Karina Longworth describes her podcast You Must Remember This as an exploration of “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century”. I’ve been recommending it to lots of people recently. For anyone who came to our Lady From Shanghai screening the episode about Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles is a must listen and the recent series about “the life, crimes, and cultural reverberations of Charles Manson” is utterly compelling.
Last week I spoke to Karina, who’s currently living in London, about her podcast and what she thinks of what we’ve shown at Tufnell Park Film Club.
Nigel: First, congratulations on the show. There’s a lot of great buzz about it at the moment it seems, especially after the Manson series.
Karina: Thank you. The show is more popular that I ever thought it would be. I never expected it be something that would be top of the Film & TV section of the iTunes podcast charts. I always thought it be for people who were cinephiles or people who were maybe not just interested an old Hollywood but were interested in weird old history. It’s been really exciting.
What are the perfect ingredients of an episode for you?
It can’t just be ‘this person was an interesting movie star who made some good movies’ or ‘this is one of the great directors’. There has to be some kind of tension between their life and their work or something about their experience that tells a larger story about what it was like to be alive during that period.
Have there been subjects you’ve thought about doing but then rejected because they didn’t meet that criteria?
Yes. Right now I’m going through the process of figuring out next season which is going to be all requests from listeners. There have been hundreds of requests via the forum on my website. Now I’m in the process of getting it down to about 15. A lot of people are like ‘I love this director’ or ‘I love this star and I want to know more about them’. That’s great but there isn’t always an obvious thing about them that I’m interested in telling.
There was some director, it might have been Billy Wilder, somebody who made incredible films for many, many decades but there isn’t just one story that stands out to me as ‘that’s the story I have to tell’. That doesn't mean that Billy Wilder isn’t interesting and there aren’t probably lots of stories that I could find if I spent a month doing research on Billy Wilder but because nothing jumped out at me right away I’m not going to do Billy Wilder next season.
How did you decide what subjects to commence with when you started the podcast?
The first few episodes were just things that I wanted to know more about. I had spent some time as a freelancer trying to pitch stories about the kinds of things I ended up covering in the podcast. Editors just weren’t that interested in them and I found I had a really hard time communicating exactly what I wanted to do. The podcast became a way to show people why was I interested in things like this crazy record that Frank Sinatra made in 1980.
For the second season I had this book I’d worked on called Hollywood Frame By Frame which collected contact sheets from the sets of classic movies. The reality of most book publishing right now is that you have to do the promotion yourself so I decided to use a season of the podcast to expand on a lot of stories that were in the book. The next season, ‘Star Wars’, was all about the experience of stars during World War II. I came around to that because I’d re-read this book called City of Nets which all about 1940s Hollywood and there were so many incredible stories that were told in miniature and I wanted to explore them more deeply.
After that it was the Charles Manson series.
Manson seemed like a bit of a departure to me. Most of the episodes I’ve heard are about ‘classic Hollywood’ and it’s also more long-form, telling a single story over more than a dozen episodes.
In terms of time period I’d done episodes about everything from the teens through the 1990s but it was definitely different in terms of trying to tell one story over the course of an entire season. Though it’s not entirely linear - for instance the Kenneth Anger episode begins in the 1930s. I definitely wanted to do something that felt little bit more serialised and not necessarily like the show Serial which lately people have been comparing my show to. They are both about murder! I think one of things that was frustrating about Serial for a lot of people was that the murder didn't get solved. I have the benefit of history in that I could have an ending to mine.
I guess I was just ready for the challenge of trying to see if I could let a story continue from week to week in that way. There was also a logistical thing I was trying to do. I was wondering if I could do all of the research and writing for a season before it started so that I’d have more time to work on other projects. That didn’t work at all! I read a bunch of books about Manson and the 60s before I started but I still pretty much had to write and do additional research each week. So I failed!
But with great results! I’m not aware of any other podcasts that cover this range of subjects in the style that you do. Can you talk a bit about your approach to how the podcast sounds?
One of the things I noticed as a podcast listener is that there wasn’t a podcast about cinema that felt cinematic. When I write the scripts, as much as possible, I try to get away from my voice and me telling the story so that’s why I sometimes bring in movie clips or actors to read the quotes of dead people or interview clips and things like that. I knew that I wanted it to feel - I could say like ‘old radio’ but I've never heard an old radio show that sounds like my show.
It’s hard for me to say exactly where this stuff comes from but I always knew I wanted to have a spooky, ethereal intro and I wanted it to feel like somewhere between a cocktail party and a dream. It sounds so silly and you might not know some of these references because they come from being an American born in 1980 but there are four really big influences to what I do. One would be Elvira; one would be Vincent Price; one would be Kurt Loder from MTV who was really important to me as teenager. The way that he read the news was serious but he’d put in these deadpan jokes and I really admired that. And the fourth would be Vin Scully who is a baseball sportscaster. He’s been the guy who’s done the play-by-play for the Los Angeles Dodgers - he actually started with the Brooklyn Dodgers - he’s in his 80s and he’s been doing it for 60 years. I grew up listening to him. While he’s telling you about a game that’s happening in the moment he also tells you about the history of baseball.
You’ve had a look at the list of films we’ve shown at Tufnell Park Film Club. And also our ‘list of losers’ that we haven’t managed to show yet. Are there any of those films that are particular favourites of yours?
I wrote down three of each. You’ve shown two of my favourite movies which are In a Lonely Place and Cabaret but the one that I thought was really interesting that you showed was The Swimmer. That’s just one of those movies that I feel not a lot of people know about. I only discovered it about two years ago on late-night television.
In terms of the stuff that you haven't shown - there are a lot of good movies on that list too but I guess I feel like the biggest omissions are Sunset Boulevard, which is basically just the best movie about Hollywood, and then also Freaks, which is something that everybody should see. And then another one that I put on my list just because it would be such a fun thing to have a screening of in London of is An American Werewolf in London. I actually saw it in London a few years ago. I was here just for the weekend and Edgar Wright happened to be introducing it at the BFI. I’d never seen it before. It was a great screening and it's a great movie but I didn’t really know London at all then. Now I’ve spent more time here I'd love to watch more films shot in London, especially that one where there are people running all over the city.