Mark Kermode discusses bad movies, film criticism and studying at Manchester with The Mancunion’s Sam Dumitriu
With his sharp suits, greased quiff and massive hands made famous by The Thick of It, Mark Kermode is probably the most recognisable man in film criticism. Voted the nation’s most trusted film critic, Kermode got his start at The Mancunion.
“Back then the way The Mancunion worked was that pretty much if you presented copy to them they were almost obliged to print it. It was really a great start, because if you wanted to write something, to write reviews, they were very welcoming and all-inclusive.”
Despite being known for his epic rants about film, Kermode actually wrote for the music section.
“I think I reviewed The Higsons at the Hacienda and Orange Juice, there was no money involved obviously and you had to get yourself into the gigs but if you turned up in the morning with copy, they would print it.”
Kermode moved onto to write for City Life, an independent magazine set up by former Mancunion writers. The publication – a workers’ co-op – had an open door policy that helped budding journalists get a foot on the ladder.
“They were trying to encourage people who wanted to be journalists to write and they were very, very, welcoming. But they made sure if you were going to write for them, you knew how to do everything else. So you knew how to edit, you knew how to typeset and you knew how to drive the van, if you worked at City Life you did all areas of production.”
Getting into film criticism today is more difficult.
“I think it’s very hard nowadays trying to break into film criticism, because when I was starting out I wandered into the offices of The Mancunion, the offices of City Life and the next thing I knew, I was a film critic. Nowadays it’s much harder, because blogging has meant that, whilst everyone has a voice, you’re competing against a million different other voices.”
Readers of his past book The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex will know that while studying at the University of Manchester, Kermode lived in Hulme. The book featured horror stories about student housing squalor. Kermode however was more than willing to jump to the defence of his old stomping ground.
“I liked Hulme! Hulme was a great place to live in if you were a student. I’m sure it wasn’t a great place to live in if you had no choice. Bearing in mind that the students who lived there, lived there because they had the choice to do so.”
But, Hulme today is a far cry from the Hulme of Kermode’s days.
“Hulme doesn’t exist anymore, Hulme has now been replaced by these modern flats, many which are really wonderful. I know one of the guys who designed one of them and it’s a very different area.”
In the middle of Hulme was The Aaben Cinema, an art-house cinema where Kermode was a frequent visitor.
“I was talking to Jon Ronson about it the other day, Jon was remembering going to the Aaben, coming out and then being chased across Hulme by packs of wild dogs.
“Hulme was genuinely home to packs of wild dogs and packs of wild ‘crusties’ with dogs on strings. It was just part of the furniture. We just all got used to it.“
Despite the area’s reputation for burglary and crime in general, it was never much of an issue for Kermode.
“You’d get broken into now and then, but none of us would have anything worth stealing. So it was fine.”
Kermode’s latest book Hatchet Job discusses film criticism and whether it remains relevant in the age of social media where everyone has a voice. Kermode may be the nation’s most trusted film critic, yet only three per cent of the public surveyed trusted his opinions on films. Are film critics still relevant?
“Well, the question should be ‘Are they any more or less relevant?’ I mean I think what that survey proves conclusively is that film critics don’t dictate people’s tastes. They never have and they never will.
“As a critic, you get told all the time, that a film has failed at the box office and it is your fault. You were rude about our movie and therefore people didn’t go to see it. That’s just nonsense, if critics have any sway over box office, you wouldn’t get end of year charts where the Transformers movies were up their with the most profitable films of the year.”
For Kermode film criticism is not about telling someone a film is good or bad.
“Film criticism is about somebody writing about a film in a way you find informative and hopefully entertaining. I don’t think it’s ever been the role of film critics to tell people what to see. I think it’s very, very telling when that survey said on one hand you are the most trusted film critic in the UK. On the other hand people trust you probably less than anybody in the world.”
Kermode is best known for the passionate rants he launches into every week. Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Sex and The City 2 and just about every film Michael Bay has directed has been a victim of brutal Kermodian rant.
“I don’t plan to do those rants that everyone remembers, Pirates of The Caribbean 3, Sex and the City 2, and all that stuff. I don’t plan that stuff in advance because that’s to do with being on the radio; it’s to do with being in a conversation, in this case with Simon Mayo. It is impossible not to be impassioned, I hate Transformers 2 and I hate Sex and The City 2 and I hate Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and I genuinely loathe those movies until talking about them makes me cross.”
Kermode’s favourite hatchet job was David Cox’s review of The Straight Story ‘Forrest Gump on a tractor’.
“I just thought that was such a brilliant phrase that the movie will never be able to get past it.”
Does Kermode ever get it wrong?
“All the time. It happens all the time. The case that I talk about more than anything is seeing Blue Velvet in the Cornerhouse in the 80s, storming out of it being really furious and writing a really lousy review of it. Then years later realising it was a masterpiece and I was completely wrong about it.
“Your opinions are constantly in flux and you can always come back to things and revalue them.
“Having said that, I think there’s very little chance I’m ever going to go back to Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and say ‘I was wrong it was a masterpiece’. I can’t see myself ever being in a position when I look at the collected works of Michael Bay and think ‘God, did I have that guy wrong?’”
Working as a film critic requires putting up with utter dross on a regular basis such as Pimp starring everyone’s favourite mockney Dick van Dire and Keith Lemon: The Movie. Does he ever think about giving it all up?
“No! For everything that you see which is terrible, you see something and unexpected. It’s the best job in the world. I watch movies and talk or write about them. As far as I’m concerned, as long as I can continue doing that I’ll be happy.
“One of the things about writing hatchet job, was writing about film criticism at a time everyone was asking if film criticism had a future.
“Half of the book was saying, I really hope it does, because I don’t want to give it up anytime soon.”
Win a free copy of Mark Kermode’s new book! Just answer the following question; What horror film did Mark Kermode famously call the greatest film of all time? Email answers to firstname.lastname@example.org