Letterboxd is an independent service created by a small team, and we rely mostly on the support of our members to maintain our site and apps. Please consider upgrading to a Pro account—for less than a couple bucks a month, you’ll get cool additional features like all-time and annual stats pages (example), the ability to select (and filter by) your favorite streaming services, and no ads!
The Letterboxd Show 2.12: Karsten Runquist
[clip of Fantastic Mr. Fox plays]
MRS. FOX Ash—I know what it’s like to feel—different.
ASH I’m not different. Am I?
MRS. FOX We all are, him especially. But there’s something kind of fantastic, isn’t there?
ASH Mmm, not to me, I prefer to be an athlete.
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
GEMMA Hello and welcome to The Letterboxd Show, a podcast about movies from Letterboxd: the social network for people who like to watch movies. Each episode, your host Slim and Gemma—that’s me—are joined by a Letterboxd friend for a chat about their four favorite films. That is the four films you choose as your favorites on your Letterboxd profile. As you listen along, we have links in the episode notes to the movies, lists and people we talk about so there is no excuse not to add these films to your watchlists. Today, our guest is YouTuber, podcaster and exceedingly popular Letterboxd member, Karsten Runquist.
KARSTEN Good to be here.
SLIM Karsten’s Letterboxd handle is kurstboy and his four favorites are—and I quote—“not actual top favorites, just films I’m really into each month.” So for today, for Karsten’s 89,000 Letterboxd followers and his 475,000 YouTube friends, we’re about to reveal his actual for real four favorite films. They are: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Synecdoche, New York, Wendy and Lucy and Climax. Karsten, are you ready for this journey we’re about to go on? You’re Wendy and we’re Lucy the dog for this conversation.
KARSTEN Oh, yeah. I’m very ready for the acid to kick in eventually. [Karsten & Gemma laugh]
SLIM One of those films—IMO—is not like the others. Do you think about that as you were watching, or seeing these four grouped together?
KARSTEN I would argue they’re much more similar than a lot of people think but we’ll get into that I’m sure. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM Gemma messaged me this morning and she watched Climax and she’s “This is not an AM movie.” [Slim & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA Pre-breakfast, this was a very bad idea.
KARSTEN My first screening of that was actually at 11am because I was so excited to see it that I went to see it in theaters at 11am. It was me and like one other guy. And I think we were both like, what are we doing here?
GEMMA I thought you’re gonna say eleven years of age and I was about to have conniptions!
SLIM Continuing a theme on our show of early viewings for movies. [Karsten laughs]
GEMMA Oh my god.
SLIM We should—let’s dig in right away. Fantastic Mr. Fox. 2009. Wes Anderson. This is a 4.2 average on Letterboxd. This is already mega high. [music from Fantastic Mr. Fox fades in] We’re starting off with a high rating. 12,000 fans. The Fantastic Mr. Fox bored with his current life, plans a heist against the three local farmers. The farmers, tired of sharing their chickens with the sly fox, seek revenge against him and his family. Walk us through your history with Fantastic Mr. Fox. You remember the first time you saw it?
KARSTEN Oh, I very vividly remember the first time I saw it. I think this was my favorite movie before I even saw it, because I saw the trailer for it before when I went to go see movies and my parents and we weren’t like a cinephile family. Like I wasn’t that—I didn’t know who Wes Anderson was, first of all. So like, we saw the trailer for it. And it just looked so different and fun compared to all the other, I guess, animated movies we were seeing. So I was immediately like, this looks really great. And then we saw it and I was obsessed. I think I was—we went to see it the first night it was available to see—which by the way it was in like an empty theater. It was not the talk of the town, I guess, where I was from. But yeah, it was it was my favorite movie then for reasons that were simple as like, it looked great. And I thought it was really funny. My parents thought it was funny. So automatically, I thought I was like yeah, okay, it must be pretty good if my parents like it. But now that like, moving into college, I was like rewatching it and paying more attention to film as I was in like film school. And I was just like, this is a genuinely great movie. It still holds up a lot. Especially because when I was a kid, I really empathized with Ash and was like, “I’m just like him. I’m not good at sports!” But nowadays—especially when I was like kind of growing up and you know, was like paying more attention to my behavior and friendships and stuff. I was like, I’m way more like Mr. Fox than I thought. It’s a very—it’s crazy how this movie has aged with me and is not—for as much as I’ve talked about it, I still think it’s like the best movie ever.
GEMMA Why are you more like Mr. Fox these days? [Karsten laughs]
KARSTEN I feel like that’s to a good thing to say, to be honest. I think there’s a lot of like narcissism in him. I don’t think I’m like, a full blown—I don’t think I’m like him. I’m not trying to, you know, move my family that doesn’t exist out of a hole. But I still feel like he’s—his whole thing is that—he has this very, like American dad figure. Also, again, not a dad. [Slim laughs]
SLIM I’m seeing a ton of similarities so far.
KARSTEN Ton of similarity so far. We’re both foxes.
GEMMA Check, check. [Gemma laughs]
KARSTEN But he’s very much like this guy who has these extremely large goals that are just not attainable. But at the end of the day, does them for the people around him and does them out of love. I’m like, I see a lot of that in myself. And in my own father and in like people I know. I’m just like, that’s a very real experience that I feel like a lot of men, at least in America, attach to weirdly enough just based on like the people I’ve talked to about this movie.
SLIM I was watching your video on Fantastic Mr. Fox, which we’ll have a link to in the episode notes, which is amazing. And you have one quote that I wrote out that stuck with me in that these types of movies, you know, where it’s kind of is great for adults, but great for kids. And it’s like a good family movie. You had said in the video that it “exposes children to defeat at an early age, even if things aren’t perfect, in the end, there are smaller things to appreciate.” And I think you’re absolutely right. Those messages, the more those are in mainstream films—especially like all ages, or, I don’t want to get pigeonholed into all ages films, because it’s a little bit more than that. But those are important messages to get to a young audience for sure.
