Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Film Podcast Reviews VI and VII: Left Field Cinema & Cinemaslave

Most of the podcasts that I have reviewed thus far have had a team of hosts who mainly play upon the back and forth banter to provide a little levity and built-in conflict as compared to a single host. Well, this week, I listened pretty thoroughly to two solo-hosted film-themed podcasts and thought that it made sense to put them into one combined review.

Cinemaslave is hosted by Joe Barlow, an author, freelance writer, screenwriter, and filmmaker. The 60-90 minute show comes out around every other week. Left Field Cinema is a UK-based podcast hosted by Michael Dawson. This 10-15 minute podcast comes out on a weekly schedule. Both podcasts leverage the solo-hosted format into a more college lecture-style of film criticism, taking a cerebral and in depth look at the topic of interest, but this is where the similarities end.

Cinemaslave is a decently produced podcast, but often suffers from Joe's babbling, presumably due to a lack of detailed preparation. A solo podcast should be shorter than a co-hosted one, right? It was hard to maintain my attention for 90 minutes, especially when I had to listen to the podcasts in 20-30 minute segments. Barlow attempts to take a more intellectual look at films, which he often does successfully. However, he is perhaps not the best qualified for this job. I am not a film academic but some of the points that he makes are just plain ridiculous. The most egregious example of this was his assertion that "Birth of a Nation" is no more racist than "Amistad" because it reflected the time period. The time period argument doesn't even make sense, because what is relevant to that argument is the time period in which the film was made, not the time period where the story was set. Birth of a Nation was racist because it depicted blacks as subhuman, sex-starved, violent, and stupid. Amistad was not racist because showing slavery does not equate to advocating it. In fact, the most noble characters in Amistad were the slaves. Was Barlow playing devil's advocate? Did he see Amistad? Did I miss something when I stopped and started the podcast 6 times because I didn't have time to listen in one sitting? I don't know, but his argument made me scream at my iPod and really soured me to the show.

Something else that Cinemaslave does is include extensive (8-10 minute) listener feedback segments. In some cases, they were interesting, but in others it was maddening. I really did not need to listen to the completely idiotic 8-minute long "quickie" (real quote) review of Sex and the City by one of Cinemaslaves' loyal listeners. UGH! I like the idea of a podcast being a forum for a conversation between the host and his listeners, but if you are going to do that in your podcast, be smart with your choices and do some editing, for heaven's sake! Many of the other podcasts that I have heard include listener feedback, but all have limited to the reading of excerpts of emails or short voicemails. Listener feedback was fully 25-30% of Cinemaslave.

In contrast, Left Field Cinema, at 10-15 minutes, is a tightly produced, clear, concise, and consistently takes an insightful look at its topics. Each episode follows a theme, "Analysis", "Misunderstood Modern Cinema" and "Hidden Classics" to name a few. Dawson comes to his podcast prepared. He makes his point and he backs it up clearly and concisely. His opinions and arguments are well-informed and persuasive. Though I did not always agree with his points, it was nice to hear a different point of view and something other than simply reviews of the latest major studio release. Hearing his thoughts on why Eyes Wide Shut is underrated or whether Cloverfield is an analogy to 9/11 were a welcome oasis after hearing scores of reviews of Iron Man, Sex and the City, and other summer blockbusters in my other podcast reviews. The podcast also has a great balance of more obscure films and closer looks at more popular films. I love that the podcast is so fast as well--it meant that I could start and finish each episode in one sitting. This also means that there are no frills on this podcast. There was blessedly no 'listener feedback' or gimmicky segments that all of the other amateur podcasts that I have listed to contain.

Overall, Left Field Cinema is a winner. Because it doesn't tie itself to the latest releases, it is also timeless. I am looking forward to future episodes and to going back to listen to old ones that I missed, especially his take on License to Kill and Odd Man Out. I also plan to listen to (and review) one of Dawson's other podcasts, Movies You Should See. It will be interesting to hear Dawson work with co-hosts in a more unscripted format.

Cinemaslave, despite my rants, has some potential. Incidentally, Barlow has suspended Cinemaslave indefinitely to work on the Obama campaign. Maybe when he comes back he will tighten things up a bit?

Production: 6
Content: 5

Left Field Cinema
Production: 8
Content: 9

Another interesting review of Left Field Cinema.


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