THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE MULTIPLEX: WHAT’S WRONG WITH MODERN MOVIES?

by Mark Kermode

Mark Kermode and I have a number of disagreements about films. Not that he is aware of them of course, having never met me or read anything I have written or said about films (despite the fact he has worked on BBC TWO’s The Culture Show, as I have in the edit, but our paths have never crossed to date).  One of the most well-known and well-liked film critics in the UK, Kermode has always advocated a subjective attitude to film criticism, where it is as much about a personal reaction to a film as it is any critical analysis.

In his latest book, Kermode dedicates a section to his view of the role of the film critic as someone who with an educated film background, is someone who is there to simply relate their views on films they have seen within the context they choose to see them.  Here we agree, and conversely, this is what leads to my disagreements with Kermode.  So, as in the past, here Kermode champions the horror genre of film – his repeated claim is that The Exorcist is the greatest film ever made – and, like another well-respected UK film critic, Kim Newman, is a massive fan of B-movies and little known curio films.  I find it difficult to like many horror films, all that killing and blood and being scared, although I do recommend The Exorcist.  Interestingly, I am in agreement with him that more recent horror films have descended into sick gorefests that have little of the charm of the classic horror he adores.  Kermode lays into the acting style of Marlon Brando – I love Brando at his best, although admit his later work is awful.  He mounts a rather unexpected defence of the Twilight films and Zac Efron – I cannot stand either.  But, with his definition of film criticism as something that is first and foremost a personal opinion, it’s okay for us to disagree.

Which is good, because as it turns out, there are many things we agree on.  The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex is essentially a good old-fashioned rant about the state of modern pictures, not just the content of them, but the way in which we are forced to watch them.  The first section of the book is a recounting of a particularly horrific visit to his local multiplex with his daughter to see the latest Zac Efron film.  In it, Kermode touches on all the annoying things that make many cinephiles despair at the state of modern multiplexes.  The cost of tickets, the cost and pressure applied to buy junk food, the poor customer service, the impersonal and incorrect film projection of the digital age, the difficulty in finding any member of staff who is aware of correct film projection and so on.  He doesn’t quite get to the point of the people who attend the cinema and spend the entire film chatting or on their mobile phone, but they come in for criticism later on.  It feels like an amalgamation of everything that can go wrong in a cinema visit, but the fact is, as an avid cinema viewer, I can relate to each and every incident, as they have occurred to me on multiple occasions during my many trips to the cinema.  Which as always brings me back to my question – that if I, everyone I go to the cinema with and have talked to about going to the cinema, and Mark Kermode get so annoyed about all these things – why do the multiplex chains continue to get away with doing it?  Can we hope they will read Kermode’s book and do something about it? Probably not. As Kermode notes, the multiplex chains are only interesting in efficiency and making profit.  That’s why, as Kermode recounts, as the technology developed that allowed cinemas to do away with dedicated professional projectionists, so the chains got rid of them – not to provide the customer with a better experience, but so they could provide a slightly worse experience, but with more profit margin.

Kermode goes on to offer his view that blockbusters these days are so bullet-proof against failure, due to home viewing sales having the ability to save any cinema duds, that they should inherently be better, because the studios can afford to take risks with them so long as they stick to basic ingredients – star names primarily – that will guarantee they will find an audience. So there is no excuse for some of the lazy, by-the-numbers fodder recently served up.

One thing on which I completely agree with Kermode is the disaster that is 3D films.  He offers a concise history of 3D’s attempts to win over the wider audience – it’s been around as long as cinema itself – and explains on each occasion why it has failed miserably.  Usually 3D is rolled out by studios and cinema chains when they perceive a threat to the audience figures of cinema goers.  So in the 1950’s as television took off, 3D was used to attract people back to the cinema, but faded out when rival technologies such as Cinemascope proved much more successful.  In the 1980’s home video arrived and again 3D was rolled out, dying away once more due to a general lack of enthusiasm.  The latest flavour of 3D, as a reaction to piracy and film downloading seems likely to suffer a similar fate.  Kermode argues, and I agree, is that in order to attract more people to the cinema it is quite simple – make better films, and give people an experience that is affordable and enjoyable – not expensive and stressful.

A further section on the misguided state of the UK film industry – the problem is not production but distribution, and the inevitable swamping of our multiplexes with inferior American product – rounds out the musings, and Kermode offers his solutions to the whole messy problem. Unfortunately, its difficult to imagine a world in which the main players will go for his ideas, and I suspect he himself knows this, but it doesn’t stop him arguing a very convincing case.  Which is, of course, where Kermode’s humourous, compelling and grumpy style comes from and excels.  A good read for anyone with a passing interest in the present state, and the future, of cinema going.

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8 thoughts on “THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE MULTIPLEX: WHAT’S WRONG WITH MODERN MOVIES?

  1. I’ve been meaning to read this book after I read a sample online somewhere and found myself agreeing and disagreeing with him in equal parts(though he spent a bit of it bashing a filmmaker I know personally and thought he wasn’t giving him a fair shake). Maybe I’ll pick it up soon.

