Tag Archives: Mark Kermode

Taking French leave: Mark Kermode appointed new Observer film critic

17 Aug

Image

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.

Advertisements

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

28 May
Image

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.