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S2: I’m Stephen Metcalf, and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest mile high, inch deep, Ed. It’s Wednesday, December 16th, 2020. On today’s show, Netflix as an adaptation of the August Wilson play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the movie stars Viola Davis in the title role and Chadwick Boseman in his final screen performance. And then the flight attendant is a limited from Biomax.
S3: It’s a thriller with screwball elements. It’s also a star vehicle for Kaley Cuoco, she of The Big Bang Theory. And finally, Disney just had a huge investor relations conference. We discussed the ramifications of it to the movie business and to the future of what was once quaintly known as cinema. With Vulture’s Mark Harris. Joining me today is Nicole Perkins, poet, memoirist, podcast, host of The Waves, and of course, also the the podcast first aid kit, which is now semi retired but exists in a pop up format for occasional live shows and such. Hey, Nicole.
S4: Hi, how are you?
S3: I’m pretty good. I’m pretty good. Is it true that the title of your forthcoming memoir comes from my favorite Prince song?
S4: Yes, it is absolutely true. It’s also my favorite Prince song.
S5: Wait, what’s the title of your memoir?
S4: Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be and it is a line from if I was your girlfriend.
S3: I mean that that is just I mean, it’s between that and The Ballad of Dorothy Parker. I mean, those two songs just cut straight to it. I love both of them. That’s such a great title.
S4: I thank you. I mean, it’s a sign of the times that the best album of all time to me. So I had to I had to represent.
S3: Absolutely. I was listening to it last night, totally, totally coincidentally. And then this morning I noticed that on your bio. When can we expect that that’s coming out?
S4: August of next year, 20 21.
S3: Awesome. OK. I look forward to it. And of course, Dana Stevens is the film critic for Slate. Hey, Dana. Hey, Steve.
S5: Uh, my books come upstairs. I just I just did all this loving better with our other hosts that I’m like, hey, hey, Dana. Awkward silence. Silence. Yeah, well, don’t ask me about my book.
S1: You know, the pub date for my book is 2012.
S5: So let’s talk about not asking people whether their fucking book is coming. You have to invent a time machine on top of writing a book. Yes, exactly.
S1: The time machine is the easy part. Oh, Jesus. Years actually does have a pub date. What is it?
S6: Mine is going to be a little bit later than Nicole’s fall of next year. I believe October. November is the list that they’ve they put it on twenty one of twenty one.
S1: Yep. And I sort of date. I’m sort of assuming that our listeners know. But for those who don’t remind us again what your book is about.
S6: My book is about Buster Keaton and it is not, as a lot of people have assumed on hearing about it, a biography of him. There is a big biography of him in the works by another author, but it’s more of a critical book. It’s sort of a cultural history of his lifespan. You’ll see what it is when it comes out. It’s weird, but it is about his life, but it’s about a lot of other things, too.
S7: All right. You get.
S3: It’s the late 1920s and something relatively new can now happen, recording technology means that was once a single performance can be put down, the vinyl or shellac or whatever it was, and the ephemeral becomes posterity. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom as an August Wilson play. It’s now a movie on Netflix and it tells the story behind one such moment. It’s about the life that went into making a set of blue sides. Viola Davis stars as Ma Rainey, the so-called mother of the blues, a black woman who has achieved a degree of power in America. Real power, economic power because she’s a diva, OK, because she’s a woman who people want to hear sing, OK, but it’s also because she’s incredibly tough and shrewd and knows exactly what her leverage points are and how to use them. Much of the play takes place in the basement rehearsal space before the recording session. It centers on the four session musicians who are going to be backing Ranny. These are four men who banter, beker temporize with one another. Each is past haunted and past accommodating in his own way. The trumpeter is a young and superlatively gifted Lévy who thinks his talent will allow him to break free of that past. Levy is played by Chadwick Boseman. It’s his last performance before he died of colon cancer. Let’s listen to a clip.
S6: And just to set it up a bit, this scene takes place as most of the movie does in a rehearsal room where they’re getting ready to to record some tracks. And Viola Davis, as Morenae is making the case for her nephew, Sylvester, who is a stutterer, to do the vocal introduction to her, to her song. And the rest of the band is objecting.
S8: Come on, let’s get ready to play. Keep your mind on your OK, boys.
S9: Here we go. Here we go. Here we go. Moonshine Blues first Moonshine Blues Minde no moonshine. And I’m doing black for the rest of my irvan get my my.
S10: The boy say he can’t do it. Oh.
S11: You say you can’t do what boys, they can do it.
S10: The band, the boys in the band.
S11: Waban. And work for me. He stutters Ma, they say he stutters I don’t care if we do a promise a boy he could do the part so he won’t do it. And that’s all there is to it. You don’t stutter all the time.
S9: Get a microphone down here for we don’t have time. We can if you want to make a record, you better find the time. I’m playing with you, Irving. And I can walk out of here right now, go back to my tour. I don’t need to go through all this. Go get the boy a microphone.
S11: I know he has something to do with this, you better watch yourself. It was Cutler. It was you. You don’t only want the boy study.
S8: He can’t do the part. Everybody can go and do. You ain’t got nothing to do with it. I don’t care what you do. He can say no. Well, all right. Thank you. I only get one chance. The cost of this and the calls, you’re always talking about the cost.
S11: I make more money for this outfit than anybody else. You got put together. We mess up. You’ll do it till we get it right.
S3: Dana, the movie’s directed by George C. Wolfe, it’s obviously it’s based on a play a few years ago we saw Fence’s, the Denzel Washington film from the August Wilson play. There’s always a challenge when you film or play, right? I mean, plays obviously have unity of time and place that they have to almost by technical necessity, take place in fairly limited space and time. Movies, of course, are expensive. They’re just different media. It often doesn’t work. What do you think about this one?
S6: Yeah, it’s funny. This thing about about turning theater into cinema. I have a friend who’s more of a theater person than a cinema person than me and who back when Broadway theaters existed, would be the person who would propose let’s go to a Broadway play together and has made the case to me convincingly many times, especially when I write about a movie that has been adapted from a play that, you know, that we have to release our expectations, that it’s going to feel the same and that there is nothing wrong with a recording of great performances, which is sort of what I think of this movie as and, you know, and a document of a great piece of theater for those who are not able to afford seeing that play or, you know, the play simply no longer around anymore. In other words, that there’s a very important function of, you know, making a great record of a stage performance that’s completely separate from whether it, quote, works as a movie or not. And of course, the classic way to try to make it work is to open up the play by showing all kinds of exteriors, which this movie does. To some extent, you know, you’ll see the elevated train in Chicago going overhead. And it’s just sort of to establish that we’re in Chicago. But really we’re spending all of our time in these rehearsal rooms very intimately with these people. I thought it worked incredibly well and made me feel like I had been lucky enough to see a fantastic performance of an August Wilson play, which I have never gotten to do on stage. But it is certainly true that there’s a certain claustrophobia to being inside those rooms all the time. In relation to Denzel Washington, there was one thing I wanted to add, which is that he well, he also directed fences as well as performing in it. But most importantly, he was the producer of that film, was one of the major producers of this film, and has generally really asserted himself as sort of the executor of of August Wilson’s literary estate. I mean, he wants to make as many movies from these great August Wilson plays as he can. He already has another one in the works, the piano lesson, which he will be producing in the future, I believe, with his son, John David Washington, who we saw in Black Clansman and other movies starring in it. So it is actually a part of this whole project that Denzel Washington has at the moment to get August Wilson’s work out to to a larger audience. And I like this movie better than Fences, I think, in a way, because maybe because it takes place in such a small space, like there’s not as much work to do to to make it a convincing universe as there was in fence’s, which, you know, is a more diffuse play with lots and lots more characters. This really is a chamber piece, you know, and ultimately almost a two hander like the two parts that really, really matter. And the two people that really clash are Lévy and Morenae, the characters played by Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. Although you got to say that there’s some really, really extraordinary supporting performances in here from the guys playing the band in August. Wilson’s typical style, which I hope we’ll hear in some clips that we can play later, is not exactly like the clip that we just heard, but is much more monologue based and is really about these kind of poetic. I mean, one critic that we read about this movie called them Arias. You know, there’s something almost operatic about the way that heals. His characters will get these long lyrical monologues that aren’t really the way anyone speaks exactly, but that are incredibly expressive and powerful.
