How do you write a review about The Movie Doctors, by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode? Well, you just…, ah I suspect many of you got there first.
And if you did, this is your book. A fascinating, broad and beautifully presented collection of arguments, articles, diagrams and disputes that leap from the airwaves of Wittertainment (aka The Kermode & Mayo Film Review on Radio 5 Live/Radio Five/Five Live/we keep forgetting what they’re officially called these days) and onto the printed page, there’s plenty that others could learn from this.
For in an era where books for fans of things have a habit of taking that audience for granted, that’s absolutely what The Movie Doctors doesn’t do. Running to over 300 pages, and with sky-high production values, this takes the core medical analogy that Doctors Mayo and Kermode have made their own, and comes up with something that works. Where people have clearly worked hard.
That may sound like a simple, shallow comment, but I do believe it’s pivotal here. Kevin Smith, for instance, once had a book of his podcasts transcribed, and put it out. Not a bad book, but at no sense reading it did I get a feeling that backs had been proverbially broken getting the words to the page. Furthermore, I still break out in a cold sweat at some of the material that, say, Peter Kay put out at the peak of his popularity, that utterly took his audience for granted, as he gleefully took their cash.
None of that here. Crucially, What you’re getting with The Movie Doctors is, first and foremost, a thumping good film book.
Both Mayo and Kermode have successful writing careers away from The Movie Doctors of course, but what this book captures is the broadcasting style of the pair, on the printed page. The central idea is that they use their medical movie doctor expertise to cure a mix of ailments and life problems. And they do it by chatting about movies that can help, with their individual voices come through.
For instance, take the fertility section. Questions such as will your child be the spawn of Satan, should you have the snip and the issue of arousal are digested by referencing films as diverse as Mac And Me, The Good Son, Battleship Potemkin and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.
Jump to the Ear, Nose & Throat section meanwhile, and somehow they leap between The Raid, Nothing But Trouble, Thumbsucker and the inaudible dialogue of parts of Interstellar.
Out of the context of the book, it sounds a bit gimmicky. Yet it works. It’s clearly been devised as a tome to duck in and out of, and as such it doesn’t always lend itself to a one-sitting read. Yet the mix here is terrific. Long-form essays on The Deer Hunter, strange sight tests, exchanges between the Doctors themselves, and at the heart a love of the subject matter itself.
For Wittertainees, the devoted listeners of the pair’s radio programme, there’s no shortage of in-jokes too, but never at the cost of isolating the casual reader.
One note of caution, though.
The irony isn’t lost on me that the only part really of The Movie Doctors that lets the side down is the digital version. Given Dr Kermode’s well-known passion for 35mm over digital projection, I read the book on a Kindle first, and it did it no favours. The old fashioned words and pictures on a piece of paper approach? Well, it might not catch on, but it’s by distance the best way to enjoy the book.
That’s because the physical product itself is really quite lovely. Beautifully laid out, very easy to dip in and out of, and a big, chunky hardback film book from which you more than get your money’s worth. Plus it even slips in a paragraph about George Of The Jungle.
Warmly recommended, then, especially for fans of the pair’s radio show. But there’s plenty here even if you’re not.
Still don’t agree on the Christopher Nolan inaudible dialogue thing, though…
The Movie Doctors is available in hardback from Canongate Books, priced at £20.