Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema

from :)
I've always been a big film fan. I think as a kid, I found comfort in the rise and fall of a classic fairytale-esque storyline and, of course, good triumphing over evil (such good preparation for later life...). Later I enjoyed watching writers and directors push the boundaries of all the action you could fit on a screen, my teenage years filled with films that were about exploring coolness via largely large males wreaking havoc on various villains, seemingly invincible, yet just human enough. Since then I have, as with all medias, tried to expand what I watch, learn about what effects are used (and how), become critical of the mainstream and generally seek to find things that offer fresh perspectives on art and life.

Mark Kermode is a bit of a hero of mine. For a long time I wanted to be a film critic, and he is just one of those people that I'd like to be like: knowledgeable, erudite and cool to boot. Now I (we, us!) can watch five hours of him on our screens, doing what he does best: entertaining and educating us, in his groovy way.

I've watched three episodes so far, the Heist one (probably the genre I'm most familiar with on the list), the RomCom one (I'd never been a big fan of the idea of RomComs, especially as the ones I've seen (Along Came Polly, or Hitch type saccharine shtick) have done nothing to inspire me, but Kermode explains examples I'd never thought or heard of in a way that changes my conception of what they are and what they can do, which makes me want to watch more) and, just now, the Coming of Age one (which is quite moving, actually. It explored the idea of the filmmakers' personality and experience coming out in the finished product and, indeed, explained the gravity of the task of trying to capture a universal human moment, such as when adulthood invades and subsumes child-like innocence for good). The reason why I didn't want to comment after watching every episode was because I'd end up with five separate rambles (I struggled to write as little as I did in this paragraph, and it's hardly 'streamlined'), and writing this half-way through at least helps me comment on why I think you should watch the series.

It's such a joy to learn from experts. What you get per episode is someone who looks at archetypes and exceptions to give you a picture of the overall genre - structured with a few sub-sections, such as character, location, music etc. What is so amazing to me is the period of time that an episode spans. Because Kermode's knowledge base is so broad, we are taken on a trip potentially from the first movie of its kind (so potentially even pre-1920, before the first 'talkie'), to this year's releases. We are shown instances of homage in the intersticial period (and you may be surprised how many homages there are in a single genre, the Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers/Mission Impossible one being salient), but also points to where writers and filmmakers grow tired of the self-referentiality, the cliché, and break out to do something unexpected.

Another part of why the series as a whole is worth a look, is that it examines (if only in passing) outside the films, the current Hollywood (and beyond) 'scene', addressing sexism and inequalities etc, hoping for things to be addressed further and bettered. I suppose it's this - looking at what's being done wrong and right in the industry, to how exactly humanity and other existential dilemmas are configured through filmic arts directly - that makes me feel privileged to watch it. I'm learning about life and philosophy, about the possibilities of our mind. It really feels that deep to me, while not coming across as heavy or lecturey at all. Even though I consider myself (at least temporarily) 'offline' as a writer now, I find this series inspiring, and I hope you do too.

Enjoy! It's available for another nine months from the time of publishing this - and the horror episode might well be good for the upcoming Halloween celebrations :)

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