S3: Nicole, you know, as Dana says, like plays tend to be maybe by the standards of movies, claustrophobic. This play’s really claustrophobic. It not only takes place mostly, if not really kind of entirely in the confines of this one building. It’s down in the basement of the building. There’s this sense of descending and then being entrapped that the four men in the movie Black Men in the movie kind of are thrown together in this dank subterranean rehearsal space. How did you how did you think this this worked as a film and just as a piece of literature in general?
S4: Well, I think as a film, it’s beautiful. You know, I really liked the cinematography. Everything is so sharp and clean. And, you know, of course, it has this kind of muted sepia tone to it in order to indicate this is in the past. And then you have this. Did you have the kind of grotesque makeup that Ma Rainey is wearing that acts as a mask, which I was just I was fascinated by because it really made me uncomfortable to look at Ma Rainey, you know? And I know that that’s the point of what she was doing. You know, she always wanted to kind of set people back before they even spoke to her because she was trying to maintain some kind of control. She wanted to keep people at a distance. And you see that. In this play, in this film, because it’s so, so tight, the spacing is so tight and you have to be with her when she’s on screen. It’s always about my even though the piece itself is more than just my rainy Morenae in her life, it’s about the experience of these the experiences of these black men that are mirrored in this in the structure of the studio. What they have to come in the side, go down, down, down. There’s this mysterious door that Levy keeps trying to open. So I loved I love that mirroring because that’s a you know, you get into this, like, kind of racist spaces where there are biased people in charge who have power and they’re like, OK, yes, you can come in, but only again in this little area, you’re only allowed to talk about this little thing. You’re only allowed to share this part of you. And if you go beyond the boundaries here, then we have a problem. And so I feel like the structure of the movie mirrored that perfectly.
S3: Yeah. I mean, people write about how power is specialized. You know, it’s like the theorist’s of power to write about how space and architecture. And it seems to me, you know, reinforce it. And it seems to me this movie is very, very precise about how racial power is specialized in this building. And and furthermore, the fact that Morenae is in control of to the degree she’s able to be her own talents. She also knows exactly where those lines are drawn and exactly what her relationship to these two white men who are exploiting her is going to be. I mean, I have to say, a number of years ago, we saw. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf on on Broadway with Tracy Letts as George and it was just the most amazing production of I play I’d ever seen an out on the street. I was so elated and and moved in like it was it was my first full on Aristotelian catharsis or something. I was just floating that I had to talk to someone. I literally just turned to the person next to me in Times Square and started talking. It was like it was fucking crazy. It was the weirdest thing. And I kind of had the same experience watching this. I just think this is a soup to nuts masterpiece. I can scarcely remember anything that we’ve seen where absolutely everyone brought their A game, treated with it with utmost seriousness, but zero self seriousness. The directing is impeccable. I mean just impeccable. And every performance down to the smallest supporting role is so precise and so fully prepared for, you know, there’s just not it’s funny, it’s not airless at all. But it’s also just there’s nothing casual about it. It’s just a perfectly realized piece of filmmaking, in my estimation. I just found it. I found it. I mean, and to think. That that man, Chadwick Boseman, is gone, he sold PR. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in a decade, and to think that he’s no longer with us is I can’t even describe it. I mean, I only know to tell people that they have to watch it.
S4: Yeah, he was amazing in this. And I know a lot of people are going to be like, you know, did he know that this was his last performance and all that kind of stuff, which is obviously, you know, something that his family will need to speak to, if at all. But the thing about that is I think that Chadwick went into every role that he had in the last five years or whenever it was that he, you know, after he got his diagnosis. And I think he just laid it all out on the floor because he didn’t he didn’t know when would his last performance be. And so he wanted to make sure that he was giving it everything that he could and all of the things and all the roles that he had done. So I you know, I don’t want to, you know, praise his performance with his death hanging over it. But he was so hungry in as Levy. He was so hungry, like his eyes were always shining with more. I need more. I need more. Which is all Levy is just a want to be a human want.
S12: I got talent. Oh man. Is always tight. Yeah. My dad had a note. I was going to turn out like this. He with a name again. Oh I’m going to give me a bear and make misdirects and I give him instead of me. So my songs I wrote and he’s like, oh let me record when I get my band together. I just got to finish the last part of this song. I know how to play real music. Not this old, just me and shit. I got to stop. Oh, everybody.
S4: Gastao and I thought he was incredible in that. And I want to kind of go back to what you talked you talked about with the monologues and how poetic and operatic they are. And I think with August Wilson’s work, you know, not only is he trying to make sure that black people have voices in spaces that they did not normally have voices, but also continuing the the oral storytelling traditions of black people in America with like stories that are parables and warnings and legacy. You know, they trace family heritage and things like that so that we see a lot of that in the monologues in my Rainey’s Black Bottom.
S6: Yeah, completely agree, Nicole. And I’m hoping that we can give listeners a sense of that by playing one of the monologues from from the play, perhaps the the scene where Moradi demands her child CocaCola before she’ll start singing at the mic. Maybe we could hear a little bit of a clip from that.
S8: I want to take your voice or trapping all them fancy boxes, all them buttons and dial. Then too cheap to buy a Coca-Cola don’t cost about a nickel a bottle.
S13: They don’t care nothing about me. All I want is my voice. Well, I don’t know that. And they’re going to keep me away, I want to be treated no matter how much, Erdal.
S6: So I think that monologue gives you a bit of a sense of how Viola is playing this character, I wish that you could see her as well at the same time, because I agree the visuals, Nicole is a huge part of it. And we are used to seeing Viola Davis play characters that are very different than Morenae. Right. I mean, we we aren’t used to seeing her in this kind of period make up. You know, she’s got padding on to look like a bigger person than she is. She has gold teeth. And, you know, makeup is really over the top. And she has talked in interviews about how it was difficult for her to play this role, for her to own the physicality of Morenae, who just was such an unapologetic I mean, among other things, was an out lesbian in 1927, which is a part of this movie, as well as we see her, you know, bringing her girlfriend into the studio and who was just as you hear in that Coca-Cola monologue, someone who was not afraid to be aggressive in demanding what she needed because she knew that she had to throw up that extra fence around herself in order to protect herself from all these these forces that were trying to exploit her, including, you know, the white manager who is a big part of this show, who is constantly hovering around her, trying to get what she wants, but, you know, is also sort of utterly unable to to connect with her as a human. She keeps him on the outside for a very good reason.
