Mark My Words

Claudia_Winkleman (pic dalekhelen)

Before a recent press screening at the 55th BFI London Film Festival, one critic was moaning about the lack of good film programmes on TV. He seemed particularly incensed about the timing of BBC1’s long-running Film 2011, dismissing Claudia Winkleman as “that stupid woman who doesn’t know anything about films”. Now Claudia is no Pauline Kael, but I’m willing to bet she’s a hell of a lot more fragrant than my anonymous whinger (Mr B.O.), who hasn’t yet embraced the joys of deodorant. She’s also less geeky, hectoring and opinionated than many of her male counterparts. She’s not called Mark, either.

For me Mark Cousins and Mark Kermode represent the best — and the worst — of serious film criticism on British TV and radio. Neither of them is mainstream enough for a show like Film 2011 (or Film 2012 as it will be from January) and the lilting tones of “Whispering” Mark Cousins would probably have irate viewers jamming the BBC switchboard.

Kermode shares a weekly film slot on BBC Radio 5 Live with Simon Mayo — the imaginatively titled Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review. If you go to the website you’ll see that Kermode is looking particularly supercilious. His expression seems to say “My opinions are the only ones that count.”

I’m being a little unfair, because the Kermode/Mayo double act does give airtime to listeners’ opinions, and last week Mark even complimented one amateur reviewer on his well-reasoned argument. But Kermode does love the sound of his voice and if spouting opinions loudly was an Olympic sport he’d be right up there with Sir Steve Redgrave in the medals table.

During a recent appearance on BBC2’s The Culture Show, Kermode conducted what seemed to me to be an utterly pointless interview with Lars von Trier. After informing us in the preamble that he likes some of the motormouth Dane’s films but hates others (including Breaking the Waves) he then gave Lars a bit of a ticking off about his notorious Nazi comment at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. That was about it, really. I didn’t learn much about Melancholia and it seemed the interview was chiefly about making the director aware of Kermode’s highly important judgments. It was just an ego trip for Mark Kermode — a bit like his alternative Oscars, the Kermode Awards.

Mr B.O.’s disdain for film coverage on TV makes me wonder whether he’s caught any of Mark Cousins’ More4 series, The Story of Film: an Odyssey . I’ve recorded several episodes, though so far I’ve only watched one. But on the basis of that one programme I have to say this is an ambitious and very well-written documentary that’s streets ahead of the usual personality-driven rubbish. We hear Cousins’ carefully crafted epigrams about how cinema developed through the decades and across continents. Crucially, though, we don’t see him. This is a history of the technique, philosophy and sheer ambition of international film-makers: it isn’t yet another trawl through the cult of celebrity.

Film critics are a necessary evil. You need just enough of their opinions to stop you wasting valuable time and money on irredeemably awful shit like Fernando Meirelles’ 360, which I have sworn never to watch on any screen of any size. On the other hand, hearing Mark Kermode holding forth about the evils of 3-D is just boring. I might agree with his views, but his relentless need to ram those opinions down our throats 24/7 makes me want to switch off.



  1. Love this post, and an interesting take on critics being a necessary evil. The Wittertainment/5 Live podcast is the only weekly exposure I have to ‘professional opinions’, and even then, I listen to them about 2 weeks behind so they don’t influence my take of a film. Kermode’s definitely outspoken, but does usually have decent arguments t back them up, Mayo’s definitely great at keeping him in check.

    As for Claudia, definitely not a fan. Her presenting style just rubs me up the wrong way. Danny Leigh sits there trying to make valid, well-formed, cine-literate opinions while she sits reading out tweets and talking about why random personal factors prevented her from enjoying films… got about 1/2 way through the last season and had to take Film2011 off the series link.

    1. Thanks, Paul. I like to think we bloggers fill in the gaps for those who want a bit less of the (overpaid) personalities and more sensible, well-grounded opinions. I’d love to know what Barry Norman thinks about Claudia sitting in what was once his chair. (Not literally, of course.)

      1. After this weeks episode I 100% stand by the above post. If CW was made of chocolate, she’d eat herself. Great vehicle for Danny Leigh to look like an even better critic than he is though!

        Also, just put the Mark Cousins show on my planner, looks good, can’t wait to see it. BBC 4 (I think) had a really good mini series on several genres a few months back – don’t know if you saw that?

      2. She’d be cheap chocolate, though, not the good stuff . . . After seeing the rabble getting stuck into Lynne Ramsay on last night’s Review Show I think I need a break from “critics” for the rest of this weekend. Mark Cousins is up to the 60s now, so it should be a good one tonight. Enjoy!

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