The “Democracy Shaken, Not Stirred” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: I’m Stephen Metcalf, and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest, democracy shaken, not stirred, Ed.. It’s Wednesday, November 4th, 2020. On today’s show, what the Constitution means to me was a Broadway is a Broadway play. It was filmed. It’s now streaming on Amazon. It is a mostly one woman show written and performed by Heidi Schreck about the relationship of our cherished document to the lived experiences of abortion, violence, sexual violence and misogyny. And then, yes, the untouchables. Yes, yes, the wind in the lion. OK, the man who would be king.

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S3: Great movie, but Sean Connery is the original and forever the only James Bond. He died this past week. We’re going to remember him in part by having watched the movie Goldfinger.

S4: He loves it all up, but.

S3: All right, and then finally, Song Exploder, it was a podcast about the exquisitely occult processes by which songs are born are turned into something from nothing. Now, it’s a pretty supercool Netflix show. We will discuss that, too, with Isaac Butler. Isaac, I’m looking at your list here. You’re a quintuple threat or something. You’re a writer. You’re a director, a teacher, a union member. You’re too many things. No, no, no, not at all.

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S5: Co-host of Slate’s Working Podcast and your forthcoming book, which we are going to discuss without fail, is about Stanislavski. And it’s called The Method. It’s out in sometime in twenty twenty one, I take it.

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S6: Yeah, late to 2021, maybe early 2022, depending on, you know, what the editing process is like.

S7: Brilliant. And of course, Dana Stevens is the film critic for Slate Dotcom. Hey, Dana. Hey, how are you doing, Steve?

S5: I think we’re all going to be just the wee bit punchy today because escaping on Election Day, we should say, yes, it was going to say that through the magic of not time travel, the people listening to us know all kinds of things that we don’t know, one of which may not be who the president is. But we’re we’re recording this in a state of near total ignorance. It’s whatever, ten something in the morning on Tuesday, on Election Day. So we’re in a state of, like, weird suspended animation. And speaking for only myself, I’m in the weirdest mood. So buckle up, right? Yeah.

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S8: Yep. Definitely feeling a little bit strange today. Anything could happen, including those the Shirley Bassey bombings that we experienced in the intro.

S9: Yeah, my God.

S5: I mean, it’s only civilization on the ballot. Am I right? OK, shall we do this? Let’s do it.

S8: If I could, a quick note before we get going, just that my taping system cut out at some point during our Sean Connery conversation. So you’re going to hear one answer that I give to Steve in that conversation. That sounds a little janki sound wise, but then I will go back to my normal, hopefully smooth recording. And as always, please forgive us these covid era audio glitches.

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S3: As a teenager, Heidi Schreck would give speeches about the US Constitution to American Legion halls. She did it for money. It’s what helped her work our way through college, as she tells us in her wonderful play, What the Constitution Means to Me. The play begins with her inhabiting her somewhat ingratiating 15 year old self who’s trying to win over audiences filled overwhelmingly with white men. She says she remembers them all smoking cigars, though they may well not have been. But as the play unfolds, a vastly more complex, angry, nuanced, intense monologue begins to bleed to the surface. It’s a story about a family, her family, as it’s riven over decades by a history of sexual and racial violence and also about how legal rights failed to stop the ongoing rituals of abuse. And yet, miraculously, over the course of the play, I would argue she takes this lived experience and finds ways to put it back into the Constitution in hopes of making it the living document the founders wanted it to be. Of course, this play could not be more relevant with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the elevation of her comically inept replacement, whatever her name is, to her seat, where she may in fact decide all by her lonesome. It’s not inconceivable who gets to be the next president of the United States. So with all that said, let’s listen to a clip.

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S4: My friend Renee and I snuck in the back door of Planned Parenthood before my mom’s friend worked there. Neither of us was having sex yet, but we just you know, we wanted to be on birth control just in case. Just in case we were in a hot tub and the sperm swam up and attacked us. Or, you know, in case of a real attack. I remember it was such a nice day, we we went to McDonald’s and we took our first pills with chocolate shakes and I could kind of working right away, you know, like I thought they womanly like something kind of came alive inside. Well, I didn’t know what the time is that birth control had only been legal for all women in this country for 15 years. I mean, I was 15, so I thought it had been legal since, like the dawn of time. But no, no. In nineteen sixty five, this incredible woman, Estelle Griswold, got herself arrested for giving out birth control to poor women at her Connecticut Planned Parenthood. She faced a year in prison, took her case all the way to the Supreme Court. And this this is when William Douglas brought out his beautiful no metaphore. This is when he said one thing our Constitution surely guarantees is the right to privacy and that this allows a woman to put in an IUD as long as she is married and as long as her husband says that it is OK.

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S5: Hmm. Isaac, let me start with you, this is kind of a remarkable play.

S3: It’s manages to be about the law, about the law’s relationship to moral intuition, rights and our rights and their relationship to power. It gets into an extremely sophisticated, to my mind, discussion about the difference between positive and negative rights and how foundational that is to the country.

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S1: Hobbyhorse of mine.

S5: I was beyond moved and delighted to see that reflected in a in a, you know, streaming TV show film play. But it’s a play. It’s fundamentally a play. So begin maybe by talking about it as such.

S10: Yeah. So what the Constitution means to me, it is a play. I actually think one of its great magic tricks is that it is incredibly carefully written and structured, but feels almost as if it’s unfolding extemporaneously. Heidi, I’m going to use her first name because she is a friend, I should say, in full disclosure, you know, the the writer performer, the director of the stage version and the director of the film are all people I’m friendly with. Heidi worked on it for, you know, a decade, but it doesn’t feel overworked.

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S4: And she even has a moment in the play where she says, in spite of how it feels and apparently what some people think, this play is so carefully constructed.

S10: It’s not my fault if you can’t see the structures in and one of the the fascinating things, although this was cut short by the pandemic, is when the show toured a different actor played Heidi, the wonderful actor Maria de Zia played Heidi on tour. So which is sort of the moment when it really begins to exist as a play. Right. Once it’s a text that other people can do, then then it’s really in in that kind of genre. But I also think of it as just a work of non-fiction, maybe because I’m a nonfiction writer and I have to say I think it’s one of the most brilliant memoirs in any form in any media. It’s incredible what she manages to do and weave together through legal analysis, historical storytelling, research and her own life. It’s truly remarkable to me. I also cried like 11 times watching it.

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S5: Yeah. I mean, to me, what I mean, I, I quite loved everything about this and but but just personally, I think what I found most impressive about it, if not, was most moving about it.

S1: But most impressive was, you know, how does individual human experience upload itself to a set of highly abstracted rights and vice versa, so that you live in something that resembles a just society and presumably an aggregation of 330 million highly individuated personalities. And I think sometimes people feel as though there’s a gulf between their day to day, a lived experience and their own, you know, highly personalized aspirations and. Super algebraic notions of rights that apply universally and to absolutely everybody and to bring those two things together, like her document, her play is the ultimate living document, even though it contains very long and I say this admiringly didactic passages about what rights are, who made the Constitution and why, whether it’s a living or a or a static document. I mean, you know, really esoteric debates about about how you read the Constitution in order to make law in the United States. But through this super deeply felt and nuanced appreciation for not only her own history, but her family’s history. Right. Like how over how trauma, the trauma of abuse plays out over many generations. And in and so for her, this is both, you know, an abuse memoir and a kind of college lecture. And the two inform one another in ways that I found just surprising on a minute by minute basis. And quite beautiful.

