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8th April 2011

Interview: Mark Kermode

If the day ever comes when hundreds of zombies come crashing through your window, well, then, at least that means there’s an afterlife.’
Mark Kermode

Eons ago, the country’s most famous film critic Mark Kermode wrote for the very paper you’re reading. Now he’s written a book: It’s Only a Movie: Reel Life Adventures of a Film Obsessive, he’s touring round the UK, he’s in a band, he regularly appears on Newsnight Review and he’s got his own radio show with Simon Mayo. Need any more reasons to write for The Mancunion? I contacted the former University of Manchester student to talk Horror, Hulme, and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film.

An enthusiastic start, Kermode kicked off the interview by talking about his time in Manchester as a student: ‘I lived in a housing estate in Hulme. It was pretty run down, but there was a very creative atmosphere. All the students seemed to be in bands.’ Was he in a band at this point, I asked. ‘Yeah. We were called The Railtown Bottlers. I’ve actually never not been in a band.’

‘It was around this time that I started to write for The Mancunion. In my day, we paid our way into everything, sent in a review and picked up the paper hoping our article would be in there.’ He went on: ‘It wasn’t nearly as regulated in those days.’ Well, readers, now everything is free and your article is likely to be published, therefore disproving once and for all the theory of the ‘good old days’. Interestingly, Kermode didn’t actually write for the Film section; ‘I wrote gig reviews. I remember the first one I did: The Higsons, with Charlie Higson. Also, Orange Juice.’ Well, everybody has to start somewhere.

‘At the same time I also wrote for City Life in Manchester, and I went on to write for NME. It was all very open back then, I seemed to just waltz in everywhere and be given work. It’s not like that now. I don’t know how on Earth you’d become a critic today.’ I asked him how he did it, specifically. ‘By lying basically. I lied and blagged my way into everything and now here I am.’ I was glad to hear the only true method for going through life confirmed by someone like Kermode; ‘I remember claiming to have loads of experience on the radio, being thrust in front of a microphone and being told to talk on air.’ I wanted to move on before he told me he his name wasn’t even Mark Kermode or something.

I asked him what he would call his book; it’s not really a biography, though it reads like one; more a compilation of anecdotes and a timeline of the films he’s seen in his life. ‘Well, I started out writing about my thoughts on films, and it kind of just turned into that. All those anecdotes just seemed to fit’. At the end of a lot of those anecdotes, he says ‘but that didn’t really happen’, or something along those lines.

I asked him about this; ‘I recorded all those stories in my book as I remember them. My memories have become so distorted; I don’t even know if they really happened any more. That’s what happens; you corroborate the evidence. Once at a desert shoot in LA, my band was supporting this terrible metal band. We hated them. I remember turning the wind machine on them and blowing the drummer off stage.

After I published my book, my friend said that that didn’t happen, and that only some of the drum kit was blown over. I came to realise that my memory must have been influenced by a scene in Slade in Flame’s movie, where the drummer is blown off stage.

It’s just like what Edward Woodward once said to me, when he was on the set for The Wicker Man – they didn’t have enough flowers for a shoot where he was on a horse drawn cart, so every so often the crew would stop filming and move previous flowers in front of the cart. I asked the crew on the film about this, and they say that it definitely didn’t happen, but when I went back to Woodward he absolutely insisted that that’s what he remembers. I understand completely, especially when you’ve seen as many films as I have – they start to encroach on your real life. That’s what my book is partly about, really.’

Kermode spent his childhood in the cinema. He is a massive fan of the horror genre, particularly The Exorcist, and even says in his book that ‘I don’t think there is a spiritual element to human life, I know it because I have experienced it first hand, and I have horror films to thanks for that’. Kermode commented on this remark: ‘Some people get football. I don’t. Some people understand Opera. I don’t. I really get horror films, and I think when you find your niche as I did with horror it can be genuinely transcendent. Horror cinema is kind of about that anyway – it is spiritual, in a way. It’s wishful thinking. I mean, if the day comes when hundreds of zombies come crashing through your window, well, then at least that means there’s an afterlife.’

I asked if this spiritual side he feels has anything to do with the fact he’s a church-goer. ‘Maybe. I don’t think you can feel that transcendent side of it without having some interest in religion. I don’t believe in demonic possession or anything – I just have a connection to horror films that borders on religious.’ He named some of his favourite horror films, such as Onibaba, Eraserhead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I wondered if he liked any of the more modern horrors; ‘Well, to me, those films are modern. You just don’t think they are because you’re a child.’ Can’t argue with that. For any of you wondering though, he hates the Saw movies.

He’s doing a tour of the UK at the moment, to coincide with the release of the paperback version of his book. I wondered what it will entail. ‘Well, I’ll tell you what it’s not going to be. It’s not going to be me just reading from my book. I don’t get book readings. What’s the appeal? My show is closer to stand up comedy, I suppose, with references to what I’ve written in ‘It’s Only a Movie’. I’m really looking forward to my Manchester show. I didn’t do one on my first tour in February and it’ll be a big moment for me, returning to talk in the city where it all started.’

Kermode’s tour comes to Manchester on 23rd November, and tickets are £10 on He’ll be doing book signings after the show too, so it’s a must for fans. I finished off by saying that I was looking forward to his review of Pirates of the Caribbean 4; Kermode HATES Pirates of the Caribbean, just check out his review of the third one on Youtube. ‘(Laughs) You can’t pre-judge these things. They might have re-invented it or something. You have to go to a film with an open mind, no matter what.’ A truly objective critic, if ever I saw one.

Kermode came across as very honest and friendly, and it’s nice to see that his level of stardom hasn’t made him forget his roots at The Mancunion. His advice to all us budding critics on the Film section was ‘watch films to the exclusion of everything else, live in the cinema and never, never second guess the audience’. You heard it from The Good Doctor here.

Steve Jones, Film Editor

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