural drama that one of my fades and it also has the like young woman comes of age professionally at work genre. You know, I think younger is maybe like a show in that genre. I’m fond of that genre as well, and I think the young woman finds herself at work.

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Julia Turner: Aspects of this sitcom work better than the legal procedural parts of it, like the this is going to seem like a weird critique. The lawyering is lame. Like the legal issues are lame relative. Like if you if you actually watched later shows just the complexity of the issues at play and the kind of phony sophistication. And I get that that’s its own shtick.

Julia Turner: It happens in medical dramas, too, of like, it’s not just a heart attack, it’s a heart attack with a complication of the blah, blah, blah. And it’s, you know, not just an eminent domain problem. There’s a complexity to the legal issue, but part of the schtick of procedural television is that you, like, do the research and and and kind of get into the weeds. And that’s what gives the show some of its kind of heft and dramatic thrust. And, you know, there was a big flap about the CGI around the She-Hulk when when the trailer came out and some of the VFX didn’t look that good. And I think they generally look better in the finished show.

Julia Turner: But the thing that actually seems flimsy and unbelievable here to me is, is the legal concepts that they’re fighting about. Like all the all the cases seem like, you know, those facades in an old west town where there’s nothing behind them. The things that have more heft are some of the characters and some of the relationships. And really just Tatiana maslany is performance. She’s incredibly likable, has Jennifer Walters. She has an amazing I mean, probably the best writing in the show is this little monologue she gives in the pilot where Bruce Banner is so confused about why she’s so in control of her Hulk Powers.

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Julia Turner: And he’s spent 15 years, you know, brooding and worrying that he’s going to destroy the world until he science is up some way to control his rage. And Tatiana maslany is like, Yeah, I control my rage every day. That’s just being a woman in the world. Like, this is no problem for me, bro. Which, you know, that’s like lightly done and conceptually funny and astute.

Julia Turner: But the most disappointing thing to me about it is that the way it plays with gender and body are kind of weird, you know, like. The physicality of the She-Hulk. She’s just kind of like a. Big blowup doll. Like she doesn’t actually seem that muscly and she’s got, you know, straight hair versus curly, which as I just the notion that having your hair blown out is what makes you a hardy is irritating.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: You know, I can’t remember now if we talked about Thor, Love and Thunder on this show or not, or whether I just wrote about it for Slate.

Julia Turner: You did? You think you did? I was traveling.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Yeah. Okay. Well, there’s a similar thing going on with Natalie Portman’s character and her super version in that movie. And and it’s something that just seems sort of built in at this point to the Marvel Universe, like, yeah, girlboss girl power. But ultimately when a woman who was already, you know, conventionally attractive becomes a superhero, she gets more attractive. And the same thing. What happens to Natalie Portman’s character is she gets blonder and she gets like a long, blonde blowout. And I think also looks bustier, as does Tatiana maslany She-Hulk. So yeah, there’s this totally un problematize and very non feminist assumption that to become a superhero as a woman is to become more hot. And it would of course be much braver if she in fact bulked up and looked genuinely scary and more like the Bruce Banner version of Hulk when she turned into her green self and that people had to deal with the gender politics of that.

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Julia Turner: What did you make, John, of you know, how this show handles the kind of gender aspects of being a bulked up green bus lady versus the various ways in which the comics did it?

Speaker 4: Yeah. I mean, I think I also honed in on that line that you were talking about. I think, you know, in the comic books, the sort of conceit is that she’s in the car with Bruce and then something happens. In this case, actually, some gangsters try to assassinate her. It’s it doesn’t really matter. But the point is, Bruce has to give her a transfusion on the fly. And so in the comic books, the idea is that she got less of his gamma irradiated blood. So she she doesn’t completely rage out. She still, you know, is herself when she becomes She-Hulk. So the conceit here is that, you know, you know, as you say, she’s a woman. So sort of, you know, her sort of like baseline existence is dealing with, you know, rage and frustration that is put upon her. So, you know, she’s much more well equipped to be to be a Hulk, unlike Bruce, who has been the mess for 15 years.

Speaker 4: Does it work? I think it’s I mean, I think it’s I think it’s a clever twist on the character. I think that the show kind of like underlines that theme, like, a lot to the point where I think they could probably just be more subtle about it. I do think that, you know, the way that they depict the characters is interesting. You know, the character existed for like 30 years before it was regularly written by a woman. But eventually the comic books did basically decide to book She-Hulk up because they realized that the sort of, you know, supermodel esque physique really made no sense if we’re going to, you know, go with the entire Hulk concept. So now the She-Hulk is really, you know, really Hulk like in her physique, it probably makes more sense that way. I think that, you know, the show just doesn’t really want to go there because it doesn’t want to be a show about a monster. It just wants to be a fun legal procedural.

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Julia Turner: All right. Well, I think we universally would tell listeners that if any of this sounds appealing to you, check it out. And if it doesn’t move on with your day, it’s She-Hulk Colon, attorney at law on Disney Plus. John, thank you so much for for coming on the show.

Speaker 4: Thank you for having me.

Julia Turner: All right. Now is the moment in our show when we talk business. Dana, what have we got?

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Julia Our only item of business is that I’m going to tell you about today’s Slate Plus segment, which I’m actually really champing at the bit for. I can’t wait.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: It comes from a listener question from a listener named Christian who writes, Do you have any unfinished or not realized or produced piece of media book, music, film that you wish existed or was finished? Examples include books such as Emma by Charlotte Bronte, the unfinished novel she was working on at her death, The Watsons by Jane Austen. Same story. Nightwatch Ithaca as a Nova by Dostoyevsky did not know about that. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. Films such as David Fincher’s Strangers on a Train remake Never Made and many others. I hope this question would reveal more of what makes you tick beyond what you’ve already shared with us. I love this because I have some of my favorite works of art that fit into this category, and I’m very curious to hear what my co panelists have to say. So that will be our segment at the end of the show. If you’re a Slate Plus member, of course you will hear that after our main three segments. If you’re not a Slate Plus member, you can sign up today at Slate.com, slash culture. Plus, once again that Slate.com slash culture plus.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: Okay. On with the show.

