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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: “The Criterioncast”

Posted by Maximum Fun on 25th October 2009

Talk about a podcast custom-made to win over your Podthinker. First — and most importantly — it’s a podcast. That’s step one. Second, it’s about film, and it’s been clearly, laboriously, repeatedly documented here how much your Podthinker loves himself a fine film. Third, it focuses specifically on films released for home viewing by The Criterion Collection, the company that not only puts out the vast majority of DVDs — and, time was, laserdiscs; time is, Blu-Ray — worth watching, but whose noble hand has somehow selected most of your Podthinker’s very favorite movies.

Like certain other podcasts of cinema that shall remain nameless, The Criterioncast [iTunes] [XML] is one of those affairs where a bunch of dudes connect over Skype and move from segment to segment, some about individual films, some about a handful of related films, and some about what-the-hell-ever. They build the main episode around a core discussion of one particular Criteron release, including such all-time Podthinker-preferred immortals as Mike Leigh’s Naked [M4A] (bribery!), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris [M4A] (bribery!) and, best of all, Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring [MP3] (oh, such bribery!).

Enclosing these directly evaluative examinations are, on the top end, speculations about cinematic news Criterion-specific and otherwise, and, on the bottom end, Criterion trivia contests and segments called “Variations on a Theme”, where the crew picks one theme from the episode’s featured film and talks about others with that theme. In Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth‘s show [M4A], for instance, their conversation covers other appearances of rock stars in film, from Bjork’s turn in Dancer in the Dark to Alice Cooper’s in Wayne’s World. A discussion of the effect of growing up in a rural community followed the collective review of David Gordon Green’s George Washington [M4A]. This sort of defined expansion on thematic lines is especially neato because of how rare it is in the film podcasting world; most programs just kinda meander their way there, if they do it at all.

The Criterioncast guys save the bulk of their meandering for their “disc two” episodes. See, just as Criterion often sees fit to include entire second discs packed full of special features in their DVD packages, so the Criterion-casters include a few “special features” of their own in the separate, supplementary podcasts that follow the main ones. These serve as repositories for responses to reader mail, conversations about non-Criterion stuff worth watching and chances for listeners to get to know the three hosts a little better. Rudie, Ryan and Travis (of whose jib your Podthinker particularly likes the cut) certainly know their cinematic stuff, though they do sometimes fall into that uncanny valley where their mistakes stand out due to their sheer rarity. It reduces your Podthinker to truly ugly moments of film geekery wherein he exclaims things like, “No, Jon Raymond didn’t direct Old Joy! He wrote it! Kelly Reichardt directed it! Jon Raymond wrote it!

Everyting about this podcast is solid, except maybe the sound, which appears to have been recorded on only one of the host’s computers, which captures sometimes ugly Skype-y audio for the rest. Fortunately, there is a solution to this: if they all record their audio separately and then someone edits it together, it could potentially sound flawless. Sure, it’s quintuple the work, but it’s at least sextuple the quality. Alas, it nevertheless cannot be ignored that producing this podcast amounts, in effect, an act of Podthinker bribery. Given Podthinker bribery’s stringent punishment as prescribed under federal law, these guys have a lot to worry about. And they’ll have a really hard time explaining this suitcase full of coke.

Vital stats:
Format: all things Criterion, and some that aren’t
Duration: 60m-120m main episodes with 30m-60m supplements
Frequency: biweekly
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions or threats for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]