S4: Yeah. And you know, this scene with Morenae wanting her Coke and, you know, the her manager and the studio owner, they’re just like, no, let’s just record this and then we’ll get your Coke later. You don’t need the Coke. You know, they’re trying to tell her what she needs.
S10: I forgot the Coke.
S9: Let’s do without it. I just this one song, let’s say boy down with the band. Say you’re supposed to have my Coca-Cola.
S8: You knew that I’m doing my Coca-Cola. Just a minute here. My come in and out of my face over. And I tell you, keep them away from talking nonsense. I’m not going to put up with this. Let me ma, listen. I’ll called down to the deli and I’ll get your coat. But let’s get started. Huh.
S4: So she Morenae, you know, stands firm. And it kind of reminded me of Shonda Rhimes and the infamous Disneyland ticket when she was trying to get, you know, a ticket for, I believe, her sister or her sister’s nanny or someone in her family. And she was trying to get an extra ticket and she was getting, you know, the runaround about it. And she finally had to talk to some high executive at ABC and he supposedly said, you know, don’t you have enough already? Because he did not you know, he was, you know, did not want to give her one hundred dollars, one hundred thirty dollar ticket. And that speaks to this idea that, like, you know, sometimes people are just like, isn’t it enough that we pay you? Why do we have to be courteous to write? Like it’s just like, here’s what we want from you. Or that should be I don’t have to treat you like a human being. And it’s just such a it’s so frustratingly good because. This kind of shit is still happening, and this is like, when will this ever stop?
S3: Right, right. OK, so that’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, it’s the based on the August Wilson play, it’s on Netflix and you can start streaming it on Friday. All right, well, before we go any further, I’m sure we have some business to talk about. Dana, what do we have?
S14: Steven, we do. First of all, we have a live show that’s going to be happening tonight, the day this show releases at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. We will be streaming on Facebook and YouTube. And Julia will be joining us as our special guest. We’re really happy to have her back. And we wouldn’t want to do an interview or call in show without her. The format, as always, for our last show of the year will be a listener call in show. So we will start by answering some questions we collected ahead of time from you all. And then we will answer questions from the live audience watching us on Facebook and YouTube. Once again, that’s all happening tonight, Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And you can go to sleep dotcom live to figure out how to watch us. We hope to see you all there. Our next item of business is to let everyone know that the Slate Shop is having a special holiday sale. So right now you can get 30 percent off Slate merchandise at Shop Dot, Slate, dotcom. They have some fun things there. You can get a nice pair of socks or a cozy Slate logo sweatshirt and your discount will be automatically added to check out. Once again, that deal is happening at Shop Dot, Slate, dotcom. And finally, Steve, the last announcement is about our Slate plus segment today, we will be talking about which historical performances we wish we could be present for. I love this question. I think it’s a question from a listener. So, you know, if you could attend a Shakespeare play the Globe Theater, if you could watch a Louis Armstrong concert, what would you choose to go back and do? Steve, Nicole and I will all provide answers in Slate plus. And as always, if there’s anything that you would like us to discuss in a future Slate plus segment, you can send us an email at culturist at Slate Dotcom. And if you’re not a slate plus member, you can sign up today and get a free two week trial at Slate Dotcom Culture. Plus, when you have a slate plus membership, you get ad free podcasts, exclusive, plus only content like our bonus segment and plenty of other benefits.
S7: So once again, that slate dotcom agriculture plus thanks.
S3: The flight attendant stars Kaley Cuoco, she of the Big Bang Theory here she’s is a young, thrill seeking flight attendant. She loves clubbing guys. Vodka most definitely not in that order. She’s depicted as something of a partier with a drinking problem. But then a much bigger problem arises than than that. After a dream date with a passenger in Bangkok, she wakes up next to her dream date’s corpse. His throat has been slashed. There’s blood absolutely everywhere. And the previous night’s events are shrouded in blackout patches and hangover fog. And then compounding everything, she slips up again and again and again. I mean, just like massively incriminating ways and she becomes the prime suspect. She also begins to enter into a kind of waking dream state. Occasionally, she sort of beams back into the room where the murder happened and she converses with the murdered man’s now enlivened Torreón, life and corpse. The show stars Rosie Perez is her wizened work. Best friend Shosha, momentous or not work, best friend. And eventually her lawyer and I will mispronounce this name. It is Dutch Michelle Hirschmann as the talking dead guy. He was on Game of Thrones. All right. So let’s just listen to one of the parts where she’s conversing with the deceased.
S8: OK, with what the fuck, where am I? Why am I and why why am I back in this room?
S15: Where’s the where’s the plane? How do you think you’re getting away with any of this? What? I’m not I’m not trying to get away with anything. I didn’t do anything. Even if you didn’t kill me, at least broke a few more. Wait, wait. I did not kill you, OK? I’m not that kind of drunk. I am. I am. Public nudity, yelling in the subway, kind of drunk. OK, I’m not violent. You can’t remember what happened. Those are also a blackout drunk. Excuse me. You don’t even know me.
S8: I know you didn’t call the police to tell them something happened to me. I woke up covered in your blood. No one was going to believe anything that I said. It is a lot of blood. Why would someone want to kill you? You did read that article online about that guy got sentenced to five years in Thailand for littering. I did read about that. Oh, my God.
S15: Oh, so you clean up the crime scene. So that’s another strike against you. What? No, I didn’t. OK, I did just a little bit. Just a tiny bit. Just my parts. I didn’t mean to. I just I probably did a terrible fucking job. Fuck.
S3: All right, let’s start with you, I mean, you know, do you know how you’re going to feel like how you feel about her performance is probably how you’re going to feel about the show? I mean, she kind of animates the whole thing pretty much, I think.
S1: I don’t know. What do you think of the show?
S4: Well, like, it’s aggressively fine, you know, like it was it was you know, it was something that I think maybe if we weren’t in a middle of a pandemic that I would be able to focus on more. But I just don’t have the brain power because there were a lot more puzzles than I anticipated that I would need to figure out as a viewer or that I was brought along with this mystery. But I did enjoy this kind of fresh spin on, you know, this trope of waking up to a one night stand dead in your bed. You know, I like that. And I liked the intro, the intro credits. I thought that was great. But I got tired of the, you know, spy movie, spy TV show splitscreen. That kind of was an overkill at some point. And it was very much like you’re watching Prestage TV. Don’t forget, this isn’t just regular cable. You know, like that’s the vibe that I was getting. And I, I got a little annoyed because some of the physical clumsiness that Kathy would display, it kind of came across more, as, you know, cute, klutzy, blonde. Then here’s a person with a drinking problem. Here’s a person suffering from alcoholism. And so I wish that that had been carried more seriously or less of, you know, blonde rom com character kind of feel. But I love that we got to keep seeing Mikael housemen more because I was, like, so upset when I found out that he, you know, he was the person that he was the victim. But I was really excited when he kept coming back because I think he’s so handsome and all different. He always looks different in everything that he’s in. You never know who he’s going to be. So I like that a lot.
S3: He’s really it’s a lead.
