Before this review of BBC4 documentary SECRETS OF CINEMA - I must begin by confessing that I’m no fan of Mark Kermode, or the community of cheerless, highbrow critics he represents.
I will happily watch anything from Citizen Kane to Transformers, but Kermode and his fellow critics seem happy to dismiss any movie that counts its box office in billions - while urging audiences to seek out joyless, black and white documentaries about Albanian goat herding. So I approached his new BBC series, which examines the secrets behind different movie genres, with caution.
It’s impossible to deny that Kermode knows his stuff. Minutes into Secrets of Cinema, I already felt like the Luke Skywalker to his infinitely knowledgeable Obi Wan. He canters through the nut and bolts of making a romantic comedy - drawing on material that ranges from the first kiss captured on film in 1896, to today’s attempts to lure female moviegoers by upping the romantic ante in modern blockbusters.
Kermode carefully deconstructs the elements that make a brilliant rom com, from the initial ‘meet cute’, to the ‘Happy Ever After’. Along the way, he reveals a few things you may already know and some things you probably don’t - the real reason romantic leads have such a relentless sparkle in their eyes for example. He covers stereotypes and clichés, delves into the symbolism of music and dance and passes fleetingly over modern trends like gay and ‘silver’ rom coms.
It’s a fascinating journey that reminded me just how much I love the movies while giving me a renewed appreciation of how much work goes in to making something as deceptively frothy as a romantic comedy.
That said, it’s not all smooth sailing. Despite featuring around 60 different movies, rom com aficionados will notice some serious omissions. There are no oddball movies (e.g. Roxanne, Moonstruck, My Big Fat Greek Wedding), no teen movies (10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless and unforgivably, no John Hughes) and none of the newer, bawdier rom coms like Knocked Up. With the exception of two Bollywood movies and a Japanese horror, it’s also exclusively Anglo Saxon - even our continental neighbours don’t get a look in, meaning swoonsome classics like Amelie are entirely absent.
A 60 minute episode was never going to be a comprehensive look at the rom com. But time spent comparing and contrasting rom coms and horror movies for example, might have been better spent looking at the rom com’s evolution, or considering why the genre has basically disappeared over the last two decades (Notting Hill, arguably the last great rom com, was released in 1999).
Kermode himself is perhaps the most dubious element of the series - his dry demeanour isn’t quite right for examining rom coms and despite claiming Splash! as a personal favourite, he doesn’t convince as someone who loves the genre. He is, perhaps, too clever by half, failing to convey the dizzying pleasure of a good romantic comedy.
Still, there is no-one else on TV as qualified to teach the masses about movie making. It’s an education in an hour and having dispatched rom coms, Kermode’s deadpan delivery will better suit the remaining genres, starting with the heist movie.
So movie lovers rejoice - this is accessible infotainment for beginners and connoisseurs alike.
- Watched on BBC4. 17/07/2018