Put a Kermode Under Your Christmas Tree

Christmas is coming fast. Sounds menacing, but you better be ready. As I love books, and I suppose you love films since you follow this blog, I am going to suggest an exciting read for the upcoming holidays that combines the two.

Whether you live in the UK or not, the name Mark Kermode might sound familiar. He is probably one of the most popular (and hated, some would add) film critics on this planet, if only because he has written/spoken/blogged for some of the most prominent media outlets out there.

Film critic Mark Kermode

Aside of his ubiquitous presence in the media, he has also written a few books about his symbiotic relationships with films. After his autobiography under the lens of cinema (It’s Only a Movie, 2009) and his sardonic point of view on blockbusters (The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex, 2011), he is back now with something that really matters to us all: what is the place for film critics in the marketplace and in society?

In this time and age when, just like for football, everyone has an opinion on films and can write about them in the blogosphere, his latest literary effort, Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics (Picador, 2013), is in some respects as much universal as it is personal. I am not going to sell the book here, which by the way is as witty, funny and outspoken as Kermode usually is (you can judge by yourself by reading the first chapter here). I’ll focus instead on a few issues that are at the core of Hatchet Job.

"Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics" is published by Picador.

In a mix of fun accidents, anecdotes and misjudgements that span a career started in the 1980s, such as when he recalls the efforts to making amends for his initial thoughts on Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, or when he had to face a filmmaker pissed off by his review, Kermode touches some raw nerves of today’s film industry. He discusses nowadays’ main issues, such as the printed media industry imploding under the pressure of the web, or the evergreen clash between professional reviewers vs amateurish bloggers, or the delicate relationship between film criticism and filmmaking, and their respective audiences.

But there is something subtler that runs through Hatchet Job, and it’s not the reason why bad reviews stick to a film, nor the urge to understand if film criticism is still a sustainable job and to which degree it really affects the box office.

When I saw Kermode on stage, while he was presenting the book at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, one sentence hit me most: “You need to have something to lose, at least your reputation, your audience or your job, to be credible.” I suppose this is true for every career, but is even more fitting for someone who has the privilege to make a living out of filling his eyes with the magic of cinema, one day after the other.