S6: I just have to say, you can take Nicole out of thirst, but you can’t take the first Nicole.
S5: She’s always aware even when a man’s throat is slit. What to the table first wise.
S6: Yeah, well, OK, totally agree, Nicole, that this is not the moment for this show for me and people who have heard me talk about serial TV before know that I have very little patience for serial TV. Like it has to be so over-the-top, the Michelangelo of serialized TV for me to stick with it. That said, this show is surprisingly fun for how clichéd it sounds. As you say, like this trope of the, you know, the cute, funny drunk is something that really bothered me in the first episode. I do think that as the show goes on, it’s starting to problematize that more. Even at the end of the first episode, there’s a little bit of a flashback that gives you some sense of the origin of her drinking problem and makes it less then you know, the idea that it’s a cute partying stewardess who somehow just manages to knock back six mini vodka bottles every night and still, you know, hold down a job. Actually, this takes me back a little bit to the Queen’s Gambit, which I think is another show that glamorized alcoholism and addiction to a certain degree and got away with it because, you know, the person doing the drinking and drugging was so pretty and cool. But I think that this show is going to be more aware of that as it as it wears on than it is at the beginning. What makes it really work, I think, is that conceit that we heard in the clip of her going back and talking to the dead guy and sort of in the midst of these very tense moments when she, for example, is being questioned by the cops because she is connected in some way to this man, although they don’t yet know how connected she will go into this kind of fugue state. And then suddenly she’s back in the hotel room with his dead body, having these very casual conversations with him about, you know, the terrible, terrible mistakes she’s made in trying to cover this up. And that was what made the character, I think, redeemable for me. I mean, she does some really awful things in the first episode, right. Which do not include, you know, drinking and sleeping around, but include things like cleaning up a crime scene that you woke up at and, you know, running out on cops that are trying to question you about someone’s death and really just behaving in an irresponsible and arguably immoral way that could have really turned us against the character. But something about those conversations with so what is really her conscience. Right. Was really her internalized guilt and memory about this man. Bring her back into a more human realm where you can still sympathize with her. I also have to say that Kaley Cuoco, who I didn’t know at all, I never watched The Big Bang Theory, has this wonderful kind of Goldie Hawn quality. That’s who she reminded me of, not Kate Hudson, Goldie’s daughter, who has always seemed less energetic on screen. But, you know, that kind of that just that kind of irresistible bubbly. Goldie Hawn energy, so at the same time, I was irritated that we were being asked to find her irresistible, but also kind of falling for it.
S3: Right. And like Goldie Hawn, I mean, what’s what’s sort of what the unicorn status of Goldie Hawn is that she’s so clearly an intelligent woman. Right.
S1: She has the I mean, I wouldn’t say the affectations of a not, but she has she signals you know, she signals a kind of vapidity, which is just totally belied by her actual intelligence. And Kaley Cuoco is like, you know, she’s a party girl, but she’s just there’s no vapidity there at all. There’s a in fact, what the show is very smart about is that she has a flight response and the and the show is about eventually backfilling in to tell you why this flight response seems to go all the way down. And it includes within it her drinking, like showing up in a new city, you know, as a flight attendant, going out, finding a place to get drunk and pick up a guy. All of that as part of this theme of of a trauma, early childhood trauma induced flight. And that’s a real prestige TV trope now. Right? It’s like it’s like we’re actually we have seven hours or more, whatever it is, to go back and really tell you, like the deep back story of how this person ended up damaged within these genre constraints. And I really liked the first episode. I thought the first episode was a tight, economical, condensed set up with a lot of really sharp laugh lines. And it gave us a big dose of her and got used to it. Set up the premise of talking to the dead guy. He is wonderful. And then all of a sudden it kind of got flabby. And it’s true in all, Nicole, all of these I found very difficult to follow or be interested in subplots and conspiracies. And like all of a sudden, things were going on with the Rosie Perez that I found half explain. No, they’re going to be explained eventually, but I wasn’t that intrigued by them. It’s funny. It’s just like totally had me after episode one and almost totally had lost me by the end of Episode three. I don’t know what to make of those two facts.
S4: Right, because we have the mystery around Rosie Perez’s character. There’s also mystery around Kassie’s best friend, her lawyer, like she seems to be doing something shady. Um, it’s just it’s just I know it’s a little bit too much for me. And and I also felt uncomfortable with Kathy being the only white woman on her flights with the rest of the flight attendants. And so when her drunkenness caused problems, it was the rest of the attendants who are all people of color who have to cover for her and carry her and protect her. And I just did not like the optics of that personally. And so I wondered if there was something significant in that, like if it would be revealed that she had had other flight attendant positions at other airlines and because she kept missing out from her alcoholism, she was given to the, I don’t know, the ghetto airline, you know. And so I was like, what are y’all trying to say? So I really had, like, you know, that put my shoulders up a little bit, to be honest. So I was just tired of thinking too much watching this and not, like, puzzling everything out, but just also just trying to anticipate what was going to happen and what what the significance of things that may not even be important.
S6: Yeah, that goes to something I was going to say, Nicole, about Rosie Perez, who is just, you know, this like force of nature, incredible person on screen. You never don’t want to see more of Rosie Perez when she’s in something, no matter how small her part is. But she has so little to do here. Maybe as the show goes on, she’s going to get more. I guess she just she gets her own subplot that she’s involved with. But so far, as you say, in the workplace scenes, which is to say, the scenes on an airplane, Rosie Perez and the other two attendants who work with her, as you say, both people of color are essentially in this. Yeah, they’re in this ladies in waiting kind of relationship with this very dysfunctional workmate. Right. Who they seem to be friendly with, but also to not entirely trust as a reliable person. So that made me wonder as well what a flight attendant would think, think seeing this, I really wanted to sit down with someone who actually works this kind of job. And I mean, obviously, it’s a fantasy. It’s TV. You know, we’re not going to have a show about the boring day of an actual real life flight attendant. But it seemed like there were a lot of cliches going around, which I think have existed for generations about, you know, the oversexed flight attendant who has such a crazy life and picks up men everywhere. She she drops the wheels of her plane. And and I wonder if it might not be the case that actual working flight attendants would be offended by the idea that such a dysfunctional person could continue to hold down the job.
S3: So we should say that a lot of critics, including anger, formerly of Slate, writing for the TV club at Slate, you know, quite like the show are responding to it. Audiences seem to be responding to it. I was by the end of the first episode, was completely sucked in. So it’s long. I only got about halfway through. Lord knows it probably redeems itself towards the end. So feelings about it are mixed. But check it out. We’d love to know what you think of it. All right, moving on. All right, well, there was just something called Disney Investor Day 2020 or something like that, it’s designed to make headlines to placate shareholders from which came two or three really big takeaways. The first is that Disney is massively reentering its business going forward on streaming content. And to do that, it’s doubling down, tripling down on its existing treasury of IP, Star Wars, Marvel, Buzz Lightyear on and on and on. In response to this, Mark Harris here, Vulture tweeted out, Yeah, yeah, yeah. But one area of dire silence, as he said, what’s up with Searchlight and 20th Century, the only divisions that make non franchise films? Mark Harris, welcome back to the show. Thanks so much for having me. So it feels like both that this is inevitable and kind of huge news, what Disney has announced. Walk us through what the significance of it is.
