Mark Kermode Live At Warwick Arts Centre – 12/11/10

This man, who rarely needs an introduction, is one of my sacred few idols of the cinema industry. Many an hour have been spent listening in to his ranting and raving reviews of all the latest on the silver screen. He is a much-respected film critic with an avid fan base, known for appearances on shows such as The Culture Show, and on the radio, notably on Simon Mayo‘s show. Tonight promised an audience with the man in person, currently on his ‘It’s Only A Movie’ tour. The journey to the arts centre was not as much fun as last time (they never are), but as I sit in the almost-sell-out theatre I can barely contain my excitement, as a book signing and a personal meeting with the man himself is now confirmed.

The first man to walk out onto the stage is not Mark, as we presume, but rather his manager, who sets out the format of the night. He leaves, leaving us to watch a little short from Mark’s youtube show ‘Kermode Uncut’. It was a clip I had seen before, and looks a little something like this:

Upon much laughter (of people who evidently have lives, and don’t spend as much time on Youtube as I do), Mark struts out onto the bare stage, and begins talking about his life. Ever the academic student, I’m expecting something like a lecture on cinema. Perhaps Mark will raise some questions, or perhaps make an unquestionable point that changes my idea of what media is. However, I quickly realise this talk is, much like a lot of Coventry Conversations back in the ‘home town’, going to be all about Mark’s life and his experiences. ‘It’s Only A Movie’ is the title of his new mini autobiography, which he’ll be signing at the end of the show. Finally I see, all the pieces fit.

That said, this is not to say the talk was worse of for it. Kermode talks about his early days as a movie critic on radio shows (as even he started off on radio apparently!). He talks about Werner Herzog getting shot, and his meeting with an angry Helen Mirren on the red carpet, amongst other often humour tales of fancy. Generally, it is not in any way in-depth, and does require you to have aprior knowledge of Kermode’s previous exploits (not to mention a good knowledge of the cinema industry) to get the full effect. But all seems well – he’s amongst fans.

One thing that does stick out is when says that ‘if you want to be a critic, you can’t have any friends, because the inevitable will happen where you’re friends made something, and you have to critique it, and you wont want to say anything bad’. From a slightly different perspective, given my previous clashes with people over Tropic Thunder, Kakera, and Paramore write-ups, I can definitely understand where he’s coming from! After his one hour chat, he spends thirty minutes answering various questions members of the audience have. None of them were particularly striking, and none stayed in the mind, so I imagine they weren’t that good.

I did have a question however. Was documentary as a genre going to die out? Putting my hand up several times, eventually the talk was ended, and everyone zipped outside. I quickly seized my opportunity, bought one of his books for a mere £7 (surprisingly cheap for such an event), and got in line to meet the man himself. Two hours later, and I’m almost there. I have read his book, but a lot of the content is what he’s already talked about. Go figure. However, moments later, I’m put up in front of him. During the queue I’ve realised mine is more of a ‘TV’ question, which is outside his area of expertise, so I’ve re-worded my question slightly thus since.

He asks for my name, and if it’s ‘one ‘d’ or two’. I don’t understand the question at first, but finally the penny drops. That would be ‘one d’. Mark casually sips a pint of Carling, and asks me if I’ve enjoyed myself. I say I have (wouldn’t have waited this long if I hadn’t), but I say I had a question. Merrily, off I go:

“This woman from the BBC came into my university last week… or the week before, some time back. Anyway, she was preaching that ‘documentary’ as a genre was dead, and that unless it changed or made the successful transition to cinema, that it was going to die out.”

Kermode looks confused.

“See, it has a lot of the media students studying documentary in a bit of a fluster. Do you think there’s any truth in her statement?”

Over to you, Mark. His reply went something like this:

“Well… no, not really. Documentary is never really about making money, it’s always about something else, like a statement or voicing your opinions. All documentaries shown at the cinema make a loss, with the exception of maybe one every several years, but generally, documentaries in the cinema industry are loss-leaders. They’re about more than making money, for example…”

At this point, he names a load of people I’ve never heard of, and a load of films I’ve never heard of either. This is where we clearly differentiate the difference between MY cinematic knowledge, and his. So, in a star-struck moment, I just enjoy the moment, and allow it to sink in that this is actually happening (sorryyyyyy…). Tuning back in:

“So at the end of the day, the main thing to realise is that the collapse of the UK Film Council will stop independent cinemas being open, and these institutions are pivotal for documentary films being shown. If we save these institutions, then documentary films will have their platforms. It is important that we do this.” He pauses. “But no, I disgaree, documentary isn’t going to die out, no.”

I mention The Arbor, much to his delight (perhaps hinting at my status as one of his ‘Youtube Followers’), but generally the point remains the same. He probably knows that, despite my knowledge of films, I’m a fish out of water in his presence. Either way, I have the autograph signed to me, and get the photo, we shake hands, and I’m off… actually not true. The guy behind me in the queue asked earlier if I’d take a picture of him, and I wait whilst he chats to Mark, mostly about Blue Velvet and, coincidentally, Twin Peaks, which I’m watching at the moment. Then he shakes hands and walks off. I put the camera away – Maths students are all the same. I retreat quietly, ever the lone ninja.

So there you have it, media production documentary makers. The good doctor has spoken (named so after his doctorate). Documentary will not die out, as it is not for profit. To ensure the survival, keep independent cinemas open, and support your local cinema industry. A comfy talk, and a long wait. A job well done, and a night complete.

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