Julia Turner: Joining us for our next segment is Carl Wilson, the wonderful music critic at Slate. Hello, Carl. Welcome.

Speaker 5: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Julia Turner: Thank you so much for joining us. We are gathered here today to discuss Moonage Daydream, a new documentary from Brett Morgen about the life and art and vibes of David Bowie. It’s a documentary using a trove of footage that Morgen gained access to, and it puts them together, not with the usual talking head parade, but with kind of an trippy, artistic, immersive brio that my panelists here responded to quite differently. Before we get into that, let’s listen to a clip here. You’ll hear a moment of introspection from Bowie. He’s reflecting on his past and trying to make sense of who he is.

Speaker 1: It feels now that I don’t come from anywhere. But I was born in Brixton. When were you born? 1947. January the eighth. Capricorn with Aquarius Ascendant and a Leo. December. How much snow is left of the lad from Brixton? Not very much, I think. I know you know what goes on. I never I never became who I should have been. I spent an awful lot of my life actually looking for myself, you know, and understanding what it was that I was what I existed for. What was it that really made me happy in life and who exactly was and who? The parts of myself I was trying to hide from. I think a lot of us are huge senses of denial about who we are and why we exist in the world.

Julia Turner: All right, Dana.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Let’s start with you as our film critic.

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Julia Turner: Tell us a little bit about this film and its texture and what you made of it.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to get a sense from just that one little clip, obviously, because most music documentaries have things like that, you know, a clip of an interview of an artist talking about their work. But this movie is unusual in that it is nothing but that. The only narrator, really the only voice we hear other than some interviewers asking him questions is David Bowie’s voice from the very beginning, which, among other things, gives this a very unearthly quality of being, you know, narrated from the beyond by this person who already seemed from the beyond when he was alive. And we’ll get more into, you know, with Carl, the visuals that go along with that and how that works. But I mean, essentially, that that is the most important thing to know about this documentary going in. It is in no way a kind of behind the music style exposition of the person’s chronological life. And in fact, we we hear nothing about David Bowie’s first marriage. We hear nothing about his child, which made me wonder whether his son, Duncan Jones, who is a filmmaker himself, may be refused to be part of it or didn’t want to participate.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: And so the visuals that Brett Morgen uses are all either the concert footage of David Bowie, you know, the interview clips, like I mentioned, or and, you know, footage that he’s gathered of him of gave of Bowie moving around the world, which I think David Bowie’s estate gave Morgen access to this huge. It was in the millions the number of, you know, documents and images that he went through over a period of years to make this.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: And then what I know Carl did not like from his review of this movie on Slate, a lot of filler imagery of I don’t know what you would call it, some of it is old movie clips. I know a lot of that stuff comes from movies and artists that influenced David Bowie and that were important to him. But some of it, I think, is just selected by Morgan because it looks cool. It’s very short on information, and if you go in not knowing much about David Bowie’s life, you will not come out knowing a lot more. But you do get a great sense of what he was like as a performer and as a conversationalist. And that stuff to me was really, really moving and inspiring.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: And some of the things, Carl, I want to turn to, you know, because some of the things that you pointed out in your review is when you were sort of saying, like, you know, this is trying to give you sort of David Bowie Inspo and that inspo to you often seem very banal and flat. Well, maybe I’m just really basic, but I actually walked out of it feeling really transformed. And like David Bowie was this sage who was teaching me how to live. And I found him really, really moving as a talker about his work. You know, there’s so many artists who make great things but don’t want to or are not able to really talk about them. And he was not that at all. I feel like he was almost his own best critic or explicate or in some ways. And I absolutely loved the way he talked about his own need to create.

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Speaker 5: To me, this film would have worked almost better as a radio documentary, even though, of course, that’s exactly the opposite of what it is. Just because Bowie’s voice is the most compelling thing about it to me, and all of the visuals, this kind of endless stream of montage as you were kind of indicating about with like these old film clips from like every science fiction movie ever made, possibly just in like more space, more space, as much outer space as we can find.

Speaker 5: And, and then lots of plots of concert clips that except for a couple one extraordinary performance of heroes, for example, from one tour. And a lot of them don’t get that much room to breathe because Morgan feels need to immediately jump in and glitch them up with VFX and cut to more outer space montages and put like starbursts bursting in them. And he gets in his own way a lot of the time with this kind of frenetic spectacle that I think really kind of detracts from our ability to take things in.

Speaker 5: And then, of course, there’s his refusal to provide any contextual information. You never know what year it is in any of the things you’re seeing or in any of clips that you’re hearing him talk. You can kind of roughly guess from the chronology, but but you don’t have the kind of precise information that would be helpful and that and that causes things to go off the rails in some more specific ways that we can get into.

Speaker 5: But like, the funny thing for me, watching it was the thing that I was most reminded of by all of the whiz bang were those planetarium laser fluid and lasers that machines that in the eighties where it kind of big thing that I remember going to see when I was like 12 and I was and I felt a little bad as I was kind of approaching writing this review and I really get to compare it to those chintzy laser spectacles.