S16: Well, it’s been a really fascinating week for, I guess, what we would now call legacy movie studios, because Disney and Warner Brothers both separately made announcements that in some ways added up to the same thing. You know, Warner Brothers made this very controversial, furiously received announcement that they were putting all 17 of their 20, 21 movies simultaneously on their new streaming service, HBO Max, for the first month of their theatrical release. And Disney, a couple of days later made this, as you said, gigantic shareholders announcement of 10 new Star Wars series, ten new Marvel series, 15 new Pixar or Walt Disney branded kids or animated series. And both announcements kind of added up to the same thing, which was these two companies that are almost a century old, each saying going forward, everything we do is focused on feeding our streaming service. And because of some differences of the details and the very different way they handled it, the Warner announcement was received liquidly and the Disney announcement, I believe, resulted in an all time high stock price the next day.
S4: The announcement just was kind of overwhelming to me as a person who is, you know, barely has a toe in media entertainment. So I imagine it was probably overwhelming for the average person. This just like I just want to watch stuff. And I am it just seems kind of dangerous that so many roads all lead back to Disney. So is there any concern at all about what that means for the state of entertainment and in the industry itself that Disney just owns so much?
S16: Yeah, I think that what we saw with Disney is the continuation of something that’s been happening for a while. One thing is that Disney is now kind of a super studio among studios because it owns Lucasfilm, because it owns Marvel, because it owns Pixar. It’s kind of twice the size of any other studio. So when you think of traditional studios, you have Disney at this very top tier and then below it, a kind of second run that now includes Warner Brothers, Universal, then Paramount and Columbia. But I think the really important thing about that announcement is it’s kind of the culmination of something that Disney figured out a few years ago with Marvel movies and Star Wars movies, which is it’s always about announcing an avalanche of product to come. It’s never about like the movie that’s right here in front of you. It’s about the next phase of eight Marvel movies or the next Star Wars trilogy. Or, you know, you keep consumers happy by by sort of assuring them that the pipeline is always going to be full to bursting. And and Disney has really mastered that. One of the starkest differences between the Disney announcement and the Warner announcement was ordered. It didn’t announce anything new. That was just a huge strategic blunder.
S6: Yeah, Mark, I also thought when this when this big news came of the of that announcement that Marvel made a few years back that I remember you writing about at the time, you know, the Marvel slate that was unrolled probably four or five years ago that looked forward into the mid 20s. Right. I think it went to 2025 and had slots in it that said things like, you know, bug man movie to be announced and things like that. There were just slots reserved for movies and heroes that we hadn’t even heard about yet. And there was a similar, you know, just a bleak, dystopic feeling to this announcement for me. And I think for for lots of people that are worried about the future of a more diverse and diffuse movie landscape. Then, you know, just one that’s utterly controlled by Disney and a few other conglomerates, and just to give people an idea of, you know, the number of pieces of IP that are going to be spun off a Star Wars, some of the things that they’re planning for these slots are, you know, there’s going to be a prequel to Roeg One. There’s going to be a standalone Lando Calrissian series. Hayden Christensen, perhaps one of the least liked performers in the history of the Star Wars franchise, is going to get his own mini series. There naturally will be a series about droids and something called Rogue Squadron, directed by Patty Jenkins of Wonder Woman. So there’s just there’s there’s movies, there’s TV, there’s spinoffs from things that we’re familiar with. But everything is growing from this this one Star Wars seed. And it just really starts to feel to me like a I mean, I don’t know if antitrust language is suitable to use here, but I do know that that Supreme Court decision, right. The longstanding one from 1948 that was essentially trying to bust up trusts in the movie industry was just recently overturned. And it just seems like there’s not really any any place in the landscape anymore to defend. I don’t even want to say smaller companies, but just other companies then these very few from controlling all of the the output. And I’m wondering what you have to say or what anybody knows about the future of divisions like Fox Searchlight, for example, which is, you know, still obviously a major corporate producer of entertainment, but is one that’s more oriented toward non franchise movies, toward original movies, toward movies that might get awards or be played on the festival circuit. You know, there’s essentially no allowance for what’s going to happen for those those arms of these big corporations. I mean, do you think that they’re just sort of being phased out little by little?
S16: Well, this was what alarmed so many of us about Disney’s absorption of 20th Century Fox, which is that because Disney has never been interested in anything that is not based on existing IP, it felt like not the merging of two studios or the acquisition of one studio by another, but the extinguishing of a studio, 20th Century Fox that was and has been historically interested in original movies, particularly via its Searchlight division. And certainly it still exists. A unit of Disney labeled 20th Century Films still exists, which presumably is there to make movies that are not, you know, under the silos of its other big brands, Pixar and Marvel and Lucasfilm. But, you know, notably left out of this announcement of close to 100 projects. And the stockholder presentation was anything about Searchlight or 20th century, other than that they would be making movies for Hulu, which is essentially now seen as the adult division, like the adult counterpart to Disney Plus. So the best case scenario for Disney right now is that Searchlight and 20th Century Fox do continue in some form as feeders to Hulu. The worst case is they just kind of dwindle and go away. And after the next year or so, when their remaining movies are released, they just kind of get quietly scuttled as not fitting in with the Disney business plan. You know, that would be really, really disheartening. But again, there are, you know, for other studios and there are now eight streamers or six streamers not owned by Disney that could maybe pick up some of the slack.
S4: Well, Mark, I wonder if you have any sense since since you’re talking about more of the adult and original content going to Hulu, is there any sense about the technical aspect, the user interface of Hulu? Because I have Hulu and it is such a pain for me to navigate that I frequently just don’t want to watch it. I don’t want to watch what’s there unless I keep hearing, you know, very strong word of mouth about an original project that’s on Hulu. So is there any any thought about how they’re going to make these sites more user friendly?
S16: That’s such an interesting question. I mean, the biggest complaint I’ve heard, for instance, about HBO, Max, is I can’t find it like it’s this giant streaming service that a corporation has pinned all of its fortunes on and nobody knows where to get it. I couldn’t figure out where to get it until a couple of weeks ago when I finally got it through an Amazon fire stick markets.
S6: It’s good to know that other people who professionally work in the field of trying to see films early and, you know, know what’s going on in the cinematic landscape, cannot figure out how the hell to watch. Max, we had to watch some Biomax stuff for this very episode, we’re talking about a show that’s that’s premiering on HBO, Max, and yeah, they really put you through a lot of hoops and security checks. And there is not many platforms it’s compatible with. And they just if they really do want to, you know, innovate and disrupt in the way that they’re trying to do with this, you know, this day and date project of having movies in the theater and on small screen at the same time, they’re going to need to figure out ways to, you know, work with Roku and other platforms and get people able to see their movies. And it gets to be very frustrating that it’s sort of death by a thousand cuts. Right? I mean, at this point, even if you don’t subscribe to cable, you could easily be spending a hundred plus dollars a month just to sort of have basic access to the big movies that are coming out. And it’s it’s just kind of gets to start feeling like you’re tithing all of your salary to Walt Disney and is extremely frustrating as a consumer. Right.
