Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Sean Gittins You’ve released a new book, The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex – what were your aims and ambitions when writing it?
Mark Kermode Well, first of all I wanted the book to be funny. I wanted it to be engaging too and I think that if a book doesn’t do that then it has kind of failed. Beyond that it was just an attempt to write something about cinema and the concerns with cinema that many people have. The idea came from doing the radio show with Simon Mayo for 10 years and noticing an increasing amount of emails from people saying, ‘Look, it’s okay for you – you’re a critic – but you’ve got no idea what it’s like out there in the multiplexes, the trenches.’
Well, of course, I do go to multiplexes outside of press screenings, so I knew exactly what was going on in them and that there’s been a conjunction of things such as the death of the projectionist as a profession, a run of poor summer Hollywood blockbusters that had been green-lighted on the premise that films of a certain formula will make money, and, of course, the rise of 3-D, which, as is clear to everyone, is something that people don’t want and was foisted on them by the studios, who are just terrified of things such as internet piracy.
And there’s this bogus suggestion that being angry about the state of projections, angry about 3-D films, angry about poor summer blockbusters is somehow an affectation of snobby critics. That’s total baloney. The impetus for writing the book came from film audiences who write in to the radio show and it reflected their concerns.
Sean Gittins Do you perceive a downward trend in the quality of films over your 25 years spent as a critic?
Mark Kermode No I don’t. I agree with Barry Norman when he said that in every year the number of good movies and bad movies made is exactly the same – it’s just a question of what you get to see. It comes down to a question of distribution.
Every year a number of films are made, great British films, great foreign films and many small arthouse films that just don’t get distributed in multiplexes. Every year I see films that amaze me, such as Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth or this year Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin – these are films that are as good as any films made during the history of cinema. But we do have this problem with distribution and that means that if you live near a multiplex you are subject to what the studios decide to foist upon you.
Sean Gittins You touch on a related problem several times in the book – that even though multiplex films can be bad, people still go and see them because the film becomes a cinematic event and something to see regardless of quality.
Mark Kermode I think people do vote with their feet, though. The failure of 3-D at the box office clearly shows this. The fact that Inception made so much money shows that you don’t have to treat people as stupid for a blockbuster to make money, and that of course is very important.
But as far as the ‘event’ of cinema is concerned, I think that is something that is going to benefit the arthouse cinemas, the independent cinemas and the well-run cinemas more and more. People are going to need an excuse to go to the cinema and it isn’t going to be something in 3-D but something that is properly projected, in a properly-manned auditorium in the correct ratio. That will be, and should be, the reason to go to the cinema.
Sean Gittins What are your views on the current state of cinema-going? Are, for example, viewing figures in the cinema up or down?
Mark Kermode Every year you hear two stories. One of doom, the other that film takings have never been higher. It’s a very similar story told of the British film industry. On the one hand, the UK Film Council is being shut down and that’s the end of British cinema. And then you hear that The King’s Speech has won an Oscar and that the state of British film has never been better.
The fact is we are about to live in a world of simultaneous release, where films will be released at the same time in cinema, on download and online. That’s inevitable. In fact, it’s happening now and it’s called piracy.
The multiplex chains are worried because they say this will stop people coming to see their films – and this is true for cinemas who don’t care about what their customers want to experience when they come to the cinema. I think, conversely, that cinemas who do the things customers care about and understand that cinema is rooted in theatre will benefit.
So, yes, you’ve got the detrimental effect that simultaneous release will have on the multiplexes, but do I care about this? Not really, because I care about cinemas that try to do something important and proper. Not all multiplexes will suffer because many of them do a great job and they will thrive. The cinemas that will suffer will be the ones that aren’t producing a good service.
Sean Gittins Do the studios show any signs of embracing the idea of simultaneous distribution or similar ideas like the music industry has?
Mark Kermode The music industry didn’t until finally Napster made them do it because they didn’t have any choice. The film industry is every bit as much an unwieldy beast as the music industry but it is slowly catching up. Some arthouse cinemas, for example, are doing simultaneous distribution – Ken Loach’s most recent film stands out.
But it’s the same as what happened with the music industry where the big studios said that everything was going to be terrible and the end of the industry is nigh but then they found a way to monetise it and they are finally getting with the programme. The ironic thing is that their hand has been forced by the simultaneous distribution we have now – illegal internet piracy.
Sean Gittins You talk about the role of the critic in the book. Could you summarise what you see that position as including and excluding?
Mark Kermode It’s easier to talk about the role by what I don’t see it as. I don’t see it as telling people what to do, what to see or what to think. I think the critic’s job is to watch films and then write and talk about them in a way that is entertaining, that describes the film adequately, that locates the movie within a relevant context – for example, does it draw on other movies or genres?
Beyond that it’s not the role of the critic to tell people what to see and I don’t believe for one minute that critics influence what people go to see. If you look at the viewing figures and reviews of films you can see this is true. How come the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels were successful or Sex and the City 2 was a hit? How come Transformers 3 was a huge hit despite the fact that everyone hated it?
Sean Gittins So you don’t see critics as having any causal or hugely influential role – merely just an interesting or engaging one?
Mark Kermode I think film criticism exists as film criticism. It’s funny that studios blame critics for destroying sales of their movies, but are desperate to have critics’ quotes on their film posters. A poll a few years ago found that I am the most trusted film critic in the country. Me?! And that sounds absurd until you realise that the percentage of people in the country who trust me is less than 3 per cent. What that tells you is that the population doesn’t trust film critics and rightly so.
Film critics who think they influence what movies people like and go to see are delusional in the same way that studios who think that critics can destroy their movies are. It’s just not true. At the end of the day it’s a question of coverage. For example, if I had really wanted to ruin Sex and the City 2 I would have ignored it. As it was I talked about how bad it was for 14 minutes, and I’ve had plenty of people come up to me and tell me that they heard my review and that they went to see the film because they found it funny how bad I’d said it was. If you really want to do damage to something, just ignore it.
Sean Gittins You’ve said your style as a critic is one of trying to be engaged and informed. There’s a history of film criticism that is much more based in the technical and theoretical aspects of films and the cinema, for example the Cahiers du Cinema critics. Have you ever, or would you ever, like to write in this tradition?
Mark Kermode Not really. Cahiers is often mentioned as part of the birth of that sort of film criticism. I’m a contributor to Sight and Sound magazine and that works in a similar tradition. In fact I think that Sight and Sound is more influential now in terms of those technical and theoretical ideas that you are talking about, but I also think that it is a more engaging magazine. A good read and brilliantly edited.
As far as writing myself in that style, I’m not an academic writer. I did a PhD in Manchester and that taught me how to write 90,000 words. But for me the really great critics are Kim Newman, Nigel Jones, Trevor Johnston.
These are not names that are usually bandied about when one talks about the great and the good of film criticism. But they are the people that have influenced me, who I still read and often think when reading them that I wish I could do a turn of phrase as well as they do.
I remember once talking to Trevor Johnston and we had both reviewed a film, he liking and I not liking it. The review in which he expressed his views I thought so beautiful it almost moved me to tears. I didn’t agree with any of it but it was written so well. I rung him up to say that if I could write a sentence that good I would stop now.
The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex is published by Random House. Sean Gittins is Red Pepper’s culture editor
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead