As readers of this blog know well, I am quite partial to the odd curmudgeonly rant. The film critic Mark Kermode's "The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex" is a particularly enjoyable example of the genre, and a read which entertained me hugely over Christmas.
The book consists of six chapter-rants which are well researched, and acerbically delivered. He begins with the charge that the modern multiplex experience fails to offer the enjoyment which old-style cinemas delivered to their audiences. He rails against ghastly over-priced trash food, awful customer service, noisy ignorant audiences, shoddy projection, and staff who neither know or care about film. Good criticisms well made.
Next Kermode turns his fire on the phenomenon of the "blockbuster" movie hit, the mutli-million dollar spend-a-lot movies with A-list stars and mega-budget CGI effects. The question he asks is why are they so awful. While these films once they have been recycled through cinema, DVD, download, and TV-repeats, always end up making a profit for years to come; the question Kermode wants to ask this: Given the certainty of a financial return why do studios and writers content themselves with the likes of the lamentable Waterworld, the tedious Titanic, or the banal Dances with Smurfs (sic) er, sorry Avatar; when they could actually make great and poignant films?
3D cinema, according to "The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex" is basically a useless fad that the film companies won't abandon, but will return to repeatedly. The thesis of chapter three is that despite widespread audience dissatisfaction, the film industry needs a gimmick with which to distinguish cinema from the burgeoning 'home cinema' market. This is enhanced by the fact that the complexities of 3D projection make it a useful tool in the studios ongoing war against piracy of their product. This is then re-enforced by the fact that the investment in 3D projection requires a return and so cannot be abandoned as many audiences would like!
"What are film critics for?" Kermode asks. Well he might, because as he laments in his next chapter despite the fact that the reviewers queued up in droves to pan the awful Sex and the City 2 as an utterly unwatchable ghastly and completely weird film, people still went to see it (I didn't!). Market dominance by fewer and fewer companies, and the power of advertising (coupled with the disastrously low expectations and demands of audiences) makes critical reflection on films seem pointless! Kermode is in full despair mode in this chapter, but the more cross he gets, the more entertaining and sharp he is.
The end part of the book looks at the dominance of Hollywood in various different ways. The myth of the "British Film Industry" is exposed and revealed as but part of an international film industry. However, in the final rant Kermode turns his attention to the subject of foreign film and subtitling. This was probably the most interesting and informative chapter of the book in that this is an area I know little about.While I enjoyed the other chapters and always appreciate someone delivering opinions with which I largely agree with a huge dose of sarcasm and derision, this chapter took me into new areas. Kermode examines the way in which Hollywood has a track record of taking foreign-language films and ruining them with American versions, to overcome the Anglo-American audience reluctance to read subtitles. In his analysis when the films are ripped from their context the stories often make no sense. I was intrigued by his discussion of the Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock romance, "The Lake House". I had seen it and loathed it and reviewed it here. What I didn't know was that it was originally a Far Eastern movie which made a lot more sense set in its original language and cultural context. A remarkable and surprising discovery.
The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex is a fast-paced and highly entertaining read. No-one, I suspect would agree with all the vociferously expressed opinions within it; but anyone who watches films today should give it a read. It certainly should make the reader less happy to passively accept much of the badly presented shoddy fare with which we are so routinely presented.