Mark Kermode is a film critic – and yes, they really do matter – for the Observer and BBC TV and Radio, and he has a book out: Hatchet Job, in which he asks whether critics remain relevant (yes), whether they can sink a stinker (no) and how their role is evolving while even the content of a good review remains constant. And tonight my friend Rhiannon and I went to see him in conversation with Andrew Abbott, with whom Kermode had made the documentary The Fear of God, amongst others.
You aren’t meant to meet your heroes, but here he was, albeit Mayo-less, be-quiffed, as black as a Johnny Cash-a-like and large as life in the V&A holding forth before a rapt audience, selling familiar jokes with studied confidence and always referencing the work of others: Roger Ebert scoring best, but closely followed by Philip French with nods to Peter Bradshaw, Kim Newman, Alexander Walker and Chris Tookey. Simon Brew of Den of Geek should also grab a copy of the recording whenever he’s next feeling a bit low.
And alongside the familiar jokes, the intellectual capital advanced was also familiar. If you have read The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex and Hatchet Job, and indeed had them read to you by Kermode himself via the audiobooks; if your iPod is groaning under the digital weight of multiple podcasts (that’s if hard drives get heavier the more information that is on them…); if you are that, er…, dedicated then there was nothing new.
But that did not mean it was fresh. More it was comfortable without lulling the audience to sleep, knowing without being smug. Kermode is an excellent raconteur and, with Abbott allowing him full flow in front of an audience well primed to survive the erudition and insights without the need for Mayo’s always relevant intercessions for the casual listener on the a Radio 5 show, easy on the ear.
The evening ended with a relaxed Q&A:
Can films be so bad they’re good? Mostly bad films are just bad… Cannibal Women in The Avocado Jungle of Death gets a mention as a possible exception to that rule.
Any tips of would be film critics? Keep plugging away. After 6 months most wannabe film critics don’t want to be film critics, but persevere and you’ll probably make it if it’s really what you want.
A run through some good old Trotskyite views on the value of labour and the anecdote about Werner Herzog getting shot during an interview and time has flown by.
So, Mark Kermode… Tick!
Maybe I wouldn’t go so far as to say hero, but Kermode is certainly one of my touchstones, that endlessly BBC, Guardian-toting list of cultural icons that would leave a hole if they decided enough was enough and exited, stage left.
Some, Alan Coren, Humphrey Lyttleton… have already made that exit leaving only the memories of learning to dance with Sergeant Wronga or King Alfred’s proclaimation: “I have the Hampton of a Norse!”
Maybe one day the heady recollection will be of Kermode’s reviews of Transformers 1, 2 and 3, or Sex In The City 2, or anything by Gore Verbinski (and I’m sorry Mark, but it will always be the rants that remain longest in the mind).
But for the moment he exists with the others on the touchstone list still creating new insights, humour, poignancy and affection: Jeremy Hardy, David Sedaris, Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry, Jesse Bearing, Armand Marie Leroi, Terry Pratchett… and Mark Kermode.
And long may it continue.