Tag Archives: Geoff Andrew

Taking French leave: Mark Kermode appointed new Observer film critic

17 Aug

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So Mark Kermode, 50, has just been appointed as the Observer’s film critic, replacing the venerable Philip French who retired after turning 70. While this may not do that much for lowering the age range of film critics (I often find myself the youngest person in the preview cinemas when I review movies, and I’m no wunderkind), it is a Very Good Thing, because Mark is a Very Good Thing.

A personal anecdote to explain why. One Tuesday night 20-plus years ago at Time Out, before I became editor and was still on the subs’ desk, I noticed young Mark lowering his trademark quiff over the new issue and comparing his printed review with the original copy on his screen.

Accustomed to writers complaining about their deathless prose being rearranged, I went over and asked if something was the matter. And he said something that, I swear, I have never heard before or since in nearly 30 years of journalism.

“Not at all,” he said. “I’m looking at how my copy has been improved, so that I can learn from it.”

I knew then he would go far. And learn he has. But he has never lost the fearlessness with which he first turned up at Time Out’s offices with a fistful of cuttings from Manchester’s City Life, claiming (falsely) to have an appointment with film editor Geoff Andrew.

And if you don’t think fearlessness is the single most important quality in a critic, here’s another anecdote. At the opening night dinner for the London Film Festival in 1994, I sat with a table of editors and critics all slagging off that evening’s Gala Premiere, Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, starring Robert De Niro. Hang on, I said to one national critic who was joining in the general bashing, I saw your review. You said it was brilliant, and gave it four stars.

“Of course,” he said, unabashed. “It’s British. It’s Kenneth Branagh. The editor and the paper wanted a good review.”

Mark, I’m pretty sure, would never, ever, ever, ever alter a review. Unless he changed his mind himself, as he admits to doing on a second viewing of Blue Velvet in his excellent autobiography. (The autobiography is called It’s Only a Movie, it’s very funny, and I heartily recommend it. Especially for the chapter on the press trip from hell in the depths of Russia. And the one on how he was with Werner Herzog when he got shot in the arse.) Whether or not you agree that The Exorcist is the best movie of all time, you have to admire Mark’s conviction in sticking with it.

Mark’s appointment is also A Good Thing in that it reverses a trend for newspapers to treat arts criticism as disposable: something to be dispensed with altogether (the Independent on Sunday has fired its critics en masse, effective next month), or passed around favoured columnists. Mark has a passion for the pictures. Too much so for the BBC, who passed over Mark for Claudia Winkleman as a replacement for Jonathan Ross in 2010 on their flagship film programme.

“I don’t do moderation,” Mark explained on his Radio 5 show at the time, adding that the BBC would need “a mainstream sensibility”.

Congratulations to the Observer for appointing someone equally at home with horror and sci-fi as with European art cinema. And here’s to the next 20 years of Sundays.

#11: Absolutely positively the very last Cannes diary extract from 1997. In which Mike Leigh is a “patronising twat”

26 Jul
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I found myself lunching with Alan Parker, fresh from directing Madonna in Evita

Cannes, Monday May 12, 1997. Having called a halt to post-party drinking at the Petit Carlton last night at 4.30am, I woke up just in time to get to the Polygram lunch at the posh Carlton at 12.30. I introduced myself to legend-in-his-own-lunchtime Baz Bamigboye from The Daily Mail, about whom everyone here has a story to tell.

I told Baz the one I’d heard about him crawling for hours through bushes to get into a closed set, and finally getting caught by a security guard at which Baz says, “It’s okay, I’m a security guard too.” The guy replies – this is in America, mind – “No you’re not, you’re Baz Bamigboye. Now f**k off.”

Jonathan Pryce was there, but having seen his ground-breaking Hamlet when I was 13, where he was both Hamlet and, in a voice ripped from somewhere deep inside of him, the ghost of his father, I was too awed to say hi. Geoff Andrew is an old hand at these things, and told me he’d work out the best table to sit at for lunch. Accordingly he latched onto veteran BBC film critic Barry Norman – a good plan, since host Stewart Till turned out to be sat next to him, and the Guest of Honour, Alan Parker, turned out to be the man whose Reserved notice we shoved one along to make way for Geoff and me.

