THE MUSEUM OF DENZELISHNESS: EXAMINING #DWITGAOATP
Writer's note: Traditionally, I've only written about professional wrestling on The Work of Wrestling website, the purpose being to prove that professional wrestling is an art deserving of genuine arts criticism. In an effort to branch out a bit (all the while demonstrating that the words "art" & "professional wrestling" should occupy the same space) I've added this new ARTS ETC. page so that I might occasionally write about other media when the mood strikes. I've wanted to write about my favorite podcast (#DWITGAOATP) for a long time, and so I created this new forum to do so. Enjoy, dear reader, the first editorial on ARTS ETC. Enjoy...The Denzelishness.
Denzel Washington is The Greatest Actor of All Time Period is a podcast hosted by comedians W.Kamau Bell & Kevin Avery. The conceit of their podcast is that by reviewing all of Denzel Washington’s films and discussing the affect Denzel Washington has had on American popular culture & art they will prove their delightfully lengthy title true.
After forty-eight episodes (at the time of this writing) and after many thought-provoking, hilarious conversations with an assortment of venerable guests (Omar Dorsey, Dave Zirin, Vernon Reid, Phoebe Robinson, and most recently director of Best Picture nominee Selma, Ava DuVerney, to name a few), Kevin & Kamau have done more than just make a good case for Denzel’s mastery of his craft. Kevin & Kamau, by honestly and directly discussing their love of Denzel Washington's work and by sharing their perspectives on society, have contributed to Denzel's legacy by raising the consciousness of their listeners.
They have created a complete, auditory world founded on relentless truth, biting comedy, and a desire to adequately celebrate the idea of greatness.
If nothing else, they have etched in digital stone the unwavering declaration that “Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor of All Time...Period”. This title asserts that, at the very least, two people believe this statement to be true. Without hesitation.
That kind of confidence draws immediate interest. The title is a brilliant lure; appearing, on the surface, as purposeful hyperbole designed to inspire a knowing grin and piqued-interest in potential listeners when, in fact, it is a call to action.
To discuss the show, listeners must repeat that phrase and, in so doing, unconsciously endorse it as truth. The idea of that phrase and the inevitable conversation built into that phrase forces people to think about Denzel Washington and reflect upon the work of a true master. Even if, upon reflection, a person disagrees with the show’s title, Kamau & Kevin have succeeded by inspiring that discussion in the first place and thus contributing to the righteous legend of a great American artist.
This is no different than housing a precious work of art in a museum so that it might be observed, analyzed, and adequately celebrated by future generations.
W. Kamau Bell, Kevin Avery, and their cast of lovable guests and supporters have erected The Museum of Denzelishness.
Every Thursday, I take a tour through my favorite museum, accompanied by my fellow Denzealots, guided from one enlightening exhibit to the next. I am moved to think about life, art, culture, and society in the way all good exhibits should make me think about life, art, culture, and society. I am inspired to point a critical lens at my own consciousness, to take notice of the common behaviors and modes of thought (malevolent and benevolent) that I observe in myself and in others.
I learn the value of listening rather than speaking.
“And now we come to The He Got Game Era” Kamau's voice fills the hallowed halls of this museum, politely explaining the history of The He Got Game Era; how it relates to The Glory Era and how it's followed by The Man on Fire Era and then, where we are today, The Old Man Action Era.
As we approach the Kevin Avery Has Everything installation, Kevin explains the "Denzilshiness Scale", detailing a complex, counterintuitive ratings system based on a speech delivered in the Spike Lee film Malcolm X (thus inspiring some listeners to investigate Malcolm X and think about Malcolm X and appreciate the vicious eloquence with which Denzel Washington delivers this speech).
The phrases "took", "led astray", "hoodwinked", "ran amok", "bamboozled", and "this is what he does" contribute to a Denzelish lexicon developed by our tour-guides, a robust and ever-evolving parlance that brings Denzealots closer together.
And then there's Igor Rusinov and Liz of @Denzealots, two uber-fans who've found their way into top administrative positions in this museum. They ensure the members of the tour have the proper brochures and maps and that everyone knows where the gift shop is, and they even encourage other Denzealots to interact with the museum's many exhibits.
