S1: This Ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership fees free. Welcome back to the Slate Culture Gabfest Hamlet on Steroids Edition. I’m your host, Isaac Butler, in for Stephen Metcalf. On today’s show, The Northman is the long simmering passion project from star Alexander Skarsgard and writer director Robert Eggers. It’s a quite literally visceral version of the Nordic Revenge saga, as well as a new version of the story of Armless, which famously served as the source material for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. How does this deeply researched and visually astounding bonanza of violence measure up to other adaptations? Will discuss. Then we rarely revisit TV shows here on Culture Gabfest, but the second season of Russian Doll cries out for a revisit. Now that Natasha Lyonne is taking near-total creative control over the project, showrunning frequently directing episodes and starring as the time traveling, aging, counterculture body Nadia, who tries to correct traumas that occurred before she was even born. It’s a deliberately messier season of TV and will examine how it reimagines the Netflix hit. Finally, Be Real is the new social media app that attempts to force users to be more authentic by having them post unfiltered photographs of whatever they happen to be doing whenever the app tells them to. Is this a solution to the myriad problems of performance that plague existing platforms? Slate’s Rebecca Onion will join us to discuss. And I’m joined today by Julia Turner, deputy managing editor of the Los Angeles Times. Julia, are you living authentically out there in Los Angeles?
S2: Absolutely. And always, as we all do here in the most authentic.
S1: Of it’s what it’s famous for. And I’m also joined by Slate’s film critic and the author of Cameraman Dana Stevens Dana. I hear you have a couple of events coming up.
S3: Yes, Isaac. Thanks for asking about that, because a few listeners have written or tweeted at me saying, why don’t you announce your events earlier? Somebody in Boston was saying you didn’t announce it. The show did not drop until the actual day of the event, which I agree, nobody should have to change their day plan in order to rush out and see me. So I wanted to take this chance to say that I will be in the Bay Area next weekend doing cameraman events. I’m doing two different things. I’m introducing a movie at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Saturday, and on Sunday I’m having a little conversation with some film clips from Keaton movies with David Thompson, the eminent film critic who lives in the Bay Area. So there’s more information about that on my Twitter feed. It’s my PIN tweet. If you go there and look for it, you can also look up those events online, of course. But please, if you’re in the Bay Area, come out and see me and we’ll try to chat and hang out after.
S1: And we should also say that if you hear a little extra frisson of joy in each other’s company in this week’s episode, it is because actually Dana and I were in Los Angeles and hung out with Julia Turner IRL, as the kids say at her house.
S3: I know. Speaking of authenticity, man, it was in the flesh dinner champion. I mean, like we used to do in the in the early days.
S1: I know. Amazing.
S2: Amazing. It was magic. And it gave us an excuse to force Isaac to cook us beats. Yeah. So, you know, all the boxes.
S1: For, you know, I made those beats as soon as I came home as well. I was like, I’m on a beats kick now. Deal with it. Family anyway. Shall we do a show?
S2: Let’s go.
S1: The Northman is an ultraviolent and ultra meticulously researched take on the story of amnesty, an ancient tale of revenge that, among other things, serves as the basis for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In it, Alexander Scars Guards aimlessly seeks to avenge the murder of his father, King Arvin Dill, played by Ethan Hawke. The problem the murderers aim with Uncle Phil near played by Claus Bang, and Filner has married Hamlet’s mother, Gudrun, played by Nicole Kidman and with disguises himself as a slave gets sold to fuel near. And then gradually, with the help of a Russian witch named Olga, played by Anya TAYLOR-JOY and the all father, Odin begins to wreak his horrific revenge. In this clip, we’ll hear the confrontation between Filner and Arvin Dill right before the former kills the latter. Let’s take a listen.
S4: You behold your brother’s case in amazement. I knew where you would. Pity you never pay in a bastard size he before. Now, Bill, how swiftly your process.
S2: Swings is so on.
S1: Strike. Strike. But know that bearing a stolen grain makes no effort to kick. Soaked in my blood will soon.
S4: The sliding of your arm like a serpent.
S5: Your Kindle will not last.
S4: Misty’s parents. Flaming vengeance. Gorgeous on your desk. Strike.
S1: Strike. Dana, you wrote a very funny review of this film for Slate in which it seems like while you admire a lot about the movie, it doesn’t quite cohere. Is that accurate? Is that kind of how you felt about it?
S3: Yeah. I mean, I would have a hard time saying that this movie is not artfully done. And I think if you could groove somewhat on that clip, that is very much the flavor of the movie, even though one of the two characters, the Ethan Hawke character, as you pointed out, disappears immediately after that clip. It has that sort of proto Shakespearean rhythm to the dialogue without actually being exactly good dialogue. It has really cool music that you can hear in that clip. It’s extremely violent, as you can hear in that clip of one brother about to be had another. And it is pretty much what it purports to be in the trailer and in publicity material surrounding the run up of the movie, which is a very gory retelling of the Hamlet myth that is maybe low on analysis or exploration of that myth, but is very long on historical research about Vikings and very long on Alexander Skarsgard. Shirtless, Ali slaughtering.
S1: Yes, we should say, you know, if you haven’t read it and you’re listening to this, The New Yorker did a recent profile of Robert Eggers in which they talk about the Daniel Day-Lewis extent of his historical research for his movies, of, you know, how he sourced period props. He designed things after the historical research. He went very, very deep into it. Does that pay off? Does that make the movie worth seeing? Julia.
S3: I’m glad I.
S2: Saw this movie for three reasons. One, it is really artfully made. All of that research pays off in a really thoroughly rendered world that I haven’t spent a lot of time in, cinematically or otherwise lately. And I enjoyed the beautiful Icelandic huts and the barbaric berserker pillaging. I mean, I can’t say I enjoyed the pillaging, but I enjoyed the authenticity of the pillaging, I guess. So reason one. Eggers was a costume and production designer before he became a director, and I love to show up for costume and production design, and they do not disappoint. We should say that in addition to shirtless Ali slaughtering people, Alexander Skarsgard slaughters people in kind of like, you know, a burlap tunic, and then he gets upgraded into kind of like a finer woven. He also slaughters people in that he’s agnostic, shirts and skins, agnostic.
S3: And naked in the climactic.
S2: There’s also some naked slaughtering. Yeah, there’s slaughtering galore. So reason one really interesting world, really beautiful to look at. Also subset of that is Eggers has made these very small films and partnered with Alexander Skarsgard, who’s wanted to tell this epic for years and is working with a much bigger budget than the kind of director he is usually gets. And that’s interesting. Like, it’s just a strange. Experience to see such a weird head case of a movie, have the budget to have lava flows and beautiful trails of horses going across. Stunning, massive Icelandic shot on location vistas. So the weirdness budget combo is unusual and also makes it worth watching. So that’s point one. Point two is Alexander Skarsgard, who is as soulful a monk who ever looked on Hollywood screens. Imagine this movie with I mean, people compared it to CONAN the Barbarian. You know, Schwarzenegger with, I don’t know, Chris Evans, no knock on Chris Evans, who’s a fine actor. But just so much depends on the wounded eyes of Alexander Skarsgard as he slaughters and his kind of restrained emotion and the damage that he is portraying to himself as a child like you believe the vengeance. And getting male Hollywood actors to enact vengeance isn’t the most unusual thing for a movie to do. But I was with him, man, and I had a moment early on where I’m like, Man, I usually hate Hamlet because I’m like, Just make up your frickin mind. Then this guy, this really isn’t very much like the Hamlet. It has the plot points of the Hamlet narrative, but its concerns are very much not. Those of Hamlet, at least as I understand them. I be curious as I can Dana if you agree, but it’s a lot less ordinary and a lot more straightforward in ways that make it maybe less annoying, but also maybe less interesting. And then the third reason is that this movie, which as you heard, is so concerned with sort of masculinity and burly revenge and, you know, it’s all about the perpetuating the line of the king, which like a snoozer role, it’s like the most hyped up addition to the Darwinian imperative of like, Oh, my blood is in your blood. You know, they all have these very weird accents also. I mean, we should just do this whole show and like that pixies play dobro. But, you know, like, what are they that I don’t know what accent it is. It’s like weird movie accent. It’s not from a location. It seems like this movie is going to interestingly subvert this male narrative of dudes so concerned with and insecure about their lineage that they just fuck up everything around them for no goddamn reason. And the movie seems like really interestingly critical of that historical type of manhood for a while. And there are some fabulous scenes where the object of analyst rescue, primarily Nicole Kidman, really surprises him when he finally is able to confront her. And that is amazing. And it made me feel like possibly this movie was going to make me fall in love with it by attending to this machismo, only to dismantle it. And then in the final third, it just yeah, totally gives it up. Like, it’s just like, nope. Machismo all the way. Naked murder pit by the gates of hell. Like, they just go to a lava flow to have a fight. It’s it is abandoning reason for cinematic this in a way that just completely lost me so I was with it for like a hundred and however many minutes. And then the final third, I was like, You blew it. I thought you were lovingly going to the history of Macho in order to dismantle it, and instead you just love it. You’re just like burly men. Yes. Lineage protected. Whew.
