Until late last fall, I had a typical view of Bret Easton Ellis: I’d read about his supposedly incendiary Twitter account and assumed he was an attention whore. I’d read his criticism of film director Kathryn Bigelow, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and millennials (“Generation Wuss,” as he calls them) and concluded he was a misogynist, a self-loathing homosexual and a crusty old fart. After reading Imperial Bedrooms, the 2010 sequel to Less Than Zero that features an ending far more troubling than anything in American Psycho, I was convinced the guy was disturbed. Maybe even a ho-hum writer.
This year, however, Ellis has suddenly become my new hero. He’s influenced what I watch (The Invitation, The Night Manager, Bone Tomahawk). He’s got me reading Joan Didion (and reevaluating Zero, Psycho and Bedrooms). He even made me binge-listen to all six of the Eagles’ ’70s albums. What a difference a podcast makes!
The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast has been around since November 2013, when Kanye West was its inaugural guest. Unlike the majority of news about the author, it’s not just about Brett the Twitter Terror. It’s about Bret the Movie Lover, Bret the Music Obsessive, Bret the Voracious Reader, Bret Who Values the Delivery and Defense of Opinion. Yes, he’s consistently pissed off about PC groupthink and “social justice warriors.” Yes, he’s disenchanted by the “democratization of the arts” and the deluge of digital culture. A lot of love fuels his cynicism, but naturally, the swipes at Selma (via a conversation with Quentin Tarantino) generate more clickbait than, say, Ellis’ adoration for Inside Out.
Ostensibly, the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast is about movies, but it’s really about Bret Easton Ellis. His questions can be longer than his guests’ answers, and he’s not above asking them about his own work. James Van Der Beek was invited to discuss the 2002 film adaptation of The Rules of Attraction. Duncan Sheik recently talked about his Broadway musicalization of American Psycho. At times, the self-referral can get a tad annoying, like when he tells Anthony Jeselnik, “We’re going to talk about me.” But mostly it’s fascinating.
The death of cinema, victim culture and its sentimental narrative, the tyranny of movements such as feminism and political correctness—these are topics Ellis raises with all of his guests, making the podcast as a whole feel like an ongoing conversation. The best episodes often involve directors (Eli Roth, Andrew Haigh, Sean Baker), while actors are less interesting (Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Jason Schwartzman). If things go particularly badly, Ellis doesn’t shrink from putting in a last word, offering post-mortems on his halted conversation with Ira Sachs and the “excruciating hour” he spent with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. In a world of good manners, these moments are pretty thrilling, even if I don’t entirely trust Ellis’ side of the story.
Back in 2014, in an article titled “Bret Easton Ellis is a jerk but it’s OK,” the online magazine Death and Taxes said, “It’s refreshing to have access to a person’s flaws when most of us are so busy censoring ours completely.”
Personally, I don’t think expressing opinions—like suggesting Selma was snubbed at the Oscars not because of racism but merely because it wasn’t that good—counts as a character flaw. But as Ellis himself would say, “That’s where we are in the culture.”