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Speaker 5: And then I read an interview with Morgan in the L.A. Times where he says that that was one of his primary inspirations. He wanted it to be like Laser Floyd, and he wanted it to be like Disney. He was like, I want my films to be theme park rides. And I felt very justified in my sense of suspicion and the feeling of shallowness that I came with away with it from. Because on paper, you know, I, I, if I saw this film described, I would, I would like it. There’s lots and lots to recommend it, but I increasingly sitting through it, felt annoyed and disappointed and left with a kind of sour taste about just the kind of shallow level on which it felt like it was dealing with this incredible once in a lifetime trove of material that he got to drive by adding access to the to the the estate’s assets. And that’s the thing that that was really disappointing to me.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Yeah. Carl where I really agree with you and this is going to be one of those moments where this is a critical triumph for you because you’re making me like the movie less. So thank you for ruining my joy, but helping me understand the movie. I had some of the same feelings while watching it. Essentially, I was thinking like, I’m lucky that I already have a sense of the scope and chronology of Bowie’s life and career to some extent, particularly because we talked about him on this show after he died in 2016, but also because, you know, I just grew up listening to and growing up along with that music.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: But as far as a legacy career, right? I mean, this film really fails in that aspect. Like if it was trying to get young people, I was thinking about taking my daughter to it, for example, who I know loves Bowie’s music, doesn’t know a ton about it, you know, loves performance and talking and thinking about performance. But I almost have the feeling that I would want her first to, you know, watch it behind the music or read a Wikipedia page about Bowie or something. Because you do come out of it not knowing anything about his collaborators, you don’t even really learn. There was a couple of really illustrative stories from his childhood that are briefly told that I’m really glad are in there. But you don’t learn, for example, that he grew up in a council estate, you know, and got into art school, you know, that he really did sort of pull himself up out of a life of, you know, maybe not poverty, but certainly, you know, working class existence to become this, you know, very elite figure in the in the global art sphere. And that trajectory isn’t really narrated at all.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: And just on a very simple level, I think you’re right. You would come out of this saying, oh, well, now I have to listen to Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars and, you know, this other album and then comes this album. No, there’s not there’s not any labeling along the way that would signpost you through that. But I guess I bought that because this documentary was selling itself as something unusual and experiential, and because of those experiences it was providing maybe not, you know, the millions of clips from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis that were interestingly layered into so many moments. But the actual performances and conversations with Bowie were so cerebral, you know, that the.

Speaker 1: Whole.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Movie came off it to me as feeling like an experience of of thinking and not just, you know, groovy sensing for, you know, stoners watching a late show.

Speaker 5: Yeah. I mean, I think, again, you know, one of the things I say towards the end of basically a review that trashes the movie is that if you love Bowie, you should still see it because there is a lot there. It’s just sort of so much less than it could have been. And particularly, I think you’re right, for people who don’t have the basic outline in their heads, you’re not going to figure it out that easily from this movie. And then I think there’s a flipside to for like real difficulties. There’s not as much as you would have thought in this film of things that we haven’t seen before and of of insights and parts of the story that that we don’t already know. And so I think part of the reactions are a little bit split often between, you know, one friend of mine said they really noticed that there was a split between music writers and movie writers in terms of our responses to this film.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: Yeah, some some more information about influences would have been great. You know, I was thinking about Todd Haynes, fantastic documentary about The Velvet Underground from last year, which you mentioned in your review as well. And you know, this movie is nowhere near as good, but it is somewhat similar and in its in its approach in that it’s, you know, avoiding talking heads, avoiding normal chronological framing. And part of what makes it not work as well is that it is not as informed by or interested in music history and influence. And there were moments in this when I was thinking, wow, he really writes like Lou Reed, you know, Heroes. What are some other songs I was thinking of? Yeah, there’s just a period of his songwriting that sounds like Lou Reed could have written some of those songs. And yet, you know, Lou Reed is never mentioned. I guess he talks about Fats Domino at one point, but he does. But we don’t really get a sense that much of what music formed him and what music he formed.

Speaker 5: Yeah. And again, Morgan deals with these like montage techniques to do it like there’s two or three times in the film where there’s this kind of rapid, quick cut through multiple photographs of various artists from history all. And if you know who they are and if you’re catching it, they all you know. And Lou Reed, I. It does appear in one of those.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: As does Buster Keaton. I just have this.

Speaker 1: As does Buster Keaton.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: But we did love. Absolutely. Bowie’s on record as having loved him.

Speaker 5: And who you can see in Bowie’s physicality that there’s an influence from watch his videos and things you can. So there’s a lot of silent film in his performance, and of course he’s like mime training and that kind of thing. But yeah, but Morgan doesn’t give him much space to talk about that. There’s one moment where Bowie refers to drawing on, like, New York underground music of the early seventies. And if you know that what he really means there is Lou Reed in the Velvet Underground, then, you know. But you wouldn’t know if it if you didn’t bring that information to the film yourself, because this film is actively hostile to information.

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Julia Turner: Actively hostile information is generally my least favorite kind of documentary, although somehow I felt as a as the Bowie newbie, novice haven’t really spent much time, certainly with his visuals, which I know is so much of his art. There’s a couple of his songs that I love. I did find it pleasing to just be in his presence and like get close up to that that image that he spent so much time cultivating. But with this question about technique and sort of information and talking heads versus razzle dazzle.

Julia Turner: Dana, can you put this film a little bit in the context of Brent Morgan’s other documentary work?

