Your host: Karina Longworth
She’s authored books on Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, founded Cinematical.com and worked as the film critic for LA Weekly. She started You Must Remember This to, in her words, “explore the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” The false legend of Frances Farmer, Frank Sinatra’s deeply weird 1979 triple album, Judy Garland’s late-career comeback and her rise as a gay icon: all covered here. Entertainment Weekly likes it; you will, too.
Do you listen to other podcasts? If so, which ones and why?
KL: Yes, I’m a podcast junkie. I find that listening to familiar voices really helps me to get through necessary activities that are otherwise hard for me to start and complete (such as exercise, housework, email). One of the reasons I started my podcast is that, as a podcast consumer, I felt like there couldn’t be such a thing as a saturated market — I have a constant anxiety that I’m on the verge of running out of things to listen to. I like long interview podcasts conducted by strong personalities, particularly those done by Julie Klausner, Marc Maron (both of whom are doing incredible cultural anthropology, I think, getting stories on the record that would otherwise go unrecorded — while also making me laugh out loud at the gym) and, recently, Bret Easton Ellis. I don’t think he does it anymore, but I really appreciated Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Here’s The Thing — please listen to his Elaine Stritch episode, if you haven’t. I always listen to Grantland’s Girls In Hoodies and Do You Like Prince Movies?, and usually Slate’s Culture and DoubleX Gabfests. This time of year, I listen to a lot of baseball podcasts, because I’m an insane Dodgers fan; my favorites are Effectively Wild and Jonah Keri, and then I’ll sometimes listen to the Baseball Tonight podcast, if there’s a big story they’re covering that I care about. I don’t actually listen to a lot of podcasts that are like mine, in terms of storytelling, with the exception of Death, Sex and Money and The Memory Palace, but I’ll never change the station if This American Life or Radiolab are on the radio when I’m in the car. And, I usually catch up on Left, Right, and Center as a podcast. That show will always be important to me, because it was the first political radio that I chose to listen to, as opposed to the conservative talk radio my dad listened to day and night.
Three people from Hollywood’s first century you’d like to talk to, regardless of mortality.
KL: The more Hollywood history I read, the more I’m drawn to the many stories that haven’t been sufficiently or fully recorded. With that in mind, my dream is to talk to Marcia Lucas, the first wife of George Lucas, who worked as an editor /supervising editor on American Graffiti, Taxi Driver, Medium Cool, Star Wars (for which she won an Oscar) and other films … and has not edited anything since she and George divorced, around the time of the release of Return of the Jedi. The living filmmaker that I most admire, and have never met, is Paul Thomas Anderson. And I don’t know about “talk to,” but, with the awareness that he was a total nightmare for women, I would have liked to have seen the charisma of the young Howard Hughes for myself.
You’ve written books about both Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. If it’s possible for either of these actors to have an under-the-radar performance, can you recommend one for each? In Pacino’s case, I assume it won’t be for his work in Jack and Jill.
KL: Actually, I devoted the entire final chapter of my book on Pacino to Jack and Jill! (Seriously. Watch just his parts. It’s worth it.)
THAT SAID, the most fascinating Al Pacino movie that no one has heard of is Revolution, a period-detail-perfect Revolutionary War movie with some of the immediacy of 70s American cinema, but I can’t exactly recommend the movie or his performance in it; it’s just totally bizarre. I can wholeheartedly recommend Sea of Love, which is not talked about much, and is awesome.
With Meryl, I can definitely recommend Death Becomes Her, which I think people don’t take seriously, and should.
I really enjoy the music beds you make for the podcasts (not just because I’m an X fanboy and you used “Sex and Dying in High Society” in the Kay Francis episode). How long does it take to put one of these together?
KL: It takes a while to pick music. Editing an episode has never taken me less than a single 10 hour work session, and usually it takes more like two of them, because I work really hard to find and place the right things.
Generally, I try to use music to set a mood, and sometimes, particularly at the beginning of an episode, that’s a period mood. So, for something that begins in the 1930s, I might use a Gershwin piano prelude; for the episode on Isabella Rossellini in the 1990s, I think I used a lot of Massive Attack. Sometimes that means using soundtrack music from the subject’s films, but more often than not, as the episode goes on, I like to break away from the period of the story, and use music to create more of an emotional mood. I usually make those connections intuitively. So, even though their lives barely overlapped, in the Kay Francis episode I used a bunch of Erik Satie, because that felt like the appropriate soundtrack for her sort of precarious decadence; the story of the doomed romance between Kim Novak and Sammy Davis Jr., reminded me of the James Blake song, “Life Round Here,” in terms of both the music and the lyrics (“Part time love…everything feels like touchdown on a rainy day”). For the songs that end the episode, I usually try to pick something that has some kind of relationship to the themes of the story, either literal or ironic, or just in terms of feeling. The Frances Farmer episode, which has a lot to do with a Nirvana song and the connection Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love felt to Farmer, ends with a clip from a song by Love’s band, Hole. The Ida Lupino episode ends with a Breeders song, “Off You,” which sounds like history’s most beautiful death rattle, and seemed to me to epitomize the way Lupino, once so bright a talent, sort of faded away.