If you’ve got a sense of bafflement over how modern day cinema can give us three $1bn+ grossing films in a year, but still won’t stump up for an individual projectionist or an usher or two down at your local multiplex, then you’ll be in good company with Mark Kermode’s latest book.
The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex is a fleshing out of many of the arguments familiar to those who listen to the Kermode and Mayo film programme on Radio Five Live. And, teased with the subtitle ‘What’s wrong with modern movies?’, you might be forgiven for thinking that you’re getting 313 page of full-on Kermodian ranting.
But you’re not. Instead, you’re getting an impassioned argument surrounding the state of modern day cinema. Interestingly, it’s less than you might think about some of the films themselves (although Michael Bay’s Christmas card list is rarely likely to have Kermode’s name on it), but rather the apparatus and system that surrounds then.
Firmly in Kermode’s crosshairs are 3D, multiplex cinemas (illustrated through a painfully funny attempt to watch Charlie St Cloud at his local cinema), blockbuster movies, film critics, and where Britain itself fits into world cinema.
Take 3D as an example. The world has no shortage of anti-3D rantings, but what Kermode presents in his book is an argument. An argument very much in his own voice, with his own strong viewpoint on the matter. But an argument nonetheless, which takes in both sides of the debate, before arriving at a conclusion, albeit one more obvious than the ending of your standard rom-com. Dripping with rounded examples, Kermode isn’t trying to bully you to his way of thinking – rather, he’s being accessibly persuasive.
And the accessibility is key, here. This isn’t a film where hardened film buffs only need apply. Just as with his last book, It’s Only A Movie, Kermode’s writing style is chatty and welcoming, fused with energy and a love of his subject matter.
Ironically, the people who the book may end up appealing to the least are Kermode’s regular listeners. He captures many of the key themes of his radio broadcasts here, but there are inevitably fewer surprises for those more familiar with his work. That said, the chances are that you’ll find yourself nodding along with much of what he has to say anyway, and it’s a strong, well-researched, entertaining representation of his thoughts that you’re getting here.
If I had a personal favourite part of the book, it’s when he pinpoints the problem of distribution, and how it’s becoming harder and harder for small films to get a look in. Here’s where some of his arguments hold the most surprises, and you’d suspect that Kermode would happily eschew the royalties that The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex generates in exchange for this particular system being fixed.
And that’s the critical thing, here. Kermode has a passion that you may or may not personally warm to, but it’s a thirst and desire for things to improve nonetheless. It might be idealistic at times, but it’s hard to criticise someone for that. There’s a longing in his words for cinema to get better, and as such, it’s a brisk and easy book to read and digest, with lots of thinking matter for afterwards.
Personally, I’d just about edge It’s Only A Movie, Kermode’s previous book, over this one. But it’s a close run thing, and with The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex, Kermode has one again married up strong arguments with quality writing. It’s a book well worth seeking out.
The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.