The director of Midnight Express and Fame was never high on Time Out film critics’ list of beloved auteurs, and his appointment as head the BFI was proving controversial, so I introduced myself as “editor of your least favourite magazine”, and we got on famously. Parker looks completely square, block-headed, compact, like a human battering ram; younger and healthier than I expected, especially after surfacing from filming Evita with Madonna; amusing, articulate and definitely not suffering fools gladly. He was particularly undiplomatic about Mike Leigh, whom he called a “patronising twat” – Parker had offered him the cash to make two films, only to find Leigh taking the piss out of his accent later.

I also asked Barry Norman what he thought of Dennis Pennis, who asks embarrassing questions of stars on the red carpet by pretending to be a “proper” BBC interviewer, which I imagine makes life hard for the real arts journos. Barry said he saw him chased by some bodyguards last year after some prank and all but shouted out “Yes! Get him!”

After which, my time in Cannes was nearly up. I just had time to look in on the New Producers’ Alliance party on the way to the station, carrying my bags with me, but for the first time fell foul of Cannes accreditation bureaucracy. Instead I found a BFI party at the British Pavilion to spend my final hour with. And then, too soon, it was time to go. Will I ever make it back here?

Little did I know that, 15 years later, I’d be back with a short film of my own I had co-written, Colonel Badd: see here. My previous 1997 Cannes diary extracts start here.

#9: Secret Cannes diary of a Time Out Editor, aged 33¼

28 May
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Roman Polanski and Emmanuelle Seigner in Cannes. In the event, Geoff was too shy to say hello on the nearby table.

The penultimate extract from my 1997 Cannes Film Festival diary, in which MTV equals anarchy and a producer praises my “tabs” and “dabs”…

Jon Ronson and I left the Bright Young Things to their boat (see previous diary entry) and set off to meet Geoff Andrew for dinner. Geoff materialised through the usual scrum around the red carpets of the Palais with Sheila Johnston and Quentin Curtis, fellow critics, and we headed off to the Old Port and Le Réfuge, Geoff’s fave, a choice supported by the arrival of little mummified Roman Polanski with his sweetheart Emmanuelle Seigner.

Cannes treated us to a huge fireworks display, as we sat outside in the chilly night, so long in fact it almost became dull! Nigel Floyd and Mark Kermode came past but insisted on finding somewhere they could eat inside.

After four bottles of rosé, time to get to the MTV do. Geoff pooh-poohed my suggestion of phoning a taxi, as the Time Out Guide recommended, and we set off in search of one. Nothing doing. So we hoofed it.

It was a long, long, weary walk, Geoff wisely dropping out to drink sedentarily at the Petit Majestic, and we arrived an hour later to find a huge crowd outside that turned out not to be gawkers, but bona fide ticket holders. We pressed and panted and heaved for a while, then squeezed out of the crowd, gasping for air, and stood at the periphery, marvelling at the cattle-truck chaos. A fight broke out; then a woman who pushed her way to the front of the crowd was, according to Jon, thrown bodily back into the crowd by a bouncer, wailing dismally, “But I’m from Freud Communicaatiooooooons…..”

It was Freud PR that “organised” this shambles, so it felt like divine retribution. The few people who emerged unsteadily from inside, with the dazed look of the war-wounded, said there were similar scenes indoors. And there was our man Richard “Jobbo” Johnson, still vainly struggling outside with the rest despite his clutch of VIP passes.

We would have left sooner, but I couldn’t face the walk. Eventually Laura and the Soho House posse arrived and commandeered a Soho House bus to squeeze the 13 of us in, and off we went…

I called a halt at the Croisette, and a half-dozen of us trooped off to the Petit Majestic. Less a bar than a street party, it’s where the Brits congregate (and some noisy, sing-songing ones at that, sadly). Jon left after 40 minutes, but by then I’d found Geoff, and Emma Davie, so I stayed, talking with them and her Miramax friend and the Welcome to Sarajevo team.

I also met a funny little producer who said he loved the way I smoked as though I enjoyed passionately each lovely breath.

“Love the way you smoke your ‘tabs’,” he said.

[I met him again the next day in the grocery store, the worse for wear having followed on to G&Ts and Jack Daniels, and I discovered that the important-seeming Cannes office number he’d been giving everyone really belonged to some old French lady. He greeted me with “Hey, shiny ‘dabs’!” Meaning my shoes. What lingo is that?]

I called it a night sometime after 4.30am; not too drunk this time owing to the two and a half hour drinking hiatus imposed by those f***ers at MTV who ruined my big night out.

I teased Jon about that. He was always complaining of the Cannes hierarchies of colours and badges and party restrictions, and I’d played Mr Sensible, saying otherwise there would be chaos.

