Mark Kermode is a film critic. He writes reviews for The Guardian, but is perhaps best known for the show he co-hosts on BBC Radio Five Live with Simon Mayo. To fully appreciate the book and it’s context there are some things you need to know first.
- He is a film critic
- He is from Barnet
- He is a massive horror fan
- He thinks (or rather, “knows”) The Exorcist is the greatest film ever made
- He loves Elvis
- He plays in a skiffle band
- He is a former Trotskyist
- He loves Jason Isaacs
- Hello Jason Isaacs
- He has a quiff
All of these topics come up in the book time and again. They are the touchstones on which his career (and his life) are seemingly based. Everything he mentions seems to come back in some manner to one of the above facts. Now, you don’t need to know what any of those things mean as they are all explained in the book, but it does help.
Released in 2010, this book is basically his autobiography as told through his relationship with cinema. So, unlike so many wretchedly awful (as well as overly, needlessly and disturbingly confessional) celebrity books, there are no stories about the time he first touched a breast or anything like that. The only thing that comes close to that is a vivid, albeit flawed recollection of a seemingly not-so-innocent scene in a movie. He talks of his favourite cinema and the formative films (including The Exorcist, naturally and the Planet Of The Apes films), as well as forcing his way into the film criticism industry, through, as he paints it, lies upon lies and occasionally entertaining incompetence.
Kermode knows what his readers want and gives it to them. Everything revolves around films, or trying to write about films in one form or another. The way he describes it, he just happens to be there.
It is very funny and his recollections of left-wing student politics in 1980s Manchester is an absolute riot, especially for anyone who has seen first-hand what such groups can be like. There is also an excellent anecdote about spectacularly unsuccessful trip to the post-breakup former Soviet Union in order to report from the filming of a horror movie in the Ukraine.
But what is the absolute highlight of the book, for me at least, is his time spent with Werner Herzog and both of their polar-opposite reactions to Herzog being shot (Kermode panicking, Hertzog stoically indifferent to his very real bullet wound), which both opens and closes the book.
Despite having met a vast number of celebrities, there is very little name dropping, except of course for the handful of characters that regular listeners are already familiar with and would expect (read: demand) to be included. The only exception is one moment towards the end where he mentions a compliment about his quiff from Angelina Jolie, though he actually spends more time talking about a quiff Brad Pitt once had in a movie many years ago.
I would suggest watching some of BBC Five Live his film reviews (of which there are plenty on Youtube), before reading this book. Not only are they informative and thoroughly entertaining. it will help you understand the tone a bit better and it will sound in your head as if he is reading it, which is no bad thing. It will also help set the context for how he would deal with each situation.
Now, this is by no means necessary (I think) because the writing is very good and highly entertaining, but to hear him speak is to hear how it should be read. In fact, he admits early on that he only capable of writing speech “like Mark Kermode” so everyone sounds just like him. Now this isn’t true and his recollection of conversations with Werner Herzog are a particular delight, but it is still better when it reads like him telling an amusing anecdote.
This is a fantastic book in its own right, but will particularly appeal to movie fans, who will absolutely love it. It is hilariously entertaining and I cannot recommend it highly enough. That is not an over-statement, for despite it being over 300 pages long (of respectable sized text) I finished it in two days. I could not put it down.
I can’t wait to get my hands on this year’s follow-up, The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex.