Interview With Mark Kermode

Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo recently did one of their Movie Doctors shows in Leeds. The show was their typical irreverent form of banter between the two which is on Friday afternoons on Radio Live 5. They did it before on Radio 1 on the ’90s but it didn’t become as big as it did till the ’00s. The live show is partly based on their recent book The Movie Doctors where they prescribe films for their various problems. This specific show had many jokes about Donald Trump, it was 2 days before that fateful night. I was able to catch Mark after the show to do a quick interview.

How has the tour been going—how’s the response been?

It’s been great! This is the only show we’ve done this year, we did most of the shows last year when the book first came out. I’ve done a few things and Simon has done a few but this is the only Movie Doctors show we’ve done this year, because really nice to do, because we haven’t done it for a while, and obviously a lot of things have changed since we did the book. So it was really nice to come back to the material and update the material, and obviously because of where we are at the moment, there was a lot of, as you know, running jokes. But it was good, it was really good fun. But this was the only one of this year. So not really a tour so much as a one-off.

Have you seen any interesting trends in what films are getting funded and making it onto the screen at the moment?

You know, there was this question that Barry Norman got asked awhile ago, about whether he felt films were getting worse or films were getting better. And what he said was in any given year there were the same number of good and bad films, and it’s just a matter of what you look out for and what you see. And I did an interview when we were doing the publicity for this thing, and I got asked “do you think there’s too many superhero movies, there’s too many remakes, there’s too many reboots,” all these things people think of as being trends in cinema. What I think about that I’ve seen this year is Under the Shadow, which I didn’t expect at all, I think of Notes on Blindness, which is the most remarkable film, it’s an incredible adaptation of a book based on these audio cassettes, that nothing I’d expected at all. And the thing that impresses me the most is that even at a point at which people are saying that it’s all superhero movies, it’s all remakes, it’s all reboots, it’s all films that are aimed at teenage boys, there are all these really remarkable films. I mean, Train to Busan I knew nothing about at all, and I just… Have you seen it?

No, I haven’t seen it yet.

It’s great! And of course The Girl With All the Gifts. So just when you  least expect the zombie movie to come back from beyond the grave, it does…

And then there’s Manchester by the Sea, which is wonderful.

All the time there are films coming out that you don’t expect. So from my point of view,  it’s not the things that are trends, it’s the things that aren’t. I mean, Notes on Blindness is one of the most remarkable films I’ve seen in years, Embrace of the Serpent is extraordinary, I know a lot of people have seen Son of Saul beforehand because it was from last year, but I saw it this year. So I think the stuff that I’m always interested is the stuff that doesn’t belong to trends, the stuff that I didn’t expect.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to in the next couple of months?

Again, I know this sounds like I’m sort of putting you off, but the thing I’m most looking forward to is the thing I know nothing about. I mean, I knew nothing about Embrace of the Serpent before I saw it, I knew nothing about Notes on Blindness before I saw it, I knew nothing about Train to Busan, except for the fact that Stuart Barr, who’s a journalist that I really like, had said “you need to see Train to Busan.” And I said “Why?” And he said, “You just need to see it and judge it afterwards.”

I know it sounds like a put-up job, but genuinely, the thing I’m looking forward to is the thing I don’t know anything about.

You know, I just saw this film this week, The Light Between Oceans, the other day, the Derek Cianfrance film, and I hadn’t read the book, I didn’t know anything about the story, I knew nothing about it. And I rather liked it. I’ve read some very sniffy reviews of it, but I thought it was quite charming and impressive. And one of the things I thought was charming was I knew nothing about the story, I didn’t know about it.

That’s one I’m looking forward to as well. What’s your whole take on the Birth of a Nation controversy?

I haven’t seen the film so I don’t know—I can’t comment on it.

What did you think of Only God Forgives and Lost River?

Only God Forgives is one of those films that was really impressive because of how divisive it was. I can’t remember a film in recent years having split people so solidly down the middle as Only God Forgives. I remember when it first—did it screen at Cannes originally?

Oh yeah.

Well, I know that Cannes always divides. You know, there’s always … whenever you hear that a film screened at Cannes and people booed, there’s always an equal number of people that cheered as the number that booed. The thing is, it was ages afterwards, I was off the week it came out.  I never reviewed it, I saw it, I caught up with it later on. I don’t know what I think it was—I can see exactly why this has divided people. But it was incredible how passionate people got about having such divided opinions on it.

And Lost River?

Lost River, remind me…

The Ryan Gosling film—you never reviewed it. The film which he directed.

Oh, yeah, yeah! That’s right, I’d completely forgotten about that!

And it’s a wonderful film!

I’d completely forgot about it. When did it come out?

Last year, I think? It had a very small release…

Yeah, it was a tiny release, wasn’t it?

It was like a total Philip Ridley film, and I interviewed Philip Ridley last year.

Of course you did, yes you did, because you sent me your piece. Because they’d just done the reissue of The Reflecting Skin. And the Ridley film I really love is The Passion of Darkly Noon, which kind of gets overlooked. You’ve seen that, yeah?

Oh, of course.

It’s just a terrific piece of work, really, really good. I love Philip Ridley—I wish he’d made more films.

And what advice would you give to an up and coming film critic or writer?

When I started it was print industry, and everything was really different. If you wanted a job in journalism, you actually turned up at a magazine and you beat on their door and you stayed there until they sent you away. Nowadays it’s much harder, because as you know, people start out writing online and the best thing about the Internet is everyone has access to it, and the worst thing about the Internet is everyone has access to it. So you’re actually competing with more people than I ever competed with. So I would say, my only advice is firstly, you probably know better than I do what advice you should give to young writers—the only advice I would give is, be enthusiastic about the subject, always remember to be a fan first. And never forget that it’s not your job to be a filmmaker, it’s your job to respond to films. I always think film criticism is about watching films and about talking about what you think about films afterwards. It’s not about making films, it;s about responding to movies. And I think honestly, if you’re dedicated and talented, you will do well. But genuinely, I started in a whole different era. I mean, I’m 54 now—I don’t know how you or Stuart or Chloe or any of those people find their foothold, other than the thing that you all have, that you’re passionate about cinema. So I think that’s it—be passionate, be determined, and don’t take no for an answer.

And very quickly, is there any truth to the revival of Moviedrome with you?

Not that I know of. We did an interview with Mark Cousins, and we were  just talking about how Moviedrome was important, but I don’t think—certainly, I don’t know anything about it.

I had read that you were prepping it or something like that…

No, that’s not true. It’s just that I’m very enthusiastic about it, and I love it.

Because the guy that was going to do that revival said that you had gotten involved with the BBC or something…

No, that’s not true. But—wouldn’t it be great if Moviedrome still existed, and wouldn’t it be great if it existed with Mark Cousins, who actually I think was the definitive guy for it?




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