I love me some Mark Kermode. LOVE HIM! For those of you who may not be familiar with The Good Doctor, Mark Kermode PhD is a film critic for BBC radio. His show is available on iTunes as a podcast called Kermode and Mayo Film Review. Go listen to it. It’s great.
Anyway, Mark Kermode is one of the most entertaining and erudite critics around. He also knows how to string a damn good sentence together. He’s passionate and loud and funny and loves to rant. Basically the perfect guy to write a book about the state of film in the modern era. But here’s the rub: I didn’t actually “read” his latest book, The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex. Instead, since he’s a great guy to listen to on the radio, I opted for the audiobook version. Kermode reads his book and brings so much passion in his voice that I can’t recommend “reading” it any other way.
I was wrestling with whether I should include the 8-hour audiobook as a part of my #5oBookPledge, but then, why the hell not? I sat and listened to it just like I’d sit down to read a book, only I got the added benefit of having Mark Kermode talking in my ear.
Anyway, the book itself is pretty simple. It’s several chapters, each one focusing on a topic (the state of the modern multiplex, the terribleness of 3D, the lie of the blockbuster flop, film vs. digital, etc.) and basically a mixture of personal anecdotes that provide room for epic rants and insightful proselytizing. Not every argument he makes is compelling. Particularly his ranting against remakes, which seems to come at the issue with the idea that remakes across the board are always terrible, which I don’t think is fair. But generally his opinions are constantly compelling and entertaining.
Where a lot of the brilliance of the book lies is in Kermode’s personality coming through. So much passion, so much wit, so much comedy. But the book also reveals Kermode’s unabashed sentimental side in a way that his radio show rarely does.
I have only once cried while reading a book. The second time I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, having read the final book already, knowing what was to come, I cried. Other than that, reading is too intellectual an exercise for me to get overly emotional. Listening to an audiobook it would obviously be easier to make me cry, but I didn’t expect it to be a Kermode audiobook that would do it.
The final chapter of the book is basically Kermode’s mournful look at the beauty of film as a physical medium stored on celluloid. While he admits that digital will take over completely very soon, he makes a passionate plea for the continued use of actual film. I’ve heard many arguments in favour of film over digital for all sorts of reasons, often either nostalgic or to do with higher potential resolution. Kermode doesn’t bother with either of these. His is a plea to keep film important by maintaining its physical presence. When film becomes just a stream of zeros and ones that exist only virtually, something is lost, some connection to a physical format capable of meaning simply by the fact that you can touch it and smell it and see it wear down over time.
In this final chapter, Kermode tells the story of a conversation he had with a much older man at a presentation of Ben-Hur when he was a teenager. I won’t spoil the story here, but I can say if ever there was a more honest and emotional case for the power of cinema and the importance of celluloid I haven’t heard it. There I sat, driving my car, listening to Dr. Mark Kermode telling this story, and I swear I started welling up, probably in much the same way Martin Scorsese hoped I would during Hugo.
For that last chapter alone it’s worth listening to the audiobook of The Good, the bad and the Multiplex, but then there are the other seven hours or glorious rants and really thoughtful opinions about the state of cinema. For any cinephile, it’s a true delight.