I have not seen a single film in the cinema this year*. There are a number of reasons for this, many of which I will approach in this hopeful series of posts about my somewhat oddly dependent relationship with film. But just to make it clear that this is an unusual state of affairs, I saw 132 films in the cinema last year. This year none. I’ll probably tell you what the ten worst ones were over the next few weeks. But I really, really like going to the cinema.
So the real reason I have not been to see a film? I was ruling myself out of the Film 2010 job. It was not a job I wanted and it struck me as someone who occasionally sees the odd film and reviews them, I was clearly top of the bookies list. Turned out that when I went to the bookies I wasn’t. Mark Kermode was. Well he hasn’t got it (not that he wanted it as he said effusively last week on his podcast in the manner of a man who knows he has not got it). But I, like the bitter grape eating Kermode, would not want to do it. The Film Programme, as it is nominally called, deserves someone better that Barry Norman (a rather dull pedantic reviewer as you can see below the cut), Jonathan Ross or indeed Mark Kermode. And Claudia Winkleman may just be it.
What is the point of Film “INSERT YEAR HERE”? As a kid, under Barry Norman, I watched it avidly, much like I devoured Time Out. The reviews were in many ways pointless to me, rather the hint of a WORLD OUT THERE that was having a lot more fun and intelligent conversation than I was. I saw film, but what we could get at the three screen Barnet Odeon, or eight months later on video if it fit the family viewing criteria. But the mere role of a film reviewer, sat in his room talking to me about what he had seen seemed wonderful.
A reviewer talking at you is very cheap TV, and at the right time the Late Show came along and pretty much did that every night. Barry kept going and as I started to see the films he was talking about my view of his style and the show waned. Again this coincided with the rise of Moviewatch, the Channel 4 review show where four locals in a town would review that weeks films and show quite clearly that anyone could do Barry Norman’s job. And indeed this is the point. As Kermode pointed out last week in-between banging on about the Exorcist, Film 70-Onwards is a populist film show, requiring someone with populist tastes. It can act as a signpost to the odd non-mainstream film, but it probably isn’t serving its public well if 90% of its audience do not have access to the films being reviewed. This may be a tragedy, an indictment on the state of film distribution yadda yadda but is hardly the BBC’s fault.
When Jonathan Ross took over from Barry Norman, he wasn’t JONATHAN ROSS SCOURGE OF THE DAILY MAIL. His career was in the doldrums, he was just starting his Radio 2 show and had no chat show. I thought he was a poor choice however. Not because I don’t like him, or even think he would do a bad job. But after his series The Incredibly Strange Film Show on Channel 4 we knew where his sympathies lay. He was a geek, he liked comics and odd Russ Meyer films. As Mark S says, “He was if not an expert in certainly an enthusiast for a layer of film that was very under-examined back when he started; but these days is pretty well served”. I though Ross was a dispiriting choice because I couldn’t see the role being his priority. This is OK, while he clearly thought it was important, it soon became lowish down on his list of priorities, and thus he didn’t actually see many films. This is not a major problem it the show is generally about peddling populist fayre, but does become an issue if they miss terrible films (a good slagging is the car crash of a review show) or the minor hidden gems. Also since his tastes were previous very clear with regards to comics, horror and “incredibly strange” films it was pretty easy to second guess where his sympathies lay.
It strikes me now that what I want is to revert back to a sense of discovery that I had as a child. Except that instead of discovering a world of films, I want to discover a reviewers tastes. I want to know what Claudia Winkleman feels about Transformers 3, and I want her to give it the disdain that The Bounty Hunter got. I want her to try and find a way to champion an indie film in a show that is not about doing that. I would rather like to see her in that studio on her own with only her odd white lipstick as company. She has always been an intelligent host, has a fine sense of wit and does a good job on the Radio 2 arts show. (She also used to present a show about toilets which will stand her in good stead for much of the shit clung at her). It does look like she may be saddled with a film show that becomes more like a round table discussion which would be a pity. But I want someone who actively hides some of their prejudices, tries to be fair and non-judgemental, strives for the impossible objectivity. Something I could never do, Ross couldn’t do, Kermode would NEVER be able to do and Claudia Winkleman, at current viewing, probably can.
*This is a lie. I saw the Kreutzer Sonata, (the original silent one, not the bizarre remake that came out a couple of weeks ago) at the Barbican being accompanied by some wacky percussionist. If there can be any other kind of percussionist. I am considering that a gig though as it had live musicians and My Year With Just Seeing One Film seems a bit of a lame title for this series.