    Don’t know the way things have been going in the UK, but in the US there have been a lot of more upscale theatre chains that have been more and more successful. Where people shut up and keep their phones off, reserved seats (unheard of in the US), better food (though still expensive), high quality picture and sound, and no ads. ArcLight, Landmark, Village Roadshow in LA. Alamo Drafthouse in Texas. Muvico, Cinetopia, and a few other chains scattered around. They charge more, but are almost always worth for a top notch experience. It seems the people who miss seeing movies properly, with a well behaved audience, are flocking to these places. Anything similar in the UK?

    Here in Germany people seem to be well behaved. But I could do without the 30+ minutes of commercials…

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    1. Thanks for the comment. There are a handful of cinemas in the UK, that offer a better experience, it tend sto be the smaller, independent cinemas like my local Glasgow Film Theatre that are much more enjoyable venues. Kermode does give an example of going to see a film in a US multiplex and having a great experince just because there were ushers in the screening at all times to make sure people behaved, and that would cut half the annoying things about going to the cinema in the UK! Really though, I despair at the way a lot of people in the UK behave in multiplexes. Definitely worth a read, even if you don’t agree with him about everything. Agree about the commercials – far too much!

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  2. As someone interested in films and working in the media/ entertainment industry how do you feel about the growing sense that there is a definite agenda within the industry (certainly within Hollywood) to limit movies to certain subjects and themes in order to ‘predictively program’ the masses?

    For examples of what I mean check out this or this or this or this or this.

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    1. I don’t think there’s any great conspiracy to predictively program the masses, or any organised attempt, I just think in Hollywood particularly, they are only interested in profit, not art for art’s sake, and therefore they play safe and stick to selling familiar genres and themes that they know how to market and will make money. There is plenty of independent cinema out there if you look for it that provides alternatives.

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      1. I don’t really like the word ‘conspiracy’ (it seems to have lost all intelligent meaning thanks to the media!). But generally speaking, yes, I think Hollywood (and the media generally) is a very ‘cabal’ like world. Whether we call it a ‘conspiracy’ or just ‘big business’ is kind of irrelevant IMHO.

        After all, advertising is pure propaganda / predictive programming/ indoctrination/ mass mind control. Is advertising a ‘conspiracy’? Given people’s general ignorance about the science (psychology) of advertising one could argue that it IS a ‘conspiracy’. Or one could just call it ‘big business’…

        I just don’t think you can look at Hollywood movies without seeing an ‘agenda’ (or several) in terms of all the common messages and themes put into them (or left out of them). The same is true of the mainstream music industry.

        And yet in both cases we have become so used to people behaving in certain ways, certain plot lines and so on that we have become blind to it. We (the general public, rather than true film fans) have forgotten *how* movies/ music could be any different.

        You argue this is all profit driven. And I don’t necessarily disagree with this view, but I think it is more complex. I would say the low quality, formulaic approach which relies MASSIVELY on media hype serves not so much to generate sales but to *distance the relationship* between sales and the quality of the movie itself.

        In other words, these days the hype sells the movie, rather than the quality of the movie itself. The movie only has to be capable of creating sufficient ‘ammunition’ for media hype (big name actors, cool gimmicks like CGI or whatever and enough good bits to make a ‘totally awesome’ trailer out of).

        And so here’s my point: distancing the relationship between sales and the quality of the movie itself allows movies to be used for ‘propaganda purposes’ far more easily (and yet still generate sales, even though they are rubbish!).

        So perhaps we are both right?

        One could even argue that one of the main messages put into movies today is that we should all love lower quality entertainment (‘art’ died long ago!) and be increasingly fixated on hype, social participation, ‘events’ …. such as the hype and ‘event’ surrounding a movie! This dumbing down in turn means that more propaganda messages can be put into future (dumber) movies and on it goes.

        I think there are in reality *many* processes going on at the same time – ie many agendas being served. There is no ‘movie industry’ anymore there is instead the interconnected movie/ mass media/ advertising/ celeb CULTure/ general corporate consumer industry.

        As a whole they ALL desire the same basic thing: to change people and to change society as a whole, so that we better fit their consumer based agendas of profit, power and control.

        It’s also worth bearing in mind that a lot of the studios (including Disney) have been churning out propaganda since WW2 (some of it for the Nazi’s too!). Some of the biggest weapons manufacturers today also happen to be owners of some of the largest media networks as well. And the Pentagon even admits to having a ‘Film Liaison Department’ (free loan of military equipment to studios in return for re-writing of movie scripts, to promote the military, naturally). They admit to virtually writing the script for ‘Top Gun’ and they even put recruiting booths in the foyers when the movie was first released. Recruitment spiked massively!

        And then you have the ‘elite royalty’ which is the Hollywood A-listers. Many of our beloved A-listers (as well as many US presidents and political elite figures) are actually all blood related to each other and the royal families of Europe (not a very good video – there are a lot more connections than it shows)

        And of course philosophers and political commentators have always written (over the last few thousands of years) about the need to control the masses through their entertainments (‘bread and circus’) – the idea is hardy new. If this *wasn’t* happening today then it would be the exception to the rule.

        But of course it never makes the news so it must all be just conspiracy nonsense….

        Except it turns out all the news media are all part of the same elite club too.

        I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert. I hope I don’t come across as overly argumentative – I’m just thinking out loud really. But I do think we need to study many different areas of society (and history) before we can even begin to get a handle on what Hollywood is really all about. And until we do movies, and culture generally, are going to keep on getting worse! 😦

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