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S10: Yeah, totally. I mean, I was you know, I tweeted about this. But, you know, when, Heidi, there’s a part where Heidi recites the first clause of the 14th Amendment, which you wouldn’t normally think is something that would make you cry. And I, like, just started crying, you know, like because there is something so beautiful and deeply felt about the inquiry into our nation and what it is and what the Constitution is and how it is both the as The Simpsons would say, the the cause of and solution to all of our problems.

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S11: Yeah, yeah. And that stuff is as deeply felt as the personal narrative. And, you know, as much as the title is kind of a joke. Right, because that’s what a 15 year old would title an essay about the Constitution. You know, the gambit is that she actually makes that title work and it’s just incredibly impressive.

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S5: I thought, Dana, you know, Isaac was getting at something which is the cause of and what was the phrasing, The Simpsons phrasing of the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. So as the cause of and solution to all of our problems, the Constitution, you know, she’s exploring that dual nature of the Constitution throughout the whole show. But at the end, there’s this quite sustained set piece where Heidi debates a a local kid. Right. Who’s been incorporated into the show. And they conduct a debate over whether to abolish or keep the constitution, which would be more conducive to social change this country desperately needs. And it’s like actually like one of those hyper competitive, super verbal, like razzle dazzling. High school debates that I never participated in and it’s amazing to watch. What do you make of that part of the show? I’m curious.

S8: I had a lot of questions about how that part of the show was put together and to what degree it was improvised. Right. Because it it appears as if this young I mean, almost middle school age, really young, maybe 14 year old girl comes out on stage and debates, you know, does a parliamentary style debate, as you say, about whether to keep the Constitution or to abolish it and start over from scratch. And meanwhile, there’s a moderator we haven’t talked about him, but there’s a figure who’s on stage the whole time who at first plays a debate moderator and then kind of becomes a character himself. You know, he’s there moderating their debate. And it all feels spontaneous to me, but I feel like it has to be scripted. Isaac, do you know to what extent that would differ night tonight when they were doing this live?

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S10: I don’t know exactly how scripted it was versus improvised. I do know that, you know, they they switch position, you know, whether to abolish or to keep the constitution, you know, often. And there are actually two different people who play the debater who are real high school debaters. So, you know, there’s lots of variation. And there at the same time, like if you’re doing a show like a couple hundred times, the arguments are necessarily going to coalesce and become less spontaneous over time, even if the actual beats of how that section play out are spontaneous or extemporaneous. You know, there’s only so much content that you can go through in there. You know, like I saw what the Constitution means to me at New York Theater Workshop, which is where it was before it was on Broadway. And it opened like right around the Capitol hearings. I saw it the week before and they were taking the opposite position. So Heidi was abolished. The Constitution in the debate debater was keep the Constitution. And I remember the talking points being fairly similar. That’s not to say that word for word. They were the same. It’s just there’s only so many talking points, you know? Mm hmm. So the last time you’ll have me on Gabfest was to talk about Hamilton and the filmed version of Hamilton that we all watched. And of course, Spike Lee did a film of David Byrne’s American Utopia. And this was directed by, you know, the great Marielle Heller who did. Can you ever forgive me and won’t you be my neighbor? Are you enjoying watching these A-list directors take on great Broadway shows or what?

S8: I mean, it’s something I’m really glad is happening. I haven’t seen all of them. I haven’t seen the Spike Lee David Byrne collaboration yet, the Hamilton we all talked about together. That was, of course, a different experience for me because I’d already seen it on stage. So it’s a question of, you know, translating one experience into another. But of course, in this case, this is my one experience of what the Constitution means to me. I mean, I guess I would say, for one thing, that it lends itself better to this treatment than a more complicated musical show with a lot of moving parts and dance, et cetera. Right. I mean, there’s really just one thing to look at on the stage. Most of the time, it’s a pretty normal kind of proscenium set up with with one main figure speaking the whole time. But at the same time, there’s something that’s really lost with the audience interaction. There’s a lot of shots in Marielle Heller’s version of this, of the audience responding. There’s, you know, moments when the audience comes up and plays a part, judges the debate, for example. And of course, you miss that spontaneity and that that anything can happen, feeling that you get in a live show. But I just feel a lot of gratitude. I mean, I really hope the sort of the same way that I hope that after the pandemic is over, knock wood, that as soon that some some things like online yoga classes being easily accessible will continue into the future. I hope that there’ll be more recorded Broadway. I mean, I realize that, you know, in order to get people into theaters, that will probably have to come at a lag time of the show itself. They’re not just going to start throwing the show out on the airwaves while it’s on the stage or what would be your motivation to go see it. But the idea that it would be more accessible to people who either can’t afford or are just not geographically located in a way to get to Broadway shows seems exciting. And I know when this was on Broadway, I was interested to see it. And it was one of those things that went by, you know, went by too fast. I missed it. I think it closed before the pandemic, correct? I think I believe it did. Yeah. And and so that was a missed opportunity that we now get to reclaim. So all I can say is I’m all for it.

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S5: Yeah, me too. I just every time there was a shot of the audience, I kept thinking, oh my God, they’re seated so close to each other, they’re they’re breathing on one another. I mean, I you know, you can’t help. Yearning for the moment when you can be in a crowd and an audience again, but I so I’m just so conditioned by the anxieties of the pandemic that it’s amazing to me that we once all sat in enclosed spaces next to each other.

S8: But no, it’s more I thought it was marvelous, you know, I mean, especially for a show like this, Steve, that’s really a journey with the character. I mean, you really have to, you know, peel away a lot of layers and accept a lot of radical shifts. And I can imagine that being in that room, I mean, it was very moving to watch it even filmed. But I can imagine that being in that room could be quite harrowing because you think that you have a certain relationship to this character and to this document that she’s talking about, and then they’ll just be a sudden turn where something is exposed that’s that’s much uglier than you would have imagined. And, you know, you see people in the audience crying. Yeah. In the in the cutaway shots. And I imagine that that would have been me to write.

S10: One thing that I remembered from seeing it live that I think the movie actually makes very clear is how important the pauses are to its structure, that there’s a bunch of moments where Heidi is on the verge of saying something that’s almost unsayable. And it just like the show just stops for a second.

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S4: I also I do have. I have a personal connection to the equal protection clause, I just I never would have spoken about it at 15.

S12: I didn’t tell anyone. And whenever I get to this part, I. I just I have this desire to protect my 15 year old self from speaking about it.

S10: That is actually often when the film cuts to the audience, which I thought was really interesting, because you can experience their experience of that tension in those moments in a way that I thought was was a very clever solution to the problem, that you can’t quite experience the same tension yourself.

S9: All right. Well, that’s what the Constitution means to me. It’s on Amazon. We all agree. You should absolutely check this thing out. OK, moving on.

S5: All right, well, before we go any further, this is typically where we talk business.

