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Verbal Diorama: A superb Film History Podcast

The podcast's critical and historical eye has a wide angle lens

By Frank RacioppiPublished about a month ago 8 min read
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Verbal Diorama: A superb Film History Podcast
Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

There are several reasons why podcasts about movies and TV proliferate. First, listeners of podcasts are also consumers of movies and TV. Second, movie and TV podcasts require no degree or academic certification. In effect, anyone with a sense for artistic excellence can do such shows.

However, just because there are a lot of these podcasts doesn't mean they're easy to do and easy to do well.

The U.K. podcast, Verbal Diorama is an example of a superb film history podcast that is sadly lost in the spacious landscape of podcasting. If you're a fan of film and film history (a TCM junkie) this podcast should be playing in your ears regularly.

Just to be clear, the podcast is more of a film history show than reviewing old films. It's not the Rewatchables with Bill Simmons where bros rap about older movies like they're sitting in Applebee's having an IPA.

Here's the host introducing herself and podcast on her website: "Hi! I'm Em. I created Verbal Diorama in 2018, and launched the podcast in February 2019 to rapturous applause and acclaim.... from my cat Jess."

"The modus operandi of Verbal Diorama is simple: movies are tough to make! The coming together of a team of people from all walks of life to make something to entertain, delight and educate us for 90+ mins is not an easy task, and yet so many succeed at it. That must be something to celebrate. I'm here to do just that - to celebrate movies. Their history and legacy, and why they remain so special to so many of us."

Although you may not have heard of this independent podcast, the show has been around for five years. Kudos to any indie podcaster who has the grit to podcast that consistently for that long.

Let me offer an example of the show. On the December 17, 2023, episode, Em, the host, reviews the history of Die Hard, probably one of the most iconic action movies in the history of film. The movie birthed hundreds of action movies with the elevator pitch, Die Hard on a plane; Die Hard on the beach; Die Hard in a phone booth. You get the idea.

The journey from conception to completed film in Die Hard's case is unexpected, unwieldy, and unfathomable.

Did you know that the story of Die Hard starts in the mid-sixties, and the film adaptation of a dark film noir detective drama novel, The Detective, starring Frank Sinatra? What would that sound like with Sinatra as John McClane? "Yippee-Ki-Yay, I did it my way!"

Anyway, the sequel novel Nothing Lasts Forever would take eleven years to be written, and its film adaptation would take a further nine years to make it to the big screen, with some major changes.

Gone was Frank Sinatra reprising his role, and the death of the character's on-screen daughter. The dark, depressing story was revitalized, with a new lead character, on-screen marital issues, explosive action, and one of the most charismatic and interesting villains ever put to screen.

Em details how Alan Rickman who played Hans Gruber, one of the most iconic villains in film history, offered director John McTiernan several key ideas that improved the film. First, Rickman suggested that Gruber not be dressed like the rest of his crew, but in an expensive European suit to distinguish him and his personality from the others.

Then, in a famous scene where Willis as McClane comes upon Gruber, Rickman suggested that Gruber imitate an American accent to try and fool Willis / McClane.

Em also explains how the film's producers wanted John McTiernan to direct Die Hard, but the director hated the idea of terrorists, which was the original concept of the film. The movie was then changed to make Gruber's crew robbers masquerading as terrorists, a key plot point.

What's great about this podcast is that Em's critical and historical eye has a wide angle lens. She covers films in numerous genres, from romantic comedies to superhero flicks, and horror films to sci-fi movies.

Some of her best episodes include Aliens, Hidden Figures, The Wizard of Oz, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

"I started the podcast in 2019 after a pretty turbulent couple of years, marred by a marriage breakdown and a family bereavement," shares Em. "So Verbal Diorama was basically born from grief and trauma, which I find tends to be one of the best forms of therapy (I jest, everyone should go to actual therapy!)"