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Well, I was going to mention that part of why I was jumping up and down to do this as a segment outside of being really interested in Bowie himself is that I’ve really liked Brett Morgan’s documentary work in the past, and the documentary I think I first associate him with is one that he co-directed back in the early 2000 called The Kid Stays In The Picture. That was about Robert Evans, the legendary Hollywood producer who is, you know, connected with a lot of big new Hollywood projects and is this huge personality.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: And it was a really also an unusual approach to a documentary did something that you see now more in docs but that was really new at the time which was taking old photographs and sort of making them three dimensional and making them appear to move, sort of turning them into these little I don’t know how to describe it, like little tableau vivant within a photograph things. And it was it was unusual, inventive, funny. I really recommend that documentary, actually. And so I knew that this, at the very least, was going to be something unusual.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: And I have to say, I mean, I’m sticking by my guns. Like I respect what this movie is trying to do. It isn’t perfect. It could do a lot of things better and differently. And I don’t love the relationship it assumes with the viewer in terms of information, as Carl was saying. But I don’t think it’s dumb. I never felt like it was condescending to the viewers intelligence, and I never felt like it was telling me things that were really obvious and that I already knew it was a little too dependent on sensation and visual trickery. But as Carl says, like what you’re hearing is so great and what you’re seeing when Bowie’s is in performance is so great that to me it still carried the day. And I feel like certainly Bowie lovers should see it and Bowie newbies should see it along with, you know, a little bit of of grounding in in the actual facts of his life.

Julia Turner: All right. Well, Carl, thank you so much for joining us to talk about this film. You can find Carl’s great piece about it on Slate. And the film is Moonage Daydream out in theaters now. Thanks, Carl.

Speaker 5: Thank you so much.

Julia Turner: All right. Joining us for our third segment is Slate’s senior editor, Sam Adams. Hi, Sam. Welcome.

Sam Adams: Hi, Julia. Thanks for having me.

Julia Turner: Absolutely. All right. Well, we are here today to discuss a really interesting new cover story in The Hollywood Reporter called Inside the documentary Cash Grab. In it, Mia Galuppo and Katie Kilkenny report on how the major investment of the streamers, particularly Netflix in documentary, has turned nonfiction filmmaking from a sleepy backwater full of strange artists to, uh, money soaked mega verse of documentary production companies churning out projects, tackling topics that are more pop and less arcane than perhaps documentarians have done in the past, and perhaps starting to tinker with the unwritten ethics of documentary, sometimes paying subjects or finding ways to not pay subjects, but paying them anyway in ways that have given some of the grand eminences of documentary. A bit of pause. Sam, you are always the the kind of MVP of being up on everything we ever talk about. But you are particularly interested in documentary, so we’ll start with you. I’m curious what you made of this piece and what you thought was most interesting in it.

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Sam Adams: I think it’s a really interesting piece. I mean, I spend a lot of my time at film festivals, particularly true falls in Missouri, kind of hanging out with documentary filmmakers because they’re just like really fun and don’t have as many demands on their time as fiction filmmakers. So this is kind of, you know, the water that they swim in and as a result, kind of don’t tend to talk about in quite the terms that this article does, because they don’t they don’t need to pull back and look at it.

Sam Adams: So it’s interesting to take a step back and have this kind of view from 10,000 feet of how much the documentary world has been shifting in the last couple of years. As you mentioned, I mean, the biggest factor is really just money, particularly from Netflix, from a lot of the other streamers and awards. How much of that has flooded into the space? It’s also changing the kinds of projects that people work on, not only the projects that they shop, but the ones that are brought to them, which tend a lot more toward sort of sensational and true crime stories. And an interesting thing for me, too, is is also changing the kinds of approaches that they’re taking to that subject matter.

Sam Adams: There’s a quote in the story from Joe Berlinger, who is, you know, probably one of the filmmakers most responsible for the current documentary Renaissance going back to the nineties with movies like Brother’s Keeper and The Paradise Lost Trilogy. And those are really sort of, you know, immersive verité style looks at true crimes and how they affected a community. And Joe is now doing, you know, found footage stories about Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy for Netflix. And he says in this article, I quite honestly, he’s like, I don’t even have time to look at all the footage that I get anymore.

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Sam Adams: So instead of documentary filmmakers going in and kind of following people around for several years, that is getting archive footage delivered to them and having, you know, assistants kind of sort through it and really, you know, inevitably you’re getting things that feel more sort of, you know, prepackaged and easy to consume and less kind of immersive, less pushing the boundaries of the form.

Julia Turner: Yeah.

Julia Turner: Dan, I’m curious. I mean, you obviously have been regularly sampling the documentary Waters in your role as film critic for, you know, the last decade plus. Do you feel like you’ve seen some of these forces at play in the work that you encounter as our film critic at Slate?

Glad My, Dana Stevens: I would definitely say so, and especially in my work both in as a film critic and maybe not a TV critic, but you know someone who’s watching a lot of streaming documentaries from TV and I found this piece really illustrative. It’s a really good example, I think, of an entertainment industry behind the scenes business piece that really illuminates something that you might have noticed as a critic. But you’re not quite you didn’t see it as part of a of a larger business trend that was happening behind the scenes. I mean, of course, documentary has gotten more marketable with streaming because now we can have these, you know, true crime TV shows or things like Wild, Wild Country that very long form, I think, to long form documentary about a cult that we talked about on the show.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: It just seems like, well, one of the sources interviewed for this piece says that his metaphor is that documentary or nonfiction, you know, filmmaking and television. In the last decade or so since streaming has risen, he says it went from being an artisanal espresso shop in Italy to a Starbucks, right? I mean, it became something that was kind of producer at scale that had much more of a mass audience than before. And, you know, there are a lot of people talking about how film festivals, you know, used to be places where the documentary was sort of like the charity case over there, like, oh, that interesting. A little movie that won’t make any money.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: Now, you know, there’s whole production companies just mining the news for, you know, things that would make good streamable non-fiction content. So it makes sense that there would be shifts in the way that the form is handled as soon as money enters at that level. And I thought in particular, some of the stuff about paying sources or paying subjects in a documentary was fascinating because it was more double sided than it seems. I mean, it’s not simply the case that, you know, there’s unethical exchanges of money to get big names on camera, though it sounds like some of that is happening.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: There is also the question which Ken Burns talks about in this piece of what to do when, you know, you’re talking about a subject who is indigent, who could really use the profits from the documentary? How do you make sure that you’re not exploiting a story and, you know, making money off of somebody without giving them any of the back end profits? So those conversations are all fascinating and things that I did not know were happening behind the scenes. Yeah, it’s.

