I wonder how many other men walked out of Blade Runner 2049, thought to themselves ‘I’m not an expert on this sort of thing, but that film had kind of a lazy and/or shitty attitude to women, right?’, only to then be frustrated by finding all of their go-to film critics gushing about how, finally, a worthy sequel had arrived to their favourite film ever. I’m a fan of internet & US TV star Adam Savage’s Still Untitled podcast, and Savage is such a fan of the original Blade Runner that he actually appears in a recent spinoff film, so he unsurprisingly liked the sequel. But I was heartened to hear that at least he and his (all male) crew took seriously the issues that (mainly female) filmgoers were having with this movie.
Anyway, the reason why I mention this is because I found myself grinning a few weeks later when listening to the latest Still Untitled episode, when Savage said he had been enjoying a stunningly good podcast made by film historian Karina Longworth, called You Must Remember This. I was grinning because I was wondering whether he had done exactly what I did after seeing the Blade Runner sequel. Had he also read about the debate, and concluded that, as a man, he simply didn’t have anywhere near enough understanding of this issue to be able to critique the film properly? Did he also feel like he needed expert help? I wonder how many other subscriptions Ms Longworth has acquired from men post-2049 typing the words “women review movies” into their podcast apps in exasperation.
You Must Remember This is not a movie review podcast. It is a movie history podcast, about “the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century”. It was not the podcast I was looking for. But it was definitely the podcast I needed.
Podcasts are a curious medium: often inspiring the strange cultish fandom that beloved radio presenters might expect, but on the one hand with a crazily specific niche, and on the other hand with a global audience. The fact that they’re so cheap and easy to make (usually just a loosely edited conversation between a small group of people) means that they can produce a huge amount of content. And the fact that they can be listened to pretty much anywhere and at any time means that people like me can spend a large proportion of their waking day with a podcast in their ears, whilst doing the dishes, empting the bins, doing exercise, and so on. For this reason, it’s easy to feel very attached to these voices you hear so regularly. Its catchphrases become your catchphrases. And YMRT has some great catchphrases: most of which I will inevitably try to incorporate in this article.
You Must Remember This is the best podcast I’ve ever listened to, by a country mile. And it doesn’t follow the normal format. There’s no team, no banter, no off-topic anecdotes and amusing rants. Instead there are (at time of writing) over 100 episodes written and read by Longworth, telling utterly gripping story after story about the lives and works of many cinema giants you thought you knew, and as many you’ve never heard of. And from the days of Charlie Chaplin to Madonna.
And what makes this podcast so special is its narrator. Something that Adam Savage identified is that, apart from being dazzled by her depth of knowledge, you just feel like you’re in safe hands. You feel like the next 40 minutes is guaranteed well-spent. This is not a person who takes cheap shots at others, or goes for easy laughs. Maybe it’s because in this podcast she is a film historian not a film critic, and she isn’t trying to figuratively shout above the noise. And seeing as so much of today’s culture feels like it is trying to shout above the noise, this podcast feels like all the more of a delight for being measured and balanced about its protagonists: making them seem genuine and likeable at one moment, and monstrous and self-obsessed the next.
She does a whole series on the Charles Manson killings, and why they not only tell you everything about Hollywood at the time but also why they basically ended the hippy movement. Now, I’d heard people say that before, but it always sounded like hyperbole: sure, the murders were horrific, but how could they be so culturally important that they brought an entire global popular culture movement to its end? Well, by the end of 12 episodes of deep deep background, I felt I could absolutely see why.
In episode 38, she tells a story so moving and tragic that it seems like it could only come from a movie script: of the unlikely marriage between Hollywood’s most macho leading man Clark Gable and the queen of the screwball comedy Carole Lombard, and how much they genuinely loved each other, and how brutally their marriage was cut short. Even Longworth herself starts to tear up as she narrates the story (she talks about why that happened in a future episode).
And I think this goes some way to explaining why Karina Longworth is well on her way to becoming a cult figure in her own right. This is a short extract from a Guardian article in July 2016:
I’m having lunch with Karina Longworth in an old cinema in Notting Hill when a man taps her on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, but do you do You Must Remember This podcast?” he asks. She nods. “Oh my god, I love it!” he screams. “I’m obsessed with the Charles Manson series. It’s such a pleasure to meet you!”
It’s a strange kind of fame when your voice is recognisable enough for you to be stopped, half way through a hotdog, to discuss one of the 20th-century’s most notorious murderers.
Having said all this, if you’re not that interested in movies or don’t feel inclined to listen to so much history, I can summarise a fair amount of it. Most actresses were uncomfortable with their manufactured sex goddess personas (but not Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, who all managed to own theirs). Most male actors were deeply insecure, and needed to sleep with as many women as possible to validate their desirability. Everyone had affairs with their co-stars. There were homosexual couples who lived long and (relatively) happy lives together. The Blacklist was no joke. The movie moguls were nowhere near as bad as you might think. Everyone was an alcoholic. I mean everyone, really everyone, was a serious, dangerous, alcoholic on a toboggan rise to self-annihilation. And no matter what the Coen Brothers might suggest in their film Hail Caesar!, you would never, ever, ever even remotely think of messing with Eddie Mannix.
So that’s a potted summary. But if, like me, you would be interested in learning what Martin Scorsese said to ex-wife Isabella Rossellini when David Lynch dumped her. Or you’re curious about why John Wayne didn’t fight in World War II. Or keen to hear more about how Frank Sinatra insisted the film Rosemary’s Baby stop production so its star and his wife, Mia Farrow, could co-star with him in a now forgotten film called The Detectives. If any of these sound intriguing to you… if you think you might be happy amongst our ever-increasing number of slightly obsessive Longworth fans… well then hey, “join us… won’t you?”