KARSTEN Totally. Yeah, I think I really appreciate this movie because he does have this really crazy goal. And he doesn’t actually do it. You know, they actually end up in a worse hole than they were in before. But they have like new things to appreciate about it! Like they live below this convenience store. And he says something about like “the apples here are like plastic” or something or I forget like what specifically he says. It’s like yeah, it’s not as good as it was before but it’s got like its own new quirks and we have each other. I think it’s it’s so important to have movies like that for kids that are like, yeah, it doesn’t like need to be—they don’t need to win to feel fulfilled. I mean, there’s something beautiful about the fact that they still have each other and like they survived the whole thing regardless of if they made it or not.
GEMMA And the canon of Wes. And don’t forget that this was adapted from Roald Dahl’s story, by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, which is quite cool. So in the annals of Wes Anderson on Letterboxd, most Wes gets better on rewatch, but this particular film Fantastic Mr. Fox has significantly grown and reputation over the years over and above all of his others. The rating has just been on a steady growth spurt. From Jack’s fact on Letterboxd—from our lists editor Jack—it recently entered the Top 250 of All Time. Currently, it’s at 234 and it’s the second highest rated Wes behind The Grand Budapest Hotel and appears on a great number of Letterboxd lists, including—appropriately for this time of year in your part of the world—the fantastic Autumnal Harvest list. Movies that give you that warm feeling of fall and its surroundings. I mean, it’s truly—alongside When Harry Met Sally—the ultimate example. It also sits in the warm hugs cinematic universe, people are dancing and it’s not great but that doesn’t matter because they’re happy, and films which end with a fucking kick ass song which multiplies the greatness of the film.
KARSTEN Absolutely. Man—oh man. I actually stole the song. I think it’s called Let Her Dance or something. When I was in like high school, I put it at the end of like all my short films and my friends were like, “You can’t do that for every short film.” [Gemma laughs] It’s even weird to begin with considering Wes did it first. And I was like, “But it’s such a good ending!” But yeah, it’s one of the best credit songs.
GEMMA It’s so good. Some of my favorite Letterboxd hot takes. This one from Jay: “even in animation george clooney wont stop assembling teams of specifically skilled diverse groups for elaborate heists” [Gemma laughs] Which is so gorgeous. And then Laura’s “in love with the costumes & would wear every single one, but they get even more adorable when you imagine that they were all made by the tiny field mouse tailor voiced by adrien brody :’)”
KARSTEN Yeah, the field mouse is great.
SLIM I mean the time it takes to do this, and I know you have the YouTube channel, which I mean, even your Fantastic Mr. Fox video, like, I know how it takes a little while to edit a podcast, but like editing that starts to give me hives. Like adding in all those movie clips. I’m like, oh my god, that must take forever. And you mentioned film school, you mentioned short films. So what is your background and enjoyment in those areas to someone that maybe just follows your Letterboxd profile that doesn’t know the other kind of like creativity that you’re interested in? Like, what was your main drive to go to film school? And maybe even make movies?
KARSTEN Yeah, there was like never a doubt that I wanted to go into the film industry. I really didn’t have any urge to do anything else. And going into film school, I was like, yeah, I’d love to pursue directing. But if that doesn’t work out, seeing as though that’s a very hard thing to accomplish. I was like, I still just love film, and would love to be a part of the industry in any way. And I quickly got really into YouTube, and just like talking about movies, because I was like, I love to talk about films. And whether it be like a very in depth analysis or like making fun of something. It’s just a lot of fun to me. And then I got really into editing through that. And my concentration in school ended up being for film editing instead of directing, which I still would love to pursue. But as of recent, I have been focusing a little bit more on directing. And I just shot a short film called Dirtbag that is in post-production right now. And yeah, it’s a lot going on at once. It’s like I dabble in the directing and then I’m also like helping these other people edit a short film, also doing YouTube. I basically just kind of like to get my hands dirty in all the—every part of film.
SLIM Right. I watched your—what’s that He’s All That movie that just came out?
KARSTEN Oh, yeah. [Karsten & Slim laugh]
SLIM I watched the video you made about the movie. Oh my god, I wanted to like jump out the window just from seeing clips of that movie. [Slim laughs]
KARSTEN You have no idea what you’re in for with that. [Karsten laughs] It is crazy!
SLIM Gemma, when are you gonna watch that one?
GEMMA I’m putting it off. [Slim laughs] I’m putting it off. It’s on the list.
KARSTEN Oh my god.
GEMMA Okay, just before we move on, I have a follow up question about your career, Karsten. What was the movie that made you go, ‘I want to be a filmmaker’ as opposed to just watch films.
KARSTEN It’s very embarrassing. Actually, I don’t know if this is even that embarrassing. But it was my senior year of high school, I watched American Beauty, which is a good movie. But looking back at it, I’m like, ah, man! I wish I had a different answer. Yeah, I don’t know. I grew up like very kind of—my mom didn’t let me watch a lot of like, intense R-rated like, anything remotely complex. So seeing American Beauty. I was like, what the heck is this all about? And it just blew my mind. I was like, so invested in how many turns the film took and how many weird choices it made. Looking back at it, it’s like there’s a billion other movies that I think do would that does better. But that is the answer to that question.
SLIM That’s interesting, because I feel like that is a gateway, quote, “film” for young people. Because I remember seeing that when I was younger too. And that also had like a real big impact. Like whoa! Movies are really deep. Like crazy, I’m not expecting this. I think that’s like an eye opening film. And then you eventually find other movies. But yeah, in terms of movies that maybe haven’t held up as well, that’s definitely one I think.
