Finally got to this episode and I agree that the movie is pretty flawless. One thing I got from the movie that you didn't mention, was the purpose of John Slattery's character. The movie introduces the question of who at the paper was the person who ignored/hid the story when it first came to them in years ago. Watching the movie for the first time, it felt throughout the movie that they were building John Slattery up to be that person, with him being a higher up who would have been at the paper at the time, and is now actively trying to kill the story. So he sort of serves as a red herring for the audience, to strengthen the reveal that it was in fact Keaton's character who ignored the story at first. However, there is also the thread about "people just doing their jobs" and it working in favour of the church, which is exactly what Slattery's character is doing throughout the movie. So he serves double duty in both being a red-herring for the reveal, while also providing an example of how just doing your job can look a lot like actively trying to protect the corrupt institution.

Fun fact: That other actor playing the Spotlight reporter with the kids and the 'rehab' house in his neighbourhood is Brian d'Arcy James. He is a Broadway musical actor, probably most famous for playing Shrek in Shrek the musical just a few years before this movie came out :) More recently he also played Officer Krupke in Spielberg's West Side Story

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Aug 25, 2023Liked by Anna Rettberg

Very interesting episode, I appreciate the movie more now that I heard your take on it. It's a very delicate and serious subject matter, so it's understandable that they went for a sober approach, but for me, the journalistic-like restrain puts too much distance (especially with the visual language, which I would say is mostly neutral.) With that said, as you pointed out, the movie does go beyond journalism in subtle ways, which I wouldn't have really noticed if you didn't talk about it. Now that you mentioned it, some scenes resonate more for me, like the scene where they talk about how it needs a village to hide crimes of that scale and also the scene where Ruffalo and McAdam's characters talked about their inner conflicts about religion.

Since we talked about P.T. Anderson last week and religion this week, I went back and listened to your episode on There Will Be Blood and rewatched the movie. Very interesting episode as well, I thought a lot about satire and drama this week. Aesthetically it's the polar opposite of Spotlight, but thematically it's close so it was interesting to watch both back to back. I took some notes about that, I'll post later this weekend.

It was a fantastic month, as thought-provoking and engaging as always. I won't be able to comment much this fall but I enjoyed a lot the discussion during the summer, I hope to be able to join the discussion more often in the near future!

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Aug 26, 2023·edited Aug 26, 2023

So I ended up writing more about TWBB than Spotlight, I hope it's not a problem. I wanted to discuss the themes of both films but it was easier to write about TWBB since it's closer to my sensibility. But both movies complement each other very well and viewing Spotlight before I rewatched TWBB made some themes clearer to me. I hope it will be of some interest!

I didn't care about TWBB the first time I saw it, I thought it was another rehash of the "rise and fall" gangster arc we often see in Scorsese's movies. The music also felt contrived and the whole movie irked me. The movie is fairly ambiguous but I think this was a misreading. After watching Spotlight, TWBB didn't feel as much like a character study but more like a social drama describing the same kind of systemic problems with religion. I think the drama is not really located in the character of Daniel Plainview but more in the general idea that society didn't catch up with the concept of progress as fast as him. It's treated directly once, when he gives a speech about building schools at Little Boston and nobody reacts but Eli who asks for a road leading to the church. As for the satire, to me, the character of Eli is completely played as a caricature but feels realistic anyway in the context of the film because the villagers accept him as a prophet. So in that regard, I would say that it's the villagers that are satirized. Normally, satire goes the other way, pointing out flaws in power figures, so it was not obvious to me the first time I saw the film.

As for music, some influence is from classical music from the 50s onward (Ligeti and Penderecki most notably.) But Edgard Varèse and Bartok invented most of the techniques we hear in the movie in the 20s. Anyway, the timeframe doesn't matter that much, conceptually the influence for the music is the Industrial Revolution, where composers stopped thinking in terms of harmony and melody, and more in terms of rhythm and timbre. Soderbergh did the same thing as Anderson in the teleseries The Knick, he used electronic music that felt completely contemporary with the worldview of early 20th-century doctors. Regarding the music by Brahms, which we hear when they bless the well and at the end, that particular piece is very heavy German music (I would even say bloated) that catered to the aristocracy. Brahms innovated and is a good composer, but even in his time, he was considered a conservative, so thematically I think it's a very interesting choice. So even though it's not explicit, to me the ending feels like a complete repudiation of the Old World, religion, etc. I don't think the movie offers extreme capitalism as the ultimate solution because it portrays Daniel's character as flawed, but I think the argument is that it's better than what was there before.

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Aug 25, 2023·edited Aug 25, 2023Author

Glad you liked the episodes this summer! We always enjoy hearing your thoughts!

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