Mark Kermode

Conor Smyth listens to the established film critic tell his tales at Cinemagic

Mary Poppins is one of the ten greatest films ever made.’ The audience, a packed-out assortment of film fans and Kermode connoisseurs, hardly blink. 

They are used to the iconoclasm of Mark Kermode, the film critic, broadcaster and columnist who has carved for himself a distinctly personal space in British film criticism. The only appropriate adjective, indeed, may be ‘Kermodian.’

Kermode, a veteran of the Cinemagic film festival, makes his third appearance in the Moviehouse to discuss his work, contemporary film making, and his burning love of Robert Stevenson’s 1964 classic Mary Poppins, scheduled for screening afterwards. 

Noting the diverse ages of the audience, he cites the film’s universal appeal as one of the reasons for its greatness  

'The classic family film was just that; made for the whole family. There’s a bit for the kids, a bit for the parents, a bit for everyone. Now, of course, you have in Hollywood the demographic thing: this film is for thirtysomething women, this is for the twelve year old boys etc. Family films now, ‘digi-mations’ like Shark Tale, are kids films with references bolted on. So the kids enjoy it and the parents get the knowing jokes. ‘Oh, this bit’s like The Godfather. Ha-ha.’ That’s not a family film.'

Poppins’ greatness lies also in its darkness, its occasionally unsettling quality, claims the critic, in a tradition that goes back to the Grimm brothers.

'All great fairytales and kids films have a light side and a dark side. The whole point of magic is that it’s scary. There is always a sadness, an eeriness and a melancholic part in every great kids story.'

Kermode runs through a series of entertaining film stories, stopping to comment on the Wicker Man remake ('garbage, absolute garbage'), Of Time and the City ('poetry, absolute poetry') and, of course, his specialist subject, The Exorcist. 'The most scary film ever made… I felt like my head was on fire,' he claims.

Kermode has seen his fair share of crap cinema, but sees the value in sitting through the dross. 

'When I was doing my video column for Sight and Sound, I had to review every new release that week, and most of that was crap. But you don’t know what  good is unless you know what bad is. The problem with some film critics these days is that they don’t see enough films. With DVDs and big foreign language sections in HMV there’s no excuse. You have to see the rubbish to appreciate the good stuff.'

The critic has managed to scream loud and clear amongst the din of mainstream film criticism over the past few years. Despite the proliferation of talking heads on ‘Top 100’ television shows and stylistically anonymous reviewers in the tabloids, Kermode remains instantly recognisable and curiously idiosyncratic. The reasons for this originate, it seems, in his inability to fake niceties.

'The thing I’m most proud of is my honesty. I may be hideously wrong sometimes, but I’m honestly wrong. I don’t do that thing of second guessing the audience. I know I exaggerate sometimes, but I like it.
'I have been nasty about people’s films. But I have to be honest, I can’t lie… And the thing about being nasty is it will matter then when you do the opposite and say something’s a life-changing event.' 

Conor Smyth