S1: Yeah. I mean, there’s a way in which I think the film is portraying this world in a way that is very clearly not endorsing it. It’s portraying its incredible violence, especially violence against women. And it’s savagery really with some real complexity. And then it I agree with you that it completely abandons all of that in the final third of the movie, the thing that I respected about the movie the most, and it’s the thing that is really interesting about Hamlet as well. The thing that it’s doing that Hamlet does is that it asks you, it demands you as the audience buy into this very alien worldview. And in Hamlet, it’s his very alien kind of confrontation between, you know, what’s going to become the Enlightenment and reason and Christianity. Freud kind of ruined this for us, but if you just read the reasons why Hamlet doesn’t actually go and kill his uncle, they make a lot of sense within the world of the play, and it really demands that you understand that Hamlet is afraid of going to hell. He’s afraid the ghost is a demon. He’s afraid if he kills the uncle at the wrong moment, the uncle will go to heaven. Those are real fears and not procrastination. Similarly, Amla has been given a series of prophecies that he has to fulfill before he can wreak his horrible justice. And so he also has a bunch of chances to just end the story of this movie very quickly. And he keeps putting it off because he has to have the right sword. He has to do the right other things. He has to bring him to the gates of hell for the confrontation and all that stuff so that I really admired about it. But I do think that there’s a way in which and I thought this about the lighthouse, too, that Eggers gets so lost in the historical research and so lost in the kind of experience of the world that he stops sort of figuring out what the story he’s telling is or what it’s going to mean in some way. And so I’m left at the end of both of those movies with kind of like I feel like I just watched a long, beautiful, nihilistic exercise and very little of it stays with me beyond the design or in this case, the score. I don’t know. Am I being unfair, Dana?
S3: I mean, I felt that way much more about the lighthouse than about this movie, although I think that could be said in a way about all three of Eggers movies so far The Witch, The Lighthouse, and now the Northman, always the Plus Now, and that’s his title format. He likes to go hard, you know, with his production design and also with his subject matter. And he has a little bit he’s still a young man, right? He’s 38 years old. He’s been making movies since his mid-thirties. And his movies do have a little bit of like an edge lord metalhead quality, you know, that that can be offputting. I think that he’s reaching for something that is more interesting than that. And you see it in this movie for. In the dream sequences. I think the fantasy sequences that show things like this ancestor tree that let’s see, at one point in his childhood, he has this kind of vision of the lineage of kings of Norway. And the way that vision is evoked is really original and beautiful and seems to be actually tying in this kind of fantasy about the historical worlds of the past that we can no longer completely inhabit with the actual subject matter of the story. But in many other scenes, that doesn’t seem to be happening. And I have to say that while I was always impressed by the artistry of this movie, and I’m not even sure I agree with you both that the ending was a pure, gung ho affirmation of masculinity. I think it’s it’s a pretty bleak vision of the dead end that that kind of battle can lead to. I think, I guess one big question that I had for you this whole time, and I’ve seen this in a few different critical reactions, and Julia said just the opposite. So I’m very interested, especially as someone who just wrote a book on acting and method acting and different acting styles. What you think of Alexander Skarsgard performance, because I’ve seen a few different people say, here’s a very specific argument I heard one critic make that they couldn’t figure out why this movie wasn’t coming to life for them when it was so beautifully done. And then Nicole Kidman’s big scene came, which we won’t spoil, but it kind of pushes things into a more campy realm, and it’s a whole different thing. And, you know, there’s this frisson of the fact that these two, Alexander Skarsgard and Nicole Kidman, have played husband and wife in an abusive relationship before in Big Little Lies, and now they’re mother and son in a kind of abusive relationship. Anyway, this person, this critic, said, and in that moment, the movie snapped to life. And I realized that what the movie needed the whole time was a star, a movie star, and that Alexander Skarsgard is as talented as he is and as much work as he put into getting buff. And the historical research for this role just doesn’t have that frisson or charisma of a movie star. And I wondered if, as somebody who analyzes acting a lot, you felt that in his performance.
S1: That’s interesting. I agree with Julia that there is a soulfulness that he brings to the role and also a lung headedness. There is something about Skarsgard on film and everything I’ve seen where he just radiates not being particularly bright. I don’t think that has anything to do with him as a human being, do you know what I mean? He seems like a perfectly smart, great guy. It’s just that on camera, part of his screen presence is a certain amount of lung headedness. I don’t know. I mean, they made the choice to do this aimless legend and jettison all of the intelligence of the character. So this aimless, unlike the original, does not pretend to be mad. And he doesn’t do all the stuff that Hamlet does in Hamlet. Instead he comes back and then he just starts torturing and murdering people. And I think that’s just not that interesting a thing to do with a character. I think that Skarsgard has a lot of restraint as an actor, which I admire, but it’s very weird to hang a blockbuster on a restrained performance. You know, the closest analogue to this movie that I kept going back to is Gladiator, which is a ridiculous movie, but also a very fun movie to watch. That movie is filled with huge, campy blockbuster he performances and I think Skarsgard going for something different here. And it’s not a bad performance so much as it is a signal of how there’s a bunch of different competing impulses in this movie, which are part of what makes it interesting. But also I think ultimately what make it unsuccessful.
S2: That’s such an interesting analysis. I don’t think his succession character seems dumb. I think his succession character is good at pretending to seem dumb. But we’ll see what happens next season. But Dana, you asked the question and it’s so interesting to even occur to me to think of him as the weakness in the movie, because I feel like he was the only reason I cared. What did you make of the performance?
S3: I mean, I didn’t emotionally connect with the movie, and I’m trying to figure out why. And when I heard this person confidently assert, oh, well, it’s because Nicole Kidman is a movie star and Alexander Skarsgard is not. It seemed like it is true that the movie takes on a different tone when her character comes into focus. But I think that that may be because of the way she’s playing the character rather than her status as a movie star. In other words, she’s playing in a more camp register than anyone else. So naturally the movie is going to crackle in a different way. Whereas, as you say, Skarsgard is very soulful, playing it very straight, and yet playing it like someone who has one single motivation. He’s not a Hamlet, right? He’s not a guy who’s complexly debating metaphysics. Is he considered slaughtering his uncle? He just wants to go off his uncle’s hot blood as quickly as possible. And that is maybe just not interesting enough of a motivation for a whole movie. I wouldn’t pin it on Skarsgard Really? I just wanted to hear Isaac’s thoughts on that.
S2: Yeah. I mean, the movie crackles to life when Nicole comes in because it makes it seem like it’s about to be a much smarter movie. And then it recedes. The smartness recedes.
S1: Yes. Agreed. All right. Well, the film is the Northman written and directed by Robert Eggers. If you see it, let us know what you think. Moving on now, we’ve come to the part of the show where we do the business. Dana What have you got for us?
