The Letterboxd Show 2.18: Ella Kemp

Episode notes

[clip of Moulin Rouge! plays]

CHRISTIAN A life without love, that’s terrible!

SATINE No, being on the street, that’s terrible.

CHRISTIAN No, love is like oxygen!


CHRISTIAN Love is a many splendored thing, love lifts us up where we belong, all you need is love!

SATINE Please don’t start that again.

CHRISTIAN [sings] All you need in love.

SATINE A girl has got to eat!

CHRISTIAN [sings] All you need in looove.

SATINE Or she’ll end up on the street.

CHRISTIAN [sings] All you need in looove.

SATINE [sings] Love is just a game.

[clip of Moulin Rouge! ends]

[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]

SLIM Hello and welcome to The Letterboxd Show, a podcast but the movies people love watching from Letterboxd: the social network for people who love watching movies — or as one of our guests put it recently, “informal yet deep show, a rare pod quality.” I think we are ready to retire after that quote. Gemma, what do you think?

GEMMA Oh yeah. 100% goals met. [Slim laughs]

SLIM Each episode, your hosts Slim — that’s me — and Gemma are joined by a Letterboxd friend for a chat about their four favorite films according to their Letterboxd profile. As you listen along, we’ll have links in the episode notes so there’s no excuse not to add these films to your watchlists.

GEMMA Today our guest is Letterboxd London correspondent Ella Kemp. Ella is a member of the London Critics Circle, she writes for Letterboxd and NME and Empire magazine. She is the film editor for The Quietus and for the beautiful ReadMe, a film essay destination created for Girls on Tops Tees. You may know them from such tee-shirts as Greta Gerwig, Jane Campion and previous Letterboxd guest Isabel Sandoval. Earlier this year, Ella wrote an essay for us celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Baz Luhrmann’s brilliant Moulin Rouge! — exclamation mark — which is one of her four Letterboxd faves along with Magnolia, Call Me by Your Name, and Singin’ in the Rain. Ella joins us fresh from partying at the BFI London Film Festival. Welcome Ella!

ELLA Hello, thank you so much for having me.

GEMMA We are excited. First and most important question, as a Londoner, ow excited are you for Paddington 3?

ELLA Oh my god. It’s all I think about every day. I get up. I brush my teeth. I have my coffee. I check what Paddington 3 is up to, what state it’s at.

SLIM Everyone in London, I assume is just smitten with Paddington. That’s for me, as an American, it’s just got to be the only thing people talk about.

ELLA Yeah, like he is our mascot, our icon, our King.

SLIM Pope.

ELLA You know, here’s the reason we get up in the morning. [Slim laughs] I don’t know, I can go on. I can give you more.

GEMMA He’s the heir to the throne — Charles, William don’t have a lock in. He’s following the Queen, straight up, surely.

ELLA 100%.

GEMMA I love it. As for your four favorites, yuck, you made me watch Tom Cruise again.

SLIM The king.

GEMMA But it’s okay because Slim had to watch Moulin Rouge! So let’s start right there with Baz Luhrmann’s stone-cold 2001 classic — which one of my favorite facts — debuted at Cannes along with that other great jukebox musical Shrek.

SLIM Oh my god. [Gemma & Slim laugh]

ELLA What a year! What a moment!

SLIM No one can mention Moulin Rouge! without of course talking about Shrek. They go hand in hand.

ELLA If I had five favorites, Shrek would be fifth probably.

GEMMA So what are we looking at with Moulin Rouge! — written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, his buddy from university days. 3.7 average on Letterboxd, which is too low. 5,300 fans, including you. Where does this sit for you in your life?

ELLA I mean, Moulin Rouge! is just like, it’s it for me. And I think I’ve given the film, probably more responsibility than ever asked for, in the sense that because I studied film at university, and now work as a film critic. I often get asked by people when they meet me what my favorite film is. And I learned quite a few years ago that even if I don’t know, you know, one categorical answer to fact, I need to come up with one because people are going to ask. And so Moulin Rouge! out of all — I have many films that I love and many favorites, but Moulin Rouge! is the one that I say. So like everything’s riding on that now. Everyone’s first impression of me is based on Moulin Rouge!

GEMMA Slim, this is a true story. Ella and I met once in person, briefly after the 2019 Toronto Film Festival and I literally asked her what her favorite movie was. She said Moulin Rouge! and I was like mine is Strictly Ballroom, this is crazy. [Slim laughs]

ELLA And that was it.

GEMMA We’re obviously destined to work together. That was it! [Gemma laughs]

SLIM Were you a Baz fan before you had seen Moulin Rouge!? Were Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet, like already in your arsenal of faves or no?

ELLA No, not really. I mean, I have a weird relationship with Moulin Rouge! in the sense that it’s a film that I know that I watched as a teenager. So at the time of podcasting, I’m 25. So I was five years old when it first came out. And I think, I know it’s a film I saw at some point, but I think I was ever so slightly too young, because you know, it’s very, it’s very dramatic. And like, it’s very sexy, and it’s very sad and all these things. And I think it was maybe one or two years too young. So I saw it, and then I didn’t think about it. And then as I got older and went to university and started chatting to more people, it was something that people would say, and bring up and I thought, oh, yeah, it’s what I know, that I’ve seen, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing about it. And so then I rewatched it. And then I was so angry at myself for the last ten years thinking like, ’Hang on, you’ve waited this long to finally like know what this is!’ Like, I’ve wasted so much time! You know, to quote one of my other four favorites, I was like, we’ve wasted so many days when I could have, you know, known and thought about Moulin Rouge! So no, I’d seen Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which I liked. I liked it quite a lot. And, you know, it’s one I rewatched more recently, I’ve had a similar experience, but, you know, I knew what it was. And I watched Strictly Ballroom after Moulin Rouge! only a couple of years ago. And I mean, you know, I don’t love it as much. I don’t. I get it and I respect it, but it’s not — 

GEMMA It’s fine. It’s fine.

ELLA I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. [Slim laughs] I was thinking, like, this is gonna be it.

