The film critic has teamed up with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to perform a series of concerts dedicated to the movies. He tells us about what’s in his “celluloid jukebox”, and the scores which mean so much to him
Mark Kermode considers himself to be a very lucky man. He watches films and talks about them for a living, plays in a band, and, as he approaches his 50th birthday, is remarkably contented. “I hope to do this until I drop off my perch. Even when I am watching the latest Keith Lemon film, I still have to pinch myself to be sure I am not dreaming that this is my job,” he says.
The film critic, who is a regular on BBC TV and radio, feels he is “getting away with it”, but nonetheless, his latest project is surely a step further up the lucky scale. Kermode, along with his long-term friend, musician Robert Ziegler, has managed to assemble an 80-piece orchestra to play his favourite film scores. Kermode will curate ‘Film Music Live’, a series of four concerts performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO). “Robert Zeigler and I go back a long way. I first met him at a festival, where I was introducing Hitchcock’s ‘The Lodger’, and he was conducting a live orchestra. We fell into a conversation about film music and realised we had a great deal in common. He’s not only a great musician but he can talk about music in a way which brings people in,” Kermode explains.
Zeigler and Kermode, along with concert producer Tommy Pearson, began to forge the idea of creating a concert dedicated to film scores. It wasn’t meant to be a selection of the most famous films, but a highly personalised collection, with Kermode’s and Ziegler’s ideas at the forefront. “I think it was all of our ideas. We had been talking about it for years, and it just needed someone to make it happen,” says Kermode. “When it was suggested I do it, I was flattered.”
Kermode and Zeigler spent several weeks exchanging emails and batting suggestions back and forth, until they came up with a list to perform (see box-out). The list reflects Kermode’s passion for both film and music, but it is far from a list of blockbusters. “I had this idea that my soundtracks weren’t as well known as they should be, and in some cases the films aren’t as well known, either.”
Those who know of Kermode’s reviews won’t be surprised to find that his favourite film, The Exorcist, is included. Another inclusion is the Planet of the Apes, as Kermode believes “everything you need to know about politics, you can find out from watching Planet of the Apes.”
Others are films which he believes have been overlooked, but which also have soundtracks he loves to listen to. The David Lynch film Twin Peaks is a case in point. “Many people say they haven’t seen David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and the reason they haven’t is because the film critics all slated it and so they didn’t go to watch it. But the ethereal score for the film has kept interest in it alive, and the film has become something of a cult classic.”
At the time of writing, Kermode and the CBSO still haven’t stood together in the same room, and so the exact structure of the evening hasn’t been finalised. Special guests are being lined up and Jeremy Irons has just been announced for the Birmingham concert. Kermode is excited about the concerts, describing CBSO as “a fantastic orchestra”.
Kermode was recently in Memphis, Tennessee, recording an album at Sun Studios with his skiffle band The Dodge Brothers. The film critic plays double bass and harmonica, so some might be expecting him to join in the performance. However, he assures us the CBSO will be in charge of the music. “Anyone who heard me having a bash at the theme from Midnight Cowboy on the chromatic harmonica will be delighted to know that I won’t be playing.”
THE WORST FILM EVER MADE?
Mark Kermode has been reviewing films for over 25 years and has written about them extensively for newspapers, magazines and academic journals. But has he ever fancied having a crack at actually making one?
“I have no desire to make films, or to be in films, I only want to watch them,” he replies. “I have seen films being made and I have nothing but respect for those who make them. Film critics shouldn’t make films. They should stick to what they do best, which is reviewing films. I couldn’t make a film as good as the very worst one I have ever seen.” And what is this film? “Over-sexed Rugsuckers from Mars.” Ah say no more…
Film Music Live will be performed four times across the UK, and comes to Birmingham Symphony Hall on July 9. The actor Jeremy Irons (pictured) will be the special guest on the night. For those who like set-lists, here are some of the scores to be included on the night:
Planet of the Apes (Goldsmith)
The Exorcist (Oldfield)
North By Northwest (Hermann)
Taxi Driver (Hermann)
The Devils (Davies)
There Will Be Blood (Greenwood)
Mary Poppins Overture (Sherman & Sherman)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Badalamenti)
Silent Running (Schikele)