S3: Mark, you’re a lover of movies and movie history. And while we have you, I feel like we have to ask you that there are these two huge economic concepts hovering over all of this, which is, you know, IP, intellectual property and shareholder value. So much of what’s being said and done is is reassuring Wall Street that Disney stock price deserves to be levitated where it is. And what gets smaller and smaller and smaller is the institution of the movie theater. I mean, they’re going to end up just little second run arthouse jewel boxes, which fine, I love that. But there’s the kind of aura of the big event that surrounded the release date of a large film into multiple thousands of screens. At the same time, I mean, many, many things are going to be lost. The experience of being in the dark with a crowd of people looking at a gigantic screen, all of that. I just love to hear you reflect on that.
S16: I am maybe a little more optimistic about the survival of movie theaters than some people are. One of the projects Dana mentioned, Rogue Squadron, the Star Wars spinoff directed by Patty Jenkins, is an actual movie, what we used to call a movie that you go see in a movie theater. It will not premiere on Disney. Plus, it will be released in theaters presumably three years from now. And I do think there’s a kind of two pronged future for movie theaters. One is these kind of there’ll be theaters that cater to this small jewel box experience for this increasingly small and rarefied audience that wants the sanctity of the movie going experience preserved. And the other will be theaters that cater to the blockbuster audience, the audience that wants to see the new Star Wars or Marvel or Fast and Furious movie on the first weekend. And all for them, all the noise and the texting and the talking and the crowds are part of the experience. That’s not a negative for them. It’s it’s a feature, not a bug. I think theaters will survive for those huge movies and for a kind of much smaller, more adult, more curated experience. But that whole mid-range of movies, the the movies that appeal to thirty five to sixty five year olds, the audience that has largely stopped going to theaters, it’s going to be very hard to see how theaters survive with those movies because that audience has made such a huge commitment in recent years to staying at home. You know, that audience like streaming movies at home, likes the options. It’s like the option to pause. It likes the removal of distractions. It likes the fact that they’re not in a big crowd of people. And everything from streaming functionality to home screen size to better sound systems has been worked on in the last few years to improve that at home experience. So I don’t really see theaters coming back for that kind of movie because, among other things, studios now are making it pretty clear that they do not see their fortunes at all as being tied to the future of American movie theaters. They are perfectly happy to have you watch their movies at home. And that includes Disney, not just Warner Brothers.
S3: Well, all of these are subjects that we revisit on this podcast over and over and over again. So we’ll just have to have you back on to talk about them as they unfold.
S6: But wait, Mark, before you go, Nicole and I were talking earlier in the show about our books that are scheduled for next year, in my case, late next year. You’ve got a really exciting book that I’ve actually already started reading a Ghalia of that’s coming out much sooner than that. And you should not leave the show without telling listeners how to how to find it and what it is.
S16: Thank you, Dana. It’s called Mike Nichols a Life. It’s a biography of the director, Mike Nichols, and it will be available on February 2nd.
S6: And you can preorder it now, yeah, I know it is not easy to sell and promote a book during a pandemic, but for any listener who has not read a Mark Harris film history book before, there’s nothing is Page turning as a Mark Harris film history book. And you should definitely go out there and get the Mike Nichols bio.
S3: All right. Well, Mark, as always, that is such a pleasure to have you on the show. And please come back soon.
S16: It was my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.
S1: All right, now is the moment on our podcast when we endorsed not a little extra now just popping out.
S14: All right. Well, I’m going to endorse a movie this week. We try to talk about the, you know, the cultural experiences that we’ve had over the past week. And I’ve done nothing but cram movies this week because it’s the week of both the top 10 list that I have to file and movie club is getting started and is going to run the week after Christmas. So I’ve been jamming 20/20 movies into my eyeballs like Mad. And I was looking through my top 10 list, which just went up today on Slate trying to think of something I could recommend to people that is both easy to find streaming right now. And that is, you know, just just sort of generally pleasing viewing for the holiday season, because it seems like I mean, 20/20 was a rough year and looking through my list, although I love and would recommend, obviously, any of these movies, a lot of them are quite dark and, you know, are about things that are hard to experience and think about. So I think probably the lightest hearted and most accessible movie on my list is the new Steven Soderbergh movie, Let Them All Talk, starring Meryl Streep, which is on HBO Mexia, the company that we just talked about with Mark Harris, which has people have been finding annoyingly hard to access. If you have HBO already in cable, it comes bundled with that. But there’s a lot of obstacles to seeing HBO, Max. So if people are willing to try it free trial in order to watch a really good movie, I would send them to let them all talk, which is not the kind of movie that I think it’s being marketed as. I had seen some ads for it beforehand and wasn’t really going to watch it as research for top ten, because I thought, well, that looks fun and entertaining and light, but probably not top 10 material, because it seemed sort of Nancy Meyers like, you know, it was this story about Meryl Streep’s character is this very self-centered novelist. She is a very funny character, just a novelist who is completely in love with herself and her process, who gets a literary prize. It’s going to be awarded in Europe, but she is afraid to fly. So she takes a transatlantic cruise and invites along two of her old friends, played by Candice Bergen and Diane West and her nephew, who’s played by the wonderful Lucas Hedges. And they all just have weird adventures and criss crossing romances and strange encounters on the ship. And that’s really the whole story. It’s really a hangout movie. Steven Soderbergh Mode that I know you like the out of sight. I mean, it’s not, you know, heist movie, obviously, like out of sight. And I don’t think it quite has that tightness of script, but maybe something more like Magic Mike about a bunch of very different people with different goals going on, this sort of crazy journey together. And it really, really surprised me. I really loved let them all talk and I can’t wait to watch it again. It also is sort of multigenerational viewing. I feel like it’s good holiday viewing because it’s something you could sit down. Not that we’re really getting together with relatives this Christmas, but say you’re doing a virtual watch with your grandmother or your parents. I think that because of the older cast, it could appeal to them, but yet it does not feel like a Karger’s only sort of movie. So let them all talk. New Steven Soderbergh movie starring Meryl Streep. It’s on HBO, Max. And it’s lots of fun.
S3: I’d love to see that. Nicole, what do you have?
S4: I am going to suggest the Office of Historical Corrections, which is a collection of a novel and short stories by Danielle Evans. She wrote another collection of short stories that was amazing, called Before You Suffocate Your Own for Yourself. But the Office of Historical Corrections is about how do you correct your past, if you can at all, and if you can’t correct your past, how do you get over it? And if you can’t get over it, what are you supposed to do when the past is inescapable? So there’s one short story where a white college student, a young girl, she is on vacation and she wears a Confederate flag bikini and someone post a picture online and it spirals into her getting called into the Office of Diversity Affairs and things like that. And what she does to try to move past that. There’s just there’s just so much sharp commentary about life in this. It’s also very funny. And there’s also a thread of grief that runs through it. There are a few stories in which the characters are dealing with the death of parents and what that means to move on from that. So it’s just a really good. Danielle Evans is one of the best writers I’ve encountered, I guess, like in the last ten to fifteen years. She is fantastic with the short story format. So I highly recommend this. This is the Office of Historical Corrections.
S6: Nicole Emily Bazelon on the political gabfest endorsed that same exact book last week or maybe the week before. And I made a note of it, but she didn’t go into near as much detail about why she loved it as you just did. And now I’m even more excited to check it out.
S4: Yeah, please do. It’s awesome.
