In praise of Filmspotting (and its live taping) | Bleader

In praise of Filmspotting (and its live taping)



From left: Josh Larsen, Michael Phillips, Dana Stevens, Adam Kempenaar
  • From left: Josh Larsen, Michael Phillips, Dana Stevens, Adam Kempenaar
The popular podcast and WBEZ program Filmspotting, a film discussion show hosted by local critics Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen, celebrated its 400th episode this week by recording an episode live at Lincoln Hall. An eager audience filled the room and, with the help Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and Dana Stevens of Slate, the hosts discussed both Prometheus and Moonrise Kingdom, as well as counted down their top five "lessons the movies taught me."

I’ve been a listener of Filmspotting for a while now and consider it the best movie-related podcast going. Amid the possibly thousands of other film talk shows on the web, theirs is the only one I listen to on a weekly basis. Attending the event was a great deal of fun, but it also opened my eyes to how rare this sort of thing is: thoughtful conversation about cinema, featuring people who actually know what they’re talking about, and in front of an audience. In the age of the blogosphere, 140 characters tend to replace educated rhetoric. So to see an actual conversation take place was refreshing, and to experience it with an audience was something close to revelatory.

The film talk show hasn’t been the most successful format in history. There have been many attempts, of course—most notably At the Movies, a show that’s gone through multiple revisions since it premiered in 1982 and is currently on hiatus due to financial constraints. Most recently, Hulu announced it would stream Spoilers, a movie review show hosted by geek culture raconteur and notorious critic loather Kevin Smith. I’ve seen the first episode, and unless you’re interested in hearing Smith mispronounce mise-en-scene, there’s very little value in it. It does, however, feel like a far more encompassing approach to a film review show than At the Movies in the way it encourages multiple points of view—even if those points of view come from Smith devotees who are likely to be as shortsighted in the ways of criticism as he is.

That’s a big reason why I value Filmspotting as much as I do. It occupies a unique middle between something like At the Movies and something like Spoilers: it’s discussion based, but they’re not "reviewing" films in the traditional sense. The focus is on the discourse. At the Movies certainly has had its fair share intellectual dialogue between hosts, but at the end of the day, the show’s main function is to recommend movies for people to go see. When Larsen and Kempenaar finish their discussion, there are no stars given or thumbs raised—they ask for feedback (which they usually receive) and let the listeners decide for themselves. Any given film, whether good or bad, is good or bad for multiple reasons. Filmspotting aims to dissect those reasons, and for that, I give them credit.

As to whether or not their live taping is something that could be practiced on a more consistent basis, I’m not sure. The event in total was nearly three hours long, a run time much more conducive to a podcast format. However, the audience never once seemed antsy, and the typical Filmspotting episode isn’t nearly as long. Also, the way they incorporated assorted clips from the films they discussed made for a much more dynamic experience than the podcast version. Still, it was encouraging. Hopefully they’ll try it more often.