GEMMA No, no, no, it’s fine. It’s fine. I mean, it’s so Australian, right? Whereas Moulin Rouge! is a different — it’s in a pretend Paris fantasy world. In fact, we should talk about what it’s about. So Nicole Kidman is Satine, a courtesan at the Moulin Rouge who really just wants to be a serious actress. Ewan McGregor is Christian, penniless writer who stumbles into a job as a playwright. They fall in love just by looking at each other. Kylie Minogue is an absent theory. Everybody sings for about two hours and then Satine dies leaving Christian to finally probably write his masterpiece novel about faithful love. That’s kind of it, but it’s in a Baz Luhrmann world, so everything is heightened and hilarious. And it does this — it was one of the first jukebox musicals right? Where you don’t write songs specifically for the musical, you take songs and you kind of stuffed them in to the center sack full of gifts, and throw them on the screen with Catherine Martin’s extraordinary production design.

ELLA It’s amazing. They’re doing so many different parallels and things. Like when when I spoke to Craig Pierce for Letterboxd earlier in the year, he was saying that when he and Baz was starting to figure out what they wanted to write, they wanted to write a story about artists and these strange places where you know, you’d have these these old tired people who would come and flock and pay to see young sexy people with — these are his words — to I don’t know, like excite and thrill them and show you a different kind of world. And he was saying they do lots of parallels with Andy Warhol’s factory and all that kind of thing. And yeah, they just needed to find a place to tell their story rather than telling the place of the Moulin Rouge per se. I think it’s great.

GEMMA Oh my god. Slim’s been very quiet. [Slim laughs]

ELLA Let’s get into it!

GEMMA We’re gonna get into it this way. We do get Jack, our lists editor at Letterboxd to pull some Jack’s facts for us. And here are Jack’s facts on Moulin Rouge!. Baz Luhrmann’s highest-rated film, but his third most popular which is interesting. Has the most fans on Letterboxd list by she/her members. So we calculated which films have the most fans and then we broke it down by gender. It’s not on the he/him list. So you see where I’m going here. And Jack also writes, please disregard my film-bro one star, I need to give it another shot. [Slim laughs]

ELLA No Jack, we will not!

GEMMA Exactly. Sorry, Jack, you’re fire. And then says — and I don’t know if Slim you’ll understand what this means, but Ella most definitely will—a total Marmite movie.

SLIM I don’t know what that references, but I’ll Google it.

ELLA The slogan of Marmite is love it or hate it.

GEMMA Marmite by the way is a black, thick yeast spread that — 

ELLA Is gross.

GEMMA Down here in New Zealand. It’s wonderful.

SLIM It sounds gross. [Slim & Gemma laugh]

ELLA Exactly! You see? Marmite in motion!

SLIM It sounds horrible.

GEMMA It is literally you love it or you hate it. You never go — if someone says, “Do you want marmite on your toast, you never go hmm, yeah today I’ll have it.” Never. [Gemma laughs]

ELLA It’s like a lifelong commitment to Marmite or not. And it’s the same with Moulin Rouge!. You’re never gonna change your mind on that.

SLIM If we’re playing The Letterboxd Show drinking game, get ready for your first drink. I had never seen this movie before last week, so there’s your first treat of the episode.

ELLA Whaaat?

SLIM But I have watched Strictly Ballroom more recently this year, loved it. I gave five stars to that. Romeo + Juliet I really love. And so I sat down to watch Moulin Rouge! and from the get go I felt like I maybe skipped twenty minutes ahead. I was like, wait a minute is this the right movie? Did I accidentally fast forward? So from there — I put this in some of my reviews — I quote “not for me”. I don’t know what, but it was like almost right away that it just felt like this is not my kind of jam. So I did watch the entire thing obviously. And I posted in my Discord for my other podcast, which several she/her identifying members were distraught with me saying that I do not love and in fact really didn’t like Moulin Rouge!

ELLA As. They. Should. Be. [Slim & Gemma laugh]

SLIM So seeing this stat that you dropped in has the most fans was she/her members. It was like all connecting, because everyone that was like trashing me in the Discord, you know, they swear by this movie. It was like I was in another universe with my opinion of this film. So it’s funny to see Jack also say something similar, and additionally called himself a film bro, which made me chortle as I’m reading the notes.

GEMMA I know, he’s like the opposite of.

SLIM So everything that everyone loves about this movie, I think worked is like a negative for me, like the singing, the music, the medleys. I was like, you know, it’s like when you’re trying to give a child like a food they don’t like in a spoon. [Gemma & Slim laughs] That’s like the face that I was making while watching this movie. But I say it with love. I’m glad I watched it.

GEMMA Eat the Marmite, Slim! Eat it!

SLIM Someone was trying to feed me Marmite. But I totally understand why it connects with other people. It’s just one of those things, it’s just not for me.

ELLA I do, I fully understand that. But it’s interesting hearing you know about how it’s mostly she/her identifying people who really connect with it. Because as I was saying earlier, like when, you know, I say that it’s my favorite film when I first meet people — and I’ve said it quite a few in the last few years. I’ve said it quite a few times on dates when you know, I’ve been on a date and a guy has asked me why favorite film is, and their reaction every single time is the same. You can tell they’re trying really hard. And they look at me like, “I haven’t seen it.” And I’m like, you know what? It’s for the best! You don’t have to have seen it! You don’t have to like it. I like it! You asked for the trivia, you have the trivia. Let’s just leave that there! Let’s move on to something else now! [Slim & Gemma laugh] And then we never talk about anything every again.

GEMMA And then, does he go “And my favorite film is Joker” and you’re like, bye bye.

SLIM Oh god. [Slim laughs]

ELLA And then we never see each other ever again! That’s right.

SLIM End the date immediately.

ELLA Yeah, it’s fantastic. It saves a lot of time.

GEMMA Yeah, we’ll you’re not alone. Just reading through a few quick Letterboxd takes. Scoobert Doo writes, “I truly believe that Nicole Kidman rolling around on the floor, wrapped in a fur blanket and pretending to be getting off on poetry is why cinema was invented.” [Slim laughs]

ELLA Right. They are right.

GEMMA But then there is Timcop I think who, you know, would not be in the she/her fan group. “Baz Luhrmann is the only director in Hollywood with the courage to answer the question what a Fellini sucked?” [Ella laughs]

ELLA That’s so funny.