S1: OK, for anyone who didn’t listen to last week’s episode, Dana put out a call to listeners for four winter walk music, essentially like the winter equivalent of summer strut, like doleful, mopey Ambien, you know, but kind of gorgeous, supple music. And we got it in abundance from our listeners. And it just there’s a kind of music that I don’t really respond to, but it turns out I do, which is I mean, I don’t even know what to call it. It’s like the intersection of of like Philip Glass, John Adams minimalism with kind of Brian Eno ambient or whatever it’s called with some electronica and like, you know, maybe even like Dream Pop. And I’ve expanded it out to like Eric Satie would be a perfect example of like so it’s just sort of dreamy, wintery gloom that kind of, you know, happy sense of gloom that you can get in the winter sometimes. And this music, you know, fits that perfectly. And people responded to the Call-out, like beautifully. And in the course of it, someone mentioned this. It’s not a band. It’s really a woman who records under the stage name Grouper. And I just am so floored that I didn’t know about grouper groupers. Amazing. She made her name is Liz Harris. She’s out in Portland. She does visual arts as well. She does painting and various kinds of public installation, art and drawings and and but she knows she’s musician, musician, a singer and songwriter. And her album from 2008. This is how Behind the Curve I am. It’s called Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. I like all of her music, but that one just just is her masterpiece at this point. I mean, it’s just it’s it’s so spacey and dreamy. And yet, unlike a lot of music like that, it has melodic and song structure to it. And it’s haunting and completely unpretentious. Is is it’s it has all of that, like Sprocket’s thing that you could make fun of, but absolutely. But absolutely none of that as its spirit and its I just love this record. I’m, I’m floored as I said, that I didn’t know it already. So I’m pounding the table. I really I really love what she’s doing. I love her website to with her art. Her visual artwork is actually quite arresting as well. So highly recommended grouper. Check it out, Steve.
S6: Just a word about the Winter Walk playlist. We have gotten so many great responses on it. I am compiling the Spotify playlist. I’m going through them slowly, especially because I like listening to them as I put them on there. But this should be ready by the time that our live show goes up as a podcast at the end of the year. So I will mention that in the live show. And while it will not be ready while we are broadcasting live, if you hang on and wait until that releases as a podcast at the last week of the year, you’ll be able to put your earbuds in and do some good winter moping.
S2: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page, that’s at Slate Dotcom Culture First. You can email us. We love it. We really do. At Culture Fest, at Slate Dotcom, we have a Twitter feed. It’s at Slate called First Our Producers, Cameron Drus. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen for Nicole Perkins and Dana Stevens, I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. And we will see you soon.
S6: Bonjour and welcome to the select blue segment of our show in his absence. I’m trying to do that French accent a little trick as well as she does today. We have agreed to talk about, based on a listener suggestion performances of the past and which we would like to revisit. This is sort of a subset of that historical dorm room question about which period you would like to revisit in past history. But we wanted to get more specific about it, since we’re a culture show and talk about performances, live or otherwise, things that you would like to have seen for the very first time in cultural history. Nicole, I’ll start with you. Let’s maybe do a couple of rounds, but what’s what’s the first one that comes to mind?
S4: OK, so this is going to be, uh, and I’m sorry. I’m not sorry, but it’s going to be very heavy. OK, so just prepare yourself. But I will go back to the May 4th, 1970 three Atlanta Fulton County Stadium show on the Led Zeppelin tour. Right. Because it’s like it broke all these records. It beat the Beatles for how many people were in attendance. I can’t remember the exact number, but, you know, by today’s standards, it would be nothing. But, you know, like back then it was a lot. And they lost this tour because they had just dropped houses of the Holy No Quarter is my favorite song from that one. And I will go back because I. I just want to see Robert Plant in all of this, like, scrawny pile of sexiness.
S5: This just like is just rock God.
S4: And I know that’s thrown around a lot with him or whatever, but I want to see him shirtless in his tight jeans and all that hair, and I want to hear him wail over me and just like be there in person. And it’s also kind of speaks to, like, me trying to embrace how basic I am sometimes. And, you know, I want to hear page and guitar and I love a guitar player. And I just I just want all of that. But I love Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin was one of the few rock groups that my father would play a lot. And so I, you know, listen to them growing up. And then once I got older, I started like researching, you know, for my own tastes a little bit. I was just like, I love them. I love especially all their blues stuff, you know, the stuff that’s like ripped directly from the blues. And I know that they had trouble, you know, lawsuits about that and everything. But still, I just I love Robert Voice and I want I just want to be there and be, you know, be a part of that crowd and that energy of recognizing, you know, this is history that we’re in and also just kind of be free with my body and let go and and just. Yeah, that’s that’s what that’s where I would go.
S6: Yeah, I love it. I love the specificity that, you know, the actual date of the show that you want to attend. It’s perfect. Steve, what about you?
S3: Oh, man, I have. That’s, like, so awesome.
S5: Nicole, I love it.
S16: Like, just that’s just the lasic.
S17: Led Zeppelin in their prime for Robert Plant, you know, bulge.
S5: I mean, you know, it’s not the producers of that. But, you know, I was going to talk about that because I was going to be like, you could tell that he’s European, but I didn’t want to go there. Go there. I go over there. We we got there.
S17: So I, I, I my answer would be I would love to test myself and not like having been like, you know, had my memory wiped like aluminum black like go back to those moments where something offended that’s now totally canonical, offended and horrified everyone who saw it or most people who saw it. And you know, and we look back and with this kind of laziness, we say, oh, the Philistines who went to the very first impressionist exhibitions, you know, I mean, Impressionism was scandalous for its first 20 plus years. I mean, there were multiple major impressionist, you know, exhibitions of impressionist, you know, art that fell flat. And the critics laughed at it. And everyone said the paintings are incomplete. They need a new pair of eyeglasses. You know, the fire, a gun full of paint at the canvas. I mean, the and it lasted. That’s the other thing. Into in into the 20th century. The next wave like Van Gogh, this his first art dealer, you know, his first serious art dealer, which was Posthumus, bought a bunch of Van Gogh’s and put them in his shop window and people would walk by and like they would be like, that hurts. Those sunflowers hurt my eyes. He couldn’t sell the sunflowers, which, of course, now would easily set you back a couple hundred million dollars. And it’s, you know, what would it have been like to have gone to that first, I think 1877 or whatever it is, and, you know, show the French impressionists and see Manet, Monet, you know, Pissarro. I mean, you know, all the all the major ones. Would you have known that something epical and really momentous and, you know, changing or, you know, changing of art history was was happening, a shift in public taste and consciousness was underway? Or would you just be, you know, like I just don’t get this similar, like the rights of spring in 1913 when Stravinsky and the I believe was indigency ballet. And, you know, it’s famously it caused a riot. Right. The rights of spring just now. Completely familiar piece of music. You might turn on public radio and there it is. And it was so offensive to the ears of the of the audience that they that they rioted and and and then and then I would mix it up a little bit and say, if I could be anywhere to see any performance, I have to say to be in the I’m not sure if the Hamlet premiered in the globe when Shakespeare had the globe built. I’m not very good on this. But let’s just say it was the globe to be in the Globe Theatre and see the first performance or one of the early performances of Hamlet just to take in the whole thing, because, you know, that was a different situation. That was that was like he was enormously commercially successful. He was popular with every strata of, you know, each and every stratum of English society, the Groundlings, the people who came and paid nothing and stood on the ground level. I mean, you know, but there was very little sense that this was epical or momentous or that in addition, all of posterity would look back, you know, in this hallowed way, on this moment. What would it be like to just go see this incidental performance of this thing that people are like Shakespeare’s great? Why not? You know, here’s my father and and just see if there’s any attitude of reverence. You know, is this a do people grumble and say, oh, this isn’t as good as, you know, whatever is Midsummer Night’s Dream? I mean, it’s just like these things that are so covered over in the literally brilliant English classes and performances and films and the rat all the wipe away, all the reverence and go back and and bring in that scenario. I’m bringing my my love and reverence back with me and just seeing what it’s like to perform that play. Also, which version do they perform. Right. Like like when Shakespeare premiered the play like which we have so many versions of it. Right. Then again, not great on this either, but there are certainly multiple versions of it. And anyway, that’s my answer.
