Saturday, 7 January 2012

INTERVIEW: Film Critic, Author & Radio Personality, Mark Kermode

The following interview was broadcast on The Geekend, Radio Reverb on 29th October 2011.
GG: Welcome to The Duke of York’s Picturehouse, here in Brighton. As part of your tour continuing throughout October and November 2011, appearing live, in actual 3D in locations throughout the UK with your new book The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex, Mark Kermode right here… welcome. I expected you to be wearing a Stetson, what with the theme of your book…

Mark:  Funnily enough when we were doing the cover of the book, somebody said exactly that. Obviously it’s a take on The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, so yes, let’s put you on the cover in a Stetson. Then everyone thought about it and decided as the only way people recognise me is from my hair. So it was simply a marketing decision; if you can’t see my hair, then it’s not me. I am apparently definable only by my hair. That’s why on the back of the book is a picture of me with my hand over my face in which the only part of me you can see is my hair. 

GG: Your new book, I’ve just finished it, and just like your radio show and podcasts on BBC 5Live with Simon Mayo, the book is particularly honest, outspoken and full of your satirical expert opinion on films. I like to think of you as the people’s film critic

Mark: (Laughter) Which people though? That is the crucial question...

GG: (Laughter) The book is of course the reason why you are here today, on what I believe to be a sell-out tour, so congratulations!

Mark: Yes it seems to have done well. The nice thing is I have done three of the tours all together now, with the first book and then when it was released in the 2nd edition, and we’ve done it in conjunction with Picturehouse cinemas before, so have been here at the Duke of York’s before. But the nice thing is about the tour is that I essentially stand up and talk for 45 minutes, as I can’t read out loud from the book like most authors on a book tour do. To make sure this wasn’t a complete exaggeration and fabrication on my part, at the start of this tour at the Brixton Ritzy, I hadn’t done a tour for a while so I thought I’d give it a go and found out that I definitely can’t. But after the 45 minutes I then get asked questions from the audience - and this is always the best bit. In fact the last time I was here, the questions were, what's the word? Feisty!  I am looking forward to that again tonight.

A selection of Mark Kermode's
favourite blockbusters
GG: The main premise (there are a few) of the book, is about the blockbuster and how it rules cinematically supreme with regards to bottoms-on-seats; yet so many bad ones get made. Having seen most, you must have one or two guilty pleasure blockbuster films that you hate to love?

Mark:  The idea that I don’t like blockbusters it patently untrue. My favourite movie of all time is The Exorcist, which is demonstratively a blockbuster. The definition of a blockbuster is a queue that bust the block; that’s where the term comes from. Famously with The Exorcist, they not only queued around the city block, but all the way round the surrounding blocks. I’m a huge fan of Inception, my favourite movie of that year. A year before that it was Of Time And The City, the Terence Davies film; a black and white meditation of growing up in Liverpool. The point that is not that the blockbuster is bad and all art-house indie movies are good. It’s that there is an argument that if you follow certain formulae, blockbusters will not lose money; if you have a big star, special effects, a news-worthy budget, if you’re not trying to make a comedy (as comedy is the one area where you can lose your shirt). Consequently, the idea that those blockbusters have to be stupid in order to re-coup is what’s patently untrue. So the question that I was asking in that chapter is not only why can’t blockbusters be better, not that all blockbusters are bad, far from it; some of my favourite movies are blockbusters, Mary Poppins for example.

GG: (Laughter)

Mark: (Exclaiming with laughter) Everyone always laughs at that! But it’s no excuse that they should be bad. When you’ve got that much money, that many people working on it; there is just no excuse for making a bad blockbuster. If I hear Michael Bay saying once again “Well I make the movies people want to see”, no – you make the movies that people have got used to seeing because they’ve just had their brains poisoned by years and years of dumbing down. Then along comes a movie like Inception and whether you like it or not, it’s clearly not stupid. My argument is if you are going to make a blockbuster, why not make it a good one?

GG: So the multiplex has say, nine screens, with a couple of good blockbusters showing. I know you are a fan of silent films; so if you could run a multiplex, what would you have showing?

