It's Only a Movie
Through his appearances on television and radio and as a critic in The Observer and Sight and Sound, Mark Kermode has established himself as one of the leading film critics in Great Britain for his outspoken and controversial views on films, film criticism and censorship. Always seen in a dark suit and with his trademark quiff, he has become great listening on BBC Radio 5 Live and has fantastic on-air rapport with Simon Mayo. His views on the Pirates of the Caribbean films and assertion that The Exorcist is the greatest film ever made often see him out on a limb but his rants have become the stuff of legend and the way he picks facts out of thin air from his seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge are incredible.
In this book he journeys back to his childhood in London where his formative years were spent in cinemas and he recounts what films he saw and where he saw them, even down to the seat. Mark Kermode always strikes me as someone who is extremely passionate about film and this book does nothing to persuade me otherwise. As someone who spent his life writing and broadcasting about film, he travels the world going to film festivals, interviewing directors, actors and filmmakers and his passion for film comes to the detriment of almost everything else so he doesn't know, nor care, about sport or almost anything else that doesn't involve film.
In these pages he recounts how he became a film critic by accident during the halcyon days at Manchester University where he gained his Ph.D. in literature, writing his thesis on horror literature and becoming, as one of his fellow students tagged him, a doctor of horror. From writing about film whilst at university, he went on to write for Time Out where he subbed for another writer and accidentally found himself with a radio spot. From there, the only way was up and he describes travelling with Nigel Floyd across Russia to the Ukraine in search of a director and an international film when it would have been easier to fly straight from the UK to Kiev (geography has never been his strong point) and flying to New York in order to get to Los Angeles.
As someone who listens to the Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode podcast every week, I expected to enjoy this book so read the prologue thinking of getting a gist the book and then put it away but found myself hooked and had to read the whole thing until the very end. I couldn't stop, it was simple as that. The passion that comes across in his radio broadcasts is there in the prose, and there are many laugh out loud moments and others that you need someone nearby so you can just read out parts of the book as you are going.
This is a very funny and engaging read that feels much shorter than the word count and page count would have you believe. Chapter titles like I Shot Werner Hertzog seemed slightly far-fetched that makes sense once you get to the end and realise that it makes sense.
I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who listens to the podcast, whether faithfully or just from time to time. If you don't even need to know who Mark Kermode is to appreciate the book as he writes with such passion, natural comedy and joie de vivre that you can't help but love the writing and I would challenge anyone not to enjoy the book. It has become something of a running joke that Simon Mayo's only managed to read the bit where he is featured and it is his loss that he hasn't managed to finish the entirety of It's Only a Movie.