Monday, February 19, 2018

“Battleship Pretension” Sets Sail at Oscar Time

Classic film enthusiasts are well acquainted with Battleship Potemkin, the thrilling 1925 silent Soviet epic in which director Sergei Eisenstein showed the Russian people rising up against their Tsarist oppressors. But do these film fans also know “Battleship Pretension”?

This latter is something totally unknown in Eisenstein’s day: a podcast. It’s been around for 13 years, regularly doling out opinions about movies. As the “Battleship Pretension” site makes clear, it offers  “movie talk from two guys who think they know more than you do.” Frankly, I’m not convince they know more than I do about The Graduate. I first met Tyler Smith, one of those two self-confident film dudes, when I climbed aboard “Battleship Pretension” to talk about my new book, Seduced by Mrs. Robinson. Tyler may not have been the ultimate expert on The Graduate, but he was savvy and charming. That’s why we scheduled a second conversation to compare notes on the upcoming Oscar race. Afterward, I couldn’t resist asking Tyler about himself.

Tyler is currently a graduate student in the UCLA film school, majoring in critical studies. He’s the rare film geek who holds conservative social values, and considers himself a committed Christian. (By contrast, his co-host and longtime friend David Bax is, in Tyler’s words, “a liberal atheist.”) One thing that fascinates me about Tyler’s perspective is that – unlike a good many Christian conservatives – he has no use for censorship of any sort. Devices like Vid Angel that remove nudity and rough language from an existing film, are for him completely missing the point, and he wouldn’t dream of favoring a cleaned-up version of a Scorsese or Tarantino film, because “that stuff is the movie.” No fan of most overtly Christian movies, he points to the evolving Samuel L. Jackson character in Pulp Fiction as an unlikely but genuine Christian role model.

Each year’s Oscar season is a special time for “Battleship Pretension” and its fans. Since 2013, Tyler and David have been handing out the BP Awards, based on the votes of about 30 movie experts, including site contributors, fellow podcasters, and previous guests. The winners are announced at the end of February. Alas, there are no fancy gold statuettes, but the BP folks do generally stage an impressive ceremony that is featured on the podcast. OK, so it’s faked – but they have fun adding music, crowd noise, and celebrity photos. Tyler has loved putting these bogus events together: “I don’t know if anybody enjoyed it as much as I did.” 

Most of the BP award categories are familiar ones – best supporting actor, best documentary feature – but Smith and Bax have given themselves the right to invent categories of their own. That’s why there’s an award for best stunts, as well as the unique “The Bruce McGill in The Insider Award for Best Performance Under 15 Minutes.” Past winners of this prize have included Matthew McConaughey in The Wolf of Wall Street and Channing Tatum in Hail, Caesar! But Tyler seems most jazzed about the 2016 award, which went to journeyman actor Neal Huff for his tiny but key scene as an abuse survivor who gets the ball rolling in Spotlight. Tyler loved the fact that Huff was hardly a movie star. “Battleship Pretension” contacted his publicist, and learned that Huff would be happy to tape a gracious acceptance speech. 

This year’s nominees, who include Bruce Greenwood as a frantic reporter in The Post and Harriet Sansom Harris as a soused client of couturier Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, are by no means celebrities. Let’s hope the BP Bruce McGill Award really makes someone’s day.

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