Review: It's Only a Movie by Mark Kermode

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It's Only a Movie by Mark Kermode book cover
It’s Only a Movie (2010) is an autobiography by film critic Mark Kermode. However, this isn't a straight recounting of the author’s life, this is a stroll through the films that have shaped Kermode's life and career. There are elements of autobiography certainly but for the most part Kermode keeps the details of his private life out of this (including his musical pursuits), and focuses instead on his life as shaped by films, and his encounters as a film critic. What this amounts to is a collection of short anecdotes, most with a dubiously complete narrative arc (something that Kermode is keen to highlight himself) and which have clearly been recounted many times by the author (listeners of Kermode's radio reviews will no doubt be familiar with many of them).

Kermode doesn't take himself or It's Only A Movie too seriously, citing early on his own appalling memory and therefore the caution that should be shown to any/all of his anecdotes. With plenty of self-deprecating humour it's hard not to warm to the oft befuddled film critic as he ambles about various haunts in Manchester, London, and Hollywood, brushing shoulders with film stars and inexpertly scrabbling his way up the ladder. The anecdotes he shares are always engaging, even when trivial (which is fairly regularly).

Although Kermode talks about films that have mattered to him, there's no in-depth discussion of the films themselves. Instead discussion is limited to the small aspects of them which have relevance for Kermode, and indeed film references are limited to Kermode's personal (more mainstream) favourites, thus making this a very personal portrait of a life in film. This is perhaps a missed opportunity to expound some of his opinions about movies more thoroughly than his radio show or television appearances allow, but alas the name of the game here is anecdote not critique. This is often great fun, but does lack a little depth.

Kermode's enthusiasm will likely win over many readers as he describes his own appreciation of the big screen. Indeed, the reader gains a brief glimpse of what it is to be truly obsessed by a medium, and how this leads to wanting to share, in minute detail, one’s feelings about it. Something that fan boys everywhere will relate to, no doubt.

Kermode's prose picks up his own speech patterns and ticks perfectly, and the reader is carried away on his digressions and asides, hearing the good doctor's voice spilling over with enthusiasm. This is very much Kermode in full wittering flow, meandering around his favourite anecdotes with a few added sprinkles to add context and felsh out Doctor K.'s character a little. It's far from revealing, but still entertaining.

I like Mark Kermode, therefore I liked this book. It's insubstantial if you're looking for an insight into either the good doctor's life or his opinions on movies, but I suspect most of his fans will simply be looking for more of the same from old flappy hands. They won't be disappointed.


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