Julia Turner: Really interesting because it’s not the classic story of like, money corrupts or now that there’s so much money in documentary, it’s it’s bad or something like that. It’s that there’s sort of a small cadre of practitioners who, you know, now have access to resources and the potential for expansion and are suddenly encountering both the challenges of scale and kind of the the wobbly ness of the unwritten rules of their trade. Like the question you raise around and that the piece raises about can subjects be paid and is totally one that you can argue multiple sides of. It’s absolutely a rule in journalism that you don’t pay sources and that paying them compromises the integrity of your work.

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Julia Turner: And it is also true, as has been written by many commentators, that there is something fundamentally exploitative about journalism, which is that you are turning people’s stories into something for others to consume. And when those people are poor or have less power than you or your institution or your funders or your backers do, there are multiple ways to look at that.

Sam Adams: Yeah, well, in a lot of these cases, it sort of depends who the subjects are because, you know, as the landscape of documentary broadens, in some cases, you’re talking about, you know, a movie about Billie Eilish that sold for $25 million. And you’re also talking about this documentary, The Territory, which was bought by National Geographic. And it’s about an indigenous tribe in Brazil. You know, whether Billie Eilish makes money off the documentary about her or not. Is Billie Eilish just making plenty of money off lots of other things? It’s really comparatively unimportant, this indigenous Brazilian tribe. Your article mentions they were sort of cut into the profits of the movie. Several of them are credited as not only producers on the film, but cinematographers. And one of the filmmaker’s goals, who is not Brazilian, is to provide people with the tools to tell their own stories. And not just in this movie, but in other ones. I think they might have even like left them some of the equipment when the filmmaking was done.

Sam Adams: But that’s you know, that’s a case where part of the reckoning that’s going on here is just this ongoing discussion that’s happening in journalism as well about who controls the tools to tell the story. Should people be telling their own story? And that just gets, you know, ramped up when the Nat geo money comes in as well. And I think that’s an appropriate and really good conversation.

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Sam Adams: So there’s you know, there are a lot of different currents moving around in this world in this article. But that is one place where things are changing for the better. The filmmaker Robert GREENE, who made a movie last year called Possession, which is about victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. He likes to say that he doesn’t know if documentaries can change the world, but he does know that they change the lives of the people who are in them, and that can go both ways. They’ve had really negative effects on people, and I do think it’s incumbent upon the filmmakers to at least try to ensure that the people whose stories they’re telling that their lives change for the better.

Julia Turner: Dina, did this story make you think differently about any projects you’ve seen or reviewed or that we’ve discussed recently?

Glad My, Dana Stevens: I mean, it’s funny that we’re talking about this in the same show that we’re talking about. What I think, whether you think it works completely or not, is a very hauteur driven documentary, one that is clearly not driven by you know, there’s not a producer behind the scenes saying, you know, you got to hit this story point at moment ten in order to sell this documentary. You know, Moonage Daydream this this Bowie documentary we talked about is is clearly a brainchild of an even original vision of what this person wanted to do with this trove of of material from Bowie. So I guess it would hark more, you know, from the pre streaming era of of auteur driven documentaries if you want to make that that kind of binary distinction.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: Yeah. I mean reading this made me think once again, but with a little more critical perspective on something that happened last year with that Anthony Bourdain documentary, Roadrunner, which we talked about on the show. And I also, I think, reviewed for Slate, which I think is a really successful documentary. Wonderful to watch. If you want to learn about about Anthony Bourdain’s life and his process in making the travel and food shows that he made, but has this deep fake moment that I found really suspect at the time? And that seems like it’s part of a trend. And you know that technology is getting better and better, right, at making A.I. sound real. You know, making tricky technology that appears to replicate real life.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: And the documentary does that at one moment when you hear a private letter that Anthony Bourdain wrote to a friend, you know, very personal letter about his depression, read in his voice and you’re thinking, why is there a high quality audio version of a man reading his own personal letter? Well, it turns out that that was that little moment of I that was not cop to, you know, including I believe in the credits and that the director had to answer for later in the press that, you know, he had done this, I think, somewhat unethical thing of making you think you’re hearing Anthony Bourdain talking when you’re actually hearing a reproduction of his voice. So it does seem that things like that should not have to be policed on a you know, an a one by one basis after people see the movie and start scratching their heads about it.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: And, you know, obviously, there’s not a council of documentarians that’s going to sit down on Mount Olympus and decide what they can and can’t do. But it just seems like, you know, we’re kind of in a wild, wild country of documentary filmmaking right now where some stuff might be happening that viewers should know about and not just have it be snuck onto the screen without their consent.

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Julia Turner: Sam, I’m curious, as someone who’s been following the space for a long time. I always respond to documentaries as a journalist, and I feel like I’m always spending the first 40 minutes of any documentary being like, Is this in my tribe or not? Like, Do I do I trust this as a document or not? Like, does this one rate? And you kind of have to just. Suss it, like suss it through the use of evidence and whether it feels trustworthy. Like there isn’t a rulebook, there isn’t a playbook. And perhaps there shouldn’t be. Like, I’m not arguing that. It is a reasonable response to documentaries to apply the standards of a person who’s been working in journalism for more than two decades to them. But it is what I do.

Julia Turner: I’m curious if this piece or the broader trend surrounding it have kind of changed the way you look at the documentaries you see over time?