S3: Isaac Today we are answering a listener question in our Slate Plus segment, and it’s a really funny one. So our only business is to tell you all that in our slate. A segment today. We are talking about consuming culture while stoned and or I guess drunk could be included as well. But I think this writer was specifically writing it about watching a movie while high and whether appreciating a work of art that is experienced in that state is an act of disrespect to the work of art. And we thought that we would branch that out into yeah, just in general our sort of history of and thoughts about consuming culture in an altered state. So I love that topic. I’m really curious to talk to you guys about it. If you are a Slate Plus subscriber, you can hear that at the end of this show. If you’re not, you can go to Slate.com, slash culture plus and subscribe today. And when you subscribe, you get ad free podcasts, you get bonus segments like the one I just described. And of course, you get all of the slate culture content you can consume without ever hitting a paywall. Once again, go to Slate.com, slash culture plus and please support our show. It’s really important to us and to all of our great colleagues at Slate. All right, Isaac, what’s next?
S1: Russian doll recently returned for a second season on Netflix. The show, which stars and is now run by Natasha Lyonne, follows Nadia Volkov, an aging avatar of everything we associate with the real New York of the past, fast talking, chain smoking, drug taken, ranting about how things used to be better in the old days. In season one, Nadia wound up in a Groundhog Day like time loop on her 36th birthday. In season two, Nadia, now nearing 40, discovers a particular downtown sex train that can take her back into her mother and grandmother’s lives. Quantum Leap Style. In this clip, Nadia and fellow time traveler Alan debate the ethics of meddling in the past. Let’s take a listen.
S4: I like spending time there. It’s nice to not have to worry what people think when it’s seemingly Alan.
S6: The only reason to go into the past is to change. All right. I mean, haven’t you ever seen a movie?
S4: Yes. Nadia and I know that you won’t believe me when I say this, but I have seen a movie, and literally every movie about time travel says don’t change things. That’s why this is. This is so great. This is Nadia. Nadia, don’t. Don’t mess us up.
S6: Don’t worry. I am done with the eighties. It turns out it’s not all Cabbage Patch Kids and cocaine.
S1: All right, Julia. Russian doll had a very satisfying and to me, totally self-contained first season. It’s been off the air for a few years. Was it worth coming back to it and opening the story back up?
S2: Oh, I really wanted to be the person who sang the extolling praises of this show because I loved the first season so much. But I’m afraid I must class myself among the camp of critics who say, Wow, this got a little sprawling and unwieldy in season two and the performances are still great and Natasha Lyonne is still wonderful and its concerns are ambitious and interesting and I admire it. But like the beauty of the first season was that it was a gimmick show that had something to say. The problem with the plot gimmick, the kind of time hop, Groundhog Day, any kind of narrative that relies on a brain twisting gimmick like that is that it can get caught up in its own feet and be so excited about its own gimmick that it doesn’t actually have anything to say about the world. And the miracle of the first season of Russian Doll was that it used this trope to say something that felt really profound and personal about growth and generosity and human connection and the alienation of society. Like it was one of those miraculous cultural products that pulled off something very, very difficult. And I think in season two, the mechanism is just a lot less tidy, like they can take trains into the past, but sometimes the trains go different places and sometimes they go to different parts of the past. And then how can you get back? And if you can get back whenever you want, can you just not go there? And they address some of this over time, but like it’s just not as tidy as that sort of opening episode in the first season where you get you get the problem and you get the construct of the world. And I missed it. It felt a little sprawling to me.
S1: Yeah, in the first season, the mechanics are simple. Every time she dies, she goes back to her the night of her 36th birthday. And the mechanics in this one are very complicated and take a lot of time to kind of figure out. Dana, what did you make of this?
S3: I mean, I think Julia kind of spoke my mind just now, which makes me very sad to maybe I don’t know, maybe even sadder. I’m not sure. Julie, I can’t remember when we talked about it now because it was so long ago, but I was passionate about the first season of Russian Doll, and I still think it’s one of the best just freestanding seasons of television of the past, at least five years or so of shows that we’ve talked about. And yeah, like usually I think what I loved the most about it was its shapely ness, the fact that it was so tightly structured and it didn’t have what I so often feel to be that TV sprawl of sort of like it gets its legs after episode 12 or whatever, you know, it was a show that knew where it wanted to go and it went there and had a beginning, middle and end. I agree, Isaac, with the ending, specifically the actual montage in music, you know, just the very last scene was something that haunted me afterwards for so long. I thought it was just such a beautiful balance of sort of tying up all the threads without making it into a cheesy, happy ending, that it had a kind of a melancholy and soulfulness, and that it completed its story. It completed the arc of both of those characters, the Charlie Barnett character, Alan and Natasha, Leon’s character, Nadia, so beautifully that when I heard there was a second season, I thought, okay, bravo Natasha. And yes, I’ll definitely watch it, but where else is there left to go? I do think, though, I have to say in defense of the second season, that it was biting off more and it was being made by someone who had never run a show before. I mean, I’m not saying that we graded on a curve because it’s somebody who’s new to the practice of running a show. But Natasha early on took on a lot here. If you read a little bit about her own background and there was a wonderful profile of her in The New Yorker recently that got into all this. She went through a lot of the things that the character in this show does and had parents that were dysfunctional in similar ways. And so she’s going to these really dark, autobiographical places in the story that she’s trying to tell and to tie all that up in what I think is just a seven episode season. It’s actually, I believe, an episode shorter than the first season, but it feels longer and more sprawling. It’s just it’s a little bit too much to manage. I mean, there’s family Holocaust history in there and there’s various periods to balance and there’s the whole character of Alan, right? I mean, who in the first season it was almost an equal balance between how much we saw of Nadia as time loop and of his time loop and how they both sort of use their friendship to resolve this time loop together. And here he has a really complex and difficult time travel story in which he is actually it goes into his grandmother’s body for reasons that we never fully understand. So he’s not only experiencing life in a different time frame, but as a woman instead of a man for the first time, and he starts to fall in love with a man. And it’s this really psychologically complex arc that he has to complete, and it’s given maybe one third of the time of her arc. So there were just structural problems to me where it sort of seemed like it reminds me a little bit of Charlie Kaufman and how he worked at his best when he was with Spike Jones. You know, I think he always has, in my opinion, and he needs that shaping on his imagination. I felt like maybe Natasha needed some of that shaping, but at the same time, she’s just she’s such a great force in the culture that I don’t want to be one of the voices saying, I want less Natasha, Leon’s brain. I want much more of Natasha Leon’s. But I don’t think the season is quite there yet. Another thing to say in its defence, it is apparently the envisioned second season of Russian doll. So it’s possible, as one always says, about middle chapters of a trilogy, that this ends on the note it does, which is the opposite of that kind of sublime satisfaction. I mean, the ending of this is really quite bleak. I thought that maybe the third season will jump in and rescue some of that.
S1: But are you interested in watching the third season to find out?
S3: Oh, yeah. I mean, I watched this season for all of my negative comments about it. I watched it in basically two Big Gulps, and I do appreciate that it’s still short. It may feel a little bit longer and more sprawling, but I really appreciate that the show gets it done in just seven half hour episodes. I mean, even the difference between an hour long episode of TV and a half hour, a half hour episode is just so much easier to imbibe quickly. And I really appreciate that more European British model of here. Here’s, you know, six quick episodes of something and you’re done.
S1: What about you, Julie? Are you going to return to see what the rest of the story is or are you sort of over it?
S2: I don’t know. I’m a little bit I was not pulled in. I’m not confident. I’m going to watch this until a year from now and then maybe I’ll go back to it. I mean, one of the things that is difficult about it is this show is such a great showcase for Natasha Lyonne and she is such an amazing figure who has had a fascinating career, is a wonderful actress, has done so many different things, has suffered so much personal trauma, has been through her own difficulties, has been able to work through addiction and past addiction like and she’s been very open about this. And that’s part of what made the honesty and the kind of transcendent human message of the first season so powerful was this feeling of rooting for this incredible artist who, against all the odds in middle age and what is lucky to be middle age, given the trajectory of her life to make something beautiful that spoke to both people who’d been on similar journeys to hers and people whose journeys have been totally different. So you root for her. And the thing I found discomforting about this season is she’s you know, she’s has more creative control, she’s more in charge, she’s more the author of it. And yet the pitches seem more wobbly, like it’s just really hard to, like, direct and star in a story that’s reckoning with your whole complicated family history. Plus, balance the story for the other two hander. And it just it doesn’t quite pull it off with the same panache. And I just feel bummed because I’m rooting for her so much and I enjoy her so much. And I even felt that the way that her character reads on the screen this season feels a little more mannered, like the swagger and the patter and the New York jokes.
