Interview with Mark Kermode

The outspoken film critic on why the Multiplex has ruined cinema and why Baz Lurhmann should avoid 3D

In your new book, The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex, you admit people don’t take much notice of critics when they are deciding on which film to see. Are film critics redundant then?

Film criticism doesn’t exist to tell people what to see and what not to see, and it certainly doesn’t seem to affect box office – the idea that critics can kill a movie is demonstrably not true. The role of the critic is to write about films in a way which contextualises them, describes them adequately, offers an honest response from the critic, and, if you’re lucky, entertains the reader/listener and makes them laugh. That’s true of the critics I admire, like Nigel Floyd or Alan Jones. I want to read a review by someone who has seen more movies than I have and might tell me something interesting. The one area where I think critics do have a role in relation to the box office is to raise the profile of a film that might otherwise be overlooked.

You rail against multiplex movie culture in your book – why?
The primary role of going to the cinema is to see films. In the past, two or three projectionists would work to run the film, ushers would police the auditorium and going to the cinema would be as much a performance as going to the theatre. Now people can talk on their mobile phones and there’s no one to stop them. And if the film starts projecting at the wrong ratio there’s no one in the projectionist box to fix it. That’s not cinema, that’s like sitting in your front room with a bunch of strangers you don’t like, watching the television but not being able to correct the ratio. Cinema means watching a film projected properly, with other people who want to see film in an auditorium. That’s why downloads should be released simultaneously with film releases, so people who want to watch the film at home can do that.

3D films are another pet hate of yours. What do you think of Baz Lurhmann’s idea to film The Great Gatsby in 3-D?
I’ve met Baz Lurhmann and he’s breathtaking company but when I read about him doing The Great Gatsby in 3D, I just laughed. What I can imagine was being in the room with him when he told you 3D was a good idea and everyone would have gone, “Yeah!” and the minute they stepped out of the room you’d be: “What!?” I can’t see any reason for doing that film in 3D.

What’s the most critical thing you’ve ever written about a film?

I remember reviewing Little Man [2006, starring Shawn and Marlon Wayans], a crass comedy and I said: “It’s evil and [Radio 5 Live co-presenter] Simon Mayo said: “What, it’s possessed?” And I said: “Yes, it’s possessed by the devil.” It was a genuinely horrible film – not just bad, but putrid and wrong.

British actor Danny Dyer threatened you with violence after you savaged some of his film performances – are you ready to take him on?

He does it all the time, it’s like he’s got Tourette’s! But I’m never going to meet him because I don’t go to the places he frequents and it’s just such an absurd thing for him to say. I don’t know how to respond to someone who goes [doing his best high-pitched Danny Dyer impression]: “Ooh! I’m gonna hit ‘im!!!” I just can’t take that seriously.

You were with director Werner Herzog when he got shot by an air rifle in Los Angeles. A weird experience?
I was interviewing him for The Culture Show and he was just talking about how hostile Los Angeles was towards filmmakers and then there was this crack, an explosion in the waistband of his trousers and I thought that a firecracker had gone off in his pocket. And then he said: “Oh someone’s shooting at us we should probably leave.” He genuinely didn’t bat an eyelid. It was just some completely random whacko with an air rifle. Herzog had just been saying something like: “I attract crazy people.” Well no shit, Sherlock!

What three films would you take to a desert island with you?
Mary Poppins – it’s one of my top ten films of all time, I just love it and everytime I see it, it makes me cry; Silent Running, a 1970s science fiction film by Douglas Trumbull starring Bruce Dern; and The Exorcist. In a way I don’t really need to take the The Exorcist to a desert island because I’ve seen it so many times [Kermode claims to have seen the film 200 times] that I’ve got it in my head anyway. So I’d take Woody Allen’s Love And Death, a pastiche of epic Russian novels  instead. It always has me rolling around on the floor in laughter.

Appearing at the Ritzy Picturehouse to promote new book The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex out now through Random House.  Coldharbour Lane, SW2 1JG. See picturehouses.co.uk  Brixton, Fri, Sep 9 £15.

Alison Grinter