A Movie, Minutely Examined: How an Obsession Made an (Unusual) Podcast

Promotional image from Michael's Mann's Heat (1995)

If you could focus on any one thing—every day, for the foreseeable future—what would you choose?

Over a year ago, Australian movie critic and podcaster Blake Howard found himself doing just this—“goaded,” as he puts it, by a friend over beers, into choosing his next professional project. His answer, as he tells it today? “I just want to f-cking talk about Heat every day.”

“And there was a laugh,” Howard remembers, “and he goes: ‘I'd listen to that.’” So One Heat Minute—the only podcast, at the time of writing, to dissect Michael Mann’s 1995 crime saga Heat minute-by-minute—was born.

One Heat Minute host Blake Howard (Courtesy Blake Howard)

Heat is probably best known, among casual viewers, for its coffee-shop face-off between stars Robert de Niro and Al Pacino, who until then had never shared an actual on-screen scene together. Over two decades after its release, it’s most frequently remembered as a classic of the cops-and-robbers genre, with Pacino's driven detective pursuing de Niro's equally focused thief across a gorgeously-rendered backdrop of LA loneliness.

Howard has been obsessed with Heat since he was a teen, and now he talks to people on his lo-fi, minimally-edited podcast about Heat  (which he says has had "about 20,000 downloads" so far) most days.

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Every one of these episodes, which range in length from 20 minutes to an hour,  examines another minute of this 170-minute movie. In each, Howard is joined by a guest—including that “goading” buddy, the critic Stu Coote; New York Times film writer Manohla Dargis; and, most recently, an anonymous investigator of organized crime in Australia—to pore over every shot, line and performance within a given 60 seconds. That time limit, by the way, is strict: The first episode deals only with the opening credits. Some minutes have zero dialogue.

If you’re not a superfan of Heat, One Heat Minute will alienate you in the way only hearing people rave about an obsession you don’t share can (despite Howard's effusive and enthusiastic presence). There’s nothing so inclusive and exclusionary as people talking about a shared obsession, depending on which side of the door you’re on.

But if you are a superfan? You’ll probably find it fascinating. And here I must declare a personal interest: Though I don’t think anyone could love Heat more than Blake Howard does, one of the people who might come closest... is me.

Thanks to a decadent-for-1990s-Yorkshire VHS setup in my childhood bedroom, and a predilection for overwrought Mann movies about tortured machismo, discovering Heat in my most impressionable years has resulted in a lifelong connection with this film. Knowing all this, even I had to ask: Why Heat?

“Sometimes you get this perfection, you know,” says Howard. “It's like, it was made to be examined. It was made for me to have a conversation about.” As an exercise, he calls One Heat Minute “the most endlessly rewarding thing I think I've ever done, as far as a creative exploration. But the movie just gets better and better.”

One Heat Minute is by no means the only podcast to dissect a movie in minute chronological detail—Star Wars Minute and Goodfellas Minute started several years ago. Howard compares this kind of hyper-close, repetitive examination to Roger Ebert’s tradition of revisiting and re-reviewing a film after his first published pass. True classics of cinema, says Howard, “deserve more of your time than a casual review.”

The final moments of Heat -- it's been 23 years, this isn't a spoiler. (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

True to his word, Howard’s podcast subjects Heat to the kind of analysis and vigilance some might think reserved for “arthouse” cinema. This has yielded truly interesting discoveries, from previously-unnoticed visual echoes to connections between characters that would pass by unseen on a casual viewing.

In the episode that dissects Heat’s third minute, Howard and his guest stumble on an undeniable bit of foreshadowing, noticing how the camera lingers on a statue in a hospital’s grounds—stone figures in a pose that almost exactly mirrors the one De Niro and Pacino hold in the movie’s very last frame. This is the stuff film students write papers on—and with One Heat Minute’s minimal editing, hearing the two critics realize the connection seemingly in real time is genuinely, well, exciting.

Can you truly subject something to examination and commentary if you are, by your own admission, utterly in love with it? If adoring a movie with your whole heart makes you far less of an impartial critic, Howard isn’t concerned—One Heat Minute is where critical review meets unabashed fandom.

Even though podcasting isn’t quite the meritocracy some make it out to be—there’s still something of a technical and financial barrier to entry—the field of what’s considered “worthy” of a podcast is wide. Howard didn’t need to convince an editor of the artistic merits of a synth-heavy action thriller starring Val Kilmer, versus, say, Citizen Kane. He just began recording his conversations with fellow enthusiasts and releasing them on iTunes. Anyone who wants to chat with their buddies about their favorite movie—or period of history, or serial killer—can do the same. Whether they find their audience, of course, is another story.

Amy Brenneman and Robert De Niro in Heat (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

Listening to a film podcast can feel like the sonic equivalent of that post-screening digest (or depending on varying opinions, debate) in a bar with your movie buddies. As a medium for criticism, podcasting provides extended run time and the freedom to dwell as long as desired on a particular subject—or in One Heat Minute’s case, a frame or a glance or a throwaway line.

Yet if podcasting, as a medium, didn’t exist, how might a devotee like Howard have scratched this particular itch? His answer: writing, perhaps even in chapter-by-chapter book form, about this movie. “I would've been writing about Heat forever. Honestly.”

Writing out this passion might not have enabled Howard to connect so relentlessly with fellow obsessives—and to conduct extended conversations with them. Obsession loves community, something podcasts in particular have so deftly tapped into, convening conversations between invested parties and then drawing the listener in to create a second layer of belonging.

Robert De Niro in Heat (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

Howard calls podcasts a “little nice little campfire to sort of get around, to find your people.” As much as he jokes about being “deeply selfish” in birthing One Heat Minute as a way to talk about his favorite movie on a near-daily basis, it was that friend’s assertion that he’d actually enjoy hearing it that turned the joke into an actual endeavor.

He never expected to attract a mass audience with his project, but the reaction to the series, now that he's 75 episodes in, has surprised him. “I couldn't have imagined, in a really positive way, how many people loved Heat. And I'm so glad.”

In life, an obsession—with a movie, a song, a person—usually fades because another one’s taken its place. Yet as Howard acknowledges, he’ll be moving on not because his decades-long love affair with Heat is over—but because his 170-episode podcast exercise is.

According to the current release schedule, One Heat Minute will formally come to an end in July 2019—just under one year away. “I have no idea what it's going to feel like,” says Howard. “To have done it—at 170 minutes, when this thing's over.” He’s already got another movie in mind (a secret, for now) for his next minute-by-minute podcast.

How does Howard feel about becoming a professional obsessive focused on a movie that's famously about characters who are professional obsessives? “That's fine with me. I guess that's what I was looking for,” he laughs. “I quite like being this obsessed. It hasn't ruined me.”

And then he adds: “Yet.”

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