S6: Oh yeah. That’s a I mean, it’s hard to get around that one. It’s just like if you’re a literature person, how can you turn down seeing the first performance of Hamlet? Right. I mean, it would inform the way that you see and think about Shakespeare for the rest of your life. You know, whether or not you you even feel like that was the ultimate performance of it. Right. Maybe you would you would sort of realize that. The reverence in the history that we’ve invested into Shakespeare have changed that play in ways that make it unrecognizable, it just seems seems fascinating. OK, I’m going to one up you on the I think on the sort of classic artistic genius pretentiousness of my wish, because my first one that came to mind that I may have even talked about this before in the show is that I would like to go hear Bach play the organ at the church in Leipzig, say you played it at four. I don’t know. Probably I think he probably played there for 30 years, almost. It was the place he lived for the last part of his life. And, you know, he was not just the church organist, but the composer, you know, who wrote new music every Sunday. I mean, he was not a guy often his Garratt composing music. He was really a part of this functioning church that included a choir and an orchestra and, you know, just a whole sort of musical department that he led. And over the course of those decades, he became more and more famous specifically for his improvisation, for his for what a great organ player he was and how he did things on the organ that nobody else could do. So we think of his music as this thing that’s, you know, on paper and that we can interpret in different ways, especially because the notation is so slight, you know, that he made on it. You can play it in all different kinds of tempos and it’s been transcribed all kinds of instruments. But the fact is, a lot of it, he was kind of jamming, you know, he was just like making it up as he went along and probably writing down some version of it later for others to play. So it became sort of a pilgrimage site, I think, during his lifetime. You know, there were lots of great musicians who walked across large portions of Germany to go and hear Bach play. So that would certainly be a top one of mine. So, Nicole, it’s your turn again. What’s what’s your second historical performance you’d like to attend?
S4: OK, I don’t know if this counts, but I would go back to the premiere of Psycho in nineteen sixty because I would want to see people, their reactions in the theater and see them come out talking about it. I try not to talk about it and to look at Hitchcock’s marketing and the things that he did. You know, there are all these posters that don’t tell anyone and if you get here late, too bad you’ll have to go. You know, you have to come back if you miss the first fifteen minutes or whatever the the marketing was at the time. So I want to see all of that in the flesh. I want to hear the reactions. And if there was a way that I could like that my own memory of seeing Psycho and then see it for the first time myself in that environment and then come back to me twenty twenty with the knowledge of both experiences of my personal first time, you know, watching it and then my 1960 self watching it and like compare. I would love that. I think Psycho is one of my favorite movies. It’s actually my favorite movie of all time. Anthony Perkins. Incredible. And again, Thirstiest Element Eyes.
S5: Wow. I love that face. Serial killer Tony Perkins guy. That’s that’s my blood. Oh, he’s so hot. And he’s got this beautiful eyelashes.
S4: And he was just so creepy and mesmerizing. It’s fantastic. Janet Leigh with her eye to eye on the floor. And I don’t know how she was able to manage to stay dead. I’d like that. Perfect. I love it. I love this movie so fucking much. And I just want to go back and experience it for the first time somehow in the midst of its first time.
S6: That’s awesome. I also love the doubleness thing that you talked about. Right. Because the question is, do you travel back in time as yourself with the knowledge that you have or do you somehow reinvent your brain to be a person of that time? And if there was an option for both, almost like a video game mode where you could switch back and forth, I think I would take it in every case. Yeah. Steve, what’s your next one?
S1: Oh, I mean I mean to have been at the Cavern Club and like when I can’t remember when the Beatles first performed, there is the Beatles, but it might have even been late fifties, you know, to see them just.
S6: Is this the homburg place that they played?
S17: No, no, no. This is back in England, though. That’s true, too. It would have been amazing to see that scene. Better answer to see them in Germany working that out, because the famous story is that, you know, they weren’t that great before they went to Germany. They were just amateurs and kids. I mean, so young. And it was in in Germany that the guys, you know, it’s rough. It was like a rough crowd and they had to take requests. And on the fly, they had to play all kinds of songs. And it was just, you know, it’s just playing for their dinner, for their drinks and their dinner and just to keep the bottles from bouncing off their foreheads that they tightened up as a group. And to be in there and just see them working that out, I mean, just obviously would be unbelievable. Are doing at Cafe Wha or whatever it was called or, you know, doing it like really early, you know, when when you just don’t you just don’t know yet that this is all going to. You know, it’s the seedbed for so much that comes next, just to see what a tiny club full of people hearing it, you know, makes of it. I think those you know, that they’re not in obvious. I mean, another one would be like, you know, Louis Armstrong picks up a trumpet in a Storyville brothel and is just there to make music in the background. Really, it’s not the it’s not the moneymaking venture under that roof, you know, and it’s like, OK, like all of jazz now is being invented in this moment. I mean, to hear that you couldn’t you can’t really you can’t really gainsay that. I mean, it just, you know, just be extraordinary to see those moments when, like everything, you know, everything flows from it.
S6: I like imagining the other customers in the brothel saying, why is that one dude sitting there crying at the trumpeter? All right. I thought of my I thought that I didn’t have another. But while you guys were doing your rounds, I thought of one that is so obvious. And it’s something I’ve thought of many, many, many times while researching this book that I’m writing on Buster Keaton. And that is I would love to see a three Keaton’s performance, a performance of the vaudeville group, the family vaudeville group that Buster Keaton was in as a child in which he was actually a child star and, you know, really was already a very well-known performer before he had ever made a movie, started to perform with his parents when he had just turned five years old and continued to perform with them until he was about 20. I think and I’ve read so many now period reviews, you know, contemporary from the time commentary about that act and what was so unusual about it and the fascination that this tiny child performer who could do these extraordinary stunts awoke in the audience. And, you know, whenever I’m researching that stuff, I just desperately long for a time machine to see what that kind of performance MLU was like. And, you know, what else was on the bill with them and what it was like when the three kittens came out. So that’s my other one. I think it’s got to be Johann Sebastian Bach and and Buster Keaton live as a child. All right, well, thanks to both of you for digging deep for your historical dream performances and thanks to everyone out there who subscribe to Slate. Plus, please keep sending us ideas for these segments and we really, really appreciate your support and helping to make this show possible. And we’ll talk to you next week.