In Conversation with Mark Kermode

Senior Film Critic HARRY SHUKMAN talks with loudmouth critic MARK KERMODE about his new book, national tour, and Zac Efron’s hair.

Arts Picturehouse Danny Dyer Film harry shukman Hollywood inception mark kermode Pirates of the Caribbean. Zac Efron

With an encyclopaedic knowledge of film, a weekly show on Radio 5 Live, a totally-straight love of Zac Efron’s hair, and a mutual hatred shared with Danny Dyer, Mark Kermode is one of Britain’s loudest film critics.

Kermode is in the middle of a nationwide tour to promote his new book, The Good, The Bad, and The Multiplex, and to show some of his favourite cult films. The Ninth Configuration –  a bizarre, psycho-comic, ’80s cult thriller – played at my local theatre. In it, in a psychiatrist arrives at a remote castle to help rehabilitate ‘Nam veterans. Then, jet-packs, dogs playing Shakespeare, and an epic bar-fight ensue.

I interviewed Kermode in his dressing room before his show. While his radio show might be full of pure vitriol for films that fail to deliver, he’s very calm in person. He even pauses mid-rant to meekly ask the runner if there’s any chance he could please have a cup of coffee before going on stage.

Kermode tells me there’s a message behind the screening of this film. With the advent of digital film projectors and cinema staff cutbacks, he reckons your cinema ‘experience’ is much worse. Without the pretension of talking art-house nostalgia, he has a point. No ushers and no projectionists in your multiplex now mean that there’s no-one to show you to your seat, no-one to tell the audience to shut up, and no-one to fix the off-centre projector when you can only see half of Zac’s fabulous hair. His words, not mine.

Unfortunately, these are just some of the many problems afflicting cinema today. Kermode also explains that there is a Hollywood studio-exec mentality of making big budget ‘event movies’, under the impression that ‘we need everyone to see this film, so let’s make it thick.’ And that has a lot to answer for.

That’s how Michael Bay manages to keep making more terrible Transformers films, how the latest Indiana Jones, Star Wars prequels, X-Men 3, Spiderman 3, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, to name a recent few, not only made the light of day but made millions at the box office. That’s also how Pearl Harbour came to be referenced, completely out of context, in song, in a major motion picture.

Critics like Kermode may lament the advent of the latest Pirates or Big Momma’s House installment, but as long as they sell in their hundreds of millions, you may have to get used to Martin Lawrence in drag appearing on an annual basis. But there is still hope, says Kermode.  Recent films such as Inception prove that a blockbuster, even with ‘an A-list star cast, eye-popping special effects, and a news-worthy budget,’ can remain what he calls ‘a clever film.’ Inception took in just short of $300 million.

Bearing this in mind, Kermode asks ‘if there is any reason why they’re not making smarter movies?’ instead of implementing the idea that ‘the multiplex audience is thick because  ability to sell does not have to compromise intelligence.’ Fittingly, in a perfect, happy Hollywood ending, the major studios will have to take this to heart and stop churning out big-budget franchise messes. In 3D.