GEMMA Although, having said that, I still whenever I see a plastic bag blowing in the wind—
KARSTEN That’s beautiful. It’s a great—
GEMMA It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! [Gemma & Slim laughs] Speaking of films we never need to watch again. [Karsten & Slim laugh]
SLIM Synecdoche, New York. This is Gemma’s moment. 2008. Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. 4.1 average on Letterboxd, still very high. Six, almost 7,000 other people have this in their four favorites on Letterboxd. A theater director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he attempts to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse as part of his new play. And man, the love for this movie. I just want to read a quick quote—Letterboxd—I think that Jack pointed out. “Big thanks to Charlie Kaufman for making me have a mid-life crisis at seventeen.” [Gemma & Slim laugh] That’s cait on Letterboxd. So, what was your experience in seeing this film from Charlie Kaufman?
KARSTEN This doesn’t really happen in this—didn’t happen with any of these other movies. But immediately after finishing it, I was like this is without a doubt like one of the best movies I’ve seen and I don’t understand anything that just happened. I was like, I was too dumb to get it. [Slim laughs] But I was like, I feel it, I feel that. And I definitely like sat with it for a very long time, and then rewatched it I think later that summer. And I think it’s just one of those movies that came to me at the right time. Where I was—I think this was like two or three years ago, I was still in school and was just very, like, scared about my career and self conscious about my work, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And this movie, I was like, this is very—this is both very inspiring and also kind of, weirdly enough, like comforting to watch. Just in how it is very big and ambitious. But I feel like the whole point of the movie is to be like, this is all very absurd. And it shouldn’t have to matter.
SLIM Also includes maybe the best ASMR of a person trying to create saliva in their mouth while eating. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Oh god. Don’t even put it in the edit, Slim.
SLIM Okay. Okay. Charlie Kaufman is a blind spot for me. I think I’ve seen Being John Malkovich. And I haven’t seen the new one. Mainly because I—maybe there’s a stigma, incorrect stigma around his movies, that are like, he makes weird movies. You know, like quote unquote “weird movies” that maybe, like you said, you don’t get a first viewing. But there’s layers upon layers of meaning that you can interpret from these movies. And Roger Ebert called this the decades best movie.
KARSTEN I didn’t know that.
GEMMA Wrong. He’s wrong. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM Gemma’s ready to box somebody.
GEMMA I am ready to be convinced. Come on, bring me over. Bring me over.
KARSTEN Oh no!
SLIM She’s so combative right now! She’s ready to go in the ring! [Slim laughs] Gemma, what did you think about Synecdoche, New York?
GEMMA But it’s so funny because Jack gives us facts for the show every week. It’s his all time favorite movie. He watched it four times in a row within 24 hours when it first came out.
KARSTEN Oh my gosh!
SLIM Jesus. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA I know. Can you imagine? And he wrote, “I honestly don’t know what it’s like to come to this movie fresh.” So I can tell you. I just, I don’t know what it was that put me—I’ll say, I’m a Philip Seymour Hoffman, you know, mega fan. He’s the one celebrity I have a photo with. We had a beautiful conversation about theater! And what I love about him in this film is that there’s a lot of theater and he owned a theater company and loooved theater. You know, and so I can see why he was attracted to the film itself and to the constructions within it. And of course, the production design is incredible. And of course, Charlie’s amassed an extraordinary cast of women to surround Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character. But my favorite is Adele Lack because she just gets out of there really early on, takes off to Berlin. [Gemma & Karsten laugh] Okay, here it is. In a nutshell, I’m sitting there, two hours of my life watching the work of a man who’s managed to amass enough money and people to make a movie that is yet again—oh my god, I’m so sorry men. Here we go. [Gemma laughs] About—about men’s problem with death and with realizing that they’re just not really being looked at all their lives. And I just feel like, give me something—I get it. I get it. But it should have been a novel, not a movie. I get it.
[clip of Synecdoche, New York plays]
CADEN We’ll start by talking honestly. Out of that a piece of theater will evolve. I’ll begin. I’ve been thinking a lot about dying lately.
CLAIRE You’re going to be fine, sweetie.
CADEN I appreciate that, Claire, but --
CLAIRE Well, you are. You poor thing.
CADEN Regardless of how this particular thing works itself out, I will be dying. So will you. So will everyone here. And that’s what I want to explore. We are all hurtling toward death. Yet here we are, for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we’re going to die; each of us secretly believing we won’t.
[clip of Synecdoche, New York ends]
SLIM Karsten is now feeling like one of his YouTube viewers that are watching a video that he can’t agree with. [Slim & Karsten laugh] Isn’t it white men’s time, finally, Gemma? To get their time in spotlight? [Gemma & Slim laugh] And it does feel like one of those potentially unfilmable movies. You mentioned it being a novel. Like if this—I don’t know if this is based on a novel, but if I had read the novel I’d be like, oh, you can’t film this. This is way too weird. This is not going to translate well to film. And I don’t know, maybe there’s some truth to that.
KARSTEN This is a very hard movie to defend. It’s, really, it’s structurally such a mess. I will get down with that. I agree with all of your points. [Karsten laughs] But—there’s not even a but, I don’t even know what to say! [Gemma laughs]
SLIM Speaking of a dying man who thinks maybe they’re not getting what they deserve. We just recently watched All That Jazz, which isn’t too dissimilar. But I think we both loved, right? So what did you see, Gemma, in All That Jazz that this movie didn’t have?