S8: Dana, what do you have, Stephen, in business today? I just want to tell you that our Slate plus segment will be tapping into the expertise of our lovely guest host, Isaac Butler. He’s going to talk to us about the state of the theater industry in this time of pandemic and try to make some predictions as to how and when we might be able to go see plays and musicals again in person and not just watch them on prime video, as we did with the Constitution play this week. So stay tuned for that segment. If you’re a member of Slate Plus and if you are a Slate plus member and there’s anything you’d like us to discuss in one of these future segments, please let us know. You can email us at Culture Fest, at Slate Dotcom, and we’re happy to have your suggestions in a slush pile. We may take them all at some point. If you’re not a slate plus member and you would like to be, you can sign up today and get a free two week trial when you go to Slate dotcom culture. Plus there you will get ad free podcasts exclusive, plus only content like our extra segments and many other benefits. Again, that slate dotcom culture. Plus, we really appreciate your support.

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S4: God, thank God.

S5: All right, well, that’s my cue, I guess Sean Connery has died. He was 90.

S3: This after a long and legendary career. I mean, just to put it mildly, he was a working class kid from Edinburgh. He was tall, handsome. He was infamously deft and light on his feet. He worked a series of manual jobs after a stint in the Royal Navy. He was a sort of up from his own bootstraps kind of guy. He did some nude modeling and then a series of nothing roles and nothing movies wasn’t really going anywhere as an actor. And then maybe one of the most, if not the most inspired piece of casting in movie history, the producers of the franchise to be from the Ian Fleming novels about a British spy, over the objections, curiously, of the author who wanted a more posh actor like David Niven to play him, cast Sean Connery as James Bond, obviously a cornerstone in his life and the life, I would argue, also of commercial moviemaking for the segment. We all watched Goldfinger, but as I said, up top, he had a remarkable career well beyond James Bond would, I think, chagrin him deeply to think he was being spoken of only as bond. So we will move far beyond that. But why don’t we start by listening to a clip from the third in the Bond series, Goldfinger.

S13: I thought I’d wake up dead tranquilizer again, no katcher, see? Oh, I’m delighted to be here. And by the way, where is here? Thirty five thousand feet flying southwest over Newfoundland. All right, that explains the humming, the humming means you own Mr. Goldfinger’s Lockheed, Jetstar heading for Baltimore and his guest. I’m honored. I never realized he enjoyed my company that much. I don’t suppose it’ll be all fun and games highly. Can I do something for you, Mr. Bond, but I just drink a martini, shaken, not stirred. Why don’t you join me, not on duty, Mr. Goldfinger’s personal part. You are and just how personal is that? I’m a damn good pilot, period. Well, that’s good news. By the way, where is our host, if you want to hit? Thank you. He has to operation Grandslam. This should be a memorable flight. You can turn off the job, I’m immune.

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S5: That, of course, is Honor Blackman, the actress, Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore, Dana, are you immune to the charms?

S14: I mean, this is such a strange ask to watch this movie right after watching what the Constitution means to me, which we haven’t given away that many of its reveals, but we have sort of hinted at the fact that is it is a historical exploration and condemnation of misogyny as being tied up in the American project, et cetera. Also, it’s delicate because Sean Connery has just left this world and, you know, is someone worthy of talking about in so many ways. And as you say, reducing him to just James Bond, much less just this movie is is not fair. But all of that said, I found it so incredibly hard to watch this movie. It’s so dated in ways that are so flagrant right now. And that I mean, I went into it last night, the night before the election. Very tense time for all of us thinking, oh, this is perfect, some 60s escapism, you know, some stylish outfits and cool gadgets. And I’m just going to really get into the spirit of this James Bond movie. And I found it kind of repulsive and had to keep on turning it off and taking breaks from it. For one thing, it’s frickin long. It’s two and a half hours long. So there really are a lot of gadgets, a lot of set pieces, a lot of, you know, we can get into them. But, you know, a lot of bond girls being gone through and then disposed of in various glamorous ways. Yeah. And. I don’t know. Talk me out of this, guys, I know there’s no talk to you.

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S11: I will not try to talk you out of that. I mean, 1964 is also the year of the Civil Rights Act, whose Title seven forbade sex discrimination in hiring. Right. I mean, you know. That’s right. When this movie is coming out and it is a movie starring an avowed champion of spousal abuse, I mean, he gave interviews where he talked about how great it is to be your wife as the sort of misogynist superstar agent who everyone, you know, is like, oh, that James. And the plot turns on him raping a woman until she turns into a good guy and until she in terms of the way she’s coded, also changes from being kind of queer to heterosexual. And so, you know, like that I had forgotten that that was actually, you know, because I’d seen Goldfinger maybe 20 years ago. I’m not a huge bomb person, but I’d forgotten that the movie hinges on that. And I was like, I had to, like, stop it and walk around my apartment and come back to it. I was so horrified.

S3: Yes. So I should say that in the original Goldfinger novel by Ian Fleming, she is gay. Pussy Galore is is openly gay, as I recall. There’s no coding at all. And Isaac, I’m completely with you. I had forgotten that, that if you were to list in order of importance the thing that things the double 07 does in the course of this movie to prevent, you know, world destruction or the, you know, whatever the, you know, heist, the gold heist or whatever, or Goldfinger getting his evil genius way. No one is, is, quote unquote seducing. I’ll use that term extremely loosely seducing Pussy Galore.

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S5: It’s such a funny. Thing I’d never noticed that I saw this movie multiple times when I was a teenager, I used to love the Bond movies. All right, let me make it. I can make no defense of this movie. It is a misogynistic document and is all but unwatchable because of it. And I would never, ever, ever try to rehabilitate it. But I you know, this is a segment about Connery. I Isaach, I didn’t know that that awful fact about Sean Connery that he had said that about spousal abuse, that’s inexcusable. I will say here are two things that I really do admire about Connery is, first, like Bogart, he didn’t take being a film actor and certainly not being a film star seriously, which is, I think, why they were both so incredibly good at it. There’s something about a person who’s like this. Let’s be honest. This is really bullshit. Who then knows how to do it in an incredibly natural and relaxed way or unselfconscious way. I will say he also got a huge upfront fee to play bond again and diamonds are forever. He apparently immediately donated the entire thing to charity. And then there’s one of thing I’d like to say, which is Truffaut had an interesting reaction to the Bond movies, which I have to say I don’t disagree with. He said, Mark, they mark the beginning of the period of decadence in the cinema. For the first time, Mass audience was exposed to a type of cinema that relates neither to life nor to any romantic tradition, but only to other films and always by sending them up. I mean, these movies do exist as self parodies in a way. And Truffaut, I think, is exactly right that the extent you’re going to go with them, that’s what you’re going to go with. I mean, if it’s extent you’re you’re in on this kind of joke and I will say some of the humor is it’s very it’s very ice cold. You know, he makes that the famous thing or the jokes and double entendres he makes after killing someone. Right. And you’re meant to enter into this state of. Really suspended, just like a however much you suspend your disbelief to watch an ordinary movie raise it up another like 5000 feet, right. Like and it’s in that kind of weird, arch, surreal space that these movies unfold. And whether that’s socially baleful, because what you’re laughing at is murder and rape. I mean, you know, I mean, it’s I cannot defend it, but it is an anesthetic and they and they perfected it.