GEMMA Isn’t it? [Gemma laughs] And I think the beauty of those of us who love Moulin Rouge! is a we can laugh heartily at a take like that, rather than feel personally attacked. Like there are the movies you love where you feel personally attacked when other people don’t like them. And then there are the movies you love, where it’s like, oh, you don’t like Westerns? Great, all the more for me.

ELLA There is okay, thinking about that review, which says you know about Nicole Kidman and why cinema is being invented. I’m about to put forward like a very, very hyperbolic, ridiculous take. But — I do think I hold some water. So the only reason I’m bringing this up as well is because I spoke to a number of academics again for this feature on Moulin Rouge! earlier this year. They specialize in in musicals and Hollywood and all these kind of things. And one of them was saying to me that one of the things that she particularly loves about Moulin Rouge! is that it fully commits to how heightened, how ridiculous it is from the off. And that in the writing, that was something that was so deliberate in the sense of being like abiding by the rules of the red-curtain trilogy, in which you’ve also got Romeo + Juliet and Strictly Ballroom. And the roles within that are basically just making sure that everybody’s on the same page from the start and knowing how it’s going to end and I’m making sure that everyone’s attention is so focused, and so just present the whole time. And so when this academic I was talking to, she brought this forward, she says, you know, the fact that it is so ridiculous, but also informs you of this immediately. And I was saying, well, would it be fair to say — if we were making big hyperbolic statements — would it be fair to say that if you’re looking at cinema as the suspension of disbelief. That I’m sorry, Moulin Rouge! is the purest and most extreme and sophisticated form of that. On that basis.

SLIM What did that academic say?

ELLA She said, yeah, she said, absolutely.

GEMMA I agree. I agree.

SLIM This is where Ella and I get back to each other’s good graces.

ELLA Okay. Let’s go.

SLIM With the next movie in your faves.

GEMMA And this is where I sit things out because — [Slim laughs]

ELLA Oh no! What have I done?

SLIM Gemma and I are tagging in and out.

GEMMA Because you made me watch Tom Cruise in those not-tighty whities and I’m just gonna take a breath. I’ll put myself on mute. Sorry, Slim. You introduce the next film.

SLIM There’s a lot of people that need to take a breath after seeing Tom in that physique of his. He’s in the best shape of his life, Gemma, with that hair. [Ella laughs] My god!

GEMMA Is he?

SLIM I can respect the human form whether that be a man or woman.

GEMMA I’m sorry but shirtless Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit every time. If I had to choose between Frank TJ Mackie.

ELLA Gemma, hang on, hang on. Sorry, sorry, briefly. Just a second here. Because the description that Slim’s about to give about the film, it’s like there is so much going on in this film. There’s so many characters, and you’re telling me that Tom Cruise, one of maybe five million characters in this film, is the reason that you have to sit out? I refuse! [Slim laughs] I don’t believe it!

GEMMA Until we get to anything involving Philip Seymour Hoffman and then I’m 110% back in.

SLM Then she’s back. Okay, 1999 Paul Thomas Anderson. 4.1 average on Letterboxd. 6,000 other fans, an epic mosaic of many interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness and meaning in the San Fernando Valley. This is a three-hour film, doesn’t feel like three hours. Feels like a five minute film. This is — Jack says this is a seminal film. I agree for myself. But Ella, where were you when you first saw Magnolia? What was that experience like?

ELLA It was a bit of a weird experience. I was studying film at University. I’m fairly sure it was the Easter holidays of my first year, so it would have been 2015. And I was on holiday with my parents. And they were minding their own business. I was minding my own business. And I thought — oh, one of my best friends that I’ve met at University, Letterboxd member Joe Kelly — had told me that Magnolia was one of his favorite films. So I thought, oh, I’ll watch over the holidays. I didn’t know anything about it. I did not know that it was three hours long. I’m pretty sure I knew who PTA was. But you know, I hadn’t seen loads of his films. And then and so I watched this film in my bedroom, on my own on my laptop. And it blew my mind. And then just a very strange experience. It was like, you know when you’re on a holiday, and you have those — some days are very busy and you have things to do some days, everyone just does their own thing. You don’t go anywhere. You just read your books, you watch films, you know, nothing’s gonna happen that day. So I started that day watching Magnolia. And then I finished it. And I was like, that was insane. And so I went into my parents bedroom, by like, mid afternoon, I was like, what are you doing? I’ve just watched his amazing film. And then I’m fairly sure we rewatched it together. I was like, “Do you want to watch this three hour film?” And we did. Like, this is not a thing I do. That was six hours of my life, right? But I don’t regret it. I just, it was amazing. It was so good. And then after that — so that was twice on the laptop. It was so amazing both times. But then I do want to shout out the first time I saw it in the cinema, which was — I don’t know if it was last year, well, probably the year before. So in 2019 at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, which is just the best independent cinema, arguably, in the country. And and they’re very, very good and screen, just so many amazing rep films, and of a lot of PTA stuff. I saw The Master there a few weeks ago — incredible. And they screened it there and I went to see it with some of my friends. And it was just unbelievable. I don’t know, I just feel like it’s one of the only films — I don’t know. I would like to think that when I watch films, I’m very invested in them, you know, emotionally, spiritually, in terms of my time or whatever. I do think that Magnolia is one of the only films that from start to finish, it literally makes me go numb. Like I can’t — I don’t think about anything else or anyone else. I have no idea what else is going on. And when I went to see it at the Prince Charles in 2019, when I was with my friends, everyone was chatting about it afterwards. And I get this thing sometimes with certain films, where I physically am incapable of talking about it afterwards. I was just in silence. Everyone was like walking around and I was just like nodding and I was like, I cannot — words don’t exist right now for about like half an hour.

GEMMA Do we just jump forward to your next favorite? Or are you able to?

ELLA I can now!

GEMMA I mean, what do you pick to talk about? The themes or the extraordinary one shot?

