February 20, 2013

Podcast Spotlight: Filmspotting


When my podcast addiction began in 2005, one of my first drugs was Filmspotting. I was stunned to find a weekly show that discussed movies with such intelligence and excitement. Hosts Adam Kempenaar and Sam Van Hallgren were friends who liked hanging out, and that chemistry made the shows fun and insightful. I started listening with the very first episode, and it's been a regular staple on my iPod ever since. It felt like the beginning of a new era in discussions about the arts, and these guys were at the forefront. The early shows weren't as smooth, but it felt like they were experimenting on the air and finding their voice. The Chicago-based show has become an institution during the past eight years, but it still retains the elements that made it exciting at the beginning.

Starting this week, I'm going to spotlight a favorite podcast every Wednesday. While it's hardly groundbreaking to cover a giant like Filmspotting, it feels like the perfect place to start when discussing great podcasts. In a certain way, my blog's format was inspired by Adam and Sam's approach. They had a feature discussion about a specific movie, explored blind spots with movie marathons, and gave weekly Top 5 lists. I wasn't trying to imitate them when setting up this blog, but it likely played a subconscious role. Their regular features also include Massacre Theater, where the hosts act out a movie scene in wonderfully amateurish fashion. Listeners get the chance to win a prize by guessing the film, but it's the silliness of their attempts that makes it such a fun segment.


Sam left the in 2007 and was replaced by Matty Robinson, who brought a different energy to the show. It was hard for me to think of the show without its original host, but Matty grew on me. A similar feeling happened again when Josh Larsen became Adam's third co-host in early 2012. After the expected break-in period, he's become a strong addition to the podcast. Their conversations are intelligent, yet neither guy becomes too pretentious. Former At the Movies co-host and Chicago Tribune Writer Michael Phillips makes frequent guest appearances to bring more power to the mix. I'm a big fan of his work and feel that the show is even better with his involvement. They may be a public-radio institution in Chicago but remain humble guys who love movies.

I know that some detractors think Filmspotting’s public-radio format limits their discussions. However, I believe it keeps them focused and makes for a better show. It’s easy for podcasts to go overboard with overly extensive conversations, so it doesn’t bother me for these to stay quicker. Also, they’re frequently talking about movies that I haven’t seen, so the shorter timeframe works. Beyond the main reviews, there are marathon discussions and broader topics that keep the show flowing. The tradition of bringing in Phillips and Steve Prokopy from A’int It Cool News to summarize the year’s best work is also a favorite. It’s this diversity that keeps the show interesting even when I’m not excited by the new review.

Another positive is the Filmspotting Forums, where great people get together to talk about films. It's a diverse, friendly community of movie fans who are always recommending interesting choices. I don't post as much as I'd like, but it's still fun to check in periodically. This communal atmosphere springs from the podcast, which never feels self-important. Adam and Josh are smart guys but rarely condescending. Filmspotting is an inclusive show that continues to set the standard for other movie podcasts to follow.

6 comments:

  1. Cool, positive review, Dan. I suspect if you are going to review your podcast favorites, they'll be a lot of positive reviews? I like positive reviews, so that's good for me.

    Thanks for giving a plug for the forum. It's a great, relaxed community to encourage people to see the best of films out there.

    Also, have you seen the podcast reviews on Bill's Movie Emporium? He's been reviewing film podcasts for a long time now.

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    1. Thanks Steve! Yes, these will all be positive since I'm really just spotlighting podcasts that I like. Bill's posts are great but are taking a different approach and really digging into whether he thinks they work. I'm a big fan of those, but this is really just calling out some shows that I enjoy.

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  2. I look forward to learning about more podcasts without actually having to do the work myself :) (I got hooked on Kermode from the recommendations of other filmspotters.) I have to say as a long-time listener, in all honesty, that I really miss Matty - that combination was really special.

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    1. Steven, I also really liked Matty's work and found those shows to be very entertaining. Matty had such a different approach to the podcast and didn't approach it like a film critic. It took me a while to get used to him after Sam since I'd listened since the start, however. When Sam left, I wondered if the show could still work. Now they're on the third co-host, and I'm still loving it.

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  3. I love this feature - I think it is really great reflecting on the podcasts you listen to and why you think they work. Having listened to podcasts for years now I have gone through different phases. FILMSPOTTING is currently off my radar ... (missed the whole departure of matty and all that) but I'm now loving the Empire podcast, still listening to the /Filmcast (but definately not loving it as much as I did)... and a few others. I shall be keeping up with these posts!

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    1. Thanks Simon. I know that there are so many great podcasts out there, and it's impossible to even know about all of them. I still haven't checked out a lot of the big names out there, as it's tough to find time to listen to the ones I enjoy already.

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