S1: The wisecracking in response to literally everything that happens on camera.
S2: Yeah, she felt a little thinner, like, weirdly, this season in which this fascinating and valuable and wonderful creator is even more the author of this character based on, in some ways, her own story somehow felt less real, less three dimensional, less personal, like she felt more like this kind of cardboard New York cut out. And so I fear the show may have lost me against my against my desire. Did you guys have that response?
S1: I definitely thought not to pull the old TV thing, but I do think it does get better after the first two episodes. When I watched the first two episodes, I was like, Oh shit, I’m going to be the guy who comes in on this segment and slams the show because I just didn’t think it was working. And then one of the things that happens is that Allen shows up and Charlie Barnett is just a wonderful, an incredibly charming and endearing screen presence, and it finds more excuses for her to be in scenes with him and with Greta Leigh, who plays Nadia’s best friend. And I also feel like it’s sort of starting to get a handle on itself a little bit more. I agree that it is uneven and untidy and undisciplined in a way the first season wasn’t. I think that part of that is because it’s more ambitious and part of that is because it’s missing the countervailing force of Leslie Headland, who’s a writer. She’s been a writer for a long time. And I think there’s a lot of structural know how she clearly brought to the table. But I will say that when the show works, I was super into it. The episode where Nadia is in Nazi occupied Budapest in her grandmother’s body, finding her grandmother’s best friend who is still a character in her present day life and trying to find the things that were robbed from her family. I found very moving. And when she’s in the present day hanging out with this kind of weird, vampiric Hungarian artist guy, I thought it was very funny in a way that most of the second season was not to me. So I do think that there’s glimpses of what the show can be, and there were enough of them that I’m least intrigued to watch a couple episodes of the third season, but I don’t know if I’m all in with it, but I’m also curious about, you know, the second season is so overtly about trauma and intergenerational trauma and the roots of trauma. And there’s. Recently been, you know, a lot of discourse around why is that the go to plot all the time you know, parole. SIEGEL had a great piece about that, about the trauma plot a couple of months ago. And I’m just wondering how you felt about that. Maybe, Dana, were you like, I’ve another trauma plot.
S3: I guess, to meet this didn’t ring that way, in part because, I mean, this is in some ways less about psychological trauma than the first season was because we can, I guess, metaphysically spoil it now. But the first season was sort of about fixing your own repetition, compulsions and character flaws and fixing your own stuff so that you can rejoin the world. Right. I mean, if you had to kind of boil it down to one message at the end, that’s what the two leads had to do. And what kind of needs to be done in this one is is a little bit different, I guess. I don’t want to spoil exactly what it is, but it has more to do, as you say, with historical trauma. Right. It involves some things that are not just going deep into your childhood or into your own brain, but actually into the past and changing material history in some ways.
S1: Or trying to.
S3: Anyway. Right. And whether that can work or not. And yeah, there’s also personal stuff that she has to fix, but I don’t think, in fact, if anything, this show could have used a little bit more of the interior of the Noddy character, because as the two of you say, I mean, sometimes she gets a little bit reduced to her Columbo style ticks and Columbo is explicitly referenced, in fact, in that Hungary episode. But there are only a few scenes where where Natasha Lyonne really gets to just non wisecracking. Leigh straightforwardly respond to something horrible that’s happening to her or to someone in the story and they come pretty late in the story. So this did not seem like a show that was trading on Let’s Watch Someone Go Through Pain. It was more about answering questions about the resolve ability of different issues from the past.
S1: The show is Russian Doll Season two. It is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch it and let us know what you think. Moving on. Be real. It’s something we all struggle with doing online, but now there is an app for that. Be Real is a photo sharing app that asks users to post an unfiltered photo of whatever they’re doing at the moment. That app messages you, and it never messages you at the same time of day twice. The app is proving a real fascination for a lot of people and has posted steady, respectable growth numbers, avoiding the boom bust cycle that has greeted many flash in the pan social media platforms. So are we all that hungry for authenticity? And what’s it like using the service to help us figure that all out? We’re joined by Slate’s senior editor, Rebecca Onion. Rebecca, welcome to the show.
S7: Thanks so much for having me and being real with you.
S1: So before we get into it, Julia, I hear that you are something of a be real evangelist. What’s your experience been like on it?
S2: Uh, evangelist.
S2: A strong word. I would say experimenter. I saw this on Instagram. I still use Instagram. Is it just too lame to share that? But Instagram is increasingly turning itself into tik-tok in a way that makes it much less interesting to me. Suddenly, my feed is full of like, weird videos of brides getting dressed and people with makeup hacks and, like, doing strange things to tuck their hair behind their ears. And it’s like, I didn’t. What did I look like? I follow, like, my friends and their kids and some, like, weird art accounts. Like, I haven’t, like, looked at a bridal thing in a hundred years. So I truly do not understand what is being served to me on Instagram in the midst of this devolving social scape. The journalist and author general Melanie posted and podcaster actually. She does a podcast with a conference called Everything’s Fine, posted that she and her friends had been using Be Real, and she loved it. And it was like the first social app she’d loved in years because it was all about not faking it. So I was influenced on Instagram by influencer General Mulaney and texted my high school friend group, which I’m lucky enough to be able to say includes Rebecca Onion and was like, Hey guys, will you try a weird new social thing with me? Because it seemed clear that it’s the kind of social thing you want to try with people you actually know and care about. It’s not the kind that is designed for you to broadcast your life to strangers. It’s the kind that’s about kind of connecting with the people you actually already know and love. And four of five of us signed on. The one who is wisest and most skeptical about social media was like, Fuck, now I. Why would I do another one? We’ve done all of these. They all suck. What’s wrong with you? But the rest of us jumped off the cliff happily. And it’s really interesting. It’s really different than other social media experiences. It kind of pop quizzes you in the middle of your day, forces you to take a picture of whatever it is you’re doing at the moment, takes a picture of what you’re looking at and what you look like at that moment, and you have only 2 minutes to do it. And then you realize you kind of just putter around your house looking like a lunatic all the time, is the upshot, but that your friends are basically doing the same thing.
S1: For most of us, you know, isn’t the front facing photo going to be our computer screen and the back facing photo going to be us making a weird face with bad hair? I mean, no. Rebecca, you’re shaking your head. Tell me, what’s the experience like?
S7: No, I’m not in my head. BeReal has made me realize how incredibly boring and afraid of my own face I am all at the same time. I mean, it makes you be a little bit creative because it does grab you and it always seems to grab me in my office. Or maybe sometimes like in the time of the night where I’m like watching TV because like I’m 44 and I have a child and a job. Like, I literally watch TV every night from 830 to 930 and then go to sleep. And so I don’t know, like I’m try to find ways to make that look cool to my three friends can be real and it actually sort of makes you be a little bit more creative in some way because you’re have a constraint, which is always good for creativity, except sometimes I just am like, Oh, fuck this, I don’t know what to do. And you know, I just kind of take another picture of how to arrange on the TV and be looking like drowsy. And I’m always wearing the same headphones. I realize how often I wear my headphones, which is like all the time.
S1: See, that’s fascinating because it’s called Be Real and you’re already trying to figure out how do I make this look more constructed in the 120 seconds? I have to compose this photo. Dana Was that your experience too?
