Back in February, my husband and I started the Green Screen podcast, where we analyze and discuss movies with environmental themes and/or in which nature or the environment plays a significant role. I’m happy to say that, now at the beginning of April, we’re five episodes in and it’s going well–though we can always use some more listeners!
The Green Screen project has actually been pretty interesting. When we first started it, we weren’t sure if we could find enough movies to sustain an entire podcast on environmental themes–as I’m fond of saying on the show, “we’re not just doing Silkwood and Erin Brockovich“–but that has turned out not to be the case. We’ve done five movies so far and have more than 50 on our to-do list, which is enough material for more than two years at our current pace.
Here are the movies we’ve done so far. The link in each title leads to the episode’s hosted page on Libsyn.
Our inaugural episode examined the 1979 eco-thriller The China Syndrome starring Jane Fonda as a local TV news reporter who, with her cameraman (Michael Douglas), accidentally uncovers the story of a near-meltdown at a nuclear power plant. The film resonated in 1979 because it was released just weeks before the real-life accident at Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. In addition to nuclear power, the issues we discussed included NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) and its relationship to science denial; freeways and urban congestion in L.A.; and how civilian uses of nuclear power grew uneasily out of military applications.
Our second episode was a lot more fun, but still steeped in environmental history. In this mid-80s Star Trek sequel, humpback whales, which in the film’s future scenario have been hunted to extinction by humans, are a key plot point. We went deep on this one (no pun intended) and analyzed the history of whaling and species conservation, and I discovered some surprising facts about whether whales are, in fact, endangered (spoiler alert: humpbacks are not). We also talked about some fun cinema-related issues, like the Star Trek cast’s ridiculous toupees, and Kirk Thatcher, the infamous “Punk on Bus.”
When we chose this for our third episode we didn’t even realize that it also took place in San Francisco, as part of Star Trek IV does! In this case it’s the groovy bay city of the ’70s, and the issues involved in this spooky sci-fi thriller include invasive species (particularly plants), public health resources (a topic of major resonance in the COVID-19 era), whether crime and housing prices are environmental issues, and more. This was a super fun film to examine and is probably our favorite of the movies we’ve done so far (though not my favorite episode so far).
We want to balance the selections of movies on the show to not just be stuff from the 70s and 80s that we grew up with, and that’s why we reached back into cinema history to do this film, the 1941 Best Picture Oscar winner How Green Was My Valley. The film takes place in a coal mining town in Wales at the end of the 19th century, where the vibrant green of “my” valley (from the point of view of young Huw, played by Roddy McDowall) eventually becomes a blackened wasteland destroyed by coal slag. Fossil fuel extraction and its many problems are obviously the main theme here. I was surprised by how popular this episode was in terms of downloads; it remains a favorite among our (admittedly small) fan base.
I absolutely love our latest episode, which came out early this morning. I think it’s the finest work we’ve done in the podcast so far. In this post-apocalyptic thriller, the third sequel to the 1979 Australian cult film Mad Max, a determined truck driver (Charlize Theron) smuggles the wives of a powerful warlord out of his compound and tries to take them across the desert to safety. There are so many environmental issues to unpack here: apocalyptic narratives and what they say about our fears, the prospect of societal collapse (very timely as we’re dealing with COVID-19 and climate change), the fragile environment of Australia and its history (including dust storms), and much more. It’s also a great movie, extremely fast-paced and energetic. Cody in particular had some fascinating things to say about filmmaking in relationship to Mad Max.
Our next episode will feature Bottle Shock, the “wine comedy” from 2008; after that we’re slated to do The Empire Strikes Back, The French Connection and eventually Princess Mononoke, where we hope to be joined by a guest. We’re trying to release episodes every two weeks, on Thursdays.
So yeah…I admit that Green Screen has been sapping my time that would otherwise have gone into Second Decade, but I think we’re doing something quite unique in the podcast world. If you haven’t listened to Green Screen yet, this would be a great time to start. And please, please leave us a favorable review on iTunes; a written review is even better than just stars. You hear podcasters say it all the time, but now as a veteran of several podcasts, I can attest that it’s the number one thing that can help us increase our reach.
Green Screen is an attempt to bring some history–especially environmental history–into the realm of pop culture and movies. It’s a very fun project and one I love working on, especially now that we’re sequestered due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Please do give us a listen!