ELLA For me, there are two things that jump out. And one of them is a very tiny thing, which I kind of forget until I remember again, and I’m like, oh, this is maybe my favorite line in the history of cinema. And it is the moment when William H. Macy is character who’s called Quiz Kid Donnie Smith. And he used to be this, like child prodigy on this trivia show for children. And he’s just the most desperately romantic and lonely and empathetic character. And I mean, he’s going through a whole bunch of things. But the line that just completely throws me off every time. He literally just really quietly and patiently goes — 

[clip of Magnolia plays]

DONNIE SMITH My name is Donnie Smith, and I have lots of love to give.

[clip of Magnolia ends]

ELLA Oh my god! And there’s like, there’s no pretense. It’s not funny. He’s not desperate, like he’s not yelling it. He’s not crying. It’s just like, it’s so matter of fact, it’s just the way he lives his life. And it just knocks me sideways every time. So there’s that. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, I mean, obviously because it’s such a big epic, there are some amazing musical numbers in the film from songs written by Aimee Mann, who like her music and her voice was like the catalyst for PTA writing this film. Which is why you know, I feel like it makes sense that like the scenes with her music are as stunning as they are.

GEMMA And she and Jon Brion are so infused into LA, like their music in the streets of LA just match so perfectly. So there’s that too, right?

ELLA Yeah, no, exactly.

GEMMA One of my favorite Letterboxd reviews though is the “Ah, so when Aimee Mann sings, it’s not going to stop? There’s like, still about two more hours of movie.” So yeah, she does mate. [Ella & Slim laugh]

SLIM There’s a lot of—in this rewatch, I wrote that I kind of forgot about the constant music. And I know Gemma might not love that. But I love the kind of tense building of the music in this movie. And when I first saw this in theaters, we kind of referenced like formative movies in a previous episode. And one of the movies that came up with like American Beauty, like maybe like, of a certain generation, like American Beauty changed my life, and then it no longer becomes that formative movie. But I remember seeing this in theaters, when they all start singing the song, I remember in the theater, like what is going on right now? It’s like a movie moment for me. I was like, where you kind of feel that like, you’ve only seen certain kinds of movie at a certain point your life, but then you see a movie like Magnolia, and then that becomes the movie that like I didn’t know movies could be like this deep and weird and perfect. Like, I need to see more movies like this. And that’s the experience that I had growing up and seeing this film.

[Wise Up by Aimee Mann plays]

ELLA I find it so satisfying to hear you say that about this being the movie that made you realize that things changed because earlier this year, for Letterboxd I interviewed Together Together writer and director Nicole Beckwith, and I asked her what was the one film that made her want to make films. And she said Magnolia, and she was like, I didn’t realize that movies could do this. Like I didn’t think movies in this place, with these topics, on this scale. She was like, it unlocked something. And I think a lot of people feel that way.

SLIM What do you think of Punch-Drunk Love?

ELLA I love it. I do — I haven’t seen it in a very long time. So I can’t fully remember. I know I liked it a lot. But for me, I think the thing for me with Magnolia is — I love all of PTA’s films. But for me, this is literally just the most heightened and extreme version of everything. So in all the other films, there’s all of the things that I like in Magnolia, but because Magnolia is this three hour epic, naturally, there’s just more of everything. So I just get to live in it for longer.

GEMMA Interesting. I have to say in Jack’s facts, Magnolia is also on one of the most fans lists on Letteboxd. But only makes the he/him list. So, you’ve sort of brought the perfect mirror, here, Moulin Rouge! and Magnolia to this four favorites.

ELLA I know that to be true because because, again, when you know, when you ask a man about his favorite film, Magnolia comes up a lot. So it does. [Gemma laughs] That’s Ella’s fact.

SLIM What if on one of your dates you had said Moulin Rouge! and then your date says Magnolia.

GEMMA Oh my gosh.

ELLA I mean, that would be great. I would love that.

GEMMA Wedding bells. Wedding bells.

ELLA I would love that. Yeah, I’d be like when are you free next week? [Gemma laughs]

SLIM Call Me by Your Name is the next film on your list. Another very high rated movie. 4.0 on Letterboxd. 19,000 fans. Is that stat right? My god.

GEMMA It is right.

SLIM Is this one of the most popular movies we’ve talked about? I didn’t realize it had that many.

GEMMA There is tons of Letterboxd history with this one. Tons of Letterboxd history. It topped so many lists. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It started out ranking number one of the year when it landed at Sundance and then at the end of the year, it topped our Year in Review in 2017.


GEMMA It’s mellowed out since for reasons. Other movies have come out and other things have happened involving cast members. But it still ranks in the top ten now. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

SLIM Holy smokes. 1980s begins between seventeen-year-old teenage Elio and the older adult man hired as his father’s research assistant. So Ella, what was the your experience seeing this film? Did you see this in theaters when it had come out? Was the hype nuclear by that point? Or did you see it right before it hit?

ELLA The hype was a lot. I’m only just realizing now that my story with Call Me by Your Name is actually more significant for this podcast than I thought. And so I saw Call Me by Your Name when it was released, for the public release in cinemas in in London in October 2017. And so I had graduated that summer, and I was interning at a beloved magazine called Little White Lies.


ELLA We love Little White Lies! And they had made an issue about Call Me by Your Name. So they release an issue every two months. And they dedicate it to any one film and they work with so many amazing illustrators as well as writers. So it’s just really like a work of art. And I was interning there, and I went see this film. And it just completely — there was so much hype, which I was aware of. And so I thought this can’t — like, it’ll be good. But no, it went above and beyond that. And I had that same experience of like not being able to talk after it for about an hour. And I went with one of my best friends from university. And it was a lot. But the thing that I remember, several things happened after that first screening. And I think it was in the middle of my internship. So I hadn’t really been writing for very long, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was very small, I was very scared. And I wanted to be a film critic. And so I watched Call Me by Your Name once, blew me away, I went again see it maybe two days later on my own. And I took a notebook and I made loads and loads of notes. And then I just wrote this big thing. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I just wrote this big thing. And then on the Monday when I went back to work my internship, I showed it to my editor who is still editor there and Adam Woodward who is digital editor at Little White Lies. And he was just so unbelievably kind and patient in ways that with hindsight I wouldn’t expect that of anyone. These guys had just spent two months making a magazine about this film. And here comes this, like, emotional 21-year-old being like, “Here’s 2,000 words about my feelings! You don’t know me, and you’ve already done everything you need to do about this film, but read it.” And he did. And he was so kind and so thoughtful. And it was a wonderful experience. And then the other thing that happened at the same time is I’m fairly sure that that internship, combined with Call Me by Your Name is what made me get Letterboxd. So it was probably the first film that I logged, I think? It must have been. So yeah, it’s big. It’s a big one.