Sam Adams: Yeah, I mean, that’s a very big and sort of ongoing questions. I mean, I think a lot of the most interesting documentary filmmakers right now are ones who are really kind of pushing back against the journalistic paradigm. And that’s not to say they’re necessarily making things up. But I think just coming from the viewpoint that, you know, documentaries are constructed, audiences know this, you know, I can go both ways on this. I mean, I certainly like when documentaries make me question what I’m seeing. Even something like like the TV series, the rehearsal is very much kind of in that vein.

Sam Adams: But, you know, I don’t like being lied to. And I think, you know, the Roadrunner, the Anthony Bourdain example that Dana brings up is a great example. I don’t I don’t think it would have been a bad thing in the documentary if they were like, here we are in the studio putting together this. I here’s how we, you know, came up with this simulation of Anthony Bourdain’s voice. You can respond to it as if you’re hearing him, as if this is really weird and unethical.

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Sam Adams: Here are the things you need to know to make this decision. That’s all fine with me. I think we sort of kind of sweeping that under the rug is when we get into trouble. And that’s part of this whole commercial imperative to just kind of make the slickest, easiest, most emotional experience for people and not one that makes them question what they’re seeing. And I think that’s when you really start to get into trouble.

Julia Turner: All right. Well, the piece is inside the documentary Cash Grab. It’s at The Hollywood Reporter. And Sam, thank you for joining us. And you’re going to stick around with us for endorsements and four plus.

Sam Adams: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

Julia Turner: All right. Moving on. Let’s endorse Dean.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: All right. I’m very happy about my endorsement this week because it dovetails nicely with our David Bowie documentary segment. And it’s also just one of my favorite Onion articles of all time. I think I remember circulating this or seeing it circulated in 2016 after David Bowie died. It’s just a really goofy imagining of David Bowie and Iman’s marriage. A nice part of the documentary, by the way. The Moonage Daydream documentary is brief, but great is the moment when David Bowie and Iman meet, because at least as the doc frames it, you know, he had been somebody who was very peripatetic throughout his life, who never sort of felt that he belonged anywhere or had a home. And that meeting Iman in late middle age and getting married to her was a really transformative event of his life.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: I’ve seen other interviews with him where he was asked what he was, what achievement he was proudest of in his life. And he said, Marrying my wife, which is extremely moving with this piece, is just a very silly imagining of life at home with David Bowie and Iman. The headline is David Bowie asks Iman if they should just do Lasagna again. And it’s just a very banal evening in the life of these two superstars.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: I just have to read one sentence from it or a couple sentences to give you a sense of the article’s tone. Sources confirmed the nine time platinum recording artist who claimed at one point in the seventies to have subsisted on a diet of red peppers, cocaine and milk, then preheated the oven, started boiling a pot of water and searched around inside the kitchen cabinets at one point asking Iman if she had seen the good baking pan.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: In addition, Bowie, who allegedly had an affair with Rolling Stones lead vocalist Mick Jagger at the pinnacle of the glam rock era, suggested that the fridge needed a quick wipe down. While grabbing a carrot, a cucumber and a box of organic spinach to make a quick salad. It’s so goofy. They go on to talk about the shopping list and Iman asked him to get drain cleaning fluid or something. It’s so silly, but like such a great juxtaposition of these two larger than life figures with actual normal married life.

Julia Turner: I never read that one and love it.

Julia Turner: Sam, what do you have for us today?

Sam Adams: I am endorsing actually reading Robert Caro’s book, The Power Broker.

Speaker 1: Hey.

Sam Adams: It may seem slightly ridiculous to endorse what is, I think, one of the most acclaimed books of the 20th century. But it’s a 1200 page biographer of city planner Robert Moses. And it kind of became famous newly during the Zoom era as a sort of ubiquitous Zoom backdrop, touchstone that is also seems to be up there with War and Peace is a book that everyone owns but nobody has read. I have started reading it and my impetus is the debut next month in New York of David Hare’s play Straight Line Crazy, which is a one man show that stars Ray finds Robert Moses.

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Sam Adams: So I’ve decided this it’s now or never dove in. I’m setting my deadline for October 26, which is opening night, and it turns out this book that everybody thinks is great is actually great. I am enjoying it a lot. I’m now going to be a person who is excitedly telling people that American cities never had a budget before the earliest 20th century. So if you run into me, I apologize in advance. But I’m endorsing it here. I’m telling as many people as I can, partly because I’m excited, but also because I want to look like a complete idiot if I don’t follow through on this. This is my way of nudging myself forward, so feel free to join me and read along, or just ask me how the reading’s going because every little potential humiliation helps.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Wow. I want to hear whether you make that October 26 deadline. That is one giant reading endeavor. I would start that book thinking I hope that I finish it by the end of the year, not a month from now.

Julia Turner: By the end of the lifetime.

Sam Adams: And then if I like if I slow down in the middle of something, I tend to stop. So I’m but, you know, 40 pages the day I am at 12% as of last night, I started two days ago. So pray for mojo.

Julia Turner: Excellent. All right. Well, my endorsement this week is take an art class. Take an art class. I had the best experience this weekend with my husband and my two sons. We signed up for a marbling class at a space in Los Angeles called Maker’s Mass, which is downtown in a development called the Row. And we took a marbling class from a textile artist named Mercedes Rex. And it was so fun. Like, I don’t know if any of you guys have done paper marbling. It’s you know, if you if you ever bought, like, a little notebook on a trip to Italy, it’s that sort of beautiful, swirly patterned technique that is often applied to stationery and papers can sometimes be applied to clothing and textiles.

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Julia Turner: And but we really had the benefit of this artist’s experience, you know, getting all the materials right so that it was very easy to do as novices. And for some of us as, like, you know, very young novices who. Had never been to a grown up art class before. But man, it is just fun to, like, play with color and make something beautiful. If your workdays are filled with black and white dots on screens. So if this speaks to you at all, I would say find and couple our artwork, shop near you and go do it. What a delight. Now that things can be done indoors again with, you know, some some sense of comfort from all the shots and boosters.

