Monday, 6 December 2010

Mark Kermode's Right Arm: Meeting the Film Critic

On the projector screen in Manchester’s Dancehouse Theatre, I’m looking at some toy Smurfs being suspended from puppet string. Someone is giving a high-pitched voice to these characters, describing how peaceful their world is. Cue a strung-up naked action man doll, who’s come to wreak havoc and steal some kind of valuable liquid, or something.

The voice belongs to Mark Kermode, and this is his no-budget 2-minute spoof of Avatar, James Cameron’s most recent film. Mr. Kermode isn’t keen on it, and he’s not afraid to let you know.

47-year old Mr. Kermode- film critic from Newsnight review and long-time crusader against film censorship- is here tonight to promote his new book, It’s Only A Movie: Tales From a Film Obsessive.

Instead of reading from the book, he regales the stories from memory- including blagging a job on BBC radio. (Bosses loved his impromptu rambling- he’d told them he’d had “lots of experience”, and then found himself in a studio for the first time ever. His only radio knowledge was from a film called Death at Broadcasting House, set inside the BBC building.) They threw him back out onto the street after the broadcast, and was sure his career was in tatters. Then the BBC called him back. This time he prepared a script, timed it, and read it in a controlled, “professional” fashion. The bosses hauled him in: they preferred it the previous week. “It was like you hadn’t planned it at all!” they had joked.

He also quotes Woody Allen’s Love and Death as the world’s funniest film, denies rumours he’s taking over the role of presenter at Film 2010, retells being thumped outside the Cornerhouse cinema for giving a bad review of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and being repeatedly mistaken for TV actor Jesse Birdsall.

Here's Jesse:

And here's Mark:

Mr. Kermode also claims he had to drag unconscious people out of screenings of both The Exorcist and Irreversible, and tells of annoying numerous people in the industry.

“At some point, I’m going to meet Danny Dyer,” Mr Kermode muses nervously. He’d slagged off Dyer and his movies some months ago. Dyer had uploaded a Youtube video:

“At some point,” Mr. Kermode says, “Danny Dyer is going to hit Jesse Birdsall, and it’s going to my fault!”

Dyer isn’t the only celebrity to come looking for him. Mr. Kermode has also been critical of Dame Helen Mirren and her movies, and he tells of how she found him on the red carpet at a movie première and bullied him into an explanation. “What did you mean?” she asked. His impression of Dame Helen sounds a lot like Bob Hoskins. Cue Mark babbling an explanation- something about “differing interpretations”- and collapsing at her feet, only for his wife to come to his rescue.

Aside from countless fascinating stories, Mr Kermode’s love of impressions also makes great entertainment. Every character he describes has it’s own voice, including Werner Herzog, director of movie Fitzcarraldo and documentary Grizzly Man. The Herzog / Kermode interview took a turn for the worse in Herzog’s garden. “I heard a pop noise,” says Kermode. “A tiny plume of smoke rose up from his jacket.” Mr. Kermode gives a heavy sigh. Then, with a good German accent, he says, “‘We had better go. They are shooting at us again.’”

He describes- re-enacts, even- running into the director’s house, screaming like a lunatic, with Herzog trudging behind him. (Even Mr. Kermode's impressions of himself are good.) Inside the house, Herzog refused to go to the hospital and insisted that the interview continued.

Years later, Mr Kermode met Herzog again, and asked him about the shooting incident. Herzog admitted that he only occasionally gets a pain in his abdomen, but only when he finds something funny. “Every time Herzog laughs,” says Mr. Kermode, “he’ll think of me.”

In the subsequent Q+A session, Mr. Kermode is asked of his favourite comic adaptation.

Howard the Duck,” he responds. No hesitation. “I just find it funny that people made it.” Apparently, HtD features Tim Robbins in a cameo- who also cameos in Top Gun.

Mr. Kermode also proudly features on , listing “one thousand people more annoying than Mick Hucknell.”

He says he wishes Brits were more open to reading subtitled foreign-language films (I couldn’t agree more) in the way that Asian countries are. Their U.S. imports sometimes have seven languages' subtitles plastered in numerous directions across the screen.

He was starstruck by Angelina Jolie, (who told him “I like your hair. I must get Brad to do it like that”) and Linda Blair.

“I’ve got a big thing for Liza Minelli,” says Mr. Kermode. “Not like that.” He once met the Cabaret star and, in a starstruck trance, poked her with his finger. She didn’t react.

The last question is from a kid of maybe twelve years old. He asks, “Do you think there’ll ever be a better film than The Exorcist?”

“Oh, God bless you for asking that,” Mr. Kermode replies. The UK poster for The Exorcist features his quote from Radio 1 where he claimed the 1973 cult horror is “the greatest movie ever made.”

“Linda Blair was once asked, what’s it like living with the legacy of The Exorcist? She told the reporter, 'it’s like my right arm. It’s just there.' The Exorcist- it is for me too. I wake up in the morning,” he says, thinking through his daily routine, “There’s my wife,” he says like he’s ticking off a daily check list, “and there’s The Exorcist… I think about it every day.”

Mr. Kermode asks the kid’s name, and relays to us, “John, everybody. The next presenter of Film 2010!”

Mr. Kermode signs my book, agrees to a picture and takes my blog card.

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