S3: I mean, my experience of it is it keeps changing. I guess I’ve been doing it now for about two weeks, maybe between ten days and two weeks since Julia had this idea for a segment, and at first it was just completely got to do this thing. Gabfest segment. Julio wants to do it. Click. I also did not want to sign up for a new social media app, nor do I think that Be Real is particularly well designed or well explained. It is a great idea, however, and I guess, first of all, to examine my reaction to it, I would go back to the person who convinced me to be on Instagram back, I don’t know. A few years ago I was already a big Twitter user and I really didn’t want to adapt Instagram. And I remember my response to her being OMG, but I don’t want to post selfies all the time. I don’t like. Social media. That’s all about how you look. And she was saying open Instagram at its best is not about how you look. It’s about what you’re looking at, which is a great way to think of Instagram. And that is the Instagram I prefer. You know, not that I mind somebody if they look great in some cool new outfit posting a selfie, but I know what my friends look like. I want to see what they see. Right. And the interesting thing about this app is that it captures both at once without really any curation of either one. And so that you really do see what your friends see and I guess what they look like. But I never even think about that. Like, of course the pictures are going to be unflattering because they’re taken with a back facing camera with no preparation wherever you happen to be. Right. So I don’t even really glance at my friends pictures. I know what they look like and I want to see what they see. And even though what you see at that moment might seem boring to you, it gives your friends a glimpse that they might not otherwise have. And so after now, about 12 days of using it, I’m kind of into BeReal like, for example, Rebecca, you say that you’re always in front of the TV, but you have more green space in your pictures that you’ve been posting than anyone else. I see. And I guess that’s because you live in Athens, right? I mean, you live in a greener place. And so I see a little bit of I don’t know if it’s your yard or the fields near your house, but you’re like walking in a beautiful green space. And that’s a great little glimpse into your life. And the other day I was in what seemed to me a very visually boring place. But then I realized and I said this in my caption and be real, that it is actually a real snapshot of my life at this moment in time, which is that I was at the Staples Outlet near my house, which has a UPS, you know, sending whatever they call it, the little UPS center in it. And I been going there all the time because of my book, like since January 25th, the day my book came out, I probably several times a week, you know, wheeled dollies of books to that ups and packed them up and sent them express to various people and fielded all kinds of inquiries and things about my book at the UPS. And so there’s this little spot behind there, big rolls of acrylic bubble wrap that I just crouch and do my book signing or whatever. And I’ve done that dozens of times in the past three months. Right. So having a little record of that, it may look to you like, Oh, she’s just crouched in the aisle at a staples. But looking back on that for me will be interesting because I’ll remember when that Staples played such a big role in my daily life. So I guess I like that about BeReal. I like the mundanity of it and that it it affirms mundanity in a way. I don’t like that you must do this in 2 minutes. Thing popping up, the notification popping up during your day. Not because I want to curate my photo and make it all cute and wonderful, but just I have enough moments during the day when somebody’s saying Stop what you’re doing and do this other thing. And I wish that it was couched a little bit more like, you know, that you have 2 minutes to do it, but it doesn’t have to be at the same time as the other people or something. I don’t think that’s super well explained and I don’t enjoy that feeling. Yeah, to.
S2: Be clear, you can post late so you’re supposed to do it within the 2 minutes. But if for example, you don’t see the notification till the end of your meeting or your therapy session or you’re hanging with your kids, you can just do it late. And I actually find its nerdiness sort of pleasing, like because it’s just so random. It’s like playing a game. Like sometimes I’ve been in like, Oh, this is an interesting space. Maybe I’ll get my notification and I can show this part of my life. And then it’s like, nope, just back at the computer that like just yesterday I had been like having an interesting conversation in a beautiful outdoor location. And then I got back to my office and it was like being a different everybody seemed so much at this office, but you kind of quickly pick up, you can post late, it just labels it that it’s late so you can kind of like tell if people are being a little too carried it. Whenever I get the late notification, my own personal ethos with the app is I just post as soon as I get it, as soon as I see it, and I’m like free to do it. And they don’t curated at all. It’s literally just like, where was I when I saw it? And I was free to do it, like whatever that is, so that it’s like truly anesthetized. And I will say I edited a piece for Slate by Simon Doonan. The wonderful Simon Doonan, sometime guest on this show called In Defense of the Selfie, I don’t know, maybe five, six, seven years ago in which he it felt like a personal attack. He was like all these stupid Instagram accounts of like your artful sidewalk cracks and your gorgeous sunsets and like the palm tree that’s canted just so like people. Like people, they want to see what people are doing. You know, you’re not being an egotistical duck face idiot by posting selfies. You are giving people what they want, which is human connection with other people. And I like people. They want to see what people are doing. Stop. You are not being an egotistical duck face idiot by posting selfies. You are giving people what they want, which is human connection with other people. And I really began to see my own doofy Instagram posting tendencies in a different light after editing that piece. But I still don’t post selfies because that’s just not my jam, so I kind of like that. This app is like forcing me to reveal myself to a select group of people. It’s also it very much matters who you carry. The there aren’t that many people on the app yet. When I went on it, it suggested to me a couple colleagues, past and present who I admire, respect, love dearly but don’t want to have this relationship with. And I was like, Hell no, I’m not going to do that. And I was speaking to one of them afterwards about it, and I was like, Oh, I saw you on there. But I was like, I’m not adding her. And she was like. If you had added me, I would not have accepted. That’s not what this app is for.
S7: This is for people that you are in, like iMessage groups with like group text kind of people.
S2: Right. It’s kind of like taking the group chat. It’s like a game for your group chat, basically like a visual game for your group chat. And it’s pretty fun, although I think I don’t think we will be doing this for ten years. Like, I feel like I’m going to have a lot of fun doing this for like, I don’t know, two or three more months maybe. And then, like, it’ll kind of peter out.
S1: Well, and also, if you add too many people, you know, there’s the risk that you try to be competitively real. You know, it’s like the competitiveness of Instagram comes to be real. And you’re like, actually, I have to like knock one of my teeth out. So I look even worse than this selfie or something.
S3: I must pick my nose and my self esteem even more unopposed.
S7: Take a picture of dirty dishes or whatever, just.
S1: The shittiest parts of your day. It’s like I’ve built line them all up so I can photograph them, be realer. You know, one thing that I think is, is curious about this whole thing as well is that at some point it’s going to have to make money, right? What is there to monetize about this experience, Rebecca? Do have any thoughts about that?
S7: Oh, my God. That never even occurred to me. But of course, of course, it’ll have to make money like Julia. I anticipate only using it for a couple more months. And I also do not anticipate like seeking out growth on it or like trying to become a person who has like a lot of BeReal followers be real or is, I don’t know, a.
S1: Be real fluency.
S7: Yeah, I don’t think be real flow answers will exist. Like, I don’t know, maybe it’s very science fiction to sort of imagine that they might like who could be like the best at this. But I just don’t see I don’t see how. What’s your motivation scheme for it, Isaac? Do you think it’s possible?
S1: I don’t have one. I’m really you know, I agree with you. It seems like a fun toy for group chat and almost sort of like a self-help intervention for the extremely online. You know, you sort of want to give it to the main character from Ingrid goes west and be like, try this. But I don’t sort of understand and maybe this is because of my own hopelessness about human nature in the social media era. I sort of don’t understand how it’s going to survive and make money and grow and do all the things that these platforms normally have to do.
S2: It’s like has the opposite of a growth imperative. I mean, that conversation between me and my colleague about it is like, that’s the end of it right there. It’s like, I know you, I like you, I respect you, I enjoy your company. I definitely don’t fucking want you to see my BeReal This thing is toast. It’s toast. I mean, the other thing is like, what’s going to go in? It adds, you know, like, what kind of ad goes in here? And then as soon as it.
S1: Removers, it’ll be like all artifice removal ads, right? Makeup remover.
S2: I will say it has a couple of tech innovations that I think are good. I do like the real time nudge, the sort of like, what are you doing at the moment? It feels like a game. It feels it still feels really fun to me. They also have something called the real Moji, which is one way to respond to your friends. Pictures of the day is instead of using a emoji, you can take a picture of your face making a face. And that’s the emoji. It’s like a way to make a little like single use photo emoji of yourself, like liking or being horrified by something. And those two technological and for me, innovations, I feel like the real emoji might transcend, be real.
S3: You know, an interface improvement that it could make, I think, is if you could look at your friends histories, you can only as far as I can tell from my usage of it, look at your own old photos and your friends all disappear after they post each one. So you can’t go look through the ones from previous days. And given that this app, as we were saying, operates by this time imperative where it’s kind of barking at you to take a picture all the time. I mean, you just I can’t schedule my day around looking at people’s pictures, and the fact that they disappear makes me sad. I had a comment on one of yours, Rebecca. The very first one I saw you posed. I had a dumb, but I thought funny comment on it that I couldn’t post because it then disappeared from my timeline.