Julia Turner: So take an art class. If you’re in L.A., check out Maker’s Mess, which has a lot of regular art classes. And if you’re anywhere, check out Mercedes Rex, who is just an amazing textile artist. And she sells jackets and scarves and you can follow her on Instagram and watch a bunch of cool videos of marbling, which is extremely mesmerizing and beautiful to watch Art do it. It’s great. That’s my endorsement. Well.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Well, I’m happy to say that I can testify. Julia, having seen you last weekend in L.A. and looked at your fresh marbling art when it was still drying from the class, that it was really, really cool stuff like amazingly sophisticated patterns for people who were doing the technique for the first time. So she must be a good teacher.

Julia Turner: Yeah, she really she really is amazing. So, yeah. Check it out.

Speaker 7: Oh. Ow! Ow, ow, ow, ow.

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Julia Turner: All right. Well, Tina, thank you as always.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: It’s a pleasure.

Julia Turner: Sam, thank you for rounding out our trio of guests and sticking with us for plus.

Sam Adams: Thank you so much, Julia.

Julia Turner: You can find links to some of the things we talked about today on our show page. That’s at Slate.com slash Culturefest. And you can email us at Culturefest at Slate.com. Send us suggestions for topics. Argue with us whatever you want.

Julia Turner: Our intro music is by the composer Nicholas Britell. Our production assistant is Nadira Goffe. Our producer is Cameron Drewes. I’m Julia Turner. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you soon. Hello and welcome to the Slate Plus segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Today we have a question from listener Christian. He writes, Do you have any unfinished or not realized or produced pieces of media book, music, film that you wish existed or was finished? Examples include books such as Emma by Charlotte Bronte, The Watsons by Jane Austen Now Touch Curtains Ivanova by Dostoyevsky, The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. Films such as David Fincher, Strangers on a Train remake many others. All right, Dana, I’m going to start with you. What unfinished could have been a masterpiece do you wish were finished?

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Oh, my God. I love this question. Thank you, Christiane, for this question. Honestly, some of my favorite works of art fall into this category in that they are things that were not published at the time of the author’s death. So nobody knows exactly how they were meant to appear, in fact. Well, I’m trying to think that there’s so many great ones from this category. But okay, let’s start with the book of disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, which has been published and is published in many translations in many forms from the great Portuguese poet Pessoa. It’s the book I wrote my dissertation on for the most part. I mean, my dissertation was on the author, but specifically focusing on this book. And it’s one of those books that, like Kafka’s the trial was not finished when the author died and is made up of fragments. And nobody knows how the fragments go together. So every edition of it can combine them in different ways.

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Glad My, Dana Stevens: And that gives that the book this great kind of rolling the dice quality, right. That it’s it’s made up of of nonfiction fragments that are sort of memoir esque about, you know, a man wandering through Lisbon and musing about life in urban spaces. And you can read it in that way. You can really open that book, the book of disquiet to any page and start reading and read something wonderful and then bounce around to a different page. I love that mode of reading. And also the idea that you’re seeing inside a glimpse inside someone’s mind that was has not yet been formed by, you know, a publisher and an editor forming it into something.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: But then then another category, of course, would be unfinished works by people who died before they could complete the work. And there’s one of those that’s really important to me that I write about in my book, Cameraman, which is Scott Fitzgerald’s last novel, The Last Tycoon, which was only about a little bit less than halfway done, according to his notes he had made for it at the time of his death and is a really great half of a novel. It’s really, really worth reading if you’re interested at all in Fitzgerald or in cinema, because it is essentially a roman a clef about Irving Thalberg, the MGM producer. And it’s I think if it had been finished, would have maybe been Fitzgerald’s greatest book. So so that’s those are two of them just off the top of my head.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: But in the listeners letter, he mentioned Charlotte Bronte’s unfinished novel, which I think only there’s only two chapters of it or something, and made me realize that I do still have more Bronte to read. I don’t know if any listeners remember, but my endorsement last week was an audio book of Bronte, surely her second to last published novel during her lifetime. And I was sad when that ended because I thought, now I’ve read, you know, everything that Bronte wrote in her lifetime and. And now. No, I guess I have two chapters to read of a book called Emma to be distinguished from Jane Austen’s Emma. And so that lies in my future. So thanks, Christine.

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Julia Turner: Oh, that’s such a good list. Dana I love that. Sam What, what, what projects or unfinished works? Are you sad you’ll never get to see?

Sam Adams: Well, the first thing I was tempted to answer with is the 1994 movie version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, which got as far as a screenplay reading with a cast that included Robin Williams, Goldie Hawn, Cher, Elijah Wood and Kyle MacLachlan. Well.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Who is set to direct.

Sam Adams: I know, but Penny Marshall.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: So, yes.

Sam Adams: So if anyone has like a bootleg of that reading and wants to, like, slip it into my inbox, please do that. But I also did Into the Woods last time I was on the show. And I don’t want to be the Sondheim guy as well, because we’re talking about documentaries. I’m going to go with a project that actually was realised but is impossible to see, and that is Frederick Wiseman’s documentary, The Garden.

Sam Adams: For those who don’t know, Frederick Wiseman is one of the great American documentary filmmakers, arguably one of the greatest American artists, period. He tends to make these very long, immersive portraits of American institutions, ranging from the public welfare system to the New York Public Library. So Madison Square Garden kind of seemed like a natural subject for him. And he spent two months at MSG in 1998 filming events like the NBA All-Star Game and the Westminster Dog Show. Spent seven years turning that footage into a movie called The Garden, and he got as far as the night before it was to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005, when he had to pull the film because of a disagreement with the arena’s management.