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S6: Yeah. I mean, you know, I’m usually on the side of taking the artist in the art and the politics and all that stuff and not necessarily always mixing them all up, you know what I mean?

S10: Like, I sort of have betrayed my own way that I know we like to watch movies. It was just impossible for me to have any other reaction. I will say about Connery, you compared him to Bogart. What I was thinking while I was watching it was like, oh, he’s Clark Gable. Do you know what I mean? He’s like, yeah, he’s Scottish. And maybe that’s because of how similarly they’re built. But there’s this you know, the Hollywood star system falls apart in the 50s. Right. But there are a few actors who manage to find greatness through that old fashioned star persona style of acting.

S11: And Connery is absolutely at the top of that list. I don’t think he made very many good movies. I’ll be completely honest. Yeah, but I’m struggling to think of a movie. I thought he was anything other than really good in here. And I’ve seen a lot of his films, you know, like and actually it’s this weird legacy to evaluate because most of his best work and his best films are schlock, you know. But he was he was incredibly good at them because of that sort of insouciant refusal to take the whole thing seriously and because of his refusal to speak in anything other than a Scottish accent.

S5: I know. Yeah, that’s hilarious data. I mean, this is a segment about Connery. Can you talk a little bit about him as an actor beyond the Bond franchise?

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S8: I mean, the title that popped to mind when when Isaac was just saying maybe everything he appeared in or most things were schlock was what I think is a counterexample, although it has its schlocky elements, but just so beautifully orchestrated, which is the man who would be king in 1975.

S7: John Houston film, which I think we just as well could have picked. And I sort of wish in retrospect, I guess it would be less queasy making that we had picked it.

S8: I mean, of course, it is also a portrait of British imperialism, but I would argue is a pretty strong critique of it and pretty much shows, you know, the kind of bleak endgame of a British imperialism. And it also stars, along with Sean Connery, an actor who’s the perfect exemplar of that sort of not taking it seriously and yet enjoying himself kind of ethic, which is Michael Caine. So having Michael Caine and Sean Connery together, Christopher Plummer is also there. You know, in this in this utterly I mean, almost Lawrence of Arabia style epic is it’s just it’s a glorious success. And that movie to be much more holds up in the re watching. That’s not an overview of Sean Connery career, but it’s a place to send people to see him at his best in a movie that that is still loads of fun. But in terms of the trajectory of Sean Connery s career, I mean, I think one thing that I could say is that he is somebody who passed through discrete phases. Right. As you said, he started off as the sort of, you know, before bond. He was just this kind of fuck boy that no one knew what to do with.

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S7: Right. This this very handsome and sort of distinctively Scottish accent.

S8: Didn’t know what to do with him then, you know, but that’s that’s the case, I think, for a lot of sort of young hunks, you know, who take a while to find their place. And I feel like it was in his middle aged era a little bit Postgres Goldfinger era that that the country that we love to imagine emerged, you know, somebody who could straight basically do Zadok as one of the most ridiculous, absurd mainstream sci fi fantasies that’s ever been filmed and do it in a strange way with dignity, you know, so that all of these much mummified pictures of him in that Zardoz role and his strange sort of almost Borut Ondes style costume have a weird dignity to them because we because we chose Goldfinger, we sort of started off this, you know, tribute session to Sean Connery by saying all these very negative things about one of his most famous movies. So in the spirit of my having mentioned the man who would be king, maybe we could could go around and throw out a few more titles of Sean Connery classics that are worth revisiting.

S10: Yeah, sure, I’ll I’ll go I mean, I think we all know, like Hunt for Red October and all of those, but, you know, there’s there’s an interesting sort of vestigial offshoot of of his career, which are the films that he made with the great director, Sidney Lumet, which I also think is kind of like a fascinating collaboration, because Sidney Lumet is a founding member of the Actors Studio who like came up through live TV drama and theater and, you know, but but he gets great work out of Connery. And they do some three really interesting films together, The Hill, the Anderson Tapes and the events. They also do Murder on the Orient Express, which I’m not actually the hugest fan of. But those four films taken together are this fascinating, like parallel track of Sean Connery’s career. And if you like your thrillers in the paranoid 70s vein, if that’s the kind of thriller you like, then definitely check out the Anderson tapes.

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S5: I mean, I throw out a man who would be king, definitely.

S3: But if I had to throw out another one, I would say the name of the rose was a very, very successful adaptation of the great Umberto Eco. Kind of weird Nabokov and pulpy bestseller with Connery is the, you know, Franciscan Friar William of Baskerville. It’s it’s it’s a pretty great.

S8: And Christian Slater as a hot young monk.

S5: Yeah. Yeah. What’s not to love. OK, Sean Connery has died at the age of 90 after a remarkable career. Don’t watch Goldfinger and Joe Adams. Only God don’t watch Goldfinger and actually watch the credit sequence.

S8: Just watch the credit sequence in the credit sequence to Goldfinger. And you’re all good. Shirley Bassey gives you everything you need.

S5: I think that movie Up Until You Get the Gold Painted Corpse is a remarkable genre movie. And I and I think that the gold painted corpses horrifying and is meant to be horrifying. And I mean, it’s an when you think about it, I mean, it’s just an appalling way to kill another human being. And it makes a statement about this person as an object and what Goldfinger is a villain is like and how he objectifies the world around him and talk about it is the Trump biased way for a Trump super villain to kill a woman. And if the movie just didn’t, then give in to its own fucking misogyny. I think that lead up is incredible. Like literally to the moment that you see movie.

S11: And you know, what I actually found really fascinating about the movie that, again, I wish they had had done more with is that Bond is very bad at his job and his supervisors are really pissed at him for most of the movie because they’re like, if you hadn’t blown your cover to get laid and taunt the guy you were supposed to be eavesdropping on, we would be able to get him. But then because it’s actually because Bond does that whole switcheroo with the cards and has his noticeable Scottish accent, the Goldfinger has made him. And as a result, he gets it like everything flows from his decision to just like be a horny moron rather than doing his job the way they’ve asked him to.

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S9: All right. Now we’ve done it justice.

S3: Song Exploder was a hit podcast, it’s about the mysterious alchemy by which a song comes into being it goes from being a phantom wisp, maybe a tiny flash of melody, a ghostly chord progression, maybe some dummy lyrics, just really a set of intuitions to something finished and complete and moving presumably to thousands, if not millions of people. The host of the podcast Rishikesh Here Way has taken the podcast, turned it into a TV show. I really like the TV show, I got to say, and interviews creators like Alicia Keys, Lin Manuel Miranda, the band members of RTM in order to make a vivid procedural drama out of what it’s like to create something really from nothing. Let’s listen to a clip.

S15: I do remember singing and where where I was, and I remember that I took my shirt off and I was really frustrated with the engineer who I love dearly, but he wasn’t moving fast enough for me. I remember the night like it was yesterday. And I finished it and I stormed out like I had a little, you know, ironic as he said. Can I play your vocal solo God?

