Mark Kermode at the Hyde Park Picture House
I was interested to see on your wittertainment Facebook page that you think we should go to see Gravity in 3D. So what I wanted to know is… what’s changed?” Cue tremendous amounts of laughter from the audience at Mark Kermode’s Q&A session. It was a pertinent question, particularly considering that Kermode’s discussion topic for the evening was in fact the subject of change in film criticism. As anyone who has read or heard a single blockbuster review by Kermode over the past three years knows, the Observer film critic has vehemently championed the 2D medium ever since those plastic hipster glasses arrived to darken our view of the screen. Until now, the best 3D experience he confessed to having was in a screening of Ang Lee’s luminous Life of Pi, but even then he insisted he would go back and see the film in 2D to assess how much of the enchantment came from story, not depth-perception.
So what has changed? “3D is not the future of cinema,” Kermode asserts, “it is a very limited medium. It’s good at doing pointy things and things flying around in front of you, and not much else. If you were to design the perfect film for 3D, that film would be Gravity. That’s why I would say Gravity is –” he cringes. More audience laughter, “better in 3D. But it’s not the future of cinema!” As for the parallel future of film criticism, it all boils down to the cacophony of opinions granted voice by the platform commonly known as the internet. The question Kermode poses in his new book, Hatchet Job, is what is the point of film critics when movie posters are just as likely to feature Twitter recommendations as they are to cite established critics’ reviews? Now that anyone can have their say, why should we listen to the stuffy old moaners appointed by The Man? The difference Kermode sees between himself and, say, Sheila from Grimsby via Twitter is a) what they’ve got invested in voicing their opinion, and b) the sheer number of films they’ve seen. When a teenage girl declares her love for the Twilight films on social media, no one bats an eyelid, but when Kermode stands up to defend the series in the Guardian, he’s putting his professional credibility on the line. Furthermore, if Sheila from Grimsby says that a film is “the best film I’ve seen all year”, it’s probably true, but then how many films has she seen all year? Now think how many films Kermode has seen all year. Precisely.
Kermode champions film criticism as an art in the same way he champions the films themselves. Speaking touchingly about the late great Roger Ebert, he lamented how all the retrospectives written about Ebert when he died focused on the negative reviews, the put-downs, the sharp one liners and not on any of the countless times he found poetry in defending a picture, always on its own terms. “No one believes me,” Kermode says, “but I far prefer getting excited about a film I love than ranting about a film I hate.” Indeed, for someone so famous for his fury at terrible filmmaking, Kermode makes a charming, self deprecating host. He answered questions about rival critics whose opinions al most always clash with his, saying that he has “utmost respect” for anyone who does the job properly and was asked about being a feminist: “I just don’t understand sexism. Personally, all the smartest people I’ve met in my life are women.”
The Good Doctor went on to praise the endangered species known as projectionists, along with all the editors and sub editors he’s worked with throughout his career. He’s also a big fan of the venue. “Please, please tell the Picture House you like it,” he told us, “there aren’t many places like this left.” No one was left in any doubt that this is a man who knows what he’s talking about when he talks about film and the evening flew by in a witty stream of anecdotes and in jokes. And on that note, hello to Jason Isaacs.