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Sam Adams: It’s sort of surprising because what? Tyson was a lawyer before he was a filmmaker and a lot of experience. And so it’s not entirely clear how he sort of ended up in a insoluble disagreement with the people that he’d gotten releases from. But basically, I guess they sort of had veto power to a limited extent. And here was the scene of them, a closed door meeting where they were discussing sort of labor negotiation strategy, I think basically playing hardball with the unions. They said, you know, you have to take these lines of dialogue out, Weizman said. They take those lines out. The whole movie doesn’t make any sense.

Sam Adams: So he pulled the movie from Sundance, pulled it from several other festivals that it was to be shown in, and it basically sat on a shelf ever since. I do know people who claim to have seen it, and I think it circulates as a very underground bootleg, but it doesn’t seem now. It’s been 17 years. Wiseman has made many movies since then, doesn’t seem inclined to settle whatever disagreement he has. And I don’t think Madison Square Garden is not going to die and leave let the rights lapse. So this thing is probably going to be in limbo forever. Seems a little amazing to me that one of the great American artists has a completed movie just sitting on a hard drive somewhere. But that’s how it is for now.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Wow, I never knew about that one. I’m scribbling notes and hoping I can become one of the cognizant guy who’s seen the Secret Wiseman movie.

Julia Turner: We’ve talked about a few X-Men movies on the show, and that is a tantalizing project that I never knew about. It’s funny to contemplate this question from L.A. and cheek by jowl with Hollywood because. One of the weird things about the creative life out here is like more things don’t get made than do. By leaps and bounds, which is like true, I guess in every creative endeavor that there’s all the ideas people have or the books they don’t write or the books they don’t sell, or the people who never make it or whatever. But somehow the. You know, everything is a possibility, but very, very few things actually happen. It’s just like the base state of of the creative works of Hollywood and film and television.

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Julia Turner: And so. Everyone lives in this swamp of, like, both potentiality and desperation. Like, maybe it’s going to be incredible, but probably it will never exist. And there’s something about that just tenor to life out here that I think is pervasive, even for people who are not actually in the profession.

Julia Turner: But I was intrigued, thinking about this project by, you know, just the absolutely still abject, abject numbers for female directors of film. Like there are still so few women have made far more grounds as directors in television as showrunners in television. But but movies remain just intractable and in incredibly depressing ways that have always been kind of hiding in plain sight.

Julia Turner: I think maybe in 2018 or 2019, 4% of the top 100 grossing films were helmed by women. I think in recent years, maybe that’s ticked up to somewhere in the teens. But especially as the financial pressures on companies out here enflame a bit. You know, they’re making fewer and fewer projects and the numbers are just not budging. And in a world of like, oh, things seem like they’re all right for women, but actually there’s no infrastructure for childcare. And Roe was just repealed. And hmm, like there’s a lot of projects that female directors were attached to that haven’t been made that I find particularly tantalizing at this moment.

Julia Turner: So to that, I will mention is apparently Sofia Coppola was attached to a Little Mermaid project at some point. It’s just like I mean, I’m not Sofia Coppola’s biggest fan. I always find her movies like sumptuous and fascinating to watch. And then sometimes a little bit like. Dopey in terms of what they’re trying to say about the world. Sorry, Sophia.

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Julia Turner: One of the things I advocate for with women directors, having the right to make movies is sometimes to make movies that are beautiful but dopey, which I sometimes think yours are. But I watch them all. But anyway, I like the notion of Little Mermaid is like a sumptuous sensory tone. Poem is so fun. And the the, you know, the kind of part of your world song and the way in which it is like literally a song about material objects, which I think Sofia Coppola is such an interesting poet of our relationship with the sumptuous and the material like, Oh my God, it would kill to see that. How fun and interesting would that be? I was not aware of this project, but I learned a little. I learned about it researching for this segment.

Julia Turner: Kathryn Bigelow also was apparently attached at some point to a Joan of Arc project, which Joan of Arc story is frickin crazy if you have occasion to Wikipedia it, which I recently did when my son, who was very interested in the history of warfare, recently started grilling me about Joan of Arc and forced me to contemplate how little I actually know about Joan of Arc.

Julia Turner: And, you know, Kathryn Bigelow has made a lot of very different films. I think she’s sort of less capable as a filmmaker maybe than Mrs. Coppola. But that’s an interesting idea. And I would I would like to have seen that. So I guess the the movies that women have not made and could have made sometimes about interesting women are interesting. Female characters are the ones on my list today.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Interesting. Especially because one of Sam’s was exactly that. Right. The Penny Marshall into the woods.

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Julia Turner: Yeah.

Sam Adams: Totally right. I would love to see A Little Mermaid where Errol is just like rich and bored. That would be amazing.

Julia Turner: Right? Maybe. Maybe it’s just like she’s above ground. She’s got as many forks as she wants and legs as well. But the prince turns out to be kind of, you know, hunky but lame. And she sort of misses the excitement of her life battling Ursula. Yeah, they.

Glad My, Dana Stevens: Just sit around getting high at the Chateau Marmont together all day.

Julia Turner: Anyway, I would love to see that film. All right. Any others you guys want to want to mention?

Glad My, Dana Stevens: I would just ask listeners to tell us about them. And it wasn’t until contemplating this question that I realized, oh, this is one of my favorite little alleys to go down. In terms of art, I would love to know about unfinished works that people love or, you know, promised works that never came to be.

Julia Turner: Yeah, I think this would be one would be great to get more, more listener submissions. So we’re Culturefest at Slate.com and we would welcome your nominations and notes. Thank you again, Christine, for the question. Thanks, Sam, for sticking around with us to discuss it. Thank you. Slate Plus listeners for supporting our show and for supporting Slate. We’ll see you soon.