GEMMA Wow. Can I just say I saw this the same month in a theater. It was my first time attending the New York Film Festival. Lady Bird was there that year with Greta Gerwig and Call Me by Your Name with Luca Guadagnino. And I had a, I guess he wasn’t quite two years old, an infant toddler. And it was — I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — film festivals are a privilege to attend and there are many accessibility issues inherent in them and so when you are leaving your baby at home to catch a one-hour subway from Brooklyn all the way up to the upper west side and then watch like a two- to three-hour movie because they always bloody are at the New York Film Festival and then sit through an hour-long press conference and then get the train back and you know, so $100 of babysitting later you’re finally home again, trying to unpack your feelings whilst having a toddler running around your feet. But yeah, so both of those films basically back to back and not only was it absolutely brilliant to be sitting in Alice Tully Hall, seeing Call Me by Your Name on the big screen with the director there and learning this history about the fact that one of my favorite filmmakers of all time James Ivory, who is behind A Room with a View and all of those beautiful British period films that just live in my heart. But that it’s, you know, the sort of festival environment but there was also something I noticed that week and it was a tipping point on Letterboxd. You feel it. It’s not something you can quantify until much later. But it was the one-two punch of Lady Bird and Call Me by Your Name. There was just a tipping point and people joining because it was a place, as Ella says, to basically vomit out feelings about these two films that seem to speak of coming of age in a way that films in the previous few years hadn’t, maybe? I am still struggling to articulate what happened on Letterboxd over those few months, but it was visceral. It was happening.

SLIM Yeah, this was — drinking game, get ready. This is the first time I finally watched this, this week.


SLIM Because the — in patented Slim style — the hype was a little too hot for me. So I missed the window. So this had come out and it was like I saw it at the top of the list and I just never ended up putting it to the list. I was like alright, I’ll come back to this in a few years. And I did.

GEMMA What is it like coming to Call Me by Your Name post Armie Hammer news?

ELLA I don’t know if my heart can take this.

SLIM I’ve already done enough damage to Ella for one episode. We need to heal. We need to let the healing begin. Now Armie, I don’t know how many movies I’ve even seen Armie in to be honest.

GEMMA Do we have medics on hand? [Slim laughs]

SLIM I’ve just dispatched an ambulance to wherever Ella is. Now I don’t have anything negative to say about his performance. His voice is just a weird thing. His voice reminds me of Billy Zane a little bit.

GEMMA Oh my god!

SLIM Like if I close my eyes, I can picture Billy Zane.

GEMMA Billy my boy.

SLIM I escaped pretty much everything about this movie. So I everything was new to me. I love the dad’s speech at the end. I though that was unbelievable.

[clip of Call Me by Your Name plays]

MR. PERLMAN Right now you may not want to feel anything. Maybe you never wanted to feel anything. And maybe it’s not to me you want to speak about these things, but feel something you obviously did. Look, you had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you.

[clip of Call Me by Your Name ends]

SLIM It’s worth it just for seeing that moment in the entire movie. I thought the scene with the two of them was legit. I feel like this is a broken record. Everyone talks about Timothée. I mean Timothée is legit.

ELLA He’s so — oh my god.

SLIM Right? Oh my god!

GEMMA He’s so legit.

ELLA Do we have time?

GEMMA Do we have time and also don’t forget he was also in Lady Bird. So it was also the month of Timothée.

SLIM Cripes!

GEMMA Oh my god. Yeah, it was wild.

SLIM Yeah, so I enjoyed it. There’s one thing that I think affected my viewing of this movie was that I have seen a Portrait of a Lady on Fire without having seen this. So I think my love that would have gone to this, you know, my experience with Portrait of a Lady on Fire is like, it’s unspeakable. Like that is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. And I just openly weep every time I watch it. So I think like having maybe waited for Portrait I would have maybe loved this more. But I think it’s interesting to come across both of those movies, you know, in the last few years that have been impacted so many lives of movie lovers to see them in a different order. So yeah, I had a great time watching them.

GEMMA Hey, can you to write an essay for us together? [Slim laughs] I’m just about to do a live commission here. Because here’s the thing — if we’re talking about the fans, most fans on Letterboxd lists that we’ve, you know, broken down into genders. Call Me by Your Name — which is about two boys falling in love briefly — it tops the her list even ahead of Lady Bird, which you would think women and girls would put above Call Me by Your Name. And it is the top rewatched film on Letterboxd for ‘her’ members, for those who identify as she/her.

ELLA Yeah, I think that’s me.

GEMMA And then you’ve got Portrait of a Lady on Fire which has a love story between two women and, you know, I remember one of our other correspondents, Dominic Corry, coming out of that movie and going, ”Oh my god, this is like this is the portrait of artists and love I’ve been looking for all my life and I finally understand what love is and blah blah blah.” And I’ve just seen so many — I mean obviously women love it and clearly the gays love it — but there’s something there. I want an essay that’s a he said she said on the two different love stories.