S1: Oh, so I have one final question, which is do you feel like using Be Real has in any way altered the way you think about your behavior on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or whatever? Because it seems to me that part of the weirdness of the age we live in is that we know that we’re performing all the time on social media, and then we also know that everyone else is performing all the time on social media, and it creates this kind of weird anxiety, at least for me, anxiety, feedback loop. So I just don’t know. Does it heighten your awareness of how affected you are elsewhere or how affected other people are? Or is it just its own kind of siloed off fun thing?
S2: Every other app that I use I have joined for the purposes of discussing on this podcast.
S2: I think maybe Facebook predates the podcast, but like I joined Instagram for the second year Gabfest. I joined Twitter for the Site Culture Gabfest. Like, I’ve literally never, almost never joined a social app that wasn’t as my journalistic public persona with an assumed potential audience of everyone who listens to the show and the general public.
S1: The Things You Do for art.
S2: I joined Ello for this podcast. Indelibly to our.
S3: Life irrevocably changed.
S2: I feel like he real is a lot more fun than Ella, but I fear it may go the way that that Ella went. So it’s fun to use social media in a way that just feels much less public and much more personal. I mean, being a journalist is so weird because you’re like you. You have a public self, but nobody gives a shit about it. But you do sort of have this explicit sense of a public self as part of your work. Like, it’s not like being famous or anything like that, but it’s you’re used to that bifurcation. Podcasting exacerbates it, accentuates it, I think. But it’s fun to have a little personal playground. Like, I guess I just feel like I’m discovering the joy of the non-professional social media, and it’s kind of fun. It’s like, Oh, no wonder we all, like, got into this and then, like, drove society off of a cliff. It’s compelling.
S1: Well, on that note, the app is called Be Real, and you can check it out if you like, and then let us know your very authentic opinions about it. Rebecca Onion, Slate senior editor, thank you so much for joining us to discuss the app.
S7: Thanks for having me.
S1: Now we’ve come to the part of the show where we endorse stuff. Dana, what have you got?
S3: Isaac I had at first an endorsement dilemma this week and then the Internet resolved it for me. The idea of endorsements is that we talk about the most affecting cultural experience that we had in the previous week. And for me, that was indubitably a trip to a museum that I think maybe my first trip to a real museum since the pandemic started, which doesn’t speak very well for my museum going habits, because there were probably been, I don’t know, over a year now that I would have been comfortable going to a museum under the right circumstances. But I just haven’t. But this past weekend, my family and I went together as a celebration of my partner’s birthday to the Holbein exhibit, the Hans Holbein exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum, which is this incredible research library, archive and art display space in Midtown in New York. There’s nothing that the Morgan does that isn’t good. In fact, we joined we got a membership when we after we saw this exhibit because we just thought we want to be able to wander in and out of this wonderful space whenever we possibly can. And there are only 12 days left to see this Holbein exhibit. So I didn’t want to endorse it because I don’t like, first of all, doing endorsements that are geographically specific that not everyone can access. And secondly, to give everybody just 12 days to who even could geographically get there to go to the Morgan. But then I went to their website and discovered that they have a really, really great version of this online. I’m not sure if it will remain online after the show is over, but you can listen to audio, which I presume is the clips that you’d hear in the audio tour if you got it. It looks like about, I don’t know, 25, 30 different pieces from the show, maybe even more. And they’re wonderful reproductions of them. And you can basically have a complete virtual experience of this exhibit, or maybe not quite complete, but pretty damn good. I would not doubt that the audio is incredible. I haven’t listened to it yet, but if you go to a link on their website and we’ll provide it on our show page, you can do a great virtual tour of the Hans Holbein exhibit. He, of course, being the great portraitist of the sort of mid-16th century, really, really famous, beautiful paintings that you’ve probably seen in lots of reproductions, but you really, really learn a lot about, you know, the early culture of books and about Erasmus, the philosopher and writer that he was constantly painting and drawing, and about jewelry design, which is something else that Holbein did and just so, so much about the early modern period, this fantastic Holbein exhibit.
S1: Amazing, amazing. And Julia, what have you got?
S2: Well, first of all, I want to continue my RFP for people to explain the culture of snorkelling to me. I’ve gotten several wonderful emails from listeners, but I still the basic consensus seems to be, yes, if you snorkel, it’s because you love to see fish. But no, there is not an ebird for fish or the same kind of like nerdy counting culture that exists in bird culture, possibly because fish are just too varied and numerous. Unclear yet. Still looking for submissions there. So thank you very much to all snorkel and marine and bird enthusiasts who’ve helped me untangle this world. Still working on it, still welcoming your thoughts and your knowledge. I appreciate it. In particular, one email from a birder with a marine biologist sister that was like a crucial piece of the puzzle. So still sussing that out will report back. My endorsement this week is just an Internet delight, an old school Internet delight, just someone making something funny on the internet I endorse to you Grunge Frasier. Have you guys seen Grunge Frasier?
S1: Yeah, it’s amazing.
S3: So what is Grunge Frasier?
S2: It’s just like a re reimagined Fraser in which these kind of natty elites of Seattle are obsessed with just grunge. And so it’s like a little rotating gif where Fraser says he’s going out to see Pearl Jam and Niles says, You can’t go because Maris would be so upset because she threw his copy of the album into the koi pond. Like, it just it requires deep knowledge of Fraser and its types of jokes and very mild knowledge of grunge, the Seattle Sound. And it’s just a funny idea. Obviously they’re audio dudes from Seattle, like it is sort of thematically appropriate, but I never would have thought of it anyway. Worth a laugh if you are at all charmed by or familiar with that show.
S1: Well, I’m going to endorse two books that relate to things we discussed on the show today. The first is The Broken Sword, a fantasy novel by Paul Anderson, written in the mid 20th century. And like the Northman, it’s a kind of pastiche of Icelandic sagas. In this case, it’s about Scott Bloch, the son of ORM, the strong who was kidnapped and raised by elves and plays a key role in a war between the elves and trolls. It’s a wonderful fantasy novel. It really nails both the tropes and the prose styles of those sagas in a really sophisticated and satisfying way. If you like Tolkien or George R.R. Martin or Arthurian legend or you liked the Northman, I think you have to read it. It’s really delightful. And the other this is a novel, actually, I will say it’s by a friend. So, you know, full disclosure but the new novel Happy for You by Clare Stanford. It’s a. About a young half-Japanese half-Jewish woman named Evelyn Kominski, Kumamoto, who quits her PhD in philosophy to join the world’s third largest Internet company, which is hard at work at making an app that will track and increase your happiness. Is such a thing possible? And can someone as stuck in between various stages of life as Evelyn possibly be happy? This book is a funny, wise. It’s beautifully written. I devoured it in three days. It’s examining much of the same territory as Sally Rooney’s beautiful world. Where are you? Which we discussed on this show one time when I was a guest. But I think it’s much, much more successful at it. So I hope you will check it out. All right. That’s all the time we have this week for our show. Dana Julia, thank you so much for letting me co-host with you all this week.
S2: Thank you.
S3: Thanks, Isaac. It was really fun.
S1: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about at our show page at Slate.com slash Culturefest. And you can email us your thoughts at Culturefest at Slate.com. Special thanks to our guest this week, Rebecca Onion. Our intro music is by Nick Britell. Our production assistant is Nadira Goffe, our producer is Cameron Druse and additional production was provided by Jessamine Molli for Dana Stevens and Julia Turner. I’m Isaac Butler.
S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate Plus segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Today we tackle a listener question and a good one and a funny one. Here is that question. The other night, I was going to get high and watch a movie. Our listener writes A series of questions occurred to me as I was contemplating it. Would the creators be offended if I enjoyed their work while high, or even thought that the movie was better while under the influence that led to an even bigger question. Is it an insult to a piece of culture to enjoy it while indulging in mind altering substances? Finally, what art or culture do you appreciate while high or otherwise indulging? Today we are joined by our guest producer Jessamine Molli to discuss this topic. Her qualifications for doing so will become evident as our session unfurls. But I’m going to start with Dana. You’re a critic who it’s like your actual job to watch movies. So give our listeners the dish. How are you ever a little bit sideways while you’re watching?
