Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Book review: "It's Only a Movie," by Mark Kermode

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I can sometimes be seen walking around town with an enigmatic expression on my face. This is the face of someone who is listening to a podcast on her ipod and trying not to randomly laugh aloud like a crazy person.

This is largely due to my discovery of two podcasts. The first is an American podcast called "Stuff You Should Know." It is courtesy of an episode of this podcast that I listened to recently on the subject of aphrodisiacs that I now know that men have a 5% increase in blood flow in response to the smell of pizzas. And incidentally both sexes have a strong sexual response to the smell of pumpkin pie. Apparently.

The second podcast was discovered by my husband (and this is where I start to get to the point). This is my current favourite - the BBC Radio 5 Live film review podcast of Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode. This podcast normally comes out on Fridays, and I am always impatient to hear it. I have rapidly become obsessed with Mark Kermode. He is fascinating to listen to because he is so obviously knowledgeable and passionate about cinema - and this enthusisiasm comes through on the radio in the articulacy (and excitable speed) of his speech. This is akin to the reasons why I love Germaine Greer - it is completely absorbing to listen to someone intelligent who speaks with such enthusiasm about their subject.

So I was very happy when my husband gave me Mark Kermode's new book for Valentine's Day. I have shelves of books that I intend to read and haven't yet - but this one skipped to the top of my pile immediately.

Mark Kermode uses the framing conceit that he is writer, director, editor, cinematographer, consultant, composer and executive composer of a version of his own life. The word "version" is particularly pertinent - this is by his own admission an unreliable account because events in his head are skewed to become more cinematic. His is maybe an extreme case of this, but it is probably familiar to anyone who watches lots of films or is an avid reader - or even just someone who tinkers with relating something that has happened to them to produce a better anecdote. And, if we are honest, I think probably everyone does that to some degree - but few of us get the chance to have our edited lives broadcast on the radio or published.

This is a book that I would recommend to someone who is enthusiastic about films, but it also has a strong vein of humour that might appeal even to people who aren't big film fans. There were a couple of instances which made me laugh aloud, and it is not often that a book does that (when it comes to reading, I am more of a silent appreciator of humour). My highlights were his experience of watching "Mamma Mia" - with an impressive attempt to render Pierce Brosnan's singing style in print - and a less than positive encounter with Dame Helen Mirren.

Mark Kermode's views on film are outspoken and opinionated, and he writes that"..if you're not annoying half your audience at least half of the time, then frankly you're just not trying." I don't mean this as a criticism - his passion and outspoken beliefs are something that I like about him. This book didn't annoy me any of the time - it is entertaining, funny and made me want to watch more films.

I'd also recommend a female equivalent to this book - Antonia Quirke's "Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers." Hers is also a life seen through the prism of films - and in her case an obsession with male film stars. It was like spending an evening with a female friend and a glass of wine, gossiping about life, films and men.

P.S. I already have a book lined up to replace this on my multiple reading list. It is about a bibliophile and it is called "Outside of a Dog." I am already predisposed to like this book because:
A) It's about books (duh!)
B) Its title comes from one of my favourite Groucho Marx quotes, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
C) Part of the cover design shows a drawing of a dog, wearing glasses, with an open book in front of him. It is impossible not to like a book that has a bespectacled dog on the cover.

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