ELLA I have theories. I have theories on Call Me by Your Name. I have many, many theories. I’ve so many different theories, which I know we don’t have that much time for. But okay, there are two different things — three brief things I want to touch on about Call Me by Your Name. Riffing off things that have been said. On the rewatch thing, I’m kind of ashamed of myself that it’s got to this point. But I rewatch films maybe two or three times depending if I’m working on them or, I don’t know, whatever the reason, within I’d say the year after they’ve come out. I don’t have that many films that I will rewatch just like infinitely. Call Me by Your Name is that. It’s got to the point in the last maybe two years that if you see me log Call Me by Your Name on Letterboxd, you know something’s gone wrong. [Slim laughs] Yeah, it’s like my friend said this to me, I rewatched it earlier this summer, for reasons we’re not going to get into. And so my best friend, Jack King, who is also on Letterboxd, he sent me a screenshot of what one of his friends had sent him. Tony Cornforth, who is also on Letterboxd, and Tony doesn’t know me as well. But basically Tony had taken a screenshot of my, like, logging and I think I’d said something and and he messaged Jack, and he was like, “Is Ella okay?” Ella was not okay. [Gemma & Slim laugh] But, you know, I’m not going to stop doing that. But I feel so grateful that it is a film that I can now just go back to like clockwork, I’m like this will help. It will be there and it will still do the job. And I think I’d seen someone who I know Orla Smith, she works for Seventh Row, fantastic writer and editor. She’s honestly logged this film genuinely about 40 times or something. I know quite a few people who are like that. I haven’t seen it that many times.

GEMMA Iana Murray is one of my favorites, in one of her reviews she writes, “how have I seen this nine times? I really should not be trusted with money.” Because what’s interesting is — and we can’t go into it here with you — but there’s whole gay-community politics around the age of Oliver and the age of Elio. So we need to acknowledge that. We need to acknowledge that there is a problematic star in this film. But all of that aside, how does Luca Guadagnino’s Call My by Your Name keep coming back into your stats? And I love your Letterboxd activity is kind of like a cry for therapy that your friends respond to. [Ella & Slim laugh]

ELLA It really is. It’s Call Me by Your Name and Bo Burnham’s Make Happy. It’s like those are the two when they’re like, oh, dear. Something’s happened. Why does it keep coming back? I think — okay. And so I do, I want to touch upon the problematic star and the age gap and everything. Because, look, I have a poster of Call Me by Your Name in my bedroom. I used to work in a cinema. And I have the big quad poster. So like, I don’t not think about it. And people asked me this, they you know, after everything came out, the first question that people said, they said to me, they’re like, “What are you going to do about your poster?” And I was like — I know, of all the things to say. [Gemma laughs] And I personally, I’m going to keep the poster. The poster still up. For me — and I’m not asking anyone else to subscribe to this or agree with this — but for me, Call Me by Your Name is more like — and this is something that Orla said in her review — it’s like it’s a place I go to and the kind of some lines of dialogue within it. And some tiny examples and things. Like one of my favorite details in it is when Oliver and Elio just talk about being Jews of discretion, it’s like the film is not about being Jewish whatsoever. But they are and it’s just there and it’s like I am and my family is too. And just, you know, lots of little details like that. And just so many things in, I don’t know it will be like the way that Elio sighs in one scene or like the way that Oliver will touch his hair, it’s just so many tiny moments like that. And there are so many of them, which for me, those are the things that I dive back into. And like the film was never about how impressed I was by any one performance, how much I was excited by its awards prospects, or what it would do for the fabric of cinema. It did all those things, and it did a lot. But for me, that was never it. And so I feel like when I look at the stars, the politics, the discourse, all of these things that matter, I see them but in terms of what I felt when I watched that film for a first time, it just goes so much further and deeper into that, like they were just vessels for it. And yeah, and I know that’s not possible for everyone, and I wouldn’t expect it to be. But for me, you know, I just look straight through it. I’m not proud, but this is where we are. I need it. I need it more than — like, I will not let, I don’t want to let all of the potentially terrible, upsetting, unfair things that one person has done, take away this film that I need so much in so many other ways. It feels like it wouldn’t be fair. So it’s selfish, really.

SLIM Great answer. Shall we sashay into our final movie? [Gemma laughs] Singin’ in the Rain.

GEMMA Shall we, as a trio, hit the couch at the same time and tap dance our way over?

SLIM Absolutely. 4.3 on Letterboxd. I think the averages are going up as we go through the final movie. 4,200 fans on Letterboxd. In 1927 Hollywood, a silent-film production company and cast make a difficult transition to sound.

GEMMA Wow, that is the least-appropriate synopsis for this extraordinary film.

ELLA Makes it sound so boring.

SLIM We need to have Gemma craft a new synopsis in the vein that you did for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando a couple of weeks ago.

GEMMA Oh my god, that’s my best work so far. Honestly, my synopsis is an eighteen-year-old Debbie Reynolds learns to dance through two months of eight-hour-a-day rehearsals to not only match but probably outshine, the amazing Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Oh my god. Anyway.

ELLA Incredible.

SLIM Do you remember how often you’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain compared to Call Me by Your Name? What’s your history with this legendary film?

ELLA So I would say that like all of my other favorites, it was probably a university affair. And I think this was one — so I studied film and television at the University of Bristol and you know there are lots of films that I had not seen. And lots of films that I was told were classics and would change my life and a lot of them didn’t. Singin’ in the Rain just felt and still feels, for me, like just such an easy favorite. I don’t worry when I say that’s one of my favorite films. I don’t worry when I recommend it to people. I don’t worry when it’s on. But also I don’t really care if people disagree with this one.

GEMMA When we’re talking about Magnolia and I was talking about all the people who love it for its kind of depressive tendencies and I’m a natural optimist. Singin’ in the Rain is my Magnolia. It’s my Call Me by Your Name.

ELLA I get that.

SLIM And this is my Moulin Rouge! — Singin’ in the Rain — if I can be frank with you. [Gemma laughs]

ELLA Hang on. Hang on. Hang on. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. That can mean a lot of different things right now. [Slim laughs]

SLIM I love… Singin’ in the Rain is so much fun for me.

ELLA Okay, good.

SLIM I grew up in the house of a movie buff. My dad is a big time movie buff. Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, like all those classics were rewatched as I was growing up. And I never enjoyed them these kinds of movies as a kid but looking back, I’m like oh my ood, my dad was right. And the dream sequence with Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly. Like is this for real? Why aren’t more people talking about this scene? And can I get a 4K version of this film to see that in? I watched it I think maybe a couple months ago and then again this week. There’s so many scenes in this that just like knock my socks off. And Gene Kelly, he’s like not even heavy breathing in any of these scenes. I don’t know how any of these talented dancers — and like she picked it up in how many months?

GEMMA Two months.

SLIM Like it just blows my mind how talented everyone in this movie is and how hard it must have been to make these movies.