Em continues with the origin story of the show: "I've always been fascinated by film history, and I'm an overwhelmingly positive person for the most part - I can find things to love about most movies, and I still find it miraculous that any movie actually exists. And that's why Verbal Diorama exists - to celebrate everything about filmmaking, and highlight the incredible stories behind the scenes."

Interestingly, Verbal Diorama changed its intro and outro music in 2019, its second season. With the July 21, 2019, episode about Charlie's Angels, which Em notes is really the first women kick butt action movie. The song, written by talented singer / songwriter Chloe Enticott (with a few cheesy lyrics by Em) is a kick-ass rocker in the Joan Jett category. It's high energy, high volume, and sets the podcast apart from thousands of others with generic, free music.

As a host, Em excels with a strong narrative voice and fervent desire to share with her listeners. She's not above sly humor, as in the Charlie's Angels episode, where she waits patiently by the phone for Charlie to call her. When the phone rings, she answers and then responds with mock anger at the sound of a marketing call instead of Charlie.

Em also tosses in social media feedback on the film she's covering that week, with some fun, unexpected responses.

Em also smartly places a teaser for the episode before the intro music to give listeners a taste of the episode. That's strong marketing and narrative wisdom because it entices new listeners and reassures loyal listeners about what's to come in the show.

On her website, Em confesses: "I love podcasts, and listen to many, but never my own. I unashamedly love The Mummy (1999) and Grease 2. I'm still looking for a cool rider."

Em also discloses her feline co-host: "Episodes are audibly book ended by Jess. She sadly passed away in March 2022, aged almost 18. She featured in many episodes of the podcast, and that's why you can hear her at the end of every episode. The role of official feline producer is now held by the comparatively quieter Evie."

Em explains how starting Verbal Diorama has opened up incredible opportunities for her.

"I started writing for Film Stories shortly after starting Verbal Diorama, and I now have a regular print magazine column all about independent podcasting, which has been running for four years. I also write articles highlighting and promoting fellow UK indie film podcasts on the Film Stories website for several years. I have a very dedicated group of paying subscribers on Patreon who help me pay for things like hosting, domains, software subscriptions and new equipment. Verbal Diorama has appeared on Podcast Radio, an online radio station, several times over the years, and it's been featured in podcasting publications like PodBible and Podnews, as well as being a recommended podcast on apps like Goodpods.

Em is dedicated to independent podcasting.

"Last year I co-created the Independent Podcast Awards (https://independentpodcastawards.com) and worked on the inaugural event with whynow, a media company based in London. It was a hugely personal achievement for me to be able to help create that event to support national independent podcasting, I believe wholeheartedly in the power of podcasting, and of supporting fellow creators. Independent podcasters are the cornerstone of podcasting, and the people doing from their garages or spare bedrooms are doing it for one reason and one reason only - passion. Having passion for podcasting sets indie podcasters apart from the big name celebrities and corporates who are only doing it for monetary gain and because it's the current 'in' thing to do."

It's worth adding that The Independent podcast Awards are returning for 2024 - https://podnews.net/press-release/ipa-24-launch

"My thoughts on independent podcasting can be summed up by the honest fact that podcasting changed my life," Em shares. "It gave me purpose, it healed my heart, it's given me opportunities and genuine friendships from a worldwide community that is welcoming to all and supportive of all. That's why they deserve celebrating. That's why independent podcasting deserves celebrating."

Check out Verbal Diorama. It is truly one of the best film history podcasts in the audio verse, and one of the best all-around independent podcasts.

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This review is part of an ongoing series of reviews, recommendations, and essays about Indie podcasters -- their craft, their challenges, and the critical role they play in podcasting. These entrepreneurs display skills as disparate as hosting, sound production, graphic design, scriptwriting, interviewing, marketing genius, and financial watchdog. They are the heart and soul of podcasting.

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About the Creator

Frank Racioppi

I am a South Jersey-based author who is a writer for the Ear Worthy publication, which appears on Vocal, Substack, Medium, Blogger, Tumblr, and social media. Ear Worthy offers daily podcast reviews, recommendations, and articles.

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