- Audio Download
- Listening Length: 7 hours and 53 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Pan Macmillan Publishers Ltd
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 10 Oct. 2013
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00ES7W432
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
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Hatchet Job Audiobook – Unabridged
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Top customer reviews
While the book gave ample opportunity for some of the author's frequent anecdotage, I found it had to pick out a real theme for the book and to understand what the journey was that it was trying to take me on. There didn't seem to be an overriding message to the manuscript and I found myself several times getting lost and having to back up a few pages to understand what point was trying to be made.
Going in, I had expected something a bit more ranty - much of the focus of the comment I heard/read after the book was published was about sockpuppettery (posting of fake reviews - positive for one's own product or negative for a competitor's), however this was only a small fraction of the book.
The book didn't really generate enough of an emotion in me to commit to a final statement - perhaps just that it was a bit bland?
In Hatchet Job, Kermode seeks to make the case for professional film critics in a world where he perceives them to be under threat from a tidal wave of on line amateurs. Being Kermode however, this is not a cool, rationally presented case. The book meanders from anecdote to splenetic rant (although possibly fewer than in his previous works), to serious comment, almost at random.
It is very much in the Kermode style, and therein lie two of the big problems with it. As a radio presenter, when partnered with Simon Mayo's smooth balm to his spiky irritation, he is supremely entertaining. As a single voice, on the written page, he sounds much more like a crazy old man shouting at the moon. Or worse he falls into the lazy disaffection epitomised in Grumpy Old Men. Secondly, this book has a real "bang one out to earn some zloty's" feel to it. It is not well structured, there are some shockingly badly written sentences (not what one would expect from a self confessed grammar pedant), and it is all terribly predictable. Expecting references to the Exorcist, and Silent Running? Yup, they're inevitably there. Also in there, and more intrusive than in his previous works, are frequent references to the radio show, the blog, the DodgeBrothers, but what really grates is the frequent quoting of himself, which comes over, I'm afraid, as self aggrandising.
That is not to say this is all bad. There is some really interesting stuff. When Kermode talks about his fellow critics, the impact they have had, and their differing styles, it is definitely worth reading. Had he set out to write a history of film criticism, or a critique thereof, this could have been a fascinating work.
However that, ultimately, is not what this book is. The basic premise is that professional critics, by being transparent and accountable, produce more valid views that anonymous amateurs on the web. In one section where he discusses voting on Amazon, he (I assume) unwittingly illustrates his own argument. By pontificating on the voting system in a way which suggests minimal research, he does, in practical terms, demonstrate that the uninformed shouldn't really comment in public.
While one can sympathise with his views, and see a great deal of validity in them, his arguments are flawed. Firstly he doesn't seem to give the average reader credit for being able to identify good reviews from amongst the dross. Secondly he doesn't recognise that there is such a thing as a poor but critically acclaimed film. If a film is critically acclaimed, it is, in his world, by definition, good. This argument is clearly negated by the execrable,but critically popular 2011 adaptation of Wuthering Heights.
To be fair to the author, the picture which ultimately comes across is of someone who feels threatened by change, but is doing his best to see the positives in that change.
So overall I find myself in a similar position to how I felt after reading It's Only a Film. I think Dr Kermode's broadcast work is excellent. The 5live podcast is absolutely the first download I listen to each week. The book is however rather disappointing, and I find myself wishing the author would come up with something less superficial, better researched, and ultimately more satisfying.
Kermode writes like he speaks - a tendency to long, breathless but perfectly-formed sentences full of wit and eudition, so this is an immensely readable work. The book lacks structure - the chapters could have been in any order - and the text has a habit of meandering (several times, he has to resort to a phrase like "anyway, back to ...") , but eventially we always come back to one central message: even in the age of the online, amateur film critic (like me), there is a role for the professional but all critics should identify themselves, the reviews that readers tend to remember are the bad ones, but in the end reviews make little difference to the box office.
"Hatchet Job" tells us something about the odd life of professional film critics. Twice a week, every week, they sit in a darkened room and watch movies that have not yet been released. Kermode reckons that he has averaged 10-12 films a week for the past 25 years, but laments "if you happen to see a couple of good films in any given week, you're doing pretty well". Nevertheless he believes that "watching movies for a living is an insanely privileged existence".
In the course of the book, we learn some things about Kermode: "As a child, my only real friends were movies", as an adolescent his most memorable films were 'Silent Running' and something called simply 'Jememy', and he is "a former student Trot turned wishy-washy bleeding-heart liberal".
Above all, we learn about the movies he loves and loathes respectively. On the affection side, he declares that "I (still) think 'The Exocist' is the greatest movie ever made", he shares the view that 'Casablanca' is "one of the greatest movies ever made", much more controversially he has declared "'The Devils' to be "one of the greatest films ever made", and he admits to being "an unabashed 'Twilight' movie fan". He insists that the assessments of critics and public are not so far apart and I have seen and admired five of his all-time top ten films including such wonderful work as 'Don't Look Now' and 'Pan's Labryinth'.
On the hate side, he says that 'Heaven's Gate' was "catastrophic" and 'Eyes Wide Shut' "piss poor", he shares the view that 'The Straight Story' was "'Forrest Gump' on a tractor", he was savage about 'Transformers', 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' and 'Sex And The City', and he calls 'Zardoz' "the worst science-fiction movie ever made" and 'The Heretic' "the worst movie ever made" - both directed by John Boorman which leads him to the view that the auteur theory is "utter hooey".
One of the most interesting chapters - which underlines how difficult it is to be right about a movie at first viewing - is the role of focus groups in viewing and commenting upon movies not yet released and possibly not yet finalised. He takes the reader through the evolution of 'Fatal Attraction' which has a very different ending from that intended by the writer or director as a result of audience research. He rightly argues that this kind of approach to film-making would have changed the ending of 'Casablanca' making it an utterly different and inferior film.
In a sense, "Hatchet Job" is a cry of existential angst: "Isn't all criticism - good or bad - just white noise; waffle; static hiss; a distraction from the real business of making films?". He admits: "Whereas once I was stupidly certain about my opinions, age has withered that sense of single-mindednes to the point that I no longer trust myself when it comes to judging movies". At one point, he even pleads "What, in brief, is the blood point?"
Yet, in the end, Kermode is optimistic about the future of professional film criticism: "Despite the culls sweeping through the profession in the twenty-first century, film criticism simply refuses to lie down and die" and "the web has proved a boon rather than a bugbear - despite my frequent moans to the contrary".