S16: Is the real love life. Oh, it’s bigger it’s bigger than you and you are not me. The links that I will go to the distance in your eyes.

S11: It’s still hard to hear what why is that are.

S15: It’s just so naked, you know, it’s so raw, it’s so unsupported, it’s hard.

S5: Dana. I know how much a naked, unsupported, raw Michael Stipe means to you.

S7: You’re being sarcastic, but you’re actually not wrong.

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S5: I’m both being sarcastic and completely right, which is why this bit is funny. But I know you’re a huge RTM fan. You love Michael Stipe and all of his excesses.

S8: So talk to me about what you talked about before on the podcast. Remember my poem? I once I mean, I can’t believe I was ever this vulnerable, so young and vulnerable that I show I shared my poem about Michael Stipe that I wrote in my 20s, probably well before the song came out, like in the late 80s or so. I think what I most appreciated about that RTM segment, which is one of my favorite ones, all four, I think I would highly recommend and I could get into my reservations later. But what I love so much about the RTM one is that, you know, Michael Stipe is just this famously inscrutable figure. Right? He I mean, for most of the band’s career, wrote incomprehensible songs that were essentially streams of nonsense, words, which are some of my favorite RTM songs. And when his songs did start to be, you know, at least understandable and singable, along with in a slightly later period of their career, they still maintained that that enigmatic quality. And and he really gets into that in unpacking this song, which it would be easy to think is a song about, well, about religion, for one thing, and about politics and about sort of larger philosophical questions. But that for him was a very intimate, personal song. And he just opens up way more than I would have expected someone as crazy as Michael Stipe to do. But to to step back a little bit and talk about the methodology of this show. I think part of what I appreciate both in the podcast Song Exploder and on the show as well, maybe even more so on the podcast, is that Ricci case. Her way is such a self-effacing interviewer and there isn’t any sense at all that he is trying to insert himself and, you know, ask leading questions or make himself look good or he’s just he’s he has a very gentle one critic compared to therapy. You know, he has an almost therapeutic way of bringing out these questions from these artists about how they conceived their songs. And in the case of Alicia Keys, for example, who we sort of see in the process of writing the song, unlike the other episodes, it almost takes place or at least flashes back on this real time period where you see her working it out in the studio with her writing partners. He he is really able to get out that that inchoate thing in a song. You know, the way that I’m sure anyone who writes a song not that I’ve ever been able to do anything is incredible, is write a song with music and lyrics that if you had any other way of saying it, of expressing that emotion, you wouldn’t write the song. Right? I mean, by definition, it’s sort of hard to to place into words in an interview what it is that made you arrive at this certain musical revelation. And I just feel like there’s a lot of discretion in his style as an interviewer that that allows for that, you know, and that isn’t isn’t overly attempting to interpret or pin down or force them to analyze their songs. That’s allowing them to just revisit the moment when they had those feelings that had to be thus expressed.

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S5: Yeah. And what I love about it, too, is that Isaac is not just a lot of mushy abstractions that rates rise to the surface. Right. It’s both alchemy and a craft. And you have to bring the the magic and the sweat together. And and I feel like the get at the highly specific set of tasks that confront a person trying to make a song work. And and Dana’s right. Like he doesn’t murder to dissect. I mean, weirdly this that in dissecting these songs, what what the life force of them is, is drained out of them at all. What what do you think of the show?

S11: Yeah, I mean, in the podcast you barely hear his voice at all. Right. Russia case clearways voice, you know, cuts out his questions, which cuts out his questions. So to me, one of the great revelations of the show is what a fucking great interviewer he is. Even though you don’t hear that many of them like the questions he picks. Like I have a job now for Slate where I have to ask people about their creative process and how they made things right. And the way he does it is like self-effacing, as sophisticated as it is self-effacing, you know. Can you tell me about the day before you started writing? The song is a totally brilliant question that I’m going to steal. I think that, you know, it’s difficult when you’re talking with people about making art because it is a craft. Right. You want the specific craft stuff. And then there’s also this ineffable part that is impossible to discuss. And the show does an interesting thing because it runs up against that a lot. So, you know, like there’s a part where in the Alicia Keys episode, he asks the producer whose name I’m blanking on about his feeling about the beat that Alicia Keys came up with for the song because she wrote the The Beat for it. And he says, oh, I just thought, is there anything she can’t do that’s not a. Particularly useful insight into the craft of songwriting, but there’s a lot of other amazing stuff in that episode, there’s a real emotional journey into that song, which I don’t think is that great a song, but that’s unlocked over the course of that episode that really actually deepens your understanding of how life experiences that might not be discussed in the song at all still wind up in that recording, still wind up in those words and that melody that I loved. And you also get little bits of wisdom about how they make the stuff like Alicia Keys saying, I don’t like high hats. Actually, I find that high hats are restricting. And in fact, live dramas, too, I’ll ask and don’t play that, make it like it’s the smallest set you’ve ever had or when they play the the the rhythm stem of losing my religion, you hear the hand claps, which no one in the band remembered to being in the song. Wow. I mean, I’m sure I remember when it happened, but I don’t remember that. And then when they play the whole song together, you’re like, yes, the handclaps actually are essential to why that song works.

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S3: That’s amazing. I mean, I. I totally agree with you. The Alicia Keys song is to me is just not an interesting song until they begin to deconstruct and reconstruct, you know, it’s making and then it becomes I mean, it’s just a it’s a measure of the genius of the show that you can be completely indifferent to the song and even the artist.

S5: And over the course of it, I found it totally riveting. She’s collaborating with a songwriter, but also another guy, a jazz musician, songwriter and singer, Santana, who’s very shy and melancholy collaborator to begin with. He’s that sort of a person who’s just lost his mother. They’re doing this in London. She, Alicia Keys feels very far away from her very young kids. And they’re they have a lot of the song. They don’t really have the lyrics. They don’t have the emotional center of the song lyrically at all. And they’re trying to hash that out. And they come up with, like, I will just say it like a to me, a relatively banal verse or whatever. And then because he’s helping hash out the melody, he’s been singing it and he’s got some melodic ideas for it. And all of a sudden they have this fucking Eureka moment, which is she’s going to sing the verse and then he’s going to sing the exact same words for the second verse, three hours.

S17: And I’m had no I’ve got nothing on her. I keep shoveling, but keep Chavez’s bar looking for love. It got me looking for.

S5: And all of a sudden, it’s a song about her singing, about missing her children and he’s singing to his recently deceased mother and it’s the exact same words.

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S3: And the song is equal parts of joy and grief. And this thing that’s sort of cheese ball is suddenly.

S5: Done all right, and it’s like, that’s amazing television.

S8: Yeah, can I say what I don’t like about this?

S11: I was about to jump in with something. So you do it. Yeah.