GEMMA I know! So it’s directed by — I didn’t realize, I don’t know why I didn’t realize this, because obvious — like it’s directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. And Gene Kelly directed loads of films and he worked really hard. So when Debbie Reynolds talked about being taught to dance it wasn’t by Gene Kelly, it was by his assistants. So she said Gene had his assistants work really closely with her to teach her how to dance. And that couch-dance scene. Oh my god, he shot it 40 times.

SLIM Oh my god.

GEMMA And he printed the first take.

ELLA Oh my god.

GEMMA Can you imagine how much of a kind of asshole genius you have to be to do the first take and go, “Yeah, that’s the one.” And then make them do it 39 more times.

SLIM It’s like Stanley Kubrick stuff. Sicko stuff.

GEMMA I just want to say that Donald O’Connor — it’s Donald O’Connor for me in this film.

ELLA Yeah, me too.

GEMMA That make-’em-laugh sequence is basically a daily breakfast watch for me and my kid.

[clip of Singin’ in the Rain plays]

ELLA Donald O’Connor, his scenes, I didn’t know — I do really love the dream sequence. And you know the whole Broadway Melody scene, but I really think that it’s the scenes with Donald O’Connor. It’s like the ones that just come out of nowhere because obviously like they’re making movies in this and you expect the big numbers and they are incredibly impressive. But like, Make ’Em Laugh and then Moses Supposes as well. I’m like, why are you doing this? You don’t need to be doing this here. And then all of a sudden, you’ve got to the end of it and it’s just been the most intricate and elaborate and energetic thing out of nowhere! And I do think that’s what every single movie musical aspires to now. Like when they break into song in the middle of scenes where it doesn’t make sense. I rarely nowadays see a scene where I’m like, oh yeah, well you can get away with it because it was so impressive. Whereas Singin’ in the Rain has all of those scenes. They justify everything immediately. It’s just, I’ve never seen musical scenes like this ever since.

GEMMA If you need more Donald O’Connor in your life than Singin’ in the Rain has room for, I highly recommend his tap-dancing-on-roller-skates number in I Love Melvin.

SLIM Excuse me? Excuse me?

GEMMA You don’t have to watch the whole film. But just this one scene, he tap dances on roller skates and a band rotunda and then uses the poles of the band rotunda to do full-body spins around and then back on the skates. Oh my god. Up and down steps, on roller skates.

SLIM Sheesh.

ELLA Oh my god!

SLIM It’s ridiculous.

GEMMA I would say if there’s one downer for me it is — and I get that, I know it’s terrible. Everyone’s just staring. [Gemma laughs] Oh my god, just staring at me. Help me. Call a medic. I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the eyeball. The shift from silent films to talkies and the screen star Lina Lamont has a terrible voice. And so Debbie Reynolds’ character is brought in to be her behind-the-scenes voice. But there is that whole stage curtain scene where Debbie is behind the curtain and in front of a live audience singing while Lina Lamont is lip synching and then the boys lift the curtain. It is — ugh. I get that it’s about the transition from silent to talkies. But it’s just awful!

SLIM Yeah, she’s like the villain. She is the movie villain at that moment. And I remember I think I had that feeling too. I kind of feel bad for her. She’s not that bad. [Slim laughs] But different times I guess.

ELLA That’s the thing. There’s so little conflict — well, I mean, there’s so little conflict in the sense that so much of it is a celebration and is about like how happy everyone is and how excited they all are. But that moment feels a little bit cruel, right, in the way that the rest of the film makes you think no, like the sole purpose of this film is to make everyone who watches it, it’s to make you feel better. And then that scene it’s like oh, no, actually. Ew. Kind of bad as well. Still great. Still a great movie. [Slim laughs]

SLIM Should we go into our top-secret segment?

GEMMA Let’s do it.

SLIM Rated Higher Than Average. For Patrons of Letterboxd they unlock some things that we can see on their stats.

ELLA Oh dear. What have I done.

SLIM So for Ella, we can see what movies you rated higher than the average on Letterboxd. We’re ready to dive deep right now for a few minutes. The new Fantastic Four movie that had come out a few years ago. That’s one of your higher rated average than normal. Three and a half stars for the FF.

GEMMA You need to know that it’s 1.46, the average on Letterboxd. [Slim laughs]

SLIM Did any of your friends screenshot that rating and then ask if you were okay?

ELLA No. Okay, you know what? No they didn’t. But you know what, if I rewatched it today, they definitely would. And no, I can explain actually. Because I think that when I first joined Letterboxd in 2017, I think I was very excited to basically try and log every film I’ve ever seen, right? And so I think I just went back through like every film I’d seen — I don’t know how many years before — I have not seen that film recently. And it wasn’t recently in 2017. I don’t know when that film came out. I do not think about that film. [Gemma laughs]

SLIM I’ve never heard someone backtrack so fast in the history of this podcast, than just now.

ELLA Look. You know what, I might rewatch it soon for the sake of this, but I think that if I had to rewatch that film, while actively using Letterboxd, I would have thought much more carefully. Rather than being like, I can’t remember it. So it must be a three-star film.

SLIM My friends and I call that BLB: Before Letterboxd. When we rate something without actually reviewing it, or logging it. It always comes back to bite us in the ass.

ELLA So it doesn’t count! Challenge me on another one!

GEMMA Here we go. Interestingly, more recently, Wonder Woman 1984, you gave it four stars. The average has settled at about 2.3.

ELLA Look, I can defend that one. I like that film. I like that film. And I think there might have been a few contributing factors. I have to say that I went to see Wonder Woman 1984 at a press screening in London, and it was during that really — there was a really small window here where we could go back to the cinema. And so like it was very much kind of a 50% capacity. Everyone was wearing masks, you know, you had to do loads of checks and everything as you should. And so I saw it in IMAX and I think it was the first film I’d seen in IMAX maybe since Dunkirk or something. It had been a while. But I don’t think it’s just that. I really liked it. But I am also interested, you know, I haven’t not seen what everyone else thinks. But I am painfully aware that — absolutely not in a braggy way because look where it’s got me — I was one of the first people to see it. So not many people had shared their opinions of it.