Louise Brooks & Wallace Beery in
silent 1928 film, The Beggars Of Life
Mark: Funnily enough I just had a conversation with Simon Mayo on exactly this recently. He likes to play devils advocate and asks ‘What would you do? You have a 35mm projector right, which is cumbersome and dim and difficult, and no one is making films on 35mm anymore. You’d have as many projectionists employed as you would have screens, which is very difficult as projectionists are hard to come by”. But the fact of the matter is a cinema without a projectionist isn’t a cinema. I do have a love of the artistry and craft that went with 35mm. Tacita Dean has just done this installation in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in which there’s a 35mm film projected in a 12 minute loop, all the special effects done in-camera; a silent loop playing over and over again. It’s basically a call-to-arms about the death of celluloid and the rise of digital. Digital is clearly the future, but it’s not the only future. Where the silent films are concerned, I play in a band that accompanies silent films like the Louise Brooks film The Beggars of Life, a Russian silent called The Ghost That Never Returns recently in the New Forest and also the Bill Hart western White Oak. These can all co-exist alongside blockbusters. So in an ideal world, if I was programming a multiplex and I had no financial constrictions, I’d put a blockbuster as smart as Inception in one screen, and a little independent movie in another like the new Lynne Ramsey film (We Need To Talk About Kevin), and then I would have regular screenings of silent films with Neil Brand accompanying them on piano. If you’ve never seen just a pianist playing along to a silent film, it’s a beautiful thing. I don’t think its something that’s unpopular or niche; everyone who’s got in to seeing one falls in love with it; it’s really magic.

GG: Hand in hand now with the blockbuster, comes 3D. Now, I don’t want you to hate me, but I’m still a fan of 3D, purely because I want them to do so much more with it. Reading your book did make me question which films have blown me way with the use of it; and I drew a blank. Why are the big Hollywood film houses not making us literally jump out of our seats, like you get when you see an IMAX film?

Mark: It’s interesting you mention IMAX. 3D is not the future; it is, was and will always be the past. Every time 3D is foisted upon audiences is because the Hollywood studios and distributors and exhibition chains are worried people will stay away because in the 50s it was television, in the 80s it was video, in the 00s because of online piracy; and every time the advent of 3D is superseded by something the audience want. So in the 50s, there was 3D, then along came Cinemascope which was marketed as ‘the miracle you can see without glasses’. In the 80s along came THX Sound, proper Dolby surround sound. In the 00s, it’s IMAX. In fact, people like Christopher Nolan, currently making The Dark Knight Rises, has said quite clearly that as far as he’s concerned, 3D isn’t the future, but IMAX may be. 3D simply doesn’t work - it isn’t three dimensional. It’s a parallax illusion that basically confuses the brain by artificially inducing negative and positive parallax before and in front of a point of convergence, without which you’d never see in the real world what you see in a 3D film. Sorry for all the science, but in a 3D film, you focus on the screen, but the point of convergence is artificially manipulated to make your brain go “I don’t know what’s going on there, is it nearer?”. What actually happens is after 5-10 minutes, if the 3D is used in any profound way at all, one of your eyes switches off! Your left eye usually just goes ‘I can’t be doing with this”, so you almost solely watch with your right eye, and then it kicks in when you get a very strong negative parallax, which is what you were talking about with things leaping off the screen; that can only happen in short bursts, painful for the eyes and causes strain, and it’s not 3D. 

GG: So anything employing the use of 3D should really come with a health warning?

Mark: Funnily enough, the Nintendo 3DS did come with a health warning; if you are under the age of 12 don’t use this, it’ll give you eye strain. Everyone keeps saying the future is going to be ‘glasses-free’; no it isn’t. Glasses-free 3D was invented back in the 1920s by the Russians; it didn’t work then, it doesn’t work now. You can get a brief illusory section during which you think you are seeing something three dimensional, but very quickly your brain does the maths on it and says “I’ve had enough”.

GG: I stand corrected in that case (laughter). I quite like my brain and eyes the way they are. So you don’t think it’s the beginning of a 3D dystopia then?

Top: Mark with his band The Dodge Brothers
Bottom: Mark presenting a BAFTA
Mark: No, I think its dying on its feet. 3D will be gone by this time next year. It’s dying everywhere. The only people who like it are the studios. This cycle has been slightly longer because of the success of Avatar, but if you know anything about the history of cinema, you know this happens once every 20-30 years when the studios get panicky about everyone going away from cinemas; and they decide that the answer is 3D. It isn’t.

GG: Along with your latest book, and your radio show, you presented an award at the BAFTAs recently and you just mentioned your band; what else is on the horizon for Mark Kermode?

Mark: Well I’m working on the third book now which is meant to be delivered in a year, but this one took two years to write so we’ll see how that one works out (laughter). We (The Dodge Brothers band) are playing more gigs with Louise Brooks’ The Beggars of Life film; we’ve had a lot of interest for bookings of that so we’re playing a few gigs around the country. It’s a real treat playing with them and the 1928 film has a real train crash down a real ravine, with Louise Brooks on the train before all that happens. It’s got Wallace Beery and Richard Arlen and its as exciting and as engaging as any blockbuster you’d see today. 

GG: Amazing, you’ve sold it to me. Thanks for your time today ‘Doctor K’, and if you need any more information about the The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex and the rest of Mark’s adventures, check out his website

NB: This interview must not be used anywhere without credit or my permission. 

 You can also read more about Mark and his view on films and the industry via these links:
Posted by: Geek Girl Kerensa Creswell-Bryant
Geek Girl, Updated at: 13:11