GEMMA Ahhh. It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because it’s—yeah, you’re right. It’s an artistic man who’s a leader, is a leader. Lots of women surrounding them, facing death. Wow. [Slim laughs] The art—the art is important. And, you know, Adele Lack says it. She says, “Why are you doing someone else’s version of someone else’s play? You should be doing your own thing.” And I think that, you know, we know that Bob Fosse, he was 100% doing his own—and Gwen Verdon’s—thing. I enjoy the playfulness. I mean, it must have been an absolute ball for the cast, the layers upon layers of people playing people playing people playing people. I thought that was great. I’m just really flabbergasted by the people who would watch it four times in the first 24 hours. No offence to Jack. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM Apologies to Jack. Poor guy can’t even defend himself right now.
GEMMA I mean, I would do that with Paddington. So I mean, that’s it. That’s the bottom line, I guess.
KARSTEN Yeah, yeah. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Let’s switch gears and get back to Karsten’s YouTube life. Recently, you posted a video about going to the movies alone. You also talked about your mental health benefits of turning off Letterboxd comments. So I’m actually, you know, obviously super fascinated. You’ve amassed this large following on Letterboxd and it always cracks me up, I go on the unofficial Letterboxd subreddit. And everyone’s like, “How do I get more likes? How do I get more likes?” Always cracks me up. [Kasrten laughs] And it for me, it’s never been about that. I’m grateful enough to have a community of friends that are also on Letterboxd. So we kind of see each other’s reviews. We make fun of each other in the comments and chat with that. But with you, how has having so many followers on Letterboxd influence how you review movies? In the back of your head, do you worry about like, oh, I got so many people are gonna complain about this? Or do you just still free will it, not worry about it? How does that impact you?
KARSTEN It’s definitely changed the way I do things. Especially because, I think in 2019, I started going to film festivals, where I would be one of like the first 200 people to see like, The Lighthouse or something. So obviously over time, my review gets like pushed to the top. And I think that turned into a snowball. And now, because of that, mixed with YouTube, it’s like my reviews are usually almost always at the top of the pages. And people I think just got very quickly annoyed at the fact they’re like, why is this guy at the top of every movie? [Karsten laughs] Sometimes he has nothing to say, which is true! I love Letterboxd. I don’t know why anyone want to be like a Letterboxd influencer or aim to do that. I’m like, I use this platform as—like most people—it’s just like a journal and a great place to like log and organize and set up movies that I want to watch. Look for new movies to watch. It’s just like such a great platform for all of that. I do not use it as a social media site or like YouTube for that record. YouTube is where I do my work. Letterboxd is where I will like quickly jot down a thought. And I think the more followers I got, the more pressure there is, I think, to make that top spot of the movie, like, do something. But I realized I’m like, that’s not really—I didn’t like ask to be at the top of the pages. That’s just like how it is. So I’ve gotten to a point where I just want to like use the platform I want to use it, which is just the same way as anybody else.
SLIM I was looking at the members page on Letterboxd, I think this morning. And the handful of people have a ton of followers and I was thinking like old school—there are still film critics for newspapers, not saying they don’t exist. [Slim laughs] At a certain point, you get enough readers, you’re like an almost de facto film critic, you know? And maybe a job you didn’t really ask for but you kind of almost have it because of the amount of readership that you have on Letterboxd.
KARSTEN It’s very weird. Because of a mix of Letterboxd and YouTube, I’ve started just applying for press for film festivals. Mostly because a friend who is also a YouTube film critic convinced me to do it. He’s like, “Listen.” Kind of like what you just said. “You have like a lot of people watching and like reading your reviews,” he’s like, “you might as well like get in on it.” And I just realized standing in these press lines at TIFF, I’m like, what the hell is going on? Like this is not—what am I doing here? [Gemma & Karsten & Slim laugh]
GEMMA That’s interesting, because when this episode comes out, we’ll be right in the middle of TIFF once again. And it’s fascinating—and Brian Formo just wrote something about this for us for our Festival HQ. The kind of festival hype versus what happens when the wider public and wider film enjoyers get to see a movie. And given you have that following, how do you—is there a sense of whatever I say right now is going to be influential either way?
KARSTEN I do feel like—especially at TIFF the one year I did go for press. I was like this review of Joker is probably going to be seen by a lot of people. Because not a lot of people have seen Joker yet. And everyone wants to know what I think of Joker. And, yeah, not to say Joker’s a small indie film or that Todd Phillips has any idea who I am. But I’m just like, it’s like, there is thought that goes into it. I guess. It’s very complicated, though. I don’t really— I’m still kind of just winging it.
SLIM I just got a notification, Todd Phillips just unsubbed from the podcast. [Gemma laughs]
KARSTEN Oh no. [Karsten laughs]
SLIM Wendy and Lucy. 2008. This has 3.8 average. Wendy and your penniless drifter is traveling to Alaska in search of work and her only companion is her dog Lucy. Already perilously close to losing everything, Wendy hits a bigger bump in the road where a car breaks down, she’s arrested and then her dog goes missing. Kelly Reichardt written with her regular collaborator Jonathan Raymond. This is actually my first movie of hers that I’ve seen, believe it or not, this week.
SLIM I’ve stayed clear of the A24 fog. The mist rolling in, I’ve settled under it.
GEMMA I was just so excited for you, Slim. That means you’ve still got First Cow to come in your life. [Gemma gasps]
SLIM Yes, I think I still have another six eight months before I can jump in there, the hype is still off the charts for that movie. [Gemma laughs] But what about you Karsten, with Wendy and Lucy, what was the relationship with this film? Did you have a knowledge of her work beforehand? Or did you just jump ahead first? [music from Wendy and Lucy fades in]
KARSTEN I did fall for the A24 fog, whatever it’s called. [Slim laughs] Whatever you want to—I actually watched Old Joy before watching First Cow and thought it was—I was just kind of like, she seems like an interesting filmmaker and really loved Old Joy because of how simple, how short it was. I was like, thank god a short movie that’s like barely an hour. And then I watched First Cow and was like this is great. And this was just like, I was going through lhis Kelly Reichardt binge last summer. And then watched Wendy and Lucy and just was over the moon about it. I’m like this is a really tragic movie that it really stuck with me. I feel like just saying I grew up with dogs is enough to justify why I love this movie so much. There’s like it’s like the first movie I’ve seen that really understands like the human to animal connection that there is. Like it just knows why that love exists. And yeah, really stuck with me the first time.
