Yesterday, at the launch of the Everything Everywhere BAFTA Rising Star Award, we were offered an interview with Mark Kermode. I’ve always been slightly conflicted about the good Doctor. He is, by any measure, one of the most educated film critics working today, and his contentious attitude and willingness to belligerently stand his ground – even when in a minority of one – makes him one of the few voices in mainstream film criticism worth listening to. But he’s also been publicly critical of online film writers in general, and some of my close friends in particular, and he’s the primary source of very nearly every spurious ‘fact’ about 3D that has ever been regurgitated on an internet message board.
So given the opportunity to get some clarification on a few things, I decided to break my rule, and interview him. In our conversation, he speaks about the awards (he’s a judge on the selection panel, and a voting member of BAFTA), the changing role of the film star, critics being members of BAFTA, and on the future of film criticism. Check it out below.
The BAFTA Awards take place Sunday 10th February. You can vote for your favourite of the rising star shortlist here.
HeyUGuys: The Critics Circle already has its own awards, so film critics being involved with BAFTA selection…
Mark Kermode: He says, laced with – go on…
HeyUGuys: I’m just curious what your thoughts are on it. Is it not just doubling up on the same awards thing, while the BAFTAs are primarily an industry back-scratch?
MK: I’ve been a member of BAFTA for several years now, I’ve voted in the BAFTA awards for several years, and the way it works is, you have chapter voting for certain areas – some things you can opt-in on, some things you can opt-out of. Personally, I’m really proud of being part of the BAFTA voting, partly because, as a film critic you’re meant to see everything – you’re meant to literally see everything that comes out, so it’s quite nice being able to look down the list of movies at the end of the year and think, ‘well actually you have seen pretty much most of them’. BAFTA is an industry body, but I’m very proud to be part of it. It may be that they turn around one day and say, ‘that’s it, film critics out’, but at the moment that’s not the case. I like doing it, and I like being part of the discussion.
I do think that actually, film criticism does benefit from spending some time around the people who do make the films, and I’m attempting to understand rather better how things work. In the end, film critics can’t tell film makers how to make films. The worst kind of film critics are the film critics who think they’re film makers. They’re not. I’ll be very, very clear about this. The worst film I’ve ever seen, I couldn’t have made. The standard criticism is, ‘you’re a film critic, could you do any better?’ No. I couldn’t make a film to save my life. The worst film I’ve ever seen, I could not have made. I have nothing but admiration and respect for anyone who ever gets any film made, ever.
HeyUGuys: This is the launch of the Rising Star Award, and that word has come up over and over again, but in an industry where guaranteed box office returns based on a name, as opposed to a property are diminishing left, right and centre, is an award like this redundant? Or becoming redundant?
MK: As far as the point of the award is concerned, it’s not primarily concerned with box office. I do think there are such things as ‘stars’, and maybe what you’re saying is that the nature of stardom is changing. Whether stardom is bankable may be changing. That’s fine. That’s not what the point of the Rising Star is about, it’s simply saying to the public, ‘you tell us, who do you think is a rising star?’ I understand what you’re saying, and it may be an industry question. It’s probably not something I’m qualified to answer.
HeyUGuys: We’ve got you in the lions’ den with online writers and bloggers here, you’ve spoken about the changing nature of stardom, but I wonder if I could get you on the changing nature of film criticism.
MK: There’s a lot of guff talked about how the internet has changed or diminished film criticism, and it’s patently not true. During the entire history of film criticism, the nature of criticism has changed, even if the nature of dispersing it has changed. What happens – there are certain key moments in which it looks as if something’s fundamentally changed, and things are different from the way they were before, but actually if you start finding out about the history of film criticism, you’ll notice that certain core values remain unchanged.
There was a point when Siskel and Ebert was considered by some people to be the death of proper film criticism, because how can you have a film critic when it’s just two people going, ‘thumbs up’? Roger Ebert is now probably the most respected film critic in the world. Whether you like him or not, and I do, I’m a big fan, his international reach is enormous. Why? Because of the internet. He has now got audiences around the world, essentially from writing from one town. I think the fundamental things remain the same. Good film criticism is about a number of things. You have to see a bunch of films, you have to love cinema, you have to be respectful of the profession. This is one thing that I do think is important.
The esteem in which film critics are held possibly changes and I think film criticism itself is partly responsible for that, I think good behaviour amongst film critics is important, but I also think it being seen as a profession – the people I really respect – the people who loved it as a profession, there are as many of them on the internet as there ever were in print, as there ever were doing film and television criticism, the core values remain the same. If you want to do it, like everything else, it’s a job and a craft and a privilege. And honestly, if you can manage to make a living – and I say this quite seriously – if you can manage to make a living watching films and talking about it you are really, really lucky, and I have nothing but respect for anybody who manages to do that.