The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex.

FAULT: Let’s start by getting straight to the point, you have written a new book, the good, the bad and the multiplex. What’s it about?

Mark: The book’s about what’s wrong with modern movies. So why we get so many bad blockbusters, the rise of 3D and the problem with multiplexes.

FAULT: Those are problems that you’ve expressed passionately in lots of other mediums, what made you decide to go ahead and write a book?

Mark: I do a weekly radio show with Simon Mayo and we regularly receive messages from listeners who are disgruntled with lots of the blockbusters being released. At the same time people are fed up with multiplexes, the introduction of digital projection being partly responsible for this. There are lots of good reasons for the introduction of digital; however it does mean that the art of the projectionist is being forgotten. People are getting less and less exposure to World cinema and finally film makers are increasingly using 3D to balance their books. However, 3D has failed, audiences don’t like it anymore and it was never a particularly good idea to start with. The thinking behind the introduction of 3D is that studios were worried about people watching their films in different ways, so it’s really just the latest attempt to prop up bankruptcies. So I decided to write this book because lots of issues had appeared that cinema, in its 2nd century, has to answer for.

FAULT: With filmmakers like Herzog, Wenders and Sorcese making films in 3D, doesn’t it indicate that the medium has some artistic merit?

Mark: No! Cave of Forgotten Dreams was better and clearer in 2D. The reason why Herzog, who I know quite well, made the film in 3D was to take people into the cave; more people have been on the moon than have entered Chauvet cave, so Herzog wanted to allow people to gain a more immersive experience of being there. Herzog came onto the program and said I didn’t like the 3D because I was artistically warped. He did admit, though, that 3D is not cinema and that he won’t be making another film in 3D. Wenders’s film was a dance documentary. It’s Sorcese that 3D’s supporters are really resting their hopes on. Having made Hugo in 3D, apparently he can’t imagine not making another film in 3D. He says that in this he’s following in the auteur tradition of Hitchcock; however Hitchcock only ever made one film in 3D. The real problem with 3D cinema is that it makes you very aware that you’re watching a film. 2D is much better. I’d say that there is almost no use for 3D in cinema. With the exception of imax, which does something slightly different to the 3D and is too complicated to go into.

The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex.

FAULT: Surely it has worked quite well in some recent horror films, such piranhas 3D, though?

Exactly, it works best as a gimmick, which is exactly what it is. I mean look at the most successful pound for pound 3D film ever made; the stewardess. This was essentially a soft core porn film whose tagline was ‘see these lusty stewardesses leap from the screen and onto your lap’. That’s all 3D’s really good for; to be used as a novelty.

FAULT: In your book you express dissatisfaction in the direction that blockbusters are moving, what is it that’s making the blockbuster so sick?

Mark: Studios seem to believe that in order to be successful, blockbusters also need to be stupid. There are certain rules that if followed allow studios to make the money back on their films. The basic rules are that the film needs to cost enough, include enough spectacles, contain a star and make headlines. Aside from that it doesn’t really matter. So the film can be very intelligent or very stupid and will still make money. Unfortunately, some directors, such as Michael Bay, are of the opinion that dumbing a film down actually has more merit than if it were intelligent. However, it’s been proven that intelligent films still make money. Look at Christopher Nolan, his films like Batman and Inception are big blockbusters, which make a lot of money, but at heart they’re art house movies.

FAULT: If people want intelligent blockbusters, why do they spend time and money watching these expensive but ultimately mediocre films?

Mark: They’ve been ground down by diminished expectation! It’s now used as justification for bad movies that if they made lots of money, people must have enjoyed the film. Actually that isn’t true at all. Pearl Harbour made lots of money, but I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed it. Just because lots of people paid to see a film doesn’t mean they liked it. It’s really unfortunate what most people now expect from a blockbuster. I even wrote an article saying blockbusters are meant to be stupid. In fact that’s a totally fallacy as directors like Nolan have proved.

FAULT: What action would you take then to heal cinema?

Mark: It really isn’t my job to fix cinema. There would need to be a large cultural shift and we need to forget this idea that 3D is the future of cinema. We need to encourage people to see good films. Crucially we need to understand that people don’t always want to see new releases at the cinema.  People have gone off this modern perception of the cinema, where kids are chatting and people are using their mobile phones throughout screenings. So the industry needs to let people watch new films in a way that they want to watch them. The cinema still has a purpose, but that purpose isn’t just screening blockbusters at multiplexes. People need to understand that cinema is much more international than our current, narrow perception of it. Independent film needs to be supported and flouted more frequently, as what’s really lacking presently is a baseline of good independent cinema.

FAULT: This is your second book, was it any easier to write since you already had the experience of one under your belt?

Mark: My fist book was a semi auto biographical account of someone growing up with the cinema and about being a film critic. This was harder… Much harder. Rather than being an account of growing up, this book channelled something that I really needed to get off my chest. It came from a much more depressing setting because it’s the tale of how we got to this endpoint. It also required much more research as opposed to my first book, which was a breeze to write. Saying that I did manage to include lots of cheap gags and for that I’m proud. Despite the strife I still manage to keep it entertaining and funny.

FAULT: OK, I’ll finish up by asking what is your FAULT?

Mark: Oh, everything.

Interview: John David Appleby