S8: I wonder if we all have the same thing. I mean, it’s just what everything what we’re saying points towards sort of, you might say, the tastefulness or restraint of this show. Right. That it’s not asking leading questions or trying to get sensationalistic stories out of people, that we airway’s very able to sit with people and, you know, let them talk their own way into what something meant to them. But then at the end of each episode, you hear the entirety of the song as you do on the podcast. Right. You’ve sort of earned it by going through this long process of watching it be put together and hearing little bits of it in performance. You just hear the entire track. But when that happens on the podcast, it’s this kind of pleasurable, relaxing moment, right? You just kick back and listen to the whole song that you’ve just been hearing. Personally, I would prefer hearing it up top. That’s just my own nerdy, you know, reading all the museum text before I look at the painting kind of style of cognition, I would rather hear the song and then hear it taken apart. But I do appreciate that on the Song Exploder podcast, you hear it taken apart and then you hear the whole song. But when that happens in the context of needing visuals as well, we get into these music videos. So every song exploder so far has ended with a sort of music video made by the show, you know, not the song’s original video that appeared online, wherever it would appear, but something that they’ve come up with. And I just find those videos really cheesy. The animation is embarrassing. The the way that the text flashes up on the screen, even the fonts chosen for the song lyrics, it just feels like a bad karaoke track that you pulled up on YouTube. And they make me uncomfortable. And I honestly usually just wander away and try to just listen and not look at the visuals being provided.

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S11: You all find that to to to put it maybe slightly more gently. I think the show is struggling to find a visual vocabulary in general, like the Lim Manuel Miranda episode is is incredible. But there are a lot of like posed, staged, really awkward shots of him thoughtfully looking out a window or stuff like that. And, you know, like like I just don’t think they’ve quite figured out how to keep it visually compelling while doing what the audio only version of the podcast did or does. The podcast has existed for years. There’s over 120 episodes. So it makes sense that, like adapting that they would struggle about the next batch of episodes comes out pretty soon. And I hope they start to play around with it a little bit and maybe discover a different way to tell these stories visually.

S8: Yeah, I mean, the image that you mentioned of, you know, Manuel looking out a window every episode has some version of that. There’s just a lot of visual padding. And some of that has to do, obviously, with the difficulty of translating it all audio format into one that contains images, too. And part of it is just that documentary problem that you always, always see and made for TV documentaries or reality shows where it’s sort of like we have more information on the soundtrack than we have images to go with. So what filler are we going to find to make people look at while we tell them this information? And part of that, I think could be addressed by the shows, not all having to be half an hour long. And I know that that’s part of you know, that’s just part of the hegemony of TV, that things have to be regulation links and they have to all be the same length. But something that’s really nice about the Song Exploder podcast is they’re wildly different links. There might be a six minute one because that’s all that person had to say. You know, there might be a 25 minute one. And there’s really a sense that they’re tailored just to the length that they need to be. And so they’re not as as padded with filler.

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S5: All right. The show is a song exploder. I agree. By the way, he’s the ideal ideal host. He’s he’s amazing. It’s on Netflix. Check it out and drop us an email. I’d love to hear what you think. All right. Moving on.

S1: All right, now is the moment in our podcast, and we understand. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

S7: Not that man. Uh, yes, it is.

S8: And I have a double I have a Steve style double endorsement this week, one of which involves our guest this week, Isaac Butler. He didn’t mention this because, like Rishikesh her way, he’s a very humble man. But Isaac Butler has also recently had an interview with Alex Blackamoor, who was the music director for Hamilton and the longtime collaborator with Lynn Benwell, who appears in long parts of that Song Exploder episode, but not his own. He doesn’t get, you know, sort of a one on one extended conversation about what his everyday job is like. And it’s a very interesting job because, you know, he is essentially his sort of musical, very online Benwell shoulder, you know, helping him bring out the best in the songs that he’s writing. He has all these different hats that he wears of arranging and being a music director. And, you know, he conducted the show underneath the stage in that hidden orchestra and in general just was almost like a co-writer of the music. So on the podcast Working, which Isaac cohosts, he he interviews Alex Blackamoor at great length and it’s of great interest. Alex, like, was a hugely charming interviewee. And Isaac, as you’re hearing on this show, is a very charming interviewer. So I recommend that that episode of Working and the Working Podcast in general, if you don’t have that on your podcast feed, I would assume that if you like this show, you would like working. So give it a try. And my other endorsement that I had coming in even before this, I was not going to mention that. Isaac, if you had mentioned that you you interviewed Alex like a more but, you know, I thought it needed to be pointed out. Thank you. Yeah. No, it was a wonderful show. But the other cultural product that I experienced this week that I just thought was really exceptional has to do with the other podcast I do for Slate that I co-host with Chaos and Colins, the film critic for Rolling Stone. We do the show called Flashback. That’s a bi weekly podcast about older and classic movies. And I hope listening listeners to the show have maybe explored it, although it is behind the paywall is a slate plus only piece of content. Anyway, the last movie that we talked about, which I chose for election related purposes because it seemed like a great movie for the moment, was Ernst Lubitsch’s to be or not to Be, which is this sort of legendary comedy starring starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard. We all love that movie.

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S11: Yeah. Oh, my God. It’s so I mean, it’s it’s it’s it’s so brilliant. I just giggle with delight through the whole thing.

S8: Of course, I think that’s going to be a very new movie because it’s a great movie about theater and about, you know, the experience of theatricality and how it sort of overlaps with with real life and without giving too much away. I mean, it’s a it’s a movie about a theater troupe in Warsaw during Hitler’s invasion of Poland. And it somehow manages to balance the comedy and the tragedy, the seriousness and the absurdity of that moment in an absolutely brilliant and extremely lubetkin way. Anyway, I’m endorsing the movie, of course, because it’s a wonderful movie. But specifically, if you watch that movie on the Criterion Channel where it’s streaming right now, I really, really recommend that afterwards you watch the entire commentary track that was recorded by this film historian named David Carlot, who is just somehow strikes the perfect balance. Like I love a commentary track that is both very informed and scholarly about the movie, but also not to droning and professorial. And it has, you know, has an engaging performance style in and of itself and is just someone that you would enjoy sitting through a class with. So David Culex commentary is really just like taking a great, great film class about an absolutely brilliant and really historically significant movie to be or not to be. So. So that’s it. Go on, criterion watch. To be or not to be, especially in election week, you’ll find it very germane and very entertaining. And listen listen to David Kalat. Talk about it and you’ll learn a lot.

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S9: Excellent.

S6: Isaac, would you have so I have to one that I have a personal connection to and one that I don’t know about a year ago for the the good people at Slate Dotcom, which is a website you may have heard of, published this piece of mine about the sort of lost science fiction and fantasy author John Ford, who everyone called Mike. So I’m going to call him Mike. And I spent a couple of years trying to track down Mike’s work, what happened to Mike, how he died and this sort of posthumous feud that had kept his work from coming back into print?