And there it was, his egalitarian “everyone goes” party society, descending rapidly into apehood.

For the next extract, in which I dance with James Woods and watch the Spice Girls on a Croisette roof, click here. For the first 1997 diary extract, click here. For the first blog on Cannes 2013, click here.

#7: The Secret Cannes Diary of a Time Out Editor, aged 33¼

23 May
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I stayed in Cannes with Jon Ronson, who was then writing for Paul Kaye aka Dennis Pennis (above), terroriser to the stars

I’m back in England, but still blogging on the Cannes Film Festival. How? I found my diary from 1997, when as Editor of Time Out magazine I spent a wild long weekend in Cannes. This is the first extract, slightly edited for length…

May 9, 1997: Having arrived on the overnight sleeper train, I took it easy the first day at Cannes. Jon Ronson had kindly agreed to let me sleep on his floor. He had been a Time Out columnist, and now was being paid a fortune by the Standard to write a Cannes diary, as well as writing gags for TV menace Dennis Pennis, who would ask horrible trick questions of stars who were unaware at first that he wasn’t a “proper” BBC reporter. I met Jon for breakfast at 8am – he was up after a mostly sleepless night. The rest of his crew were asleep – Paul Kaye, better known to the TV-watching world as Dennis Pennis, was kipping late, having slept on the pavement to avoid waking up Jon’s flatmate who had pulled.

They had managed a heroic triumph in the small hours of morning, breaking through Michael Jackson’s notoriously tight security after 12 hours of trying, and “Dennis Pennis” managed to ask him two questions before they were bundled off: “Are you thinking of having any more children? Or are you worried about being arrested?” And: “Do you like 3T? Or do you prefer Boys2Men?”

After a lazy day, the evening started at the Majestic Hotel, where we were meeting Laura from Electric Pictures on the occasion of her birthday. Supposedly you can’t get in without accreditation, but I put on my power purple jacket and breezed through. The drinks were reassuringly expensive, 200 Francs for two Bloody Marys and a tomato juice – the latter for Boyd Farrow, Editor of Screen International and a dead ringer for Stanley Tucci, who had written the intro for the customarily invaluable Time Out guide to Cannes.

The next couple of hours were a chaos of people and escalating bar bills, plans going awry, people going off to dinner and never being seen again… Laura worried at mucking up all the arrangements, but it seems obvious to me that at Cannes, you just go with the flow.

Which Jon and I did, in pangs of hunger roundabout 9.30pm, to meet the Dennis Pennis mob in a tiny bar.

They were in a glum and savage mood, having waited to accost Charlie Sheen only to have him walk straight past them, early, while they were chatting. Paul Kaye is actually strikingly handsome in the flesh, with piercing blue eyes, an intelligent face and a nice smile – from zero to hero, as they say. Later, when he put on his heavy Pennis specs, he utterly transformed.

Geoff Andrew (Time Out Film Editor, now programmer of the BFI) turned up, having been sitting in the restaurant unnoticed with Jonathan Romney. Geoff’s been very helpful, writing me two sheets of telephone numbers and tips and maps before he left for Cannes.

We went off to party by the beach for Hanif Kureishi’s new film, leaving Paul Kaye to hit up Charlie Sheen later. It was a good do. I talked to Buena Vista supremo Daniel Battsek, and saw him for the first time look quite small and vulnerable when I witnessed a Big Swinging Dick competition straight out of Tom Wolfe.

A guy from UIP barged in on our conversation and started saying how the release dates of his new Bond film and Battsek’s Starship Troopers coincided, and he certainly wasn’t going to move, because if there was a war, he wasn’t the one going to get stomped over. “Real unzip your flies time,” said Daniel when he’d gone.

I found designer Pam Hogg on the beach, dressed in red rubber, yelling about “projectile pissing” at the top of her voice. The last time I saw her, she was bringing in pictures for our Weird Sex issue of herself naked and in chains… I shared a taxi with her once in a traffic jam after a radio interview, and we got on then, and we had a great chat now.

Danced with Laura from Electric to the Spice Girls and drank enough champagne to hurt my head. The beach was magical because of the lights from Cannes all around, the waves high and inviting. Jon disappeared to the Soho House boat with Paul Kaye, and I finally crashed out on Jon’s floor sometime around 3.30, waking occasionally in order to hurt in my head.

In the next episode, Anna Friel is naughty on a yacht while Sadie Frost wears devil horns: click here to read