Surgery for the screen
Interview by Nick hughes
Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo have been the go-to film buffs for over a decade with their BBC Radio 5 Live film review show which reaches more than half a million listeners. The duo caught up with Your Move as they prepare to bring their format to the Everyman stage to promote their new book ‘The Movie Doctors’, which dissects the best and worst of movies and Hollywood whilst injecting a dose of humour.
Have either of you been to the Everyman before?
Mark Kermode: Yes, I’ve been there loads of times – I briefly lived in Liverpool and it’s where my wife and I got married. I’ve done shows at the Everyman before and I am very much looking forward to it.
Simon Mayo: I’m very much looking forward to it because I haven’t been there.
What will the show involve?
MK: We’re asking people to come along with their ailments and we are going to attempt to cure them through the magic of movies. In advance of the show we’re tweeting people and asking them to send us some suggestions of stuff that they need to be cured. Then Doctor Simon will do a brilliant job of prescribing movies that will make them feel better whilst I shall be droning on about how movies themselves can be made better by medical attention.
SM: Sounds like a really entertaining evening.
MK: It does, Simon.
Your book refers to the ‘ills of the film world’. How do movies need improving?
MK: Well, the way the book works is that there is a kind of conceit in it in that Simon and I have both actually got doctorates – I’ve got a proper doctorate, he’s got a made-up doctorate that was given to him by the University of Do-it-yourself.
SM: Excuse me, the University of Warwick.
MK: And they just gave it to you because you were still around.
SM: It’s proper, I’m a D-Lit, ok? I have a robe, I have a mortar board and I have a photograph.
MK: Yes, that’s great.
SM: That’s what counts. More fool you for working for one.
MK: Basically we are both theoretically doctors, although neither of us are medical doctors, and the way we divided the book up was essentially that Simon would look at how movies could affect the viewers and how movies could make you feel better or how movies could address particular ailments; you know, phobias, decisions about parenting, some general life tips. I would look at how it was that movies themselves needed medical attention. One of the things I did in the book was look at how some movies are too long and in need of some amputation of their running length, and how other movies have suffered from being made by people who are being praised too highly. I write a long section on the dangers of praising film makers, which is very, very dangerous because if you tell a film maker they’re a genius, they almost inevitably go off and do their worst work. Then there are sections about plastic surgery – films which have been changed to look like different films – and a section about organ transplants, which is about the way in which soundtracks are placed on and taken off movies.
SM: Mark’s piece is proper journalism and mine is just whimsy – that’s basically it!
MK: Or the way I like to look at it; anything in the book that’s funny and charming is Simon and anything in the book that’s whingy and sounds like some snot-nosed writer is me.
What is the best film you’ve reviewed on the show?
MK: Well ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ for me, which I still think is one of the greatest movies. Actually now I say that, did we do ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’? ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ was 2001, wasn’t it? We must have done; it must have been very early on – I can’t quite remember. I know I go on about it but ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is one of the greatest films of recent years. What about you?
SM: Well, you do the reviews and I just chip-in.
MK: Okay, what is the film that you and I have agreed on most? That we think is great of recent years?
SM: ‘Pride’. ‘Pride’ was good.
MK: We loved ‘Pride’. We thought ‘Pride’ was good didn’t we? We thought ‘Pride’ was great. This is like some old couple’s conversation: ‘We loved that didn’t we? Yeah we loved that one, yeah.’
And the worst film?
MK: Where do you begin?
SM: ‘Entourage’. We’ll say ‘Entourage’ because Mark is the reviewer therefore he sees all the films. I only see a film if there is a guest attached to it because I do the interview. So, normally when there is a really rubbish film, I don’t get to see it because it’s not worth it. But in the case of ‘Entourage’ I saw it first because I was going to interview Jeremy Piven and I knew as soon as it came out that Mark was going to hate it. I would say that in all the time we have been doing this, in terms of a movie that we’ve both seen, it’s ‘Entourage’. We disagreed over ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ – the first one – because I liked it, but we agreed over the second one. So I would think ‘Entourage’ merits the number one.
MK: That was the one we both consistently despised. And of course, as you said, the argument was that you hated it first.
SM: Yeah, I’m proud of that.
MK: You’re very proud of disliking it before me.
Are there any films being released soon that you’re looking forward to?
MK: The oddest answer to this question, and everyone thinks I’m lying but I’m not, is that I try really hard to not know anything about movies before I see them. Obviously, I do know that Star Wars is going to open in the next couple of months and it’s impossible not to know something about it. But my general rule is, because I’m a national press critic which means that I see films on Monday and Tuesday and write reviews on Wednesday, I broadcast reviews on Friday which is the day that they open; so as far as it is possible I really try not to pre-judge anything by reading stuff about it in advance. That means, for example, not reading articles about movies before you’ve seen them, attempting to stay away from the endless barrage of trailers that give them away in various small parts before you actually see the film. So, from my point of view, the thing I’m really looking forward to is the thing I know nothing about. There’s a couple of weeks between now and the Everyman show, and I have genuinely tried to stay away from knowing anything about what I’m going to see between now and then.
SM: Yes, I went to see ‘Crimson Peake’ which I loved, but the great thing was that I didn’t know anything about it. I was quite happy not to know anything about it because you have no expectations.