S11: The reporting the article helped resolve that feud by putting the various players back in touch. And actually and so his work is now coming back into print. And the first one of his books to be reissued just recently came out from Torx Essentials. It is totally brilliant. It is wonderful. It’s a great romp. It’s called The Dragon Waiting, and it is a kind of high fantasy, alternate history retelling of the wars of the Roses that takes place in a Europe where the Byzantine Empire never fell and Christianity never took hold as the majority religion. There’s also vampires and wizards and all sorts of other wonderful things. It is a great read if you love Shakespeare. It’s filled with tons of references to his Wars of the Roses plays. It’s called The Dragon Waiting. You know, there’s people have been waiting decades for it to come back into print and now it finally is. And so please, please pick it up. It’s a real, real treat. The one I have no personal connection to is, you know, the the Danish television show Borgen, which many, many people have loved and championed over the years, has been a little bit difficult to find and watch. But it is now on Netflix and I believe Netflix is now producing a fourth season of it. It originates in 2010. It is about a woman sort of centre left woman who becomes Denmark’s first female prime minister. It is kind of the Danish West Wing. But if you’re one of those people who has come to roll your eyes at the West Wing, which I understand, there’s something about having a center left TV show that takes place in someone else’s country that is very, very pleasant to watch because you just don’t have a lot of investment in the debates of it. You know, it’s just like a fun political drama. And one of the lovely things about it is like how small the huge crises on it are. If you’re used to lurching through the crises of America, you know, a crisis in Borgen is like someone accidentally put a twelve thousand dollar jewelry store bill on their government credit card. That’s a scandal in that show. So part of the pleasure of it is that smallness and that that that decency. And it allows you to live out those. Fantasies without feeling like you’re being naive because it’s not about your country. So and the acting’s great and it’s Denmark, so everyone’s beautiful. So Borgen, it’s on Netflix. I’m really enjoying it.

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S5: All right. So I have to confess that having been such a basket case preoccupied basket case this past week because of I don’t know why, maybe because civilization may go swirling down the friggin toilet at 9:00 p.m. tonight. Yeah, I haven’t been overly like, you know, my cultural diet’s been kind of verging on nil. But speaking of Michael Stipe, I just have amazing Fumo about, you know, like Athens when RTM and Pylon and these other bands were, you know, just playing the bars. And but of all of the people who came out of Athens, the one I love most is Vic Chesnutt. We talk about, you know, previously on the show. And Michael Stipe produced his, I think, masterpiece West of Rome. So I would definitely put people out of that. I’ve done it before, but that really is just a great record. I mean, he if you don’t know his music, he takes a little getting used to. But my wife, who’s like, so averse to certain kind of male singer songwriter, we went and saw he’s dead now. But we went and saw him on a double bill with Kristin Hersh, and they were just fucking amazing. And she’s been a fan ever since. I mean, you can get past it and really see what his virtues are as a songwriter. But anyway, one place you might start is that he’s got a song called Flirted With You All My Life, which is amazing song. But the cowboy junkies do a cover of it. That’s just just great. I found.

S18: I am so. And everywhere I go. You’re always right there with me.

S5: It’s just a really great cover of a really amazing, really cutting, really sad, really hard song. And then the other thing I’ve been listening to this week is this.

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S3: I was trying to put people on to this Christmas Eve, Busque, that, you know of various folkies and rock stars do in a major commercial intersection of Dublin every year. And it includes Bono, which may be a plus, maybe a minus. I’ll leave that up to you. But other people who do really, really great really moving things there. And one of them was Irish singer songwriter named Lisa Hannigan. I don’t know if you guys know her music at all. I don’t really dig it. I mean, she’s got a Tiny Desk concert. She won’t be hard to find the song a sale. Two words sale is I just think is a lovely, lovely song. She’s she’s just an exquisite singer. And I’m starting to really understand the shape of her songwriting.

S19: It’s long gone that carry on from this.

S20: It is. No matter. If you remember.

S19: Well, Isaac Man is always, always great to have you on the show. Thank you so much for coming on and filling in for J.T.. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, that was great. Dana, as always, a total pleasure. Yes, thank you, Steve. I wore my heart up in my sleeve. Oh, it is your love.

S2: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page that slate dotcom culture. First, please email us. We love it. We really do. At Culture Fest, at Slate Dotcom. You can interact with us on Twitter. We have a feed. It’s at Slate. Colthurst, our producer is Cameron Drewes. Our production assistant is Whitney Tessy for Dayna Stephens and Isaac Butler, I’m Steve Inskeep. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon. Why is that?

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S21: We was around. Is hello and welcome to the food segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Before we get started on this segment this week, we wanted to let you know that Slate plus members can get an early start on their holiday shopping at a Slate store from now until November 13th. Our members have exclusive access to a 15 percent discount on all Slate merchandise at SHOPTALK Slate Dotcom.

S8: When you use the code Slate plus 15, again, that’s shoptalk Slate dotcom with the code Slate plus 15. And in particular, let me recommend the Slate Sox. They’re very cute and cozy and I have three bears. All right, let’s move on to this week’s topic, which is the state of the theater industry, with Isaac Butler explaining to us what is going on with theater in pandemic times. I know that in New York, Broadway was one of the first big institutions to close, I mean, just way back in the earliest days, very shortly after after public schools closed, I believe Governor Cuomo just decided to shut Broadway down peremptorily. No more shows, no idea when shows will start back up again. And that backbone of the city’s tourism is just absent now. And that leaves a lot of holes. That obviously leaves the cultural holes of us not being able to attend shows. But it also just rips open a hole in the lives of all the people whose livelihoods depend on that industry. And I feel like I haven’t heard in a little while now, you know, whether Broadway and people talking about what is being done to try to keep those people alive and B, keep that industry alive. So I thought maybe Isaac could eliminate that for us a bit. And so with that broad mandate, Isaac, I turn it over to you. What do you what do you think is going on on Broadway?

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S6: I mean, I think we’re in a lot of trouble. The theater industry, I mean, is in a lot of trouble. There are. But, you know, it’s difficult to talk about the theater industry monolithically. Right. So you have Broadway, which is New York City’s top tourist attraction. You know, just to talk about the things that have nothing to do with the art on it, it drives an enormous amount of business both to itself and to the businesses that surround it and depend on it. It is filled with good union jobs. You know, there’s lots of people working very hard because arts jobs are real jobs to, you know, make the shows that you love happen. And as they continue to delay reopening, which they should, they should continue to delay reopening. It’s sort of bizarre to think about Broadway reopening absent a vaccine, although they haven’t said that as they continue to delay reopening. That’s a lot of people going without a paycheck. That’s a lot of businesses going without a certain segment of their customers. That’s a lot of travel and hospitality that’s not happening. So it actually has a lot of knock on effects. So, you know, it’s it’s really tough to understand exactly what’s going to happen in the future. There. There is an even bigger crisis faced by what we would call like kind of the mid-sized nonprofit theaters throughout the country. Those were the theaters that were hit the hardest by the financial crisis in 2008 and have been rebuilding ever since. Some of them were already on financially thin ice before this whole thing started. You know, if you are a company that has a space that’s in a building you don’t own, which is a lot of companies, you still owe the owner of that space rent or if it’s mortgaged, you still owe a bank something. Right. You have a staff to maintain, although they don’t because they’re laying off their staffs all over the place. So, you know, it is it is a really, really big crisis. And there is no way that I see out of it without federal intervention, just like every other sector of the economy needs federal intervention. We need a large bailout across the country of every sector. But one of them needs to be an arts bailout because there are just things that you can’t do, income you can’t make, shows that you can’t do while the pandemic is going on. That said, there’s a second question of, you know, like assuming all of this will be over at some point in the next couple of years, what does that future look like? And I think with that future probably looks like is that there’s some companies that have gone out of business. There will be some new stuff that is growing in in the gaps that are left. My hope would be once we can congregate together, people are very hungry to congregate together in person once we can do that safely and that that will be a boon to live theater. But the other thing that’s going on right now is a lot of really creative thinking about how to use technology to capture performance and bring it to audiences. There’s you know, there’s people performing plays on Zoome. There’s people doing very complicated multimedia things that they’re then filming and streaming. There’s, of course, the the filming of the various Broadway shows that we’re seeing on Netflix and Amazon and HBO and Disney plus and so on and so forth. My so there’s a second hope of mine, which is an aesthetic hope, which is that all of this innovation that people are concentrating on right now will lead to a kind of aesthetic renewal of what is possible to do with the art form. I think if we can get a bailout, if we can, you know, hunker down through this long and difficult winter, which also involves the election today going the way we hope it does, there could be some good things on the other side, but it’s going to be it’s going to be hard to get there. There’s just no bones about it. It’s a huge, huge, huge crisis. And I’m not entirely sure how we survive it.