SLIM Yeah, it’s a quiet—I think it’s even on a quiet character study list, quiet little female character studies list on Letterboxd. So I didn’t have any idea what I was walking into. And it is, there’s so many quiet moments. Scenes just kind of play out and sit and let you marinate on them. So this is sort of spoiler territory. So if you haven’t seen this, maybe fast forward a minute or two. So I also have grown up a dog lover, I’ve had dogs. Would you have given up the dog at the end of this movie?
[clip of Wendy and Lucy plays]
WENDY I’ll come back. I’m gonna make some money. I’ll come back. Be good.
[clip of Wendy and Lucy ends]
KARSTEN Oh, man, that is like such a brutal scene and question to ask me. I don’t really—
GEMMA Oh my god.
KARSTEN I mean, it’s the right thing to do. And the movie would not make any sense if she kept the dog right? Because it’s like, I feel like Wendy’s whole like philosophy and the reason she’s like doing this trip, I feel like it would be contradictory to keep the dog? So I don’t know, yeah, I probably would have left the dog too. I’d been like, this is what’s best for her, which is just so sad.
GEMMA Oh my god, are you making us cry here, Slim? [Slim laughs] Honestly?
SLIM Listen, I’m just saying! I’m just saying. The question needs to be asked. Like, I grew up—I think I was one of those people who would say, why does that homeless person have a dog? If they can’t, blah, blah, blah, they shouldn’t have a dog.
GEMMA Oh like that douchebag in the grocery store! Oh my god.
KARSTEN Worst character.
GEMMA Little silver cross around neck.
SLIM So, as I’m older, I don’t ask that question anymore. Because I know the kind of bond between a dog and a person is, you know, that’s it’s symbiotic. And it could be required for both, the dog and the person. So that’s why I actually—when I got to the end the movie, I started to get like annoyed. I was like, no! Keep the dog! Maybe the dog needs you. Maybe the dog wants to be with you. But yeah, absolutely powerful ending to this movie for sure, which I wasn’t ready for.
GEMMA Maybe I’m coming to a realization here. Around Synecdoche, New York. [Gemma & Slim laugh] Like there you’ve got all this money thrown at this kind of existential terror. And here you’ve got a tiny, quiet—except for the noise of the traffic, which is just brilliant sound design, by the way—a tiny quiet film about the difference between you know a decision that a grocery store clerk can make or not. And then the difference that having to pay a $50 fine can make on your entire future and whether you can remain a part of this dog’s life. And the difference—here’s another spoiler—seven bucks from a security guard can make. Just the difference that, you know, the age and state of your car can make to a single life. I love stories like this and Never Rarely Sometimes Always that came out last year that are small, small stories about one single person and one single day essentially. And yet these are the big stories. These are the stories that are worth being on the big screen for me.
KARSTEN I mean, that’s what I love about it. It’s does so much with so little the same way Never Rarely Sometimes Always does. Like we don’t really know what happens after this movie ends or like where Wendy’s coming from really or like anything that exists outside of the bubble that is the movie. And Kelly Reichardt doesn’t over dramatize anything going on. It’s like sometimes just three shots put together to get across what you need to know. And I feel like that’s so effective in just like drawing the viewer into what’s going on. Especially the woods scene, because all we really see is her face. It’s like no, there’s no sound, like there’s no music, there’s nothing to like over emphasize with what’s happening. It’s just like, this is what’s going on. And that’s so devastating to experience.
GEMMA There’s the sound of a train and when she’s rushing around the corner trying to figure out what to do with the car and the dog and everything. There’s the sound of the traffic. There’s the sound of the world rushing by, the sound of the rest of the world getting on with this business while this woman who just needs a freakin job. And needs to get to the place where the jobs are. And that amazing line from the security guard—and I know you’re gonna drop it in, Slim, so I can slightly miss quote it. But you know, he’s like—
[clip of Wendy and Lucy plays]
SECURITY GUARD You can’t get an address without an address. You can’t get a job without a job. It’s all fixed.
[clip of Wendy and Lucy plays]
SLIM I kind of poked fun at A24 earlier with the hype fog and the hype train. But I think it is true that A24 has kind of opened up the doors to smaller films for people that probably would never have watched them. Especially on Letterboxd, you know, these films jump to the top your list like Pig, or, you know, films like that that like most people will probably like never check out.
KARSTEN Totally. Like you can’t deny how influential—not influential—but just how big that logo at the front of your movie can be. Speaking as a young film fan who is like just kind of coming around to like, get to know everything. I agree. I just didn’t know who Kelly Reichardt was prior to First Cow. And I’m just like there are other filmmakers in that camp that I’m just like, I wouldn’t have known of what they do if not for this company. And it is weird that people humanize A24 is like a director. They’re like “A24 must have been on drugs when they made this.” I’m like, they didn’t make the movie. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM I feel like I saw a tweet this week of someone was screening a movie and an A24 logo came on and someone like cheered and then got booed or something—[Gemma & Slim & Karsten laugh]
KARSTEN I’m like, get outta here!
