by Mark Kermode
Mark Kermode and I have a number of disagreements about films. Not that he is aware of them of course, having never met me or read anything I have written or said about films (despite the fact he has worked on BBC TWO’s The Culture Show, as I have in the edit, but our paths have never crossed to date). One of the most well-known and well-liked film critics in the UK, Kermode has always advocated a subjective attitude to film criticism, where it is as much about a personal reaction to a film as it is any critical analysis.
In his latest book, Kermode dedicates a section to his view of the role of the film critic as someone who with an educated film background, is someone who is there to simply relate their views on films they have seen within the context they choose to see them. Here we agree, and conversely, this is what leads to my disagreements with Kermode. So, as in the past, here Kermode champions the horror genre of film – his repeated claim is that The Exorcist is the greatest film ever made – and, like another well-respected UK film critic, Kim Newman, is a massive fan of B-movies and little known curio films. I find it difficult to like many horror films, all that killing and blood and being scared, although I do recommend The Exorcist. Interestingly, I am in agreement with him that more recent horror films have descended into sick gorefests that have little of the charm of the classic horror he adores. Kermode lays into the acting style of Marlon Brando – I love Brando at his best, although admit his later work is awful. He mounts a rather unexpected defence of the Twilight films and Zac Efron – I cannot stand either. But, with his definition of film criticism as something that is first and foremost a personal opinion, it’s okay for us to disagree.
Which is good, because as it turns out, there are many things we agree on. The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex is essentially a good old-fashioned rant about the state of modern pictures, not just the content of them, but the way in which we are forced to watch them. The first section of the book is a recounting of a particularly horrific visit to his local multiplex with his daughter to see the latest Zac Efron film. In it, Kermode touches on all the annoying things that make many cinephiles despair at the state of modern multiplexes. The cost of tickets, the cost and pressure applied to buy junk food, the poor customer service, the impersonal and incorrect film projection of the digital age, the difficulty in finding any member of staff who is aware of correct film projection and so on. He doesn’t quite get to the point of the people who attend the cinema and spend the entire film chatting or on their mobile phone, but they come in for criticism later on. It feels like an amalgamation of everything that can go wrong in a cinema visit, but the fact is, as an avid cinema viewer, I can relate to each and every incident, as they have occurred to me on multiple occasions during my many trips to the cinema. Which as always brings me back to my question – that if I, everyone I go to the cinema with and have talked to about going to the cinema, and Mark Kermode get so annoyed about all these things – why do the multiplex chains continue to get away with doing it? Can we hope they will read Kermode’s book and do something about it? Probably not. As Kermode notes, the multiplex chains are only interesting in efficiency and making profit. That’s why, as Kermode recounts, as the technology developed that allowed cinemas to do away with dedicated professional projectionists, so the chains got rid of them – not to provide the customer with a better experience, but so they could provide a slightly worse experience, but with more profit margin.
Kermode goes on to offer his view that blockbusters these days are so bullet-proof against failure, due to home viewing sales having the ability to save any cinema duds, that they should inherently be better, because the studios can afford to take risks with them so long as they stick to basic ingredients – star names primarily – that will guarantee they will find an audience. So there is no excuse for some of the lazy, by-the-numbers fodder recently served up.
One thing on which I completely agree with Kermode is the disaster that is 3D films. He offers a concise history of 3D’s attempts to win over the wider audience – it’s been around as long as cinema itself – and explains on each occasion why it has failed miserably. Usually 3D is rolled out by studios and cinema chains when they perceive a threat to the audience figures of cinema goers. So in the 1950’s as television took off, 3D was used to attract people back to the cinema, but faded out when rival technologies such as Cinemascope proved much more successful. In the 1980’s home video arrived and again 3D was rolled out, dying away once more due to a general lack of enthusiasm. The latest flavour of 3D, as a reaction to piracy and film downloading seems likely to suffer a similar fate. Kermode argues, and I agree, is that in order to attract more people to the cinema it is quite simple – make better films, and give people an experience that is affordable and enjoyable – not expensive and stressful.
A further section on the misguided state of the UK film industry – the problem is not production but distribution, and the inevitable swamping of our multiplexes with inferior American product – rounds out the musings, and Kermode offers his solutions to the whole messy problem. Unfortunately, its difficult to imagine a world in which the main players will go for his ideas, and I suspect he himself knows this, but it doesn’t stop him arguing a very convincing case. Which is, of course, where Kermode’s humourous, compelling and grumpy style comes from and excels. A good read for anyone with a passing interest in the present state, and the future, of cinema going.