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S5: You know, theatre has a. As a Artforum has a long history of responding to plague, right, I mean, isn’t that sort of part of the legendary story of the development of Theodorou as we know it, that the globe was shut down or Shakespeare was on and on? I wonder if you could speak to what you think maybe the larger aesthetic effect might be on on theater as a medium and not just on the ethic of live performing in general.

S6: Yeah, I mean, the ethic of live performing in general is indoors is a tough question, right? I mean, we know how this disease is transmitted and so being in a space in close quarters while someone on stage yells and spits on you is it’s tough to imagine going back and doing that. Right. You know, one of the other things that’s going on right now, all of that will stop as the weather changes. Is theater going outside, you know, going to places where you can congregate safer and and watch, even though congregating may look like you’re all in cars and it’s projected on a drivethrough screen or, you know, you’re sitting six feet away from each other and the actors are far away. Or there was one company of a play that bubbled together. I forget what show it was, but if I can remember, we can put it in the show notes. There was a company that, you know, bubbled together and then rehearsed and produced a play and did it outside so that it was safe for them to do so, you know, and but no matter what, safety has to be the the top priority.

S8: Yeah, Isaac, I keep thinking about a particular play that was the last one I saw before, you know, the bars came down and we all went home forever. And that I had written on had actually written and filed a complete piece on the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf revival, directed by Joe Mentallo with Laurie Metcalf as Martha and Rupert Everett as George. It was a really great production of the show and caused me to go on this deep dive into the history of that show and that film. And, you know, it was all ready to roll. And then the play never premiered and the piece never ran and it just all died on the vine. And I’ve been thinking ever since just about the actors in that play, how much work they put into it, you know, how the relationships they must have developed over months and months of rehearsing it and that it all just had had nowhere to go. That makes me so very sad for them. And of course, that’s just one small microcosm of all the other different shows that we’re ready to go or we’re already rolling and had to just wither away.

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S6: And yeah, I mean, I had a show that was supposed to happen in the fall at Berkeley, you know that. And we couldn’t take it there. And we had to wind up doing this sort of big adaptation of it, of it for streaming, which was wonderful. And that was good work. And I got paid to do it. I’m happy to do it. But, you know, I was also looking forward to, like, being in a theater with people watching the show.

S8: Yeah. I mean, just when you think about what that means to the people who have worked on a show right. That moment, that it finally becomes real. It becomes something that is unfolding in real time in front of an audience and getting laughs, getting responses that they never get to have that moment of gratification. I guess in previews, they did write for a few members of the press. They got to have that experience. But just even on a practical level, I’m just worried about how all those people are staying alive. You know, it’s something I’m thinking about all the time, all the, you know, lighting designers and tech people and everybody who runs the theaters. Do they have some kind of other than, you know, go fund me and fundraisers from other performers? Is there any financial lifeline for these people from the state?

S6: I mean, other than unemployment. No, not really, I mean, but, you know, it also different people at different tiers of the industry are in a different crisis about that. Right. Like, if you are a Broadway level designer who’s had multiple shows open at the same time over the past few years and blah, blah, blah, you probably have a war chest of your weekly royalties saved up. And I don’t know contractually what’s happened with the shows that have closed and, you know, the people who are involved in it. But, you know, like if you’re like a regional set designer in Washington, D.C. or whatever, you know, you’re just on unemployment. You know, I say Washington, D.C., because that’s where I’m from. And I love that theater scene. Almost every literary manager I know has been laid off since the start of this thing. Right. Theaters are shedding staff all over the place because they have to to try to to try to stay afloat. But at the same time, that means they’re kind of like it feels to everyone involved, the the laying the layer off and the layers, like they’re abandoning their staff in the moment of utmost need.

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S8: So maybe this is a very obvious question, Isaac, but why is there a question as to whether theater will survive this? I mean, is the fear that literally theater managers will not be able to pay their rent and those buildings will become some other kind of establishment? I mean, certainly there’s going to be a demand for theater when it comes back. So is the fear that what is the exactly is the economic fear that, you know, Broadway and other scenes, theater scenes in cities might just disappear entirely?

S6: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really the fear that individual theaters are going to go out of business. Right. And that enough of them will go out of business, that it’s hard to sustain. It’s always cheaper and easier to sustain capacity than it is to rebuild capacity that’s been destroyed. The American theater, the nonprofit American Theater, I should say, has a very strange history. It’s essentially created by the Ford Foundation in the 1950s, seeding money all over the country to create this regional theater movement on the promise that the National Endowment for the Arts would then come in in the 60s and fund them. The NEA never funded them to the extent that it was supposed to. And as a result, there’s been this sort of mad plate spinning ever since theaters actually, you know, a lot more theaters than you think have, you know, scary balance sheets, I would say, or, you know, they’re in a sort of fragile and precarious place. And then you have this huge crisis which knocks it over even more. So, you know, a lot of that has to do with are there donors going to come through? Well, if those donors are also losing money in other ways, they might not have the money to donate or they might be donating to different things and stuff like that theater. The art form will survive everything because theater, the art form fits a human need. And as long as you have someone in the same area as someone else performing, you have theater, right? Like Capital T theater, the art that has nothing to do with the institutions that will survive. To what extent the nonprofit theater system will survive this, to what extent theater as a viable career, which it barely was beforehand, will survive it. That’s that’s a different question. But theater, the art form will survive. Broadway will certainly survive. It is not that it’s going to get completely wiped out, but I do think particularly the next tier down of theaters are some of them are in a lot of trouble and don’t know exactly what the future is going to hold. And so that’s that’s basically what I worry about.

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S8: All right, well, I mean, it’s a very up in the air place to leave that very important question of, you know, the future of a whole art form. But like as you say, as long as there are people acting out stories in front of, you know, an oil can on fire somewhere in the post apocalyptic Times Theater will survive in some form. OK, thanks, Isaac, for for talking about this with us. And thank you to all of you. Slate plus subscribers who were here to hear the segment. Your support is really important to us and helps us keep the show going. For Stephen Metcalf and Isaac Butler, I’m Dana Stevens. We will talk to you in a week.