S3: See, this is part of the reason we wanted to have Jessamine on is that I think my status as a critic means that I do this much less often or consider doing it much less often than I maybe otherwise would. And so most of my experiences of this would come from the time before I was a critic, because I said, this is just a sad commentary on the fact that I so seldom watch movies recreationally to use a drug term these days. I mean, I might enjoy watching the movie, but it’s if I do enjoy it, then all the more reason that I should be mounting some sort of argument or analysis of it. So that form of just kind of shooting the breeze watching feels further in the past to me. But I do have a couple stories to tell about this. I mean, one thing I wanted to mention is that Erin’s up top question about whether a creator would be offended goes straight back to a joke in Annie Hall. Right. Isn’t there a moment when Woody Allen’s character is upset because Annie, Diane Keaton wants to get high while they’re having sex? And he says that would be like people laughing at my jokes while they’re high. Right. I mean, he was offended by it in that version. And I would be curious to hear from creators of of art whether they would be offended. But my own experience of ever doing anything cultural while high mainly goes back to this one period of my life when I would somewhat regularly get stoned, but always with this one particular friend. Because my reaction to that particular drug is maybe the opposite of what a lot of people might experience, which is that rather than experience getting blurred, for me, it gets really heightened and sharpened and especially that kind of wordy part of my brain or the part that likes to take things apart and analyze them gets really thrown into hyperdrive. And I had another friend who had that same experience. And so what we used to do is he would come over to my apartment, we would smoke just a little bit, and then we would read the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary together, and we would just sit around on the floor with the loop with a little magnifying glass. And the funnest thing to do would be to look up really basic words, because it would be so kind of dude, you know, to look up just like the word life or music or something like that and read all the definitions of it.
S1: This is the most one brand thing I have ever heard Dana Stevens say.
S2: Tragedy that Steve is not here to marvel at this and laugh at this. This is like more Dana than like a gamelan with, like, a rare stork on top.
S3: Like, I’ve got Steve’s note here because his mockery and laughter would drown out my one small voice trying to tell its story. But yeah, that was a great friendship that friend really got. There’s only a couple of people that I really like to do that particular drug with when I rarely do it now because. Because I do get very kind of wordy and internal and really I would probably rather be alone, alone and listening to music or whatever. But if it’s going to be with someone, they have to be someone who gets that about me, that I’m not going to be giggly or goofy or kind of want to like groove. You know that I am actually going to want to think and talk and read and things like that. And so the couple of times that I’ve watched a movie in that state, that same kind of brain has kicked in. And I just see the movie as a piece of craft. You know, I’ve become very, very aware of the craft. I can’t follow the story. I’m sitting there thinking, That’s a traveling shot. Why didn’t you use a traveling shot? Oh, look, now it’s a crane. Oh, that edit was trying to communicate this. I mean, I suppose if you had infinite time and space, that could be an interesting first pass of a movie that you were going to write a critique of. Right. That you would sort of see at first, as with all of its structural bells and whistles, and then you would watch it again, not high end experience, whatever emotional involvement you were supposed to, but I’ve never actually done that. So it’s an experiment I have yet to try.
S2: All right. Isaac, are you a partake of altered substances, mind altering substances, while you watch movies or other shows?
S1: Well, first of all, I got to say that I love this listener question because it is performing the kind of paranoid monologue that one sometimes has in their head while stoned. But about being stoned.
S2: The timeline of the question is unclear, imprecise about whether these questions arose before or after the. Person partook, but it seems clear from the text that it was at or during.
S1: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what makes it so delightful. That’s what makes it so delightful to me. My problem is that I really experience the time dilation effects of marijuana pretty strongly, and so that makes most movies sort of a non-starter, you know, even. What’s the Dave Chappelle Stoner comedy from, like the late nineties where Jon Stewart’s like, Have you ever seen the sunset on weed? Half baked. Yes, half baked is like, I’ve never watched it. Not high. It’s 70 minutes long. I thought it was like Solaris when I watched it while stoned. So for me, if I’m stoned and partaking in art, it is almost always music and it’s often live. You know, I don’t actually get high that often, but if I do, it’s off the minute, like live concerts. The last one was that one of the Solar Tango’s Hanukkah shows last year, and I remember being like, Wow, they’re really jamming things out tonight. It’s really amazing. And then later I looked at a bootleg recording and I was like, Nope, really normal runtimes for all the songs of 3 to 6 minutes, but I do like a nice, relaxing glass or two of wine while watching a movie. It just helps turn the monologue off. It’s the monologue in my head can sometimes get a little annoying and I could just relax and focus on the film. But I do not drink or do any of that if I’m actually reviewing the movie at hand or watching it as a critic.
S2: Jessamine I want to come to you as our expert source in just a moment. But just to round out our triumvirate here, I don’t smoke weed anymore partaking in any way because the last two times I did involved film watching and were so traumatic. The first was Yeah, and I think maybe it was just like stronger. I never really I’ve always been more of a booze person anyway. It’s never been my favorite. But you know, whatever. When I was younger I used to do it sometimes. And at one of these screenings I saw Three Days of the Condor, which, like, I still don’t know what the hell happens in that movie. It was like not a movie I would recommend seeing. And then at the second one, I was trying to watch Pan’s Labyrinth and got into that very weird state of To Highness where you think you will never not be high again and became totally freaked out and, you know, had to sit outside the room on a bench with my now husband, then boyfriend talking to him about my concerns about how I would never not be high again. I still never seen Pan’s Labyrinth, and it was when we were first dating and it was a bunch of my friends and his friends like together for the first time watching this movie. But we weren’t there because we were outside. And all of his friends thought I was elaborately breaking up with him during the movie when in fact I wasn’t. It just took like 2 hours for him to convince me to go home and go to bed.
S3: Oh, my God, that is such a poor viewing choice. Well, hi, Julia Pan’s Labyrinth, but it’s actually a great dating story, right? I mean, of course, you want to end up spending the rest of your life with the person who talks you through your high Pan’s Labyrinth paranoia.
S2: Who would think he did wonderful work that night, as always. And guess what? I made it through and I am not high anymore. So it didn’t seem likely at the time. But I have regained sobriety and life is good. I can relate to the glass of wine. I think I’ve spoken on the show about sometimes liking to take a little water bottle with a glass or two of white wine and that to pretty much any movie. And I will do it for movies we’re talking about on the show because I feel like it just releases me into the experience. It like accelerates. I relate to what you’re saying. I think about that inner monologue. It accelerates my ability to like let slip the cares of the day and disappear into the flow of whatever the cultural experience that I’m about to have is. And I find it transformative with live music. Like, I really don’t love live music. I find it sort of like. Insufficiently narrative and verbal for my very verbal self. Like it’s about different parts of your life and body. And so I remember going to see a friend play at Carnegie Hall and you know, I like seen a fair amount of symphony and other classical music concerts in various August halls around the world at various times. But like I remember having a really stiff gin and tonic at the intermission and then the whole second half of it being like profoundly more fun. And I was like, Oh, all right, there’s a whole new way to encounter, encounter live music. So essentially we’re a bunch of squares and we need Jessamine to come in and articulate what’s the case for and what are the good occasions for watching? Well, I.
S6: Guess because I do have a lot of thoughts about this in general. I have a lot of thoughts about TV and movie consumption. But it’s funny that you were saying, Julia, your experience with Pan’s Labyrinth, because I can’t experience a movie that’s in any way dark because my brain will just go that direction. So I’m going to go straight for my recommendations for stoner watching, go with nostalgia, watch something you saw when you were younger and loved and then want to re-experience it. But it might be a little like boring to just watch it because you’ve seen it so many times. But if you’re a little stoned, it’s going to be a totally different experience. I think that’s always fun, but go on the lighthearted side of things for sure. RomComs are always safe melodramas too, because they’re sort of not delving into the reality of the drama of it. I always find those really nice. If you want to like lock in, I have the same problem where I can’t really shut down my brain and just watch something unless I’ve had a little wine or I’m stoned. And it really helps me lock in and focus on like a longer movie too. The other thing I discovered early on, sort of in my smoking journey, I was kind of a post-college, young, budding stoner, and I started watching cultural documentaries on Netflix, like the kind of light fare of like Helvetica or Queen of Versailles, which for some reason now has a follow up TV show. But those I always found to be the best because I was like, you know, in my little stoner brain, like, this is real. It feels like I’m watching a movie, but this really happened. So those are like sort of my go tos.