GEMMA And then in the context of the pandemic, Kelly, it’s a beautiful film and she was really hard done by,. Yu know, it was just about to land in theaters or it had just opened for about a week or two and then, you know, early 2020, the entire globe went to pack. And then there was a brief moment, a brief shining moment there, when cinemas reopened and they tried to bring it back in it. Yeah, no, justice for First Cow.
SLIM Maybe I will. Because this next movie on our list, I was also wrong about, Climax. 2018. My dear friend Ian told me about this movie like a year ago, two years ago. He was like, “You gotta see this movie!” I’m like, yeah, okay. And I pushed it to the side. And I finally watched it this week. Holy moly, young dancers gather in a remote and empty school building to rehearse on a cold and winter night. The all night celebrations in turns into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn that their sangria is laced with LSD. Average rating of 3.8. This has 2,000 other fans that have this in their four favorites. What a trip. Tell us about your Climax entering your top—[Gemma & Slim laugh]
KARSTEN I don’t know if that was the way to say that but—[Karsten laughs]
SLIM It just felt right.
KARSTEN You had other ways to say that. This was—okay, this sounds like a stretch. But this is very much like my college version of Fantastic Mr. Fox. [Slim & Gemma & Karsten laugh] It’s a movie that I was really excited for. I knew of Gaspar Noé, didn’t think he was like a great director. I was just more like, interested in him. I was like, there’s something about him that like, is intriguing. He makes very bold, violent films. And when I heard that this was the first film that didn’t get like, insanely walked out of at Cannes and people actually really liked it. And it was like 90 minutes. I was like, okay, this sounds pretty cool! So I was really excited, went to the 11am screening. And yeah, I think this is both his like boldest film and also the one that stays on the tracks the lot the most. Because I feel him in his him as a director, he just like kind of loses focus of what the point of his movies are after a while and gets lost in like these really pretentious, like, not profound at all themes that he’s trying to tackle. I feel like Love is a great example. It’s like nothing going on there. But Climax feels like just purely style for the sake of making a really terrifying horror movie that, in my opinion is the horror movie that I’ve always wanted about something that really freaks me out. And I’ve seen it, like six or seven times now. And I really love this movie.
SLIM This is a movie—I think I just remembered why I probably put it off at first. Because I had seen Irreversible in early 2000s when I was working at a video store. And I remember having like, you know, I think I had like PTSD from that experience. So that might have put me off from this film, and maybe other people like that. But with that said, first twenty minutes of this movie, holy cow. That dance scene and then the just continued take of the party starting off. Many points is really I was just in all the filmmaking.
KARSTEN Yeah, there’s something I didn’t know going into it, that apparently the script for this movie is like three pages long or something. He just like, gave the actors kind of a basic rundown of like, what happens in this movie, and let them improvise for a lot of it. And I think—and they’re actual dancers, too. I knew that going into it. And you really kind of feel that in the movie, it’s very loose, and real in that sense. And it just kind of leaves room for the camera and all the technical elements to really come alive. And yeah, seeing it in a theater, I was just taken aback. It’s one of those movies where you don’t realize until like five minutes later that you like haven’t been breathing for a minute now.
GEMMA I’ve never wanted to run to learn about the production of a film so quickly, as I did with this one. Especially that—this like 42-minute shot. I mean, it sort of sets and I was thinking, I hope this is in a list somewhere with One Cut of the Dead and you know, a whole bunch of other horrors where that the action has just played out in the in the lens rather than cutting for who’s seeing what at which time and bringing in the noise. It’s just all happening in front of you, right? And yeah, it’s apparently based on—partly based on—a true story about a troupe of dancers who had a party and their punch was spiked with LSD. But that’s all that happened. They were just all a bit out of it. And then the things that happen in the movie didn’t happen. So I love the element of what if that Gaspar has taken from that very rare experience, and then thrown in here. And it was like a fifteen-day shoot. And they just got everyone into this kind of remote school and the snow and went for it. It’s just—it’s extraordinary, isn’t it? It’s so—oh my god. It’s like a Rube Goldberg machine of horror. [Gemma & Slim laugh]
KARSTEN Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great way of putting it. [Karsten laughs]
SLIM I think maybe like the 40 mark—or whenever that kind of realization sets in. I started to get like hardcore Hereditary vibes. And I loved Hereditary. In my review, I said that this was like Hereditary, but instead of grief and a cult, it’s drugs and dancing. And both of those viewings, I just felt like my hands were clasped the whole time. And maybe I didn’t blink for like, 40 minutes. There’s just something about—it’s like hard to describe, because these can be considered movies that you never really want to see again, depending on how you enjoyed the movie. But there’s something about realistic drama, that is just so bad, like, the situation is so bad, that just turns to horror. I don’t know. It’s like, hard to explain. It’s like a different form of horror, where it’s just feel so real and so scary. Because it could happen to you. I don’t know, how did you feel those tense moments in the movie?
KARSTEN Well, I think I was just extra scared of this, because I’m someone that—go figure. I’m like, very terrified of drugs. And the idea—even weed, I’m like, I can’t do it. I don’t like the idea of not being in control. And this whole movie is about a bunch of dancers who are usually very in control of their bodies, losing that control and all of their awareness. And it’s—I thought that was just a subject that scared me as is but for him to do it. And to be so aggressive with the camera work. I’m just—yeah, I don’t know. I think that’s that’s what makes it so terrifying to me, is that it doesn’t really feel like it’s ever gonna stop. And it doesn’t feel like you have any say in anything that’s going on here. Which is obviously—that’s all the movie is. Film really puts that on full display, I guess. Especially that final, like 20 minutes where the camera goes upside down.
SLIM Oh my god.
KARSTEN And you’re like, okay, let’s end it! And it doesn’t stop.
SLIM How about when the sun reappears next to the punch bowl later?
GEMMA Well, I was just going to—oh my god.
SLIM My god.
