By this point, Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This hardly needs an introduction. The podcast exploring “the secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century” regularly lands on countless best-of-the-year lists, including Time’s and Rolling Stone’s, and has been praised in the pages of the Guardian and the New York Times. Since April 2014, Longworth has researched, written, and narrated over a dozen seasons, and in the new one, launched this week, she will be telling the stories of Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, “the biggest stars in the Rat Pack who weren’t Frank Sinatra.”
Longworth has discovered that delving into the movies, music, and lives of Davis and Martin “reveals tons about the evolution of racial attitudes from the beginning of the twentieth century—when Italians and Italian-Americans like Dean were widely considered to be non-white; about how Hollywood responded to, and influenced, changing ideas about masculinity and ‘the man’ from World War II to Vietnam and beyond; and above all, about the differences and similarities between mainstream capitalism and underground criminal economies, which is laid bare by the intersection of the music industry and the mafia.”
This week has also seen the release of Fun City Cinema: New York City and the Movies That Made It, Jason Bailey’s new book on “how the rise, fall, and resurrection of New York City was captured and chronicled in ten iconic Gotham films across ten decades.” RogerEbert.com is running an excerpt from the chapter on Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), a film that “seemed timed, purely accidentally, to capture the dark mood of the city that summer.” The other nine movies that Bailey writes about are The Jazz Singer (1927), King Kong (1933), The Naked City (1948), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Wall Street (1987), Kids (1995), 25th Hour (2002), and Frances Ha (2012). Brian Tallerico calls Fun City Cinema “one of the most essential film books of 2021, a stunningly thorough document of film history that brims with both remarkable detail and deep passion for both writing and cinema. It’s a must-own.”
Last summer, Bailey teamed up with Michael Hull to launch a podcast, also called Fun City Cinema, and like Longworth’s, these episodes are deeply researched and well-told stories. In their first two episodes, Bailey and Mull devoted nearly three hours to the making, immediate impact, and enduring relevance of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). Last September, following a summer of protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, they examined the ways that “the New York cop movies of the 1970s sculpted (and whitewashed) the public perception of the NYPD.” Bailey has spoken with Susan Seidelman (Smithereens), Bette Gordon (Variety), and Lizzie Borden (Born in Flames) about the punk-influenced No Wave scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s. In further episodes, we hear the stories behind the Death Wish franchise and a couple of movies starring the world’s largest subway system, Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) and Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979).
Another podcast to recommend is The Plot Thickens, hosted by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz. The third and current season, Lucy, tracks the life of Lucille Ball, the star of seventy-five features and, of course, the game-changing 1950s sitcom, I Love Lucy. In the latest episode, Lucy, still a young woman from Jamestown, New York, arrives in Hollywood, where she will meet Cuban-born bandleader Desi Arnaz—and the rest is a landmark chapter in television history. Aaron Sorkin’s telling of this story in the forthcoming Being the Ricardos, starring Nicole Kidman as Lucy and Javier Bardem as Desi, will most likely be fun in that Aaron Sorkin sort of way, but Mankiewicz’s version is a sober and engaging documentary for the ears.
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