S2: That’s super useful. I would not have thought to do it for the rewatch, but I also hate rewatching things, so maybe that’s the unlock I need if I ever go back.
S6: Really helps with the thing of like, oh no, what if it accidentally deals with something too dark? And I get it. It’s like, you know what’s coming, right?
S2: Yes. I mean, that’s the thing. There’s sort of the risk of like, you think it’s a nice movie, but what if it has a weird, trippy sequence? I mean, it’s hard to imagine. Watching the Northman high that when.
S1: You go to sit down, watch the Northman, you’re like, you know, this is just about this good son who wants to do right by his family. And then all of a sudden you’re watching all this disemboweling.
S2: I mean, I will also say, as someone who gave up pot before it was legalized anywhere like I’m certain now that I could find like a perfectly titrated, like tiny dose of pot designed exactly for 40 something moms where, you know, one of the things that always bothered me about it was like the crapshoot of it, of like, maybe I’m going to have a fun night or maybe I’m going to like get stuck in a corner, like having to be stuck down for 3 hours. And I just would rather have a glass of wine because I know exactly what’s going to happen if I have a glass of wine. So I think the like predictability factor both in the substance itself and then what’s the experience you’re going to have on the substance controlling for that with movies you’ve already seen and seems really smart.
S1: I also think in answer, though, to the listener’s question, I don’t think most filmmakers are going to get upset. I don’t think you’ve betrayed the integrity of their work by by watching it. I mean, maybe. Maybe like Kristoff, curious Lawsky, or however you pronounce it, or Ingmar Bergman might be mad if you know from the grave. I don’t know. But I just think that most creators just want their movies to be watched. I don’t think they care whether your high or not while you watch it.
S2: I did actually ask a friend of mine, Adam Leon, who’s a film director, who’s actually been on our show a couple of times, both to talk about Give Me the Loot and then Tramps, which he released on Netflix when that was a new thing for it needs to do. And he also recently released a film, Italian Studies, with Vanessa Kirby. And so I asked him whether he was offended or excited if someone sees his art high. And he said that basically whatever makes people happy or excited is fine with him. Like everyone sees a movie in some kind of mental state. So he says they might be hungry, tired, wired, etc. So being high is just one element of that. And he also said that Italian studies his new movie, quote in particular is so stoned out that I recommend it if one is inclined. We gave out edibles at the theatrical premiere, so there’s at least one one director who’s pro. You’re partaking.
S6: Yes. Perfect person to ask.
S2: You know, we do also have in addition to my director friend, we’ve got Dana and Isaac here. So, Dana, what would be your response to this question of of your art or your work consumed by.
S3: Yeah. I mean, I don’t really conceive of my book as a work of art as much as a work of criticism. And that’s a whole different conversation is like what the line is there. But as far as somebody telling me I enjoyed your book while high and the idea of me being insulted, I think my only question would be, did you buy it and pay for it? And if the answer was yes, I would love that person unconditionally.
S1: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. If you buy it, you can read it however you want. And my rule is always if you buy two copies, you don’t actually have to read it at all.
S3: You can be even smarter than if you read it was. If you just buy it.
S1: Just buy it twice, and then you don’t have to read it.
S2: All right, Jasmine, any final tips for particularly good things to watch?
S3: What was the last thing you watched? Hi. Oh, yeah.
S6: Ah, yes. I did recently have the apartment to myself last weekend and I celebrated with no plans, by the way. So I celebrated that rare occurrence with a full day of watching movies, smoking weed and playing with sculpture clay which was a great combination, I have to admit. I was laughing. I think I was telling you guys in the emails. It was funny how my brain sort of started as free associating when I finished a movie, like what I felt like watching next. So I started with again on my rom com kind of easy viewing thing. I watched I Want You Back With Jenny Slate because I Love Her is actually a better maybe than I was expecting. And it was kind of fun stoned because it was kind of visually interesting. But then I was like, Great rom com, this is my lane today. So then I went to the nostalgia pool and I watched Sweet Home Alabama, which does not whole does hold up in the sense of of the rom com definitely has some questionable moments where you’re like, ooh. But anyway, it was pretty fun to watch. I was doing this copy at that point too, so I think it was a good half watch. Then I was feeling like a sweeping kind of romance with a lot of visuals. So I went into the most recent Emma remake with Annie TAYLOR-JOY, which I had seen already, and I knew I loved it. And then by the time that had kind of taken me down off the rom com high into a more like slightly dramatic kind of place, I then went into another Reese Witherspoon tentpole cruel intentions, which again was a nostalgia but not a rom com. And that was excellent. I highly recommend watching it and I so that was sort of my journey that day and I thought it was actually a quite a nice combination.
S2: That sounds like a fucking great day.
S3: To you have access to the secret of life. Yes. I mean.
S6: I’m telling you, I needed that day badly. And it really did wonders for my soul how.
S2: A whole day with sculpted clay. Yeah, that sounds good. I will also say those nineties rom coms, they can really go either way. I watched the proposal after I’d had a medical procedure and I was basically high, like on a cocktail of like, I don’t know what, fentanyl and and Valium and I don’t know what a morphine I was I was through. And the proposal pretty funny movie doesn’t. Hold up, but great. And so then in that vein, I watched two weeks notice, another Sandra Bullock romcom while I was in labor with my new baby. And the other time I’ve recently been high on the epidural, so I guess I hadn’t either forgot about the medical subset of highness. And wow, two weeks later is a dreadful movie that makes no sense or whatsoever. Gosh, like there’s no meet. They meet, but it’s not that cute. And then they’re immediately in love. But we never see them, while never any reason why they might be in love. Like I just was expecting Proposal two, and instead I spent the whole fraught period of the epidural not quite kicking in and labor pains being worse than I remembered. Just like yelling at this movie and being like, this doesn’t make any sense.
S6: Yeah, a bad movie on top of that is tough.
S1: After I got my wisdom teeth out. So I was very high on Percocets of various kinds, I guess lots of different forms of codeine or whatever. I remember really distinctly my parents brought me home and oh, I been knocked out for the actual removal of the teeth and then given like a big glass of drugs to drink in liquid form after it was done and I got home and I was just watching whatever was on TV, which was the science fiction thriller with largely improvised dialogue sphere directed by Barry Levinson, based on the Michael Crichton novel in which this like submarine discovers this sphere that changes reality all around it, and has Dustin Hoffman and Samuel Jackson and Sharon Stone. And I don’t. So I don’t remember the movie at all, really. But the weird thing that happened is that as a result. In my memory of the dentist’s office and getting the teeth removed and everything. I was on a submarine, like in my mind when I try to imagine that dentist’s office. I imagine the submarine from Sphere. So that’s the weird thing that happened to me in that instance is that I am convinced on some level that my teeth were removed on an undersea vessel that was making first contact with aliens.
S2: All right. Now we’re just devolving into, like, dream describing territory. But I’m going to raise that story with one more, which is that I, at some point in like my early twenties, got some weird spasm that caused someone to prescribe me with some tranquilizers, which I hadn’t really done tranquilizers before since that much. And I watched a bunch of Columbo, speaking of Natasha Lyonne in the greatest.
S1: Television show of all time.
S2: Yeah. So I watched a couple. It was like before I’d pre DVR like I think we even had a TiVo and it was just watching afternoon Colombo’s. And it, it was like a run of them. So I watched two or three and I was like really out of it. And then in this third episode of Colombo, like, Johnny Cash showed up and it was right around when that like the Rick Rubin Johnny Cash albums were coming out. And Johnny Cash was sort of like in the moment in the early aughts, and it felt like a hallucination. And I had to later IMDB like, did Johnny Cash ever appear in Columbia? That seems so unlikely. And in fact, it is true. And he did so. All right. With this concatenation of increasingly altered memories, that turns out everybody watches things somewhat high if they ever go through any medical procedures. Thank you so much, Jasmine, for sharing your useful tips. Thank you, Aaron. No last name for your illuminating question. Thank you, Adam Liane for sharing the perspective of the Creator. Thank you listeners for supporting Slate Plus and our worthy endeavors in the realm of culture, including investigating this important question. We’ll see you next week.