GEMMA I was just gonna say, they throw a few things in there, don’t they? They throw a few things in there. They throw in a kid, they throw in a pregnancy, they throw in some gender and queer and sex staff. And so while everyone’s happy and really excited about the third day of rehearsal, and how good the performance is looking, you sort of don’t realize that these stakes are being raised really cleverly by the presence of a child and by the presence of just kind of menace—sexual menace. Someone else who’s, you know, got a whole vial of coke over there and isn’t sharing it. And anyway, have I ever told you guys about the first time I dropped acid? [Slim & Gemma & Karsten laugh]
SLIM I thought you were gonna say coke for a second. I was like god damn, alright, let’s get into. Yeah, one of the reviews that got called out here, I think from Jack is “this is the longest anti-drugs advert I’ve ever seen” from Aaron.
KARSTEN Yeah, pretty much.
SLIM Also, I mean, just the realization—scene I want us to call out, of the mother when she realizes that it’s been spiked with LSD and my son is in this building.
SLIM Like holy crap. And she decides to lock him into a room. I guess the only one with a lock. That is some insane stuff that. That reminded me of like this scene in Hereditary where his hands are still on the steering wheel.
KARSTEN Yeah, yeah.
SLIM Like oh my god, I can’t believe this is happening. It’s just too weird.
KARSTEN Paralyzing. But it’s got those like nice moments too, though. [Karsten & Gemma & Slim laugh]
GEMMA Tell us about them!
KARSTEN I don’t even think—this is a very necessary breath of fresh air in the movie. But it’s when Boutella—I think that’s her name. The main dancer she goes into that Red Room and starts like freaking out. Like just starts screaming at walls. And my favorite is when she puts her hands in the tights and just can’t—[Gemma & Karsten laugh]
SLIM That is insane.
GEMMA I love her so much. And by the way, she’s in Prisoners of the Ghostland with Nicolas Cage, which you must see if you haven’t.
KARSTEN Oh wow!
GEMMA Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah.
KARSTEN That’s—wow. I did not know that. But she sees like that like wallpaper with all the trees and it’s so—it’s like being hit with like a waterfall or something. She feels so good. And something about how long that scene plays out, you feel it with her and it feels like a really nice break from everything else that’s going on.
SLIM It did feel like a really like I was seeing some really cool interpretive dance slash acting in those moments. This was probably a really freeing experience to film that. I did like the kind of camera trickery in that hallway where there was like one spot where there’s no light so you can go through and then that could be a cut. I thought that was pretty smart.
GEMMA It feels like Climax was the climax of your four favorites, but maybe not enough of a climax for this particular episode of The Letterboxd Show. So we like to do something we call stats diving.
GEMMA Karsten’s most popular review. Do you know what your most popular review is?
KARSTEN Ah man. I think it’s the Portrait of a Lady one? I could be wrong, though. Am I right?
GEMMA Yeah, yeah. You’re right.
KARSTEN Nice. Wow.
GEMMA Third most favorite—which is my personal favorite of yours—which is your one sentence on The Lighthouse, which is simply “They should start a podcast.” [Slim & Gemma laugh] I mean, it’s just a thing of beauty. But Portrait of a Lady on Fire. “You ever find yourself staring at a bonfire? Just zoning out and watching the flame change every second, feeling the heat, the energy, the anger, the tension, you get what I’m saying. It’s a beautifully hypnotic thing, and that’s exactly what Portrait of a Lady on Fire is. The only difference being that this brought me to tears in ways a bonfire never could.” [Gemma laughs] I mean, it’s not funny. It’s beautiful. I’m not laughing. But it’s funny. But who didn’t cry at Portrait of a Lady on Fire?
SLIM Did you go to see that in theaters when it came out?
KARSTEN I did. I saw it at TIFF ny first time. I made the biggest mistake of my life. I was at Cannes with my friends, and they were all like, “We’re gonna go see a Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and I was like, okay, I’m gonna stand in line for Tree of Life by Terrence Malick. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Oh my god!
KARSTEN And I ended up not even getting into the screening. So I just like wandered around Canne alone while all my friends came out Portrait of a Lady on Fire and they’re like, “That was the best thing I’ve ever seen!” It was just really awesome. So I was like, okay, apparently I got to see that one. [Karsten laughs]
SLIM Yeah, what a great experience that movie was. I was lucky enough to see that in theaters.
SLIM The Ritz in Philadelphia. And I went with Proto, my co-host on 70mm. And we both were like looking at each other after that movie in our seats. [Slim laughs] Yeah, it was like our date night going to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire together. [Slim & Gemma laugh] And it was just a great, fantastic experience. I bought the blu-ray of that. Seen that one a few times.
GEMMA Oh my god. I’ve got a poster. It’s the only movie poster I have.
KARSTEN Yeah, it’s a great poster, too.
GEMMA We have this other—we have this new feature on Letterboxd. I don’t know if you’ve looked into it since we launched it. But it’s called Rated Higher than Average. There’s also a Rated Lower than Average.
KARSTEN I’ve heard of it. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA Have you ever looked at what you’ve rated higher than the Letterboxd average?
GEMMA It’s pretty cool. I mean, you’re not the first person on this on this podcast to have rated Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping five stars, when the average is like 3.5. [Karsten laughs] You’re all good there. But, there’s a few others. There’s a fun one called Greener Grass, which I’ve actually seen. I think you and I must be some of the few who have seen this. I wouldn’t have given it a five, but I definitely had a good time. [Karsten laughs] Why did this film get a five from you?