SLIM So you were getting hors d’oeuvres from the press corps, they were giving you shrimp, you had your feet up. You’re like oh, thank you so much for coming to our screening. I hope you enjoy the movie, and then that’s what happened.

ELLA That’s exactly what happened.

GEMMA Four stars! [Gemma & Slim laugh]

ELLA No, no. I’m sorry, I like that film. I’ve reviewed that film. I stand by it. I think it’s very heartful. I think is very smart about the ’80s. I think it looks amazing. Look, I love love. Okay? I love love. Chris Pine does loads more in this film. And I was like great, I’m here.

GEMMA I love bum bags. So I was all for that movie.

ELLA Thank you.

GEMMA Chris Pine rocking that fanny pack was good for me. We do have to wrap and I want to ask can you give us a quick hit from London Film Festival? Can you name three must-sees for our watchlists? And is one of them The Power of the Dog?

ELLA One of them is The Power of the Dog. Obviously, yes it is. Okay, my three films from London Film Festival. Is it okay if none of them premiered at London Film Festival? I can pick a London Film Festival premiere if you’d like.

GEMMA You make the rules.

ELLA Okay, well okay, I’m selfish and so you know, I didn’t go to any other film festivals this year actually. So London Film Festival was it for me. And the three films which I saw there, which are just — blew my mind. In reverse order, number three, Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, which I think is unbelievably good. It was like day two of the festival. And I just thought I would be surprised if anything tops this. And it’s still top three. It’s so good.

GEMMA Oh my gosh, he is going to be a guest here in a few weeks.

SLIM Oh mama mia.

GEMMA So any hot tips. Slim just found that out.

SLIM Live reveal.

ELLA Well, I mean, you have to — there is one *NSYNC song that you have to play instead of the theme for the show. [Gemma laughs] I don’t know. I can tell you or not. Maybe you can guess which one it is and play it to him and see if it’s right.

GEMMA You need to put it on our needle-drops playlist for 2021. Which, by the way, we have a Letterboxd Spotify. And yeah, we will be dropping that playlist in the coming months.

ELLA So Red Rocket is number three. And number two is [The] Power of the Dog. Which as we know, we love, we worship, we think about her all the time. And just amazing. And Jonny Greenwood’s score is the best thing I’ve had all year and it’s just sensational. Better than the Spencer score, dare I say. Which I love. Which is also amazing.

SLIM Gemma, have you seen it yet? The Power of the Dog?

GEMMA I haven’t seen it yet!

SLIM Oh my god!

GEMMA I haven’t seen it yet. No, I live a life of tragedy. We were Covid-free for so long and then Delta came and anyway, the big premiere that I was going to get to go to, it’ll now be a Netflix premiere in my living room, so that’s okay.

ELLA So number one, it is, The Worst Person in the World, directed by Joachim Trier.

SLIM Whaat?

ELLA It’s, it’s everything. Look, I know I’m a very hyperbolic person. I’m not shying away from this. But this is honestly — you know, sometimes a movie just finds you at the right time. And you’re like, this is weird that I have nothing to do with this film. And I mean, I feel like this about Call Me by Your Name. I feel similarly, I know I’m gonna rewatch The Worst Person in the World infinitely. It’s everything I love about movies and about people. And it’s just so alive and in a completely unpretentious way and romantic and hopeful and sad and truthful and it’s — ugh. I sigh when I think about this movie. I just, I sigh.


SLIM Quote from your review “Felt this on a molecular level”.

ELLA Stand by it. Stand by it.

GEMMA I just watched Slim add it to his watchlist as you were talking. [Ella & Slim laugh]

SLIM I did. How did you see that?! My god. That is insane! I literally did that two seconds ago.

ELLA I love that. I’m so pleased. What an honor.

[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, Ella Kemp. Check out her London Film Festival dispatches on our Festiville HQ page. Thanks to our crew, composing dynamos Moniker for the theme music Vampiros Dancoteque. And thanks to Jack for the facts, our booker Linda Moulton for looking after our guests and Sophie Shin for the episode transcript. And thanks to you for listening. And one more thanks, Protolexus, co-host of mine for his suggestion on my nickname: Monsieur Man Ass.

GEMMA Monsieur Man Ass. Is this — ah, this is from last week when we — 


GEMMA Right. You wanted a cool nickname like, what was it?

SLIM Terminally horny. I’m not sure if Monsieur Man Ass will stick but I feel like I needed to bring it up.

GEMMA I think if you’re more like Monsieur, Monsieur Man Ass. Bonjour Monsieur Man Ass.

SLIM Mon-sieur. Mon-sieur.

GEMMA It should be like full French: Monsieur … homme …  whatever French is for ass. We’ll figure it out.

SLIM Le ass. [Gemma laughs]

GEMMA Le ass. Monsieur le ass d’homme. [Slim laughs] Oh no. It’s gone pear-shaped. If you have a minute, drop a review over on Apple Podcasts for us. And don’t forget, you can follow Slim, Gemma — that’s me — and our HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes. The Letterboxd Show is TAPEDECK production. And that is the end of the episode. I can’t believe you made me watch Tom Cruise again, but that’s the price of fame. You’ve got the glory, you got to take the little headaches that go with it.

SLIM Thank you, Tom.

[clip of Magnolia plays]

JIM Claudia, whatever you want to tell me, whatever you think might scare me, won’t. And I will listen to you. I’ll be a good listener to you if that’s what you want. You know, you know, and I won’t judge you. I know I can do that sometimes and I won’t. And I can listen. And you shouldn’t be scared to scare me off or whatever you think that I think. And on and on. You should just say it. Whatever it is, and I’ll listen to you.

CLAUDIA You don’t know how fucking stupid I am.

JIM It’s okay.

CLAUDIA You don’t know how crazy I am.

JIM It’s okay.

CLAUDIA I got troubles. Okay?

JIM I’ll take everything at face value. I’ll be a good listener to you.

CLAUDIA I started this didn’t I, didn’t I — fuck.

JIM Whatever it is, just say it. You’ll see!

CLAUDIA You want to kiss me, Jim?

JIM Yes, I do.

[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is a TAPEDECK podcast.