Thursday, December 29, 2011

In the dark

Everything that’s wrong with post-Internet movies can be seen in The Pirates of The Caribbean and the Transformers movies. These money-spinning ventures show how fluffy Hollywood flicks are turning out to be: aimed at teenagers, special effects glossing over hackneyed plots, Photoshopped people passing off as actors, being cool is the norm. If this Facebook-status size rant gets you either interested or worked up, film critic Mark Kermode’s The Good, The Bad And The Multiplex (TGTBATM) might make it to your bedside table.

Right from the standard of service at multiplexes to the decreasing influence of movie critics and the flakiness of 3-D cinema to the American disdain for foreign movies, Kermode makes sure every sacred cinematic cow is slayed between the covers of this slim paperback. He describes Michael Bay, the brain behind the Transformers franchise (personally, I’m not sure if making this garbage needs a brain), as “the reigning deity of all that is loathsome, putrid and soul destroying about modern-day blockbuster entertainment”. Nowadays Hollywood only makes two kinds of films: the larger-than-life fare that inevitably turns out to be jaw-droppingly awful or the below-the-radar stuff that can only be seen at independent film festivals like Sundance.

How have things come to such a deplorable pass? If you are someone who likes unapologetically bad movies with superb production values then you are part of the problem. In one of the six chapters, “Why Blockbusters Should Be Better”, Kermode argues that a “big” film is possible without eschewing the essential cinematic aesthetics, and his prime exhibit is Inception. Here was a smart thriller that was never “dumbed down” to pander to the sensibilities of a certain demographics, unlike expensive obscenities such as Titanic, Pearl Harbor and Avatar.

Kermode is equally dismissive about the latest practice of Hollywood studios of producing all big-budget flicks in 3-D format. In the chapter “The Inevitable Decline of 3-D”, Kermode turns into an entertaining boffin to give the reader a guided tour of the past of a medium that was never impressive and only ended up leaving a perpetual itch on the bridge of the viewer’s nose.

Equally revealing is his take on the profession of film criticism. He speaks at length about the shady practices of the studios in misquoting a critic. It's baffling to know that a review can be mangled in such a way that a review that trashed the movie is actually shown to be glowing on the DVD cover. Beware budding reviewers, next time you describe a movie as “so incredibly bad that it's good”, there are high chances it might make it to the DVD cover.

His cri de coeur that film criticism is no longer that important an art is arresting. He is very clear that, “I don’t think that critics should do the job of watching movies for you. I don’t even think they should do the job telling you which movies to watch… I think critics should do the job of watching all the movies and then telling you what they think about them in a way which is honest, engaging, erudite and entertaining.” What really gets Kermode's goat is that “for most cinema-goers in the UK, it’s blockbusters or nothing”, a phenomenon that we Indians perpetuate as well.

TGTBATM is an entertaining read because of Kermode’s LOL-provoking writing, which makes the book literally laugh-a-minute. He's so funny that if you hasten to read this book in public places, brace yourself for some baffled stares. But the humour is also the book’s biggest undoing. In a chapter in which he rants against the multiplexes he gets so carried away that he calls a multiplex staff member a “uniformed monkey”. While Kermode is an able wordsmith he tends to go overboard, which makes one wonder why his editor didn’t even make a feeble attempt to lasso his excesses.

It’s true that you need to take a small loan to afford the complete multiplex experience, but one can’t deny the fact that they have helped spawn an alternative movie-going culture. There have been a few occasions when I was allowed to watch a movie even though I was the only one in the auditorium. The burgeoning “mumblecore” movement, which is reminiscent of the Dogme 95 style of filmmaking in the US, is a sign that independent cinema might just thrive. The fact that a movie like Drive is finding a release in India shows that a multiplex is not really, to borrow a Matt Taibbi quote, “a vampire squid relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.

Another irritant in the book is that Kermode keeps reciting his impressive resume of the last 25 years. There were moments when I shouted aloud, “all right, all right, I get it that you’ve traveled half of the world and schmoozed with every movie celebrity, now can we please move on”. What’s more, he inundates the reader with random numbers about how much a movie spent and earned in return. I really wish Kermode’s gimlet eye for accuracy was toned down to turn this enjoyable book into what could have been a genre-defining book.

Mark Kermode
328 pages; Rs 732


Post a Comment

<< Home