It seems incredible, but 20 weeks–nearly half a year–have already flown by, most of them spent under COVID-19 quarantine. I know it’s that number of weeks because my husband Cody and I record and release a new episode of the Green Screen podcast every two weeks, we started February 6, and we just put out our 10th episode. As the world changes rapidly around us, thanks to the virus, the wave of societal reckoning with institutional racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide tear-down of racist Confederate monuments, we’ve been analyzing environmental movies and films in which nature or the environment plays a significant role. Our show is now growing comfortably into a format, and I’m really proud of what we’ve been doing. We often discuss the environmental history of an event or issue, and the topical nature of some of the things we discuss might surprise you.
Similar to what I did when we hit five episodes, I thought I’d do a quick retrospective on episodes 6 through 10. The link in each title leads to the episode’s link on Apple Podcasts.
The first pure comedy that we’ve done on Green Screen may seem like an odd choice, but we found this to be an interesting and extremely fun episode to research and record, analyzing the 2008 wine comedy about the story of a world-shaking wine tasting competition in France in the 1970s that put California wine on the world map. I reviewed Bottle Shock on this blog not long after the sad death of Alan Rickman. In our episode we talked about the environmental history of California wine, how it’s tied uniquely to the land and the conditions where the grapes are grown, and how wine really is a reflection of its environment. Episode 6 is a bit of a sleeper in the Green Screen catalog, but it was a fun show to do.
When we began Green Screen we were a little afraid that people would interpret “the environmental movie podcast” as limiting itself to stuff like Silkwood and Erin Brockovich, or perhaps fact-checking documentaries like the dreadful recent YouTube film Planet of the Humans. To dispel that notion, we chose a Star Wars picture, The Empire Strikes Back from 1980, to showcase just how versatile the term “environmental movie” is. In Empire, the cryonic environment of Hoth, filmed in Finse, Norway, and the breezy Art Deco vistas of Cloud City raise a number of interesting issues. The genesis of this analysis came from my 2016 blog post about the environments of the Star Wars universe. I feel like this is the episode where we really began hitting our stride.
Another exercise in versatility–and another excuse to re-watch a favorite classic! We often think of the environment in terms of nature and wilderness, but urban areas have complicated environmental histories of their own, and that’s what we dove into when we reviewed the 1971 Best Picture winner The French Connection. This episode got us talking about the environmental history of drugs, racially discriminatory housing and financing practices, and urban decay–all issues highly relevant now when America is facing its long history of structural and institutional racism. This is the second Best Picture winner we’ve done on the show and I think this is one of our best episodes.
Once in a while we do a movie just for fun, and often to balance heavy subject matter from previous episodes. The monster classic Tremors from 1990 fits in that category, but it still raises some interesting environmental issues including nuclear weapons testing, invasive species, and how water is so crucial to the modern (and historic) West. I confess I still don’t understand these “graboid” creatures, but this was a fun episode to do.
I feel like Green Screen really broke into the big leagues with this episode, our tenth, which features our first guest, teacher and academic Arex Arreola, an expert on the environmental and ecological themes in the films of Hiyao Miyazaki, who directed this classic 1997 anime film. This was a truly deep-dive episode, exploring the environmental history of Japan, the use of firearms in the Japanese civil wars of the 16th century, atomic angst in post-World War II Japan and the appeal of anime culture in modern Western societies. Audiences also responded to this episode: our Princess Mononoke feature racked up more downloads faster than any previous episode and has generated some great discussion over email and social media.
As Green Screen moves on into the future, I’m really hoping that we continue to develop the highly sophisticated and thoughtful fanbase that we’re already seeing spring up around the show. This is really a labor of love for me and I hope you can be with us on this journey.