Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo give your film knowledge a check-up
The Movie Doctors offer a seasonal prescription
Although both Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo deny it, their impressive hardback, The Movie Doctors, is ideal for the Christmas market. A mash-up of lengthy essays on cinematic themes (including the importance of negative reviews), dialogues between the authors, suggestions of movies to cure various conditions and brief commentaries on favoured films, Kermode and Mayo recognise that ‘no-one is likely to read it from cover to cover’, but anyone can happily dip in and find something of interest.
‘The provocation was that Mark has a PhD in horror films,' begins Mayo. 'A proper PhD,' Kermode adds quickly, before Mayo continues. 'Years ago, my university asked would you like a doctorate: knowing it would annoy Mark, I referred to it on the show... and we referred to ourselves as the Movie Doctors for about a week.’
Kermode and Mayo’s 5 live radio show is full of these quirky references, which, as their live show demonstrates, come from a mutual respect and desire to tease each other. And, like many of these references, the movie doctors joke returned to haunt them. When they decided to do a live theatre tour, it provided the concept.
‘We needed a structure,’ Kermode explains, ‘so we did the show with the device being that movies can make you better.’ Audiences were asked to come up with problems, and the duo would prescribe a movie as medicine.
‘They were really good fun, and the audience came up with a bunch of ideas, and we stole them,’ Mayo continues. From this came the book and the accompanying tour. These showcase the pair’s love of popular film – no rants in favour of obscure classics – their natural rapport and enthusiasm.
The current theatre tour uses the book as a basis for discussions of the importance of honest criticism, Kermode’s enthusiasm for The Exorcist, and the ways in which movies can change moods and influence life decisions.
Kermode claims a strict division of labour existed in the making: ‘Simon looked at how movies can affect audiences and I did the grumpier stuff about what is wrong with movies,’ while Mayo demurs, calling Kermode’s contributions ‘the intelligent bits’. The book continues dialogues between them, described as clinics: these present the same bickering friendship that makes the live performance charming – albeit lacking the charisma that they display in person and relying more heavily on set piece comedy.
The tour is really about promoting the book, drawing on its film choices and concluding with the same suggestions for multi-purpose healing purposes. It does add, however, clips from the films, including the priceless trailer for Zardoz, a vanity project that stars Sean Connery in his best orange underpants, apparently high on LSD.
The book itself is unashamedly populist and has the heft of the old Blue Peter annuals, even sharing its eclectic, pick and mix approach to formats. Kermode has slipped in plenty of serious analysis, but it is the shorter comedy interludes that shifts The Movie Doctors away from being another installment in Kermode’s ongoing critical autobiographies.
Mayo asks whether it is possible to hear ‘two voices’ in the book and it clearly is: while the curmudgeonly humour could be either of the authors, the two voices are in a dialogue not about the value of the cinema – they both clearly adore it – but about its precise applications. Perhaps more of an introduction to thinking about film than one for the dedicated cineaste, The Movie Doctors does cast an intellectual eye over a popular art.
The Movie Doctors is out now, published by Canongate.