As Kevin & Kamau guide me through their Top Five favorite Denzel Washington films and the Top Five favorites of other Denzealots, I am reminded of Denzel’s ever-precence in my own life.
I remember going on adventures with my brothers to Act 1 Video, a VHS rental store that granted my family two free rentals simply because we were there so often (the Act 1 mascots). I raced through those aisles when it was my turn to pick the evening’s entertainment, and although I judged many a film by its cover at that age, I knew that if Denzel Washington was on that cover it was going to be a movie worth watching.
I am reminded of watching Glory as a child, far more focused on Denzel's quiet rage than Matthew Broderick's dogoodedness.
I remember the feeling of goosebumps during his rousing speech in The Siege, “…then everything that we have bled and fought and died for is over!” That one line (a "trailer moment"), and the way Denzel punctuated the speech with the thrust of a defiant hand sold me on that particular film.
To this day, that line occasionally replays in my mind and it inspires a smile and a clenched fist.
I remember rediscovering Philadelphia long after having seen it through the lens of an “important, educational film”, to find one of Denzel’s most complex, human performances. What had always been a Tom Hanks-movie is now, for me, definitively, a Denzel Washington-movie.
I remember how my entire family laughed wildly when Denzel simply ate pizza in The Preacher’s Wife. And I remember how at home I felt when Phoebe Robinson and Kevin and Kamau also laughed at that particular scene during their review, describing it as Denzel “Brad-Pitting some pizza”.
My father was always transfixed by Tom Clancy thrillers and military-political-submarine-adventures. With Crimson Tide, we found common ground.
I watched The Book of Eli and Inside Man for the first time just a few months ago to catch up with Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period. That double-feature, combined with Kevin & Kamau's unwavering enthusiasm, reminded me of the magic I once found in movies before the onslaught of sequels and super-powers that now defines the medium.
I remember crying my own Glory Tear during Denzel’s confession in The Taking of Pelham 123, a movie that initially seemed to have no business making me feel anything too deeply. But the power of Denzel, on full display in Kamau & Kevin's museum, emerges at unexpected times and in unexpected places.
I remember watching Training Day with my brother and my father and I remember how we did not stop smiling for two hours of unabashed general badassery.
I recall the day my friend Francisco told me about a podcast titled Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor of All Time Period; that recommendation, in no uncertain terms, has enriched my life. Francisco led me to a weekly experience of joy, a guided tour of memories that explain how Denzel Washington moved my entire family to think and feel in powerful ways.
For me, there is no world pre-Denzel. There is no foreseeable post-Denzel world.
There is only…Denzel.
Today, as I listen to Kamau & Kevin’s podcast, I’m able to come a bit closer to appreciating that remarkable reality, and how Denzel managed to make it so. They have given a voice to something I always felt in my guts, but never really knew how to adequately articulate. They have created a space founded not just on a love for Denzel, but on accuracy.
Accuracy is the greatest virtue a critic can possess.
Their explications of Denzel’s work, Denzel's ethos, and Denzel's mannerisms represents a masterclass in film & culture criticism, and it's an entirely unpretentious form of arts criticism that invites everyone to the Altar of Denzel.
When I was nine years old, I knew that if Denzel was on the cover of a VHS tape that it was a movie worth watching.
Twenty years later, I know that when I hit the play button on Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor of All Time Period that I will not only hear something worth listening to, but that I will also receive a free education.
As W.Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery near the end of Denzel Washington’s filmography, a certain degree of preemptive mourning overtakes me (as I'm sure it will for all #Denzealots). Having fallen in love with this Museum of Denzellishness, it pains me to think that one day, there might not be a new installation. I scramble for some way to keep it going, to encourage my guides to offer one more insight, one more tangential truth.
But then I remind myself that the museum itself will always remain, and that the old exhibits will never lose their luster. Greatness always offers something new to discover.
And that is why I'm so grateful to Kamau and Kevin.
They have built something truly great.
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