KARSTEN Well, I thought it was—I saw it at Sundance for the first time. Because I heard like rumors about it at the festival. They were like, this is the weirdest thing you’ll ever see. And that year at Sundance in particular, I was watching a lot of like really sad movies. So going into this like midnight screening of greener grass. I was like crying laughing for some reason. I was like, this is phenomenal. And, I don’t know, watching it I think twice since then, I’ve thought it was just as funny. It’s like if David Lynch didn’t take himself that seriously and just tried to have a lot of fun. And yeah, I will watch that movie any day and have a great time.
SLIM This is probably one of the most insane Letterboxd backgrounds images that I’ve ever seen. I just clicked on the movie and it’s two braced mouths with saliva connecting the two mouths. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Oh, yeah, you want ASMR involving mouths and saliva, I would Greener Grass over Synecdoche, New York. [Slim & Karsten & Gemma laugh] It’s so much fun. It’s such a weird and wacky, wacky, wacky film.
SLIM I was actually spotlighting the Rated Lower than Average, which is right under that section. Funnily enough, Irreversible is on there since I mentioned it earlier. Godzilla, half star. The new Legendary one. Wow.
KARSTEN Yeah, that was high school memory—I don’t really think—I don’t remember anything. I was going through a big Breaking Bad phase at the time and then they killed off Bryan Cranston like 30 minutes in I was like, why am I still watching this? But yeah, looking back at it, I’d probably change that.
SLIM I call those writings Before Letterboxd—BLB rating—that you don’t really remember seeing but you have a vague memory and it’s going to come back to bite you in the ass when someone finds the rating. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA I just want to say that. The other thing your stats show us is that the 1960s is your highest rated decade in film.
KARSTEN I noticed that, yeah. I really like the 60s. [Karsten laughs]
GEMMA At the top of your head, can you give us like two or three films from the 60s that you would encourage anyone who’s still listening—if I haven’t turned them off with my Kaufman rant—to go out and track down.
KARSTEN I would say PlayTime is the first one that comes to mind.
GEMMA Speaking of Rube Goldberg machines! Oh my god! I’m sorry, but you’re a Tati fan too?
KARSTEN I’m a huge Jacques Tati fan.
GEMMA Ahh. Oh my god.
KARSTEN I considered selecting—because PlayTime is like just on the edge of my top four, especially after I saw it a second time in theaters. I was like, god damn, this movie is the best. And I chose Synecdoche, New York instead. [Karsten laughs]
GEMMA You just redeemed yourself.
KARSTEN But PlayTime is probably my first recommendation just because I love that movie a lot. The next one would be—I’m looking at my list right now to double check. Oh, The Swimmer! The Swimmer is this one movie by Frank Perry that stars Burt Lancaster and that was—I watched that in the pandemic and really enjoyed. It’s about a man who like has to keep going through neighborhoods swimming pools to get to some final destination. It’s really weird, but it’s like, really interesting. [Karsten laughs]
SLIM This photo of Burt in the background. The jaw line is indescribable! [Gemma laughs] Holy moly.
KARSTEN Oh! And last one is Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Jacques Demy. I just watched that for the first time and really fell in love with it.
SLIM I just want to say—quick call out—rops to the Criterion Channel, because just about every movie you’ve mentioned is available right now on Criterion Channel for those in the States probably. Sorry, Gemma. If you had one more suggestion to close out the show, a movie that maybe people should spotlight, maybe it’s not getting a fair shake, or maybe not enough people are watching it, that you’ve seen maybe thanks to Letterboxd over the last year, does any jump to mind that you would want to get people to check out?
KARSTEN I will plug this one just because it’s recent. And I also really wanted to hear your guys’ thoughts on it, based on what you were saying about Synecdoche, New York. But Annette. I really—I liked that more than most people I know. But I think everyone should give it a chance because I think it’s really weird in a really enjoyable way. And Adam Driver does a lot of great things.
SLIM I just saw that that is now in your rotation for Letterboxd favorites. I think that’s number one. I have not seen it yet. I know it’s available on Prime in the US at least. But it’s on my watchlist.
KARSTEN It’s one of those that you were talking about where I didn’t love it that much the first time I saw it. I was like, that was interesting. But it has not left my head. I cannot stop thinking about it. And I’m like this was actually probably a really great movie.
SLIM Gemma, have you seen it yet?
GEMMA I—I let my screener expire. [Slim laughs] Only because it all happened around the time that we, you know, suddenly Delta came to our shores and we had to lock everything down. And anyway, I will get to it and I’m looking forward to it. And I find it interesting what you do and do withhold about a movie when you’re trying to tell people to see it and all anyone needed to say to me was there’s a puppet in it and I would be there. [Slim laughs]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
SLIM Thanks so much for listening to The Letterboxd Show. And thanks to our guest this episode, Karsten Runquist. You can follow Slim—that’s me—Gemma and our HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes. Thanks to our crew, composing dynamos, Moniker for the theme music ‘Vampiros Dancoteque’.
GEMMA And thanks to Jack for the facts and to Linda, our booker, for looking after our guests and Sophie Shin for the episode transcripts and, of course, to you for listening. The Letterboxd Show is a TAPEDECK production. If you’re enjoying the show and have guest ideas, be sure to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Shout out to Ben Jessup for his Apple Podcasts review. “Big fan of the Letterboxd app and podcast.” And that’s the show. We’re all hurtling towards death, yet here we are, for the moment, alive. [Slim laughs]
SLIM So positive.
[clip of Fantastic Mr. Fox plays]
MR. FOX I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable—but I’m gonna ignore your advice.
BADGER The cuss you are!
MR. FOX The cuss am I? Are you cussing with me?
BADGER No, you cussing with me?
MR. FOX Don’t cuss and point at me!
BADGER If you’re gonna cuss with someone, you’re not gonna cuss with me you little cuss!
[clip of Fantastic Mr. Fox ends]
[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is a TAPEDECK podcast.