Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex

I have been to the cinema exactly twice in the last six months: ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ in November last year, and ‘Avengers Assemble’ (to give it its stupid fucking UK title) a couple of weeks ago. It’s not that there haven’t been plenty of movies out during that period that I’ve wanted to see, it’s just … well, it’s two things really. 

Firstly, ticket prices have become prohibitive. For me and Mrs F to see a film together is an outlay of between £12 and £18 (approx $19 - $29) depending on time of screening – and that’s not even premier seats. Throw in travel costs and a trip to the confectionary stand and you’re looking at £25 ($40). For a couple of hours’ entertainment in a soulless multiplex. Compare that to the loss-leader £9.99 price that most supermarkets sell mainstream new release DVDs for. It’s economically more viable to buy the DVD, even if it sucks like Paris Hilton and you only watch it once, than to see the film at the cinema. 

Secondly, well … that “soulless multiplex” line in the above paragraph probably gives it away. Unless I’m seeing a movie in an independent or arthouse cinema like Nottingham’s Broadway or the now sadly defunct Screen Room, I really don’t enjoy the cinema experience. I don’t enjoy queuing for tickets or trying to get some sense out of those automated ticket machines; I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m on a conveyor belt; I don’t enjoy the constant distraction of chavs talking through the movie, kicking the back of my seat and fucking around on their mobile phones. 

Mark Kermode doesn’t like these things, either. In fact, they righteously piss him off. Reading his book ‘The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex’ – a title probably chosen for its funkiness; the subtitle ‘What’s Wrong with Modern Movies?’ is a truer reflection of the contents – I found myself nodding, grinning ruefully and muttering “Right on, brother” on pretty much every page. 

‘TGtB&tM’ is both a sustained rant against the shag-awfulness of the modern movie-going experience and a nostalgic reaching back to a golden age of cinema, when a picture palace was just that, when the projection of a beam of light through a reel of celluloid running at twenty-four frames per second could truly conjure magic. Projection is the book’s motif. The prologue (“Would the last projectionist please turn off the lights…”) mourns the increasing redundancy of the projectionist’s art as more and more cinemas screen movies digitally; the epilogue (“The End of Celluloid”) is a shaking of the head at the changing face of the industry. 

In between these sections, Kermode delivers some mightily tetchy and often scabrously funny rants. Overpriced multiplexes staffed by automatons who can’t even be bothered to project the film correctly? Kermode goes off on one. Shitty blockbusters that make ludicrous amounts of money despite being aesthetically retarded? Look out, ‘Sex and the City 2’ – M to tha K is comin’ for ya! 3D as a gimmick designed to milk the audience for even more money, a gimmick that’s failed so many times in the past it should never have been re-embraced and thoroughly deserves to lapse back into obscurity? Light the blue touch paper and retire. 

And Michael Bay? How to put it. You know how much I hate Michael Bay? I’m the president of his motherfucking fan club compared to Mark Kermode. Introducing the director in chapter two as “the reigning deity of all that is loathsome, putrid and soul destroying about modern day blockbuster entertainment”, Kermode goes on the speculate that “down in the deepest bowels of the abyss there is a tenth circle of Hell in which Bay’s movies play for all eternity, waiting for their creator to arrive”. The K don’t like the Bay. At all. 

But ‘TGtB&tM’ is more than just curmudgeonly diatribes laced with character-assassinations. A chapter on the reluctance of the mainstream to embrace subtitle foreign fare expands into a beautifully nuanced comparison of Hideo Nakata’s ‘Dark Water’ and Walter Salles’s remake, exploring how geographical and cultural differences inform the overall aesthetic of the two films. Indeed, Kermode’s evident love of Japanese cinema springs from the page, as he traces the origins of J-horror in such classics as ‘Kwaidan’ and ‘Onibaba’. 

‘The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex’ may have be born out of frustration, but ultimately it is driven by an unadulterated love of cinema and written by a critic who is insightful as he is opinionated. Whether some of his broadsides leave you wanting to shake him warmly by the hand or the throat, what’s undeniable is that Kermode is hugely entertaining writer